4Gamers – Interview | Laure de Mai, founder of Balloon Studios, developer of Botany Manor

Unfortunately, it doesn't happen very often that we have the opportunity to interview a Belgian developer, so when Microsoft allowed us to speak to Laure De Mey from Balloon Studios, we clearly didn't miss the opportunity.

Laure de Mai (pictured right) is the founder of Balloon Studios, which… Botany Manor Launched, it is a fun puzzle game that you can play on PC, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch. The game is also available for free via Xbox Game Pass. In addition to Laure De Mey, we also spoke with Kitt Byrne (pictured left), who was responsible for the game's 2D art.

4Gamers: Laure, let's start with the simplest question. Can you tell me more about Balloon Studios and Botany Manor.

Lura: You founded the studio after signing the publishing deal for Botany Manor. Our goal is to create games that allow people to escape into historical worlds. It is reminiscent of Botany Manor in 19th century England.

“When I was a kid I was already a fan of Croft Manor in Tomb Raider.”

That was also the original vision for the game, to translate my love of visiting English country houses into a game. I moved to the UK from Belgium about six years ago and it was one of the things I instantly loved. Even as a kid I was a fan of Croft Manor in Tomb Raider.

4G: So Botany Manor existed before Balloon Studios. So starting your own studio wasn't an immediate jump into the deep end, you already had something you could work on.

Lura: The passion for creating the game was already there in the beginning. I had already worked on some games before this, but I always wanted to develop my own vision from scratch. Thanks to the game, I was able to obtain the necessary funding and then we started looking for the right team to make the game.

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4G: This must have been a good move, hiring more people who can work on something you've had in mind for some time.

Lura: Yes offcourse. Especially to hire an artist, like Kate, for example. I'm not the most artistic person, I'm a programmer and I know a thing or two about it, but I could never create something like what Kit is doing now. It's weird and incredible to see that happen.

4G: What was that experience like for you, Kate? Is it easy to work with Laure, because she obviously already has a very specific image in mind?

Kate: No, she was great to work with, and she sells herself as being a bit short on technical skills. She may not have the greatest skills, but she always had very good references. She clearly knew what the spaces should be like, and that clear vision also ensured a good balance across the team, where we still had enough space to put forward our own ideas.

“Our game is not fantasy, it is history.”

So I had the security of good guidance, as well as the opportunity to try new things.

4G: Lore, what was it like for you, as an outsider, to make a purely English game. How helpful was it to be able to work with all these real British people around you?

Lura: It was very useful, because our game is not fiction, but history. So it helps to have a local team. Additionally, it also prevented me from making any grammatical errors when writing the dialogue.

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Kate: For my part, it was nice to be able to come up with the things I learned in school. “Maybe there's no window there, because there was a tax on the windows and they boarded them up” and things like that.

4G: Why botany as a subject? If you set your game in a palace, you have a number of options, but you choose botany.

Lura: There were many reasons, but our visit to Charles Darwin's house had the greatest impact. He used this entire house for plant research, had a greenhouse and so on. So I had an idea: “Great, imagine using your entire house for research!” In addition, botany is a somewhat romantic science, which can also be easily turned into gameplay. Growing plants is also a satisfying bonus.

4G: What was it like for you, Kate? When you hear plants and flowers, you know you can work with many colors.

Kate: I really love nature anyway, so I was excited to work on a game that had a lot of nature in it. There is a long history of flowers and plants in art, so in that respect there has been some pressure to honor that history.

4G: Lore, you've worked on these types of relaxing games in the past. Why is this type preferred?

Lura: The motto of the company I was working for was that games should be playable for everyone, and I believe that. The puzzles are also set up in such a way that you just have to be able to solve them by looking around carefully and finding the hints.

The big inspiration was something like Return of the Obra Dinn, which could perhaps be described more as a “information game” than a puzzle game. This also applies to Botany Manor.

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4G: Kate, you've said previously that Lore had a clear vision for the game, but you undoubtedly had other sources of inspiration as well.

Kate: Haha yes. I've learned throughout development that I'm a bit of a “history nerd.” I really loved all the research I had to do to make everything as authentic as possible, but in a way that was more accessible and a little more stylized.

“When I started playing the game, the term ‘comfortable player’ didn’t exist yet.”

Lura: I remember in those first few weeks you would come back from the library with hundreds of books about Victorian homes.

Kate: Yeah, maybe I was a little too excited there.

4G: It shows that this was a real passion project for both of you. We talked earlier about the style of the game, which is a relaxing game. The style is clearly gaining popularity, especially after the coronavirus crisis. Is this something you see as well?

Lura: It has certainly become a massive movement. When I started working on the game, the term “relaxing game” didn't really exist, but I'm really happy to see that this has changed and that the audience for these games has also found something that really suits them. This helped us, because it made it easier for us to find our audience.

It also removed some of the negative connotations surrounding the word “gamer”. Nowadays, being a “gamer” or even a “relaxed gamer” has become a perfectly acceptable pastime.

4G: Of course we completely agree with that. Laure and Kate, thank you for your time and good luck at Botany Manor.

Botany Manor has been available since April 9 on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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