Eb and Flo is a cooperative, puzzle-based platforming game set in futuristic Iran. Players take control of either Eb or Florence, seventeen-year-old twins who accidentally discover a secret lab. Utilizing the abilities to attract or repel objects, work together to solve puzzles and help the twins make their way through the deadly facility. But not everything is as it seems. What waits for them inside?
- Roles: Narrative Game Designer, Writer, 2D Animator, Video Editor
- Genre: Puzzle Platformer
- Development Cycle: September 2012 – April 2013
- Engine: Unity3D
- Platform: PC
Team Members –
Lucas Bilodeau: Lead Designer / Systems Designer
Greg MacDonald: Producer
Jordan Diehl: Lead Programmer
Sam Tow: Lead Artist / Animator
Brenna O’Leary: 2D Artist / Texture Artist
Chris Bresnahan: 3D Artist / Texture Artist
Steve Thorne: Programmer
Steve Everitt: Programmer
Dom Cella: Functionality Level Designer
Griffen Fargo: Aesthetic Level Designer
Michael Tobin: Sound Designer / Music Composer
Eb and Florence are twin brother and sister, the children of a scientist who went missing three years ago. One day, while rummaging through their father’s study, Eb and Flo find the Controllers, a pair of bracers with the ability to attract and repel objects. After losing control of her device, Flo reveals a hidden doorway leading to an elevator. The two take the elevator down and discover a hidden facility. Flo thinks this secret could be linked to her father’s disappearance.
The facility is on lockdown. They are guided via speaker by a series of charismatic scientists and engineers in need of help as the twins work their way through the only open sector of the lab – the testing quarter. As they run across a bridge toward the exit of the weaponry sector, haywire machinery falls and explodes, causing Eb to be impaled by a metal rod, and exposing within him wiring and electricity. Eb was an android, a secret Flo had been harboring for years. The damaged bridge soon collapses, dropping them both a great distance.
They wake up in different parts of the map to the sound of a scientist’s voice. In this new, unfinished sector, the lights have failed. Eb is injured and quiet, while Flo is trying desperately to call out to him. Following her father’s disappearance, Flo found the partially-built Electronic Brother unit he left behind and felt she needed to finish it to maintain her sanity while living alone. She had long been struggling with intense separation anxiety.
Flo regains her composure after a while and continues on. She realizes that her artificial brother means more to her than her quest for her father, and Eb realizes that though he may be artificial, his memories of his time with his sister are real. They eventually meet up again, resolved to finish their journey and find out the secret of the lab.
When they reach the bottom of the facility, they don’t find their father, but instead, discover a computer program known as Memory. Memory reveals that all of the scientists that the twins spoke with were part of its collective conscience. Dr. Kimiya, Eb and Flo’s father, had a design for a perpetual motion energy generator, known as the “Cradle,” which would help the world. The military offered to fund the project, but when it became apparent they wanted to use the Cradle for weaponized purposes, Kimiya resisted and hid the keys to the generator – the Controllers. As such, all of the scientists and engineers who worked there are either imprisoned or dead.
Memory was dedicated to protecting the generator, but realized that the only way to protect it is to destroy all traces of the perpetual motion technology – a task he leaves to Eb and Flo. After the twins destroy the Cradle, Memory disengages. The facility begins to fall to pieces and self-destruct, reminding them that Memory did, in fact, need to destroy everything that could be led back to the tech – including the twins.
They reach the end of the facility and find a teleporter that can take them to the surface. But they learn that, without the Cradle, there’s no energy to power it. Eb notices that the machine can be operated with the control panel on the other side of the room. He asks for Flo’s controller; he has an idea. Eb powers up the teleporter and sends Flo out first. When he realizes that he can’t be teleported and operate the teleporter at the same time, he accepts that he won’t be getting out of the facility in one piece. After she goes, Eb tosses a shimmering object into the teleporter and watches it go up as the facility collapses around him.
In the end, Flo appears outside in the desert near her town. She’s eagerly awaiting Eb’s arrival, but something else suddenly materializes from the teleporter. She grasps the object and looks in her hand to see the crystal containing Eb’s memories.
I was the narrative game designer on Eb and Flo, in charge of creating the characters, designing the overarching narrative, writing and implementing the dialogue, working with the voice actors, and storyboarding, scripting, and animating the cutscenes. When I was brought onto the project it had little narrative to speak of. I redesigned the narrative from the ground up to create a unique sci-fi story with compelling, endearing, and flawed characters. Eb and Flo explores a variety of themes, but at its core, it’s about the power of family and learning how to let go.
