Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Lovely Planet - A Curious Case of Sequelitis

Lovely Planet worked in mysterious ways, often in ways I myself could not foresee. Dedicated players reduced seemingly linear levels into a short sequence of carefully adjusted jumps cutting across impossible gaps while collecting points from shooting friendlies. Walls could be jumped over, bomb triggers were easily avoidable and enemies could be taken in more than one order. While the first half of the game was intentionally made to work that way, it wasn't the focus throughout. A small fraction of players found a fun game to play there, but a larger share of the audience that perhaps wasn't born and brought up on twitch shooters found themselves stuck only a dozen levels into the game.

Expecting players to learn levels and find the fastest most efficient path through those levels was something that wouldn't have been possible without first allowing for some flexibility. While I'm a big advocate for player creativity, I feel Lovely Planet couldn't carefully balance between offering that flexibility and sporting a gripping shooting gallery at the same time. This freedom to break levels naturally pulls in the other direction away from the tight and snappy shooting, which is an aspect I'm looking to address with the next game.

Awarding more of this freedom before limiting the possibility space would make for a terrible experience, like playing chess without a grid. That being said, the next Lovely Planet isn't a turn based strategy board game, far from it. This essential reduction of possibility space was achieved by stripping away the Y-Axis, that means we now have arenas built on a flat surface with no looking up or down, much like Wolfenstein 3D but adorable. This oversimplification of working in a two dimensional space makes room for more variety in other mechanics like the jump, which is more important now than it was in the original game. This opens the door for enemy types and obstacles that understand the playing field better, I have a long list of enemies, traps and gizmos that populate the levels but I'll wait till later to share more about them.

This simplified structure and modular design of the game world should suggest a level editor. Levels are assembled by picking from a list of obstacles, triggers, pickups and enemies which can all be wired up using an event dispatcher and listener system. I can't promise a production quality level editor on release but that's how I plan to put the game together myself. Most of the levels are prepared already, having the obstacles and enemy types designed, tested and finalized earlier made it a lot easier to start designing levels. I went in with a firm grasp on the progression, resulting in a more streamlined experience with more variety in gameplay.

The presentation adjusts itself accordingly, everything is still flat shaded and texture-less, the colors too are plentiful. You'll find the familiar pink hearts sprinkled on the ground but the gun doesn't spit an explosion of red stars. Of all the things personally I feel we'll miss the Sunshine Gun the most - a dull grey nine millimeter handgun takes its place for good reason, the iconic rifle with the giant rotating star can't be matched.

Lovely Planet is one year old now, the tinyBuild publishing mega-machine will steer to focus its attention on this game only after its done with the first one. That should give me enough time to pack more fun into it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lovely Planet - This Time it's Personal

While Lovely Planet is finding its way to consoles and my accountant is busy talking gibberish over the phone, I've been toying with multiple prototypes looking for something interesting to work on. With a whole list of ideas waiting to be realized in software form it's easy to get distracted with what looks like the easy way out and right now between a few incomplete prototypes and unrealistically ambitious ideas, that inviting distraction happens to be Lovely Planet itself.

Despite being the most simple and straightforward game, Lovely Planet leaves room for improvement. The kind of improvement I'm looking at here doesn't involve adding to the game though - if I had better enemies, levels or whole new mechanics to add to the same game, an expansion of sorts would do the trick, but the kind of upgrade that I have in mind calls for a whole new framework. There is a wide array of little things that troubled me with Lovely Planet which I think I can fix, but only with a different game starting from scratch without the baggage that comes with the original. What makes for a good sequel is one that builds and improves on its predecessor and trying to recognize what makes the experience for players that enjoyed the original game can be an interesting exercise but not one I'm going to waste my time with.

It is not surprising at all that there is a longer list of elements that were removed from the original than the new stuff which has found its way into this next iteration. I wouldn't want to reveal too much just yet but the platforming is more concise, the controls are simplified and the enemies are smarter and more agile. All of this was achieved at a cost that some players might not agree with but I'm sure this fresh new design brings better more interesting gameplay that fans of the original would most certainly enjoy.

In short expect more, but not more of the same - can't confirm if and when this game will actually happen but one promise I can make is that the essence of Lovely Planet will be left untouched - a gun ballet the way you know and love, which is enough reason for me to call it a sequel.