Alex Preston wants “to make an experience that’s visually and atmospherically compelling” while remaining “a hell of a lot of fun to play”. If the new trailer for Hyper Light Drifter is anything to go by, his team over at Heart Machine have certainly got the first part down.
Along with the trailer, Preston’s posted an extensive development blog to explain the different focuses of his team.
A dungeon crawler by its nature, Drifter sees you travelling deep into “a ruined land with a twisted past” looking for “secrets long buried.” All along the way you’ll be fighting heavily-armed creatures that just don’t like you very much.
“At Heart Machine we’re all fans of fast, heavy-hitting combat that requires skill and rewards a bit of finesse,” writes Preston. “To hell with bulletsponges, witless drones and unfair scenarios. We spend a great deal of time tuning our systems, adding meaningful feedback in the controls, visuals, and audio design so they feel responsive and satisfying each time you lop an enemy in half, blow something up, or wipe out entire packs of ravenous creatures.”
This means that “each enemy reacts to strikes with visible knockback, flashes, and brutal sound effects ... The player should feel empowered in every encounter.”
To add to the complexity the enemies aren’t simply fodder for your blade. “Some enemies dodge projectiles, others deflect attacks, some (the poison wolves) attack you and vulnerable enemies as a pack. We even have enemies that command weaker types in order to gain an advantage.”
It’s good to hear the ideas Preston has in mind for the game’s mechanics. With games that look as gorgeous as this I sometimes worry they’re that good as a result of sacrificing well-tuned controls and nuanced play.
And we can’t deny the game’s visuals. They’re up there with the most eye-catching pixel art.
“The visuals will be the other major factor in forging the tone and intention of the spaces,” continues Preston. “Each environment uses a striking and specific palette to highlight landmarks, and they’re littered with touches like reactive wildlife and intricate architecture. The world is long past its era of great carnage, but remnants are everywhere: craters from battles fought, wreckage from hulking machines grownover, bones from mammoth creatures, tubes of rotting experiments in ancient labs.”
Their work shows.
That trailer is full of starkly different areas, all using different colours and architectures. Hopefully that originality can be maintained throughout the game.
Heart Machine say they’ve worked long and hard to keep the experience clean, too. “We are wary of endless blocks of text, poorly designed UI, and explicit handholding, which can often dilute a great experience. These leave a player frustrated, or worse, disinterested. Instead, we want players to uncover the rich mythology along with the Drifter in a more organic way, with a narrative that’s not explicit. We chose to recognize that players are smart.
“We keep the systems management as straightforward as possible, with zero visible UI elements that don’t relate to the world itself. This helps to keep the player immersed and focused on the moments and constantly unfolding story in the world, rather than on numbers, bars and maps.
“Dialogue and quests are presented in storyboardlike sequences, which convey a specific mood without the use of text or voiceovers. This also allows us to keep the game as visually lush as possible and break past language barriers.”
Hyper Light Drifter is due out for release later this year.