Interview: Jusant’s vertical world explored with game’s creative directors

Meera Jacka
Jusant interview

We interviewed the creative directors of Jusant to learn more about the developmental process behind their unique action-puzzler climbing adventure.

Jusant is Don’t Nod’s upcoming action-puzzler, set to be released this October 2023. The game will see players scale to new heights as a lone climber braving a mysterious and desolate tower.

There’s an abandoned civilization etched into the cliff face and players will have the chance to uncover the tower’s secrets, accompanied by a small, water-based creature.

So, get ready to swing into action because here’s what Kevin Poupard and Mathieu Beaudelin — the creative directors behind Jusant — had to say about what it takes to become an elite climber in this atmospheric world.

Before the climb

Jusant is a game in which history plays a pivotal role in the story told. Therefore, we thought it would only be right to do the same, asking Poupard and Beaudelin about the game’s initial inception.

“We wanted to test a new storytelling approach. The ambition behind Jusant was to have a simple and minimalist story, based on a single strong and clearly identifiable gameplay loop. We also knew that we wanted the gameplay of this loop to symbolically tell something about the story.”

This ultimately led to the idea of a “gigantic tower” for players to climb, allowing for original gameplay and plenty of “visual potential.” Exploring a style of play not often used at Don’t Nod, the universe and design of Jusant offered an interesting challenge; “We are proud to have succeeded in overcoming this and it has taught us a lot of things to better anticipate the future challenges that await us!”

Games that helped inspire Jusant included Thatgamecompany’s Journey, Playdead’s Inside, and Japan Studio and Team Ico’s Shadow of the Colossus. The creative directors praised how “each in their own way” showcased an “overall minimalist approach, a refined design, supported by an almost wordless narration, more based on evocation.”

“All we had to do was find a story that resonated with all, and even though it may have changed in small ways during development, we knew that we had something powerful in this vertical movement to exploit.”

Jusant cinematic
Jusant is an atmospheric action-puzzler that is visually stunning and packed with immersive gameplay.

Building the tower

Jusant’s world is vibrant and fantastical; sweeping dunes where the ocean once was, the tower soaring above the wastelands.

From its saturated color scheme to its “ethereal” soundtrack, everything in the game’s design has been “thought out vertically.” This is because it was important to the directors “to convey the feeling that people once lived there on the tower and moved up and down it in a vertical society.”

“There had to be similarities with our world, like certain objects or constructions that look like boats or homes, while adding our own touch in order to immerse players in this unknown world as well. The visual style was therefore chosen to distort reality a little, to play with its conventions to better make them our own.”

And while doors cannot be opened, players relying on crumbling foundations and open passageways “can instinctively understand that behind these walls, there were also inhabitants living there, families, and that the tower was their home before they left.”

Jusant world building
Jusant is filled with the remains of an abandoned society, offering players plenty to explore.

In terms of Jusant’s soundtrack, music composed by Guillaume Ferran plays tribute to all of the game’s various details with a “unique tone,” from “the sound of rocks in our hands” to “the wind whistling in our ears.”

There are “very sunny sounds” that occur throughout the game to encourage players on their journey, and even the climber’s little companion, Ballast, has his own theme.

“As he is made of water, Guillaume composed the track so that the piano notes make us think of rain falling all around us.”

Jusant Ballast
Ballast is the small water companion joining the climber on his journey.

The mechanics of an elite climber

Jusant stands out thanks to its unique and meditative gameplay with a hands-on approach that defies genre expectations.

Players get the chance to control each of the climber’s hands, which direction he moves, which hand hole he grabs, and how he navigates the tower’s challenges. In Jusant’s earlier stages of development, there was a prototype control for both arms and legs. However, the complexity involved was “clearly against our notion of fluidity” and the idea was later scrapped.

“One would expect, because of the nature of climbing, something very physical, intense, with a high difficulty level, but we had an introspective experience in mind. We started from the principle that even if the gameplay had to bring a certain complexity, it was above all necessary to favor fluidity and instinctive control of the character.”

To capture the feeling of rock climbing, research led Poupard and Beaudelin to be “struck” by the “tranquility” many climbers experienced; “They take the time to look at the walls they try to climb, to read them – their movements are measured. We tried to encapsulate this feeling in the controls.”

With plenty to explore and no need for players to rush their ascent up the tower, Jusant’s journey can be expected to be completed in “less than 10 hours.”

Jusant gameplay
Jusant offers unique gameplay that puts players in the climber’s shoes.

Inspiring hope and a sense of accomplishment

Don’t Nod is known for “creating powerful and immersive narrative experiences,” with previous games such as Life Is Strange tugging at players’ heartstrings and having them reaching for a box of tissues.

Jusant, however, offers to leave players on a more hopeful note, with the experience designed to be an “immediate feeling of accomplishment” as the tower’s various challenges are overcome.

There are also more tragic undertones in Jusant’s story on a “subject which unfortunately is very current,” but these are left for the interpretation of players.

Be sure to check out Jusant’s free demo on Steam before September 19, with much to look forward to when the full game is released later this year.