As things are right now, Hyper Light Drifter stands tall as one of the most beautiful upcoming games in the medium.
I know, huge words. That type of praise really isn't something I like to toss around lightly; but, the folks behind Heart Machine in this effort – Alex Preston, Beau Blyth and Rich Vreeland (also known as Disasterpiece, doing the tunes for the game) – are onto something special.
Currently well over its initial funding mark and on its way towards smashing through even more stretch goals, Hyper Light Drifter is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign. This self-described "2D Action RPG" is slated for the PC, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. As you'll soon learn, the game promises a fantastic visual design, strong aural presence and exciting set of exploration and combat mechanics.
Alex Preston, the Lead Designer, Animator and Secondary Programmer, took some time out of making his game and supporting its Kickstarter Project to talk to me about Hyper Light Drifter.
Combat, Puzzles and Exploration
"It's a vast and beautiful world that you're adventuring through," Preston explained. "With hyper-fast, lightning-quick combat."
I asked him how that translates to play, whether it's more gamepad or keyboard oriented, and he responded in detail.
"It's built around a gamepad. You can definitely play it with a keyboard, but it's built with more classic controls as far as the button placement and stuff, but with more freedom."
Preston went on to describe the combat itself. There's an emphasis on weaponry and equipment here that separates it from other, similar games. "You'll be dashing and dodging, reflecting bullets and you'll have more projectile weapons…You'll have more free range over your sword and attacks, some combo attacks…"
There's an emphasis on strategy and gadget use, too. "You'll get deeper into equipment, different equipment types and managing that kind of thing, especially when it comes to your limited battery charges. There's a lot more depth there. Whereas A Link to the Past's combat was about being in the way of the puzzles, this is much more about the combat being integral to the experience."
Speaking as someone completely in love with the dungeon methodology used in games like, say, Super Metroid, I asked Alex Preston about how equipment would work towards story progression. Would a dungeon be built around finding a specific piece of equipment, or would this be more of a randomized loot style game where equipment exists only to aid combat?
His response to that questioning was pitch-perfect.
"A little bit of both." Bingo.
He went on, "I don't want to limit it. I loved the components of Metroid…where you find specific gear to open up new areas. You know, you can upgrade the dash to break through certain blocks in the way of areas you couldn't get to before. There's absolutely that functionality."
"Of course, you're picking up various bits of loot that'll help you along the way that aren't integral to progression as far as levels will go, but will definitely boost your combat ability."
It's a vast and beautiful world that you're adventuring through…with hyper-fast, lightning-quick combat.
For the Love of Local Multiplayer
What's a quest without a friend? In addition to the Sprite companion that's set to aid you on your journey, Heart Machine intends to include local multiplayer with this beast.
"From the ground up, Beau and I were thinking about–well, he's big on local multiplayer, and I love local multiplayer and online multiplayer in Diablo. I want that kind of experience here." Preston continued, "A friend can join up at any time during the adventure. Much like Diablo, the world will get more aggressive to you."
Friends will be able to work through the cooperative campaign together. And, thanks to a recently added stretch goal, players might be able to partake in online challenges similar to what you'd find in Gears of War's Horde Mode.
Throughout my conversation with Alex, he seemed very in tune with classic games and stuff that makes the medium so strong. Local, cooperative gameplay appears to be one of several aging gaming pillars that will make Hyper Light Drifter that much more interesting.
The Strength of Sony's Indie Support
Aside from making waves in the indie gaming world thanks to its rampant Kickstarter success, Hyper Light Drifter was recently in the news because of hitting a stretch goal to launch on the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. After raising $220,000, the game will be available on two of Sony's consoles.
I asked Preston about how important achieving that goal was to the success of the game, and he explained that it was integral.
"Sony's been super great about reaching out," he said. I asked for clarification here, and, yep, Sony contacted the Heart Machine team directly about bringing the game to their platforms.
"Their PR will help down the line. Their support will be pretty crucial in pushing this out to large audiences."
Sony's always on the hunt for new indies, and I've personally talked to several small developers who have each echoed that sentiment. Preston talked a bit about this, too. "You saw it at E3. They really pounded away at [indie games] because they know that these titles will fill the gap between the AAAs."
Preston complimented Sony even further. "They've been excellent," he offered. "Their terms are fair, and it seems like they're more than willing to help the smaller developers get to where they need to be."
Of Visual and Aural Presentation
Heart Machine recently announced that they'd be working with Rich Vreeland, that's Disasterpiece, on the soundtrack behind the game. For anyone who played FEZ and can remember the tunes there, this is the same composer.
His presence on the project is huge.
"FEZ had an immaculate soundtrack, and I love all of [Vreeland's] work. I'm incredibly excited to work with him. Rich is a super nice guy, and I'm fortunate enough to know a friend of a friend that knew him. It's kind of like a dream come true getting him to do the soundtrack."
Preston explained that a good soundtrack is a big centerpiece for Hyper Light Drifter. The game will rely on visuals and sound to create atmospheric tones, and Preston believes Disasterpiece is a perfect match for making that vision come to life.
Visual diversity will be a part of the magical mix here, too. Preston points towards A Link to the Past again as a good inspiration for environmental variety. "I don't want it to just be a dungeon crawler, I want it to be a vast world." The outside world will be huge and open, and that world will dive into segmented dungeons and challenges.
As for the pixel art presentation, it turns out that Preston wasn't developing this title with that in mind at first.
"This wasn't intended as a pixel art game originally," he said. "I'm an illustrator by trade, primarily, so I was working at a high resolution. But, I found that to be a little too time consuming for such a small team of just me and Beau."
"I love how pixel art looks when it's done well, especially if you like at stuff like what Capybara games has done." They're the folks behind Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, for those who are curious. "They take it to an effective level, and they use color really well."
Alex said that the decision to go with pixel art was a natural one. It made more sense to go in that direction because of time.
Steam Greenlight and the Support of a Community
Preston also explained that, so far, the community has been pretty amazing when it comes to supporting Hyper Light Drifter.
It doesn't take much effort to see that he's right. Hop over to the game's Facebook page, and you'll find a whole slew of fan comments and art that openly proclaims a lot of love for this project. Some of the art is downright stunning, too.
That support should translate to Steam Greenlight. You can actually vote for Hyper Light Drifter to move up in the Greenlight program. Basically, if it gets enough votes to climb into the top batch, Steam will push the game out on the service once it launches, and that means you be able to play it on one of the most widely used gaming platforms.
You also still have time to back Hyper Light Drifter's Kickstarter campaign. Kicking in $10 will get you a DRM free digital copy of the game on PC. Bring your pledge to $15 and you'll get a PlayStation 4 or PS Vita version. There are a bunch of rewards above those, including a physical box and manual of the game in an SNES style. I need that in my life, folks.
In a matter of days, Hyper Light Drifter went from being a game I'd never heard of to one I can't wait to play. We'll be covering this one a lot more in the future, so stay tuned.