Interview with Playtonic Games, the creators behind Yooka-Laylee

I have been really excited about this interview with the developers of Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarter success story from Playtonic Games. Hope you all enjoy reading it!

Cam’s Eye View: First off, congratulations on reaching funding in an extremely short amount of time! How did it feel to basically get up, make a sandwich, and to come back to be fully funded?

[Gavin Price – Creative director] It was a great moment! I nearly spat the sandwich back out all over the monitor ;) !  We went from being incredibly nervous to ecstatic and humbled by the support the fans have shown us!  It’s a scary feeling putting your hearts and dreams on the line and in to the hands of others, but knowing people want to support us like they have is so uplifting…it’s more than just a game being funded, the success of Yooka-Laylee gives us a great foundation to build upon and create a studio that we want people to cherish for many years to come.  So we have to make Yooka-Laylee incredible, and we have the resources to do that now beyond our initial plans – exciting times!

Cam’s Eye View: Are there going to be themed worlds with their own exclusive enemies? Will there be a common enemy seen throughout the levels?

[Gav] So, the worlds will have themes, we want them to be beautiful to encourage exploration, themed with just the right balance of nostalgia but forward thinking gameplay too full of life, not restricted by hardware like they were in the past.  The enemies will play a big part of this, and there will be both exclusive enemies as well as common ones seen throughout the levels.  The enemies have the chance to play a large role in the wider Playtonic universe in the future, so it’s exciting to be working on them with so much future scope in mind.  It makes the team’s work a bit trickier, but what it could mean for the fans and future games will make this all the more worthwhile!

Cam’s Eye View: What went into designing the characters? What references or points of inspiration did your character designer use to create the characters?

[Steve Mayles, Character art director]:  When considering an animal for a character, I first do some sketches based around what I think the animal looks like, with whatever modifications needed for the type of game the character is in. Then I’ll look at Chameleon photos, (probably realizing my effort looks nothing like the real thing!), and also I’ll have a good look at other interpretations of Chameleons (or similar creatures) to make sure what I am doing isn’t too close to anything else currently out there. The Internet is a really great tool for this; in the old days I’d have to look in animal books. Books, I ask you? Can you believe that? I think it’s important to do it in this order though. Maybe I can do some sort of character building equation! My ideas + real animal + other interpretations ( – any features that already exist on other characters).

Specific influences would probably be Pokemon, Disney and er, Banjo-Kazooie!!

Cam’s Eye View: What was the decision behind making the two main heroes a chameleon and a bat? Were there were other animals in consideration? If so, what were they?

[Steve Mayles, Character art director]: We tried to approach it differently from previous games, this time we were really thinking ‘we have a load of cool moves planned, which animal would best be able to perform them?’ So instead of coming up with a character and fitting moves around that character, we almost did the opposite.

Gavin Price wanted the characters to have something of an underdog feel, and they needed to be something that hadn’t been done too much before, hence a chameleon and bat.

We hit on the Chameleon pretty early; the only other idea was a Tiger, but he never got past the initial concept stage. Maybe he’ll appear as an npc character in Yooka-Laylee though..?

 Cam’s Eye View: One element I was looking forward to hearing about was the story and villain, but neither showed up on the Kickstarter page. Who/what is the villain, and what will be the reason for our two main heroes to go on this epic adventure?

[Gav] These are secrets yet to be revealed…we kind of want to bring back some of that old-style mystery and secrecy to game development that seems to have disappeared from the dev scene.  We notice many of the games we love actually feel like you already know too much about them before they come out.

Cam’s Eye View: Are there any inspirations from finished/unfinished/canceled games from your time at Rare that might be implemented into Yooka-Laylee?

[Gav] No, none spring to mind other than the burning desire to make this type of game in the way that best suits us (similar to how things were early on in our careers)

Cam’s Eye View: I take it that it wasn’t super hard to get Grant Kirkhope and David Wise to sign up to do music for Yooka-Laylee?

[Gav] They were both as excited to be a part of the project as we were to have them on board.  It’s a real dream team, and I’m excited for the fans to learn more about the roles they will play with their compositions later on in development!

