Cuddly animals meet grand sci-fi in FixFox – a 2D open-world adventure from the Czech Republic.
With its furry protagonist and obsession with comfort food, there’s a wholesomeness to the upcoming FixFox that contrasts quite strikingly with its sci-fi world-building. It’s set in a future where humans have begun splicing their genes with those of animals in order to survive the harshness of space: fur insulates them from the cold; their new-found ability to hibernate means they can sleep through the long journeys between planets. Such is the backdrop for a top-down adventure where your primary objective, as vulpine mechanic Vix, is to explore an alien world populated by robots, repairing the locals’ broken-down household appliances.
When coming up with FixFox’s premise, Czech developer Jaroslav Meloun was inspired by, of all things, the lofty genre classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey – which also pops up in another we game we covered recently: Naut. “Interstellar transcendence may not come to mind when you see a cute pixelated fox eating a bowl of rice,” Meloun concedes, “but the strong contrast between the intimately personal stories of the main characters and the grandiosity of mysterious events that brings them together felt like a really interesting plot to tackle.”
Roam around FixFox’s open world, and you’ll discover a varied landscape of desert, farmland, and mountains, with their own communities, cuisines, and stuff to repair. Those repairs are made by solving puzzles, which, in turn, triggers food-themed challenges. “As a reward for fixing machines, you get to taste some of the local cuisines, which is also a first-person minigame,” Meloun explains. “The local robots have a strange rule: along with sharing a meal, the host must always share a secret. You’ll need to pay attention to the conversation while eating, sifting out the hidden nuggets of wisdom that will help along your quest. Food is a big part of the FixFox world – it just adds a feeling of comfort and cosiness.”
Your furry odyssey will also take you off-world, to “mysterious, ancient objects” orbiting the planet. “Towards the end of the game,” Meloun says, “you’ll even get to venture where no human or fox has gone before.”
With its mixture of exploration and repairs, there’s a lot going on in FixFox, then, and Meloun concedes that he’s never embarked on a project of this scale before. But by procedurally generating certain elements in the game, including the terrain and puzzles, he’s managed to find a way to get the scope he was looking for as a solo developer. “I’ve had to create my own tools, of course. Since the terrain is procedurally generated, I made a system for crafting tiles with pseudo-random variations. So I’d create a building with multiple variants of decorations, then a village with multiple building variants, and boom! The game was able to spawn countless small villages with each looking a bit different.
“A similar system was used for the repair puzzles… there are dozens of fixable elements, and the innards of each machine that you need to fix are generated from a random selection of these elements. A few of these puzzles are pre-scripted in the tutorials, but the rest are procedurally generated, always different, theoretically allowing for an infinite number of combinations.”
The global pandemic and the arrival of a new baby have added an extra layer of challenge to FixFox’s development – the latter making time management an even more critical element of the game’s production than before. “I started working on the game in the middle of 2020, and the whole world going upside-down due to the pandemic didn’t help my mental health or ability to focus,” says Meloun. “But working on the game has been my dream for so many years, so I just clenched my teeth and worked as hard as I could. A few months into the production, I became a father. We had everything planned perfectly – I’d take a break at that point for a few weeks, then start slowly ramping up the working hours again. But, as it happens, the reality of it caught me by surprise. Our baby proved to be very high-maintenance, requiring more of our energy than we expected. I wanted to be with my family, but also work on my dream project, so the toughest task has actually been trying to make both work, and finding a balance.”
What’s clear, though, is just what a personal, heartfelt game FixFox is. It’s steeped in the genre fiction Meloun loves; its top-down perspective is inspired by the original Grand Theft Auto, one of his favourite titles as a youth; there are collectable cassettes dotted around its world, which are a nod to his first computer.
“With the Iron Curtain still holding tight, commercial computer games weren’t available, so my first experience came from mobile arcades that arrived once a year with a travelling funfair,” Meloun says of his childhood in the Czech Republic – or Czechoslovakia, as it was then called. “Once the Iron Curtain crashed down in 1989, the first 8-bit computers started seeping in. When my parents brought home a cheap Atari from a newly accessible East Germany, I was mesmerised. Shortly after, thanks to an old textbook, I wrote my first program in BASIC. I was hopelessly hooked. Making games was what I wanted to pursue in my life.”
By the time Meloun reached his college years, he’d set his sights firmly on becoming a game designer – but here too he encountered a stumbling block that would, in a roundabout way, eventually lead him to making FixFox. “I was learning to make games, getting ready to start my career as a game developer,” he recalls. “The problem was that there were no game studios to join at the time. More precisely, I thought I lacked the experience to be hired. So I took a small detour into computer graphics and programming, finally getting into games a few years later. I learned the basics at a few mobile game startups, then joined a punk indie studio, and finally worked a few years of independent freelancing before taking on my first project, which became FixFox.”
Maybe it’s only fitting, then, that FixFox is about a character who’s had to adapt to survive in their particular climate – and has to improvise and make the most of the resources available to them in order to get by. The warmth of FixFox’s characters and plot are also a product of Meloun’s personal game design philosophy, which coalesced when he visited Japan. “I used to play all kinds of games, not being very picky, including shooters and oddities like Carmageddon,” he says. “Then in 2012, I visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan. Witnessing the records of horrors that humanity is capable of shook me very deeply. With games being my main channel of both entertainment and creative expression, I vowed to stop playing and making games that feature violence.”
That’s FixFox in a nutshell, then: it’s an adventure that tackles mind-expanding themes, but in a playful, human way that is uniquely the work of its creator. “In my eyes, on their deepest level, games are a medium that teaches us and shapes our thinking,” says Meloun. “I decided to focus on making games that teach us kindness and empathy, which I think are skills more useful in our everyday lives, as opposed to force and coercion. I won’t be able to change the world, but maybe I can make a small corner of it a bit better.”