Mandrake Phantasy: The BEBADBOI Benchmark

    It started years ago, when Eric Mack and Marcus Seletsky hung out for the first time, and a strong creative bond formed. A bond that would eventually, with the help of Alex Sussman and Tommy Rodricks, spawn creations such as FriendHelper+, and most recently, Mandrake Phantasy. Mack was an artist, Seletsky was a composer, Rodricks was an animator, Sussman was the programmer, and together they created the team named BEBADBOI.

       BEBADBOI’s newest game, Mandrake Phantasy, is a sixty-second game about plucking mandrakes out of the ground and giving them to a mysterious giant woman. It is full of outstanding art direction, exciting music, pleasant gameplay, and a subtle story of mystery. (Read my review here!) With such a short game, BEBADBOI made an experience that was memorable and left me excited about their future creations, which is why I reached out to the team for more information about Mandrake Phantasy, and the creation and future of BEBADBOI.

    BEBADBOI was created in the winter of 2016 when the creative duo started living together in the same apartment as Tommy Rodricks, as well as other creative individuals. After creating many different projects, they decided they needed a name for their creative group.  “One of our Roommates, Dylan Griffin, would get a laugh out of us by impersonating the singer of the “Baby and Me” anime’s theme song. The line he would say was ‘BE BAD BOY!’,” the team said. Sussman joined their group of creation and is a core member of BEBADBOI.

    BEBADBOI’s first game was FriendHelper+, a browser game where you press keys to make an oddly shaped creature say random statements. It was a nice and quirky game, but it was also very simple. The gameplay mechanics were nothing like Mandrake Phantasy, and the storytelling was very scarce. The sequel, FriendHelper++, added more characters and an explorable world but continued to lack a coherent story or gameplay other than interacting with each character. Mandrake Phantasy takes the mystery of the FriendHelper+ series and adds entertaining gameplay that the previous creations lacked.

    Mandrake Phantasy was a huge step in a different direction for BEBADBOI. The graphics were amazing, it had a time limit, and it included enough details to create an intriguing world. Mandrake Phantasy had structure, one where every member of BEBADBOI had an aspect to master, whether it was music, art, or programming, every member contributed to a core part of Mandrake Phantasy, and that was their goal for developing it. “Every member of the team had worked on several games individually, but never with the whole BEBADBOI crew. We’ve been meaning to push the team on a small game, one that not only we were certain we could finish, but one that could also set a benchmark on how we cooperate as a team,” they said. BEBADBOI succeeded and created a game that showcased all of their abilities as creators in a splendid way.

    The team originally came up with the idea of Mandrake Phantasy after a night of partying. They were hoping to create a game in a day since they were all hungover and wanting to create something. “We ended with a design of a game that was one minute long, had one solid mechanic, and a hyper-minimal story that made the player curious about the world,” but there was one problem, “We misjudged the scope of the game and ended up scrapping the work we did that day. We were into the concept of the game enough to keep working on it until it was finished, which was around a month later,” they said.

    During their day of being hungover, yet creative, the team drew inspiration from videos and anime. During their first day of development, a video of Rune Factory, a farming RPG simulation game, was playing in the living room while they worked, which influenced the gameplay where you pluck mandrakes from the ground. Other influences were the anime Kanamewo, which influenced the design of one of the main characters of Mandrake Phantasy, and a scene of Flying Witch, where a mandrake is pulled out of the ground by Makoto and is gifted to Nao as an offering for a stronger friendship.

    Even though the idea of pulling out mandrakes was influenced by Flying Witch and Rune Factory, the gameplay itself was heavily influenced by the Pikmin series. Sussman said, The biggest inspiration for me personally was the Pikmin series. Plucking Pikmin out of the ground was incredibly satisfying. The gameplay was established in words early on, but I heavily referenced Pikmin for those sweet, sweet timings and effects.”

    The receiver of the mandrakes, which she refers to as friends, is still shrouded in mystery. The giant blue woman that is Mandrake Phantasys core storytelling device, is inspired by two elements, Mack stated, “her design was definitely influenced by the tree spirit girl in the previously mentioned, Kanamewo, by Rapparu and also Gwynevere from Dark Souls!” Her role in the story, however, will continue to be a mystery. Mack refused to give any details of who she is or the reason for her existence in the world of Mandrake Phantasy, stating, “I think we’re going to keep her purpose a secret for now.”

BEBADBOI
The mysterious blue giant

    I expected that answer, and believe that players will be left to create their own reasons for her existence. The odd aspect of the blue giant is her purpose in the world. Mandrake Phantasy’s setting seems very lifeless and abandoned, so it is weird that a giant, who can’t seem to pull up mandrakes herself, is randomly sitting in the middle of the land. The space of the world where you play is very restricted, but due to its design including bridges to other locations, the scope of the world seems large.

    The design, according to Mack, was influenced by games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Ico, Pikmin, and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, while also stating that it was influenced by other forms of media such as the Studio Ghibli movie Castle in the Sky, and the mangaka Tsutomu Nihei, author of manga such as BLAME! And Knights of Sidonia.

    While the world is beautiful and takes inspiration from other great art, what really brought the game to life is the soundtrack, which populated the lonely world of Mandrake Phantasy with beautiful melodies, and made the short and sweet gameplay thrilling for many playthroughs. Seletsky explains the decisions he made to create the soundtrack:

“The game was going to be 60 seconds long. I wanted the tempo to be divisible by 60 so that the beats in the song would correlate with the timer. I also felt that the song should have a driving beat, so I chose to have there be a thumping kick drum on every beat (this drum pattern is known as “four on the floor”). I wanted the world to have a pretty song, with a hint of melancholy to compliment the tone that was set by the dialogue. For the instrumentation, I wanted to use acoustic instruments, as I felt they would complement the high fantasy aspect of the game’s aesthetic. I also wanted there to be electronic elements to the music since it very much looks like a video game. When I was working on the music for Mandrake Phantasy, I tried to be very conscious of the feelings that the visuals gave me and tried to amplify those feelings with the music. Someone who was very influential in my overall approach to this song would be Will Wiesenfeld (AKA Baths, Geotic).”

    BEBADBOI attempted to create a game that showed how strong they were as a team, and they succeeded. Mandrake Phantasy mixes its extravagant music, its simplistic gameplay, and its beautiful world and characters in a wonderful way. What’s next for BEBADBOI? Well, currently they are working on a new project that is not related to Mandrake Phantasy, but they said they are definitely thinking about revisiting the world and expanding it. Regardless of what their next creation is, BEBADBOI has proven that they have potential and they are constantly improving their skills. To get information on their next projects, follow BEBADBOI on Twitter and itch.io.