Cam’s Eye View: Since personality is a huge thing in platformers and games from your past, what goes into animating the individual characters in how they move and talk?

[Steve Mayles, Character art director]: It’s great being able to design, model and animate a character, rather than split this into the 3 disciplines (actually 4 if you include rigging!) you’d have in an AAA studio. It means I can plan how the character will animate from an early stage. And if something doesn’t work correctly, I only have myself to blame!

Having the two characters together makes for some unique animations, but unfortunately it takes double the time! For gameplay specific animations, I’ll first put in a basic animation so we can check how it works in-game; then when it is looking right, I can take the time to do all the fine-tuning to make the animation look great.

 Cam’s Eye View: Was it tempting to do a 2D platformer since so many indie developers are doing it?

[Gav] We knew from the start we wanted to do a 3D platformer.  We’re glad platforming games, both 2D and 3D are being enjoyed more and more…

Cam’s Eye View: I was a little confused that the reward tier for a Steam and home console copy of the game were separate rewards. Why weren’t all consoles put into one reward tier? Was it a financial decision or something else entirely?

[Gav] It’s the fairest way for our backers.  Steam give you free keys to distribute, however console manufacturers make you pay for the codes to hand out, hence the separate tiers.

Cam’s Eye View: In your personal opinion (or opinions if more than one person wants to answer this), what would you say caused the downfall of 3D platformers not being around as much anymore? Was it the quality of the ones released that weren’t attached to Nintendo or old Rare, or more than one problem?

[Gav] I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s probably to do with the industry at large and the publishers not wanting to take risks.  Every time a single genre seems to take a dominant foothold, publishers see making games within it as less risky, and with the amount of money that they want to invest and seek a return on, platformers (and other genres) seemed to fall under their radar, meaning gamers don’t get to play them.  Kickstarter helps devs like us empower fans to have a say in exactly what games they do want to see made and enjoy in the future, regardless of what goes on in publisher meetings all around the world.  Yay for all of us!

Cam’s Eye View: With the success of A Hat in Time, and the pop-up of multiple 3D platformers on Kickstarter likeSpooky Poo’s Happy HellClive ‘n’ WrenchFreezeME, and LoboDestroyo, do you think the sudden appearance of so many means that there is a demand for these types of games whether they make their funding goal or not?

 [Gav] I guess it means there is a demand for them to some extent.  It’s the little details and differences within the 3D platforming genre too that show that, like with other genres, 3D platforming can mean different things to different audiences and give devs lots of freedom to create games that stand out from one another in mechanics, and all offer a fun take on 3D platforming.

Cam’s Eye View: Microsoft, during the Xbox 360 and currently through the Xbox One, does not seem to have a lot of variety in their big budget titles since a lot of commercials show off shooters. Was it really hard to get any pitch of a colorful creative Rare title greenlit, or was it something within Rare that caused a roadblock?

[Gav] We were never exposed to those kinds of decision making, so we couldn’t really comment accurately.  Kameo was colourful, and lots of people within MS love that game, as was Viva Pinata, and again MS backed Rare a lot with those games, so I guess each game pitched was judged on its own merits within the 1st party landscape.

Cam’s Eye View: Since a lot of people that made the original Rare are now at different companies, and Phil Spencer is being a really good guy at Microsoft and has said to be really involved with titles being made by Rare, do you think Rare has a solid future as a company, or do you think that one or two more underperforming titles will result in Rare getting absorbed by Microsoft?

[Gav] I honestly couldn’t guess.  As a lifelong Rare fan and now former-employee with lots of friends still at Rare and Microsoft, I’d wish them all the best of luck and hope them all to do well, and I know Phil loves the studio and has been a long-term champion of whatever Rare tries to do.

Cam’s Eye View: 2014 and so far, parts of 2015 have shown that the big budget industry has created several disappointing titles and seems to be unclear as to how to deliver quality titles, what would you think could potentially get the big budget publishers/developers back in the good graces of the consumer and gamers?

