Thursday, November 24, 2016

Super Lovely Planet - An Introduction

Not too long ago, before it was given its new alias, Super Lovely Planet was known in some circles as Lovely Planet Adventure. The word “Adventure” was suitable for the experience I was trying to deliver at the time. A lot of things changed and playtesting showed the adventure aspect of the game was the least exciting of everything it had on offer. I wrote about this previously before this game was revealed. Now that the secret is out, I thought I’d give some context to that article so it makes more sense.

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Throwback to the first game I was hoping to return to the original format of the five worlds each with its own unique set of enemies, mechanics and setting. It worked straightforwardly with Lovely Planet, so part of me was expecting it would translate well for this game too. I was excited to reimagine the City, Village and Forest areas once more.

The twist I was hoping to pull off was a Dark Souls-esque progression system where players would unlock new areas by enabling a central checkpoint making parts of the world more accessible. This mechanic saw parts of almost every level being watered down to deliver less of the platforming challenges and more exploration. Navigation was a big part of the game, exploration was encouraged and getting lost was part of the experience.

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A Checkpoint
I put a lot of effort into that aspect hoping it would eventually take shape but a few annoyances never loosened their grip on the whole experience. Players would get lost, which was partly intentional but it wasn’t the least bit enjoyable. Everything looked samey, different locations didn’t pop out with a unique visual style and all of my attempts at signposting different areas with landmarks proved ineffective.

Apart from all that, the gameplay was at its best when players were taking on platforming challenges with enemies and obstacles carefully arranged to calculated perfection. While it was extremely rewarding to unravel hidden secrets on some unattended corner of the map, the moment to moment gameplay was lacking the tension of tight platforming.

Open Level with No Platforming
Everything in the game that wasn’t delivering on that quality platforming experience was eventually cut out. Quite a lot of content, levels and even mechanics were removed. It was a sudden transition that took place almost overnight and a lot of work was discarded. A better game was born in the process. I quickly spliced a new level and increased the game speed by almost two hundred percent. One playthrough of that stage and I knew what game I had to make. That is when I renamed the project to Super Lovely Planet.

I like to think that parts of Lovely Planet Adventure eventually found a new home in the cracks of this game. Secrets still hide in the most obscure corners of the world and NPCs drop riddles that bring you closer to those secrets. Vague dialogue gives context to the abstract world design and with it, a little bit of personality to the Buddies that wait for you to come along and humor them with conversation.


There’s lots of new stuff. I’m excited to share more about the game soon.

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Story Behind Every Jump

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Super Mario 64 had found itself a cult following that remains strong to this day. It has its merits given it was the first of its kind, but for plenty of reasons, it never saw the success of its predecessors. Nintendo went back to take another crack at the problem with the Galaxy games. They’re both essentially 3D platformers but a slew of key differences add up to deliver two completely unique experiences. While I’ve not spent enough time with either of those games, I can tell from a distance how they’re fundamentally different.


I think what really sets them apart is the camera. The Galaxy games are more 2D than 3D. Controlled almost entirely by the game, the camera conveniently switches between showing the action from the top down or the side-on instead of leaving it hanging over Mario’s shoulder like in 64. I feel that goes to some extent in informing the level design itself. It directs the player towards a goal which can induce a sense of direction to a more open space which would otherwise encourage more exploration. Much like it is in Mario 64, where players enjoy a lot more freedom to choose where they want to go next. If you’re not playing one of the more linear stages, you can freely rotate the camera to study the scene from a different angle and head off in a direction of your choosing.


The more traditional camera of Mario 64 makes the whole experience a bit less streamlined. In the Galaxy games, you’ll seldom find Mario jumping diagonally into the screen on a platform that’s invisible when looking from behind his shoulder. More carefully designed linear stages and a camera that’s always directing itself on the action work in tandem to make sure you never find yourself in an awkward spot like that. All this streamlining works to deliver a more fluid platforming experience, but I feel part of the magic is somehow lost in the process.


Mario 64 brings an acrobatic flair to its platforming unlike any platformer before it. A whole set of new parameters change the previously simple and atomic action of jumping into a slower, more elaborate and complex undertaking. The analog stick allows precision control, players now select one of three hundred and sixty different directions before a jump. They slowly and carefully nudge the joystick around to position Mario right at the edge of the platform. Simultaneously, they also work to manipulate the camera using the D-pad, surveying his every step making sure the plumber doesn't carelessly slip off the edge. Final corrections are made as players examine Mario one last time from every angle. Confident with their preparation, players cautiously resign control of the camera to finally hit the jump button which sends the plumber flying off the ground.


This is the just the call to adventure. What follows is an ordeal, fleeting moments that are amped with anticipation and nervous tension which eventually climax with the homecoming part of the story. That is when we see Mario landing safely on firm ground.


I want to recreate this kind of delicate platforming with Super Lovely Planet, where every jump is deliberately paced by its own little narrative arc.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Super Lovely Planet

I'm working on a 3D precision platformer. It's called Super Lovely Planet.

Webpage is live at quicktequila.com/superlovelyplanet

Right now there's only a couple of screenshots so we can see what the game looks like. It's quite early in development, but I'm confident the visual style won't change too much.