In creating Flo, I used every technique I could to help create a bond between her and the player. She’s clever, self-assured, resourceful, humorous, and ultimately flawed. She suffers from anxiety, and her inability to cope with isolation, yet she is anything but dependent. This made Flo one of the more interesting characters I’ve written, as well as a character capable of creating a brilliant dichotomy in a co-op game. At no point did I consider making her a flawless “Mary Sue” figure. Perfect characters don’t exist in reality
Additionally, Flo had to yearn. As Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” Her driven nature is what kept her going and what decidedly had players root for her. But after her secret was spilled and the game resolves, the question at the end is whether or not Flo will rebuild Eb (seeing as she has his memories). Or is she able to let go of her need to fill the void left by her father?
Eb is the yin to Flo’s yang and is, essentially, perfect. Smart, witty, athletic, precise. But as I mentioned earlier, in literature, nothing real is perfect, and nothing perfect is real, which supports the fact that Eb (a.k.a. Electronic Brother) is an artificial being. Designing Eb wasn’t difficult, but it was tricky balancing the game in a way that it wasn’t all just about Flo’s internal dilemmas. As such, Eb’s existential crisis and 180-switch in personality 2/3rds through the game is something that I enjoyed exploring.
What happens when you set up a pattern and then pull the rug from under your audience? For the first three levels of the game, Eb is the resident Comeback King, with lively, humorous exchanges with his sister at every turn. But after the incident that reveals he’s a robot, he becomes cold and distant. His voice is even slightly distorted to reflect that he may not be the same person.
At the end of the game, however, Eb embodies self-sacrifice – with a characteristic punchline. Realizing he can’t escape the facility in one piece, he sends up just the most important part of himself as the facility is falling into ruin. However, his bittersweet end presents the notion that maybe Eb would prefer not to exist at all. And if he was rebuilt, would he even be the same?
The scientists are broken up into the personas of Setsuko Amaya, Col. Jackson Heyworth, Desmond Sharp, and Ibrahim Kimiya. Save for Kimiya, these scientists (who are only encountered via intercom) help the twins through the labs.
Inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, each of these scientists is a mentor in their own way, with significance found both in their lives and their deaths. The secretive, no-nonsense Amaya teaches them about their abilities; the gruff, tough-love Heyworth teaches them the history of the facility; and the twisted, patronizing Desmond Sharp teaches them how to overcome their issues and accept who they are. And when the twins find Memory, they learn that Amaya is deceased for hiding the whereabouts of the lab, Heyworth is deceased for spilling the details of the military’s underhanded practices, Sharp committed suicide after being arrested and forced to test on former colleagues, and Kimiya, their father, was executed for high treason. The scientists are, effectively, ghosts in the machine trying to do one last bit of good.
- Narrative through Dialogue
Eb and Flo is bursting at the seams with voice-acted dialogue. Each line is voiced over with talent coming from some of the best actors my college had to offer. For this, I was the judge and coordinator for open voice acting auditions on my campus. These actors are what made the characters come to life, and I worked closely with the audio designer and the actors in each recording session to make sure each line was delivered perfectly while allowing the actors to throw in their own flair. Scripts were written with modifiers to guide the actors, but in multiple instances, the scripts were adjusted to better suit the actor’s personality and idiosyncrasies.
One other narrative mechanic was establishing the concept of “regeneration,” where players are warped away from danger moments before dying by the ever-watchful scientists. But when the video feed cuts out in the third level and the characters can’t be saved from harm, the status quo is turned on its head when Eb is nearly killed during one of the game’s most surprising events.
- Narrative through Level Design
Eb and Flo is set in futuristic Iran, with several elements alluding to the fact, but never explicitly stating it. Clues included Arabic hazard signs, sand falling through the cracks in the facility, the tan skin color of the protagonists, the pearl-white city overlooking the desert at the end of the game, “kimiya” being the Iranian word for “alchemy,” and more.
Making the characters Iranian was a conscious choice from the beginning, to give me fresh themes to work with. Too often developers make Caucasian protagonists, likely because they feel it’d be the best way to connect with the controlling share of their target demographic (young Caucasian males). Regardless, the themes of weaponized technology and underground labs in Iran faintly provoke the question: what might the Middle East really be doing? Eb and Flo handles that topic with finesse and explores it in a refreshing new light.
The last component of narrative level design comes from its relationship with the narrative progression. As the story goes, Dr. Kimiya invented perpetual motion energy technology for a good purpose, he enhanced and refined his design for new applications, he had his work used by the military to build weapons behind his back, and he then broke ties with the military and their funds, only to meet a tragic end for standing up for what’s right.
Level 1 explores perpetual motion at its base level, Level 2 explores the tech in more multifaceted applications, Level 3 is when rocket launchers are introduced and turrets begin using your abilities against you, and Level 4 is when the divide between the twins occurs, with Level 5 concluding it all. In the case of Eb and Flo, the narrative and level design were inextricably linked.
Written, scored, directed, and animated by Jovan Ellis