Yooka-Laylee may have been cruelly pushed in 2017, but the game remains one of the most eagerly-anticipated titles of recent memory - and with good reason. It's being made by Playtonic Games, a studio formed almost entirely from ex-Rare staff, and it raised a massive amount of cash via Kickstarter last year.
Our pals over at US Gamer got the chance to sit down and chat with Steve Mayles (character designer) and Grant Kirkhope (composer) at this year's E3, and they covered a wide range of topics, including the game's "Metroidvania"-style structure, the evolution of the character design and - perhaps most crucially - the humour that made Rare's games so popular on the N64.
Mayles explains that the game is largely non-linear, and offers the player a surprising degree of choice:
We've tried to make Yooka-Laylee a little less linear than these games have been in the past. We've tried to add things around player choice like the way you can expand worlds, or not expand them – the choice is yours. If you want to progress quickly and see every new level, you can do that, and there are gameplay choices around the tonics where you can tailor the game to suit your playstyle. So if you're having a problem with a particular challenge, you can power-up one particular element with a tonic. Players will be able to take different paths through the game that way.
You can start in the first world and it's not expanded, and you could collect enough paiges to move onto the second world, or you could choose to stay where you are and expand the first world. If you go to the second world, you can go back and expand that first world anytime you wish. It'll probably be possible to go through the game without expanding any of it – although I don't know why you would, because you'd be missing out on huge chunks of gameplay.
Regarding the design of Yooka and Laylee, Mayles points out that the way the heroes look underwent a few iterations:
There's some method behind the madness here. I started out with a tiger, but that never got past a 2D sketch. Then I was thinking that these characters in the past have been more underdogs. So I went back to the drawing board, and because we've done these sorts of games before, I started to think about abilities. What could they do that would make them interesting to play in terms of all the moves they could do? For example, the chameleon has obviously got his tongue and his tail, and has camouflage. So we can take those things and gamify them, so instead of camouflage just blending in with the background, now it takes on physical properties like metal, or fire, or electricity. It's the same with the bat – it had to fly because we needed to have those moves in the game. It couldn't be a bird because of that other game we made, so a bat was a good option. Again, probably under-represented in games, and there are abilities around the bat's sonar moves we could bring into the game. Combining those moves together, especially with the physical properties aspects, and the way you can fire different projectiles, you end up with a lot of different combinations of moves.
Laylee's projectiles are completely different to the physical properties of Yooka. They're on a timer, so it's not like Banjo-Kazooie where you could pick up an egg and have it for the whole game if you didn't fire it. Because it's a time-specific thing, it lets us set up certain types of puzzles, because you only have a certain amount of time to do something. This is where things like the tonics come into play – because you might want to get a tonic that extends the amount of time that you can breathe fire.
Difficulty was another topic covered during the interview, and Kirkhope explains that the team is trying to find the right balance:
Kazooie was easier, and Tooie was harder. We're trying to get a decent split between hard and easy. We'll have a decent spread of things to do – so maybe people can get through the game without having to do the really tough stuff.
There's nothing worse than getting to a part of the game and getting stuck on it, and you get sick of trying to get past it and you give up. You can get to the point where you do something so many times you get fed up of it, and we definitely want to avoid that. If you want to find the tough stuff in the game, you can choose that path and go down it.
It's about not putting in too many tough things that are in critical parts of the game that players can't get past. I think you can get away with that later in the game, but most of the tough things will be off the beaten track – you'll have to go looking for them.
Finally, we come to the question of humour. Rare's games are famous for their typically "British" sense of fun, and Kirkhope insists that you'll see the same kind of thing in Yooka-Laylee - purely because it's the same people making the game:
People think about Banjo-Kazooie like it's scripted humor. It wasn't really. The making fun of each other that we used to do back in the barn at Rare – shouting at each other down the corridor, the nicknames we called each other, and all that stuff. That humor just bled into the game, and that was how we messed around back in those days – and it's just the same now. It's almost like Banjo-Tooie was yesterday and Yooka-Laylee was today, and that 18 years hasn't happened and we're all back to square one again. Even though we're older now, and have wives and kids and mortgages, and all that, the silly nicknames and the making fun is still the same. Nothing has changed for us, and so that humor is going to be back in the game again because that's the way we like it.
Yooka-Laylee arrives on the Wii U next year.