Looking at the images dotted around these pages, it’d be easy to assume Lost in Play is a charming new children’s cartoon coming to a TV network near you. In fact, it’s the creative vision of Happy Juice Games, a tightly knit studio comprised of former animators based in Israel who, not so long ago, decided to turn their talents to the point-and-click adventure genre. By doing so, it hopes to rekindle the feeling many of us first experienced as kids when tapping into our own childhood fantasies. If you ever picked up a tree branch and used it as a sword or built a castle fort out of pillows, you’ll recognise plenty in Toto and Gal’s imagination-fuelled adventure.
The team didn’t have to look far when seeking inspiration for such a relatable concept. “Having young kids of our own and watching them get totally immersed in playing make-believe games made us want to capture that feeling we also remember growing up,” says developer and Happy Juice Games co-founder Yuval Markovich. “The storyline includes many situations between Toto and Gal, ranging from fighting each other to being totally in sync, which we took from our own experiences playing with our siblings growing up. Working so much with a story like this one sure brings out the different nostalgic feelings we still carry from playing with our own siblings, knowing that there was a type of connection and shared imaginary world that you can’t get back as an adult.”
Much like any brother-and-sister dynamic, though, Lost in Play’s two protagonists won’t always see eye to eye. As a result, at various points in the story, this fraught relationship will see them split paths, letting players experience two sides of their journey before watching Toto and Gal slowly come together again. Depicting this sibling rivalry with such accuracy was crucial to let the team further tap into a whimsical sense of camaraderie, as well as imagination. “Toto, the older brother, is more timid and introverted,” Markovich explains. “He tries to avoid conflict and would rather run than engage.” And his younger sister? “Gal is much more outgoing, silly, and brave. She often plays tricks on him and always tries to push him out of his comfort zone.”
The pair’s vastly different personalities even play into the obstacles featured throughout. Because unlike a lot of point-and-click adventure games which have you connect key items to a specific place in order to progress, Lost in Play merges this classic approach to story and exploration with a wide range of different puzzle types. From playing a game of chequers with an owl to win a screwdriver you require, to shifting gears in the correct manner in order to fix an alarm clock you need to wake somebody up, Happy Juice Games has cooked up plenty of creative conundrums for players to overcome.
“We playtested our game a lot and tried to avoid illogical solutions in the point-and-click puzzles,” says Markovich of perfecting the game’s difficulty level. “We always use the example from playing Monkey Island where you need a monkey and use it as a monkey wrench. Growing up in a non-English speaking country, that example never made sense to us, and it was frustrating.”
This unique nitpick inspired the team to use a made-up language for characters to communicate; it would also ensure Lost in Play would be just as approachable anywhere in the world. “We love using visual storytelling over spoken dialogue. It makes the game much more universal in its appeal – plus it’s fun!” Turns out there was another specific benefit, too. “Not to mention how much money it saved us on localisation costs,” he chuckles.
Whereas a lot of modern point-and-click titles tend to look backwards for their art style approach to try and be faithful to genre entries from the eighties and nineties, the exact opposite is true of the aesthetic Happy Juice Games wanted to evoke. There are no blocky sprites or polygons to be found here; instead, Lost in Play owes a great debt to the modern, Cartoon Network era of 2D animation. With the team’s background, this seemed like a natural choice, with Markovich and his collaborators making the animation feel more like the kind you’d see on TV rather than in games. “It’s definitely challenging and time-consuming,” he says, “but we do have over twelve years of experience animating for broadcast television in Israel. We used the same approach that we used for animating shows.”
The result is an adventure game that doesn’t look or play much like a conventional game at all, yet still offers plenty of calls for imaginative adventure. Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, the story of Toto and Gal should prove a tough one to resist.
Making perfect puzzles
Lost in Play is brimming with so many ideas that reflect the characters’ own imaginations, it was a challenge for Happy Juice Games to whittle them all down. “We would do a quick sketch of an idea and know pretty fast whether or not the scenario works for us,” says Markovich. “Puzzles we were sure would work didn’t, and others we thought wouldn’t be that good turned out to be the best. You can never really know before you’ve tested them on actual players.”
Making the puzzle relevant to the story also helps players make visual sense of what the solution could be. “For example, when the siblings try to catch a frog, we created a board game where each sibling is a pawn trying to corner the frog the game controls.”
Genre Point-and-click adventure | Format PC | Developer Happy Juice Games | Publisher Joystick Ventures | Release 10 August 2022 | Social @HappyJuiceGames