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.