[Gav] I don’t see them doing this, but for me it’s make games to a quality bar, not a timeline.  Games seem to have to hit dates these days, and it’s a shame as back in the day at Rare, Tim and Chris Stamper valued delivering a great game over hitting an exact date…great if you can do both, but I’d personally rather play a great game when it’s ready than one that was rushed to hit a date to please shareholders…

Cam’s Eye View: If you could go back in time and change one major turning point in time or game/games that you all have worked on, what would you change and why?

[Gav] I’d go back and change a point in time…I’d have tried to have started Playtonic earlier than now…

Cam’s Eye View: Due to this recent and in my opinion, over-exaggerated negative reception Kickstarter has gotten due to recent flops and some Kickstarters like Broken Age going through some development hell, was there some concern about putting the Kickstarter up?

[Gav] Not for us, we chose to do Kickstarter because fans asked us to.  We think each company should be judged on its own merits not Kickstarter itself.  There’s lots of good examples of projects done well, and we hope that Playtonic is remembered for being one of them.

Cam’s Eye View: Some people have recently brought up the criticism that Kickstarters like Yooka-Laylee,BloodstainedBroken AgeUnsung StoryWasteland 2Divinity: Original SinPillars of Eternity, and many other Kickstarters are using nostalgia to fuel their Kickstarters. Do you think that is an understandable criticism? Is it rather cynical? Or does it really depend on the end product?

[Gav] I saw this discussed on our social media, and for some people, the nostalgia is key…it’s exactly what some backers want.  We’re trying to provide a game that gets the right mix of nostalgia but also deliver a modern, forward-looking game experience too.

Cam’s Eye View: Another concern I have seen some people talk about is the fact that the large levels might not have a lot to do in them. Personally, I disagree with that since the charm and appeal of the 3D platformers was the adventure and exploration of the well-designed levels. However, if you are going to build and improve upon the 3D platforming design, how and what will you do?

[Gav] I don’t think it’s all about size, I think so long as the player has a good deal of things to do in them, and exploration is rewarding, size doesn’t matter so much.  In Yooka-Laylee, the player can expand the levels too, so each level can be further explored with new things to discover not previously accessible, and so the size of levels will be under the players control somewhat – do you choose to enter a world and expand it before moving on or enter a world, leave it and then return later to expand it in a more manageable session? 

Cam’s Eye View: Since Playtonic is an independent developer, are there any kinds of games that you would like to see less of? Are there any elements of indie developers/games you would like to see change, whether it be a business style or something like a developer going on a bad press rampage, which has sadly happened quite often? For example, I personally wish there were less open-world crafting survival games, first-person games, and local four-player-only titles.

[Gav] Not really, being independent is about making what you want to make regardless of what’s already out there or popular.  The more devs seem to gravitate towards one type of game, the more creative gaps it leaves for other devs to try and fill.  In the end, gamers decide with their wallets.

Cam’s Eye View: Are there any kinds of games you would like to see more of from Kickstarter/non-Kickstarter indie developers?

[Gav] I’m not going to say, we may want to make them ourselves in future… ;p

Cam’s Eye View: With recent successes of Kickstarter games like Shovel KnightThe Banner SagaDivinity: Original SinHand of FateBroken AgeChroma SquadPillars of Eternity, and so on, do you think big publishers should/will start copying what the indie developers/crowd-funded are doing by making more games with gameplay variety and not just a load of shooters? Maybe go to Kickstarter to see if people would be interested in using their IPs that they don’t use anymore? Or is all that that too “ruby slippers” wishful?

[Gav] No idea, definitely couldn’t guess at this!

Cam’s Eye View: Are there any Kickstarter-funded games that have been released that you love? What Kickstarter-funded games are you looking forward to?

[Gav] I’m a massive Shadowrun fan so I loved the fact it was brought back in to relevancy.  I’m looking forward to Hyper Light Drifter a lot!

Cam’s Eye View: Hypothetically speaking, since Yooka-Laylee is a Kickstarter funding success, and the game will definitely be a success once released, can we see some kind of spiritual successor to the original plan for Project Dream? I mean, I’m not implying I would totally back money for that idea, but I would back it :). 

 [Gav] Lots of people have asked us that…who knows what games we’ll release in future (well apart from us…) but we’re looking forward to working in many different genres and styles.