Announced in May 2023, Ultras impressed a large part of the public mainly due to its Extremely colorful and unique visuals, presenting a completely original alien world. As time went by, we discovered more details, starting with its creative director, the composer and artist Niklas Åkerblad, better known as El Huervo. The Swede is very famous not only for his polychromatic and stylized works, but also for working alongside Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin in creating the indie classic Miami Hotline.
With just over a week to go until its launch, we spoke to the Hadok narrative creator Pelle Cahndlerbyto understand more about the creation of this world, its influences and expectations for this great metroidvania, which has been compared to Hollow Knight. Check out our interview below.
Voxel: Where did the idea come from to create the colorful and wild world of Ultras?
Pelle Cahndlerby: The boring answer is that it didn't just come from one place, of course, but the truth is that it came from everywhere, with different influences at the same time. It came from when our composer and sound designer Oscar (Rydelius) was studying sustainability and agriculture. It came when me, Nicholas (El Huervo) and game designer Rick Morton were talking about doing a project. And it also came from a night walk of mine and Nicholas, where we discussed philosophy, psychology and other strange things in the middle of the night. All of this together ended up helping us conceive the initial idea of the devil.
V: On your Twitter (or X), you said that, in addition to working as a writer and narrative designer, you are doing the phrase “a lot of philosophical and poetic nursing”. What does that mean?
PRAÇA: It means I'm pretentious (laughs). In fact, it means that when I'm expressing myself, I usually look for poetic things. I want everything to be suggestive, to have a meaning that you don't have to understand, but you feel that there is something right about it, you get emotional and feel something. That's what I've been trying to bring to Ultras.
Since I was young, I have always expressed myself through images and texts, which influenced me to always create curious and somewhat mysterious works. Sometimes, as a writer, you need to tell people exactly what to do in the tutorial, but I prefer to generate emotions, not needing to make sense. It has to make sense with the game you're working on, of course, but in Ultras It's a demonic combination.
V: And what were your influences for Ultras in general, not just games?
PRAÇA: They came from different places, as creative work normally does. Everything has already been done, it's already in the world in some form, so it's your job as an interpretive artist to choose the pieces you like and put them together. I was very inspired by the works of David Lynch, especially in relation to the narrative. I prefer to give people a feeling or bring them into something atmospheric, just like his work with colors and camera angles and the way he doesn't explain anything to you but gives everyone something that makes them sit on the edge of their seat, even if they don't understand.
In terms of art, everything came from El Huervo's mind. He has had a long and successful career bringing color and symbolism to his work. Now, what I see that influenced the devil was me being open to following the trail of colors and what I want to say to people. Often, we look at the environment to tell the story, give directions or make people curious. This all doesn't need words, so it's important to cut them, especially because many people don't read it and start complaining about the amount of text. At the same time, the writer has to look at all of this and think “am I benefiting from this or am I just throwing in more words?” But going back to the inspirations, for a rich game like Ultrasit would be very difficult to point and say that this or that was used.
V: And what is the hardest part of creating an original alien environment? The creatures? The flora? The look?
PRAÇA: I think the hardest part is that an alien environment can be anything, it starts there. So you have all the possibilities, but I think it's better to narrow it down to work on a few main questions. “We’re going to make an alien world, but it has to be colorful”, so we’re heading away from the dark and gray path of science fiction and looking for every color imaginable. And, of course, if you work well with the environment, you give greater focus to the plants, which must have different shapes and colors. So, you find another path, of wildlife, which is not like in the movie Alien, but very sterile.
With all of this, it's kind of hard to know when to stop, because you also want to be curious and follow things until you discover that there's no room for it. You must be open to going wherever your impulses take you. Some inspirations come from poetry, music, art and mechanics. So with all these possibilities, sometimes it's hard to know what creates a spark of creativity from an alien world, but it all starts with knowing that it could be anything.
V: Ultras was shown at several events. How has the reception been so far and what are your expectations for the launch?
PRAÇA: They have been incredibly positive. People have been very kind and curious about what we are doing and, as an artist, what I want is to generate emotions in people. So I can say that we are halfway there, which is presenting something that intrigues people and makes them say “I’ve never seen anything like this before”. I couldn't be happier about it. With the launch, it would be great if people maintained this curiosity and remained open to experiencing with their own eyes all the colors, music and texts that make you think critically. Of course, because it's a game, it's also very good mechanically, but I would like you to appreciate the artistic side.
V: Do you plan any DLC or even a sequel?
PRAÇA: I think that the world we have today to present to the public has consumed both our energy and our creativity, we don't know what could happen in the future, but we are focused on delivering the game.
V: On the internet, some people are saying that Ultras is a “psychedelic Hollow Knight”. What do you think of this comparison?
PRAÇA: If you get them to test the game, no problem, but I would say Ultras It is Ultras.
V: Finally, what are you most proud of? Ultras?
PRAÇA: I'm proud that we maintained our curiosity and learned more about ourselves. As artists, there are times when you go into creative mode, doing things and wanting to change the world, but stopping to recognize the change in yourself and what it does to you. You learn what to feel, what you want to feel and how to say yes and no to things, and you end up thinking more about your own soul and needs, and this has been very important throughout the project.
Ultras will be released on February 13th for PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.