Backbone Explores a Dystopian Vancouver With a Fitting Protagonist

The principles of Vancouver-based video game developer EggNut were on a call talking about an idea for a sci-fi oriented game when raccoons attacked the compost bin in co-founder’s Nikita Danshin’s backyard. He scared them away by playing a trumpet.

“We couldn’t stop laughing about it, and decided to make a game about raccoons stealing stuff through with a dark jazz soundtrack featuring the trumpet,” says co-founder Aleksandra Korabelnikova. “Then our artist Kristina [Dashevskaya] made a concept of a raccoon detective in a fedora, and we decided to set the game in Vancouver, because it’s the most noir city ever that never plays itself.”

Thus, Backbone was born. A Kickstarter campaign launched in 2018 (it beat its goal by $30,000, raising more than $95,000), with the prologue release on Steam last year garnering rave reviews. Swedish publisher Raw Fury signed on to distribute the full game, which is marked for a 2021 release.

The game features Howard, a chain-smoking raccoon private eye making his way through a dystopian downtown Vancouver populated with other animals as he tries to solve a mystery. Players interact with the other inhabitants of the city looking for clues. But those familiar with Vancouver will be just as interested by the way the city is portrayed.

“The animals made Vancouver their own, adapting existing buildings and infrastructure to their needs,” says Korabelnikova. “So you will definitely recognize Vancouver landmarks, but our art team has given it a new, exciting flavour.”

The city’s downtown is divided into different neighbourhoods for business, leisure, government, production districts and farms in the Greenery.

Though Korabelnikova doesn’t want to give away too much of the game, she admits that the parts of the West End in the game are based on Eihu Lane and pivotal points take place in Nelson Park.

And the prologue (playable on Steam now) takes you through Granville Street, what Korabelnikova calls the business centre of the city. Vancouverites will recognize Roxy Burger (Foxy Burger in the game), the Vogue Theatre (now the Rogue) and other buildings in the game that are based on real locations. The interior of the Fairmont Hotel also reportedly plays a big role in the full game. 

While the entire team is not based here, the EggNut crew has relied extensively on Google Maps and reports from those on the ground.

“Our artist Maria [Danshin] scouts Vancouver on foot for very detailed photos when we need specific references for a location,” says art director Toma Klepinina. “Generally we try to be faithful to the proportions, architecture and vibe, but not to make exact copies of those locations—sometimes buildings are in a different order, streets get mixed up a little. It’s all part of our established style and the process of making the city work for our game.”

Asked to describe the atmosphere or mood of the game, Korabelnikova responds with “Thick. Though it presents as noir, we steer clear of a lot of the usual tropes. The game deals with some heavy themes but in an accessible way—it’s not super grim, trying to be super-adult, or really depressing and nihilistic to play.”

Maybe the real Vancouver could learn a thing or two?