There's no video just yet. In an older post I wrote about my thoughts on how trailers for this game won't work as well as they did for Lovely Planet. My plan is to release more gameplay this time around. Short videos on YouTube should follow soon after I do a couple of gifs. Can't make videos if there's no sound in the game, did I say it's early in development? Here's what the game looks like in motion.



So there you go, Super Lovely Planet! A throwback to the original logo, now with drop shadows and a font that's actually legible. You can download the presskit from the website, if you want to ogle at the screenshots in full HD.

Super Lovely Planet

Follow the development and find out more at quicktequila.com/superlovelyplanet

Cheers

Sunday, November 13, 2016

On 3D Platformers

I was enjoying games on PC while the 3D platformer was in its prime. Nintendo never made it to this part of the world and the genre didn't established itself on PC so my experience with the kind of game is severely limited. Surveying from a distance I feel that outside of the Mario games, most 3D platformers fall more under the action adventure category. Mario games put more focus on the movement aspect of play unlike most other games where players don't come so much of a fun jumping experience but stay for the funny story, unique characters and quirky dialogue. There's plenty of reasons for why I think it works like that.


 

For starters, moving around and jumping in 3D never took off like it did in 2D. I think we realized the fact a little after the transition to 3D finally took place. Developers reacted haphazardly by drawing players in with relatable characters and an entertaining story instead of tight gameplay and good game design. We never really went back to solve that problem because it was a lot easier to push pixels and direct cutscenes complete with realistic characters delivering crisp dialogue.

I feel to some extent, the modern action adventure game is just a traditional 3D platformer with the jump button replaced. Players approach a ledge to immediately snap into a mini-cutscene that sees the character make a dramatic leap across a treacherous gap. They also introduce more action elements to make up for the lack of interesting movement mechanics. Picking off targets from a distance with auto-aim is a lot easier to understand and it's made all the more satisfying with cool explosions and a variety of special effects. There was a time when Tomb Raider had you navigating high ruins over dangerous pits with only a trusty jump button, but to see its latest iteration as a platformer would make for a silly comparison.

Source neogaf.com

We systemically dismantled the platforming aspect to make room for these new mechanics and in that process the genre evolved into something else entirely. They're not platformers and we don't find 3D games that revolve mostly around the movement aspect alone because somewhere someone was convinced that genre was dead. If the sales figures of the Mario franchise are anything to go by, we can be sure that the style of game is definitely dying a very slow death if it's not dead and gone already.

Source Nintendo.com

There is still hope because Nintendo hasn't buried the genre just yet. In the next post we'll sit down with the Italian plumber and discuss his many adventures in the third dimension. Here's hoping he doesn't go into a rant about Ganon. I mean Bowser.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Lovely Planet - Third Time's a Charm

Sequel, spinoff or spiritual successor, I don't really know. If I had the expertise to boil away all of the complexity involving player expectation with a single hard-hitting one-liner slogan, I'd be leading a marketing team in some far-away expensive country. Right now, I just know I'm sitting in my pyjamas with a speedrunning precision platformer on my lap that needs more levels.

I like rapid prototyping. I'd always choose writing code over attending long meetings, preparing slide decks or solving spreadsheets. Meetings never work too well for me. I've always somehow felt they are of little use when you are by yourself. If you can write code, it's a lot easier to just try things out during the initial phase of development. The only problem is that it awards you with too much freedom. If you don't experiment responsibly and work without a schedule, you'll look up later to realize something's not right. Quite often I find myself implementing a lot of small changes which snowball into a whole different game entirely. This happened again with a prototype I was working on earlier this year.




This game pilfers more elements from the original unlike Arcade, but it departs more boldly from the gameplay by removing the shooter aspect entirely. It doesn't remain a Lovely Planet game in its visual style alone; it borrows a lot of assets which are now framed differently to support the new gameplay. You can jump around in the world but the camera is pulled back to the third person. Little cute heads still fire purple bullets at you but instead of shooting back at them you jump to defeat them like in Mario. I think I'm stretching the definition of the "Lovely Planet" label to its limits with a third person platformer. Perhaps I ought to drop that name. We'll see about that later.

I like a good reveal with a few screenshots and a teaser trailer, but if I'm unable to deliver that surprise without sacrificing on transparency, then I think it'd be wiser to rethink this strategy. I'm hoping to share more about this game before it's out. Expect more action on this blog and my twitter later this year and early next. Those who are interested can learn more about the game and others don't have to wait around for an eventual announcement. That's a waste of time for everyone. As soon as the game is in a presentable state, I intend on sharing gifs, short gameplay videos and screenshots more frequently than I have in the past. Let's start off with one right now!




I'm extremely excited for it. There's other games on the backburner that I'm looking to try out soon. Part of me wants to experiment with other genres. This one here has kept my attention for some time now. It's had a rocky first few months but now I'm confident about where I'm taking this game. It's still relatively early in development and I hope to finish this sometime next year. We've come a long way. I have reason to believe this might just be the final chapter in the Lovely Planet saga - at least for a while now. And if this chapter is coming to a close, I'd reckon we go out in style.

What do you think?