Playtonic Games - the studio grown primarily from ex-Rare staff - struck gold with its idea to crowd fund a Banjo-Kazooie-style collectathon revival via Kickstarter. Raising over £2 million for 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee, the devs were hugely successful in tapping nostalgia for the kind of game that had fallen out of fashion over the years, but the success of the campaign brought with it unique challenges which made development a struggle at times.
In an interview with MCV, Playtonic co-founder Chris Sutherland, technical art director Mark Stevenson and designer Hamish Lockwood have discussed the various challenges and issues that cropped up during production and addressed specific criticisms of the game, some which they expected and others which took them by surprise.
On the one hand, the team knew that the camera was likely to rub people the wrong way. Sutherland had this to say on the subject:
“Where it didn’t work so well maybe was the camera because we were trying to bring back the style of the camera that we had when those first 3D games were coming out… The cameras tended to take the approach of trying to sort things out for you and trying to position themselves in intelligent places.
“So we went along that route because the way the camera frames the player [is part of the] feel of these games. But the way that works means it could actually end up disorientating the player and I think that’s something that we realised maybe slightly later on.
“We addressed it in a patch where we introduced different camera options so people could take control, as people now do with cameras in most 3D environments. If we were going back and redoing it all over again we would probably start off with the other camera options in there.”
However, the team were more surprised to find the trademark garbled voice work a cause of irritation:
"It was interesting because it’s something that back in the 1990s was probably amusing people and it didn’t irritate them so much. Or maybe it’s just because there wasn’t the internet back then so people couldn’t tell us how much they hated things.
“It was again something that we addressed in the patch. It was interesting because some people said: ‘Oh it’s great because it recreates the original feel’ and that’s one of the things we were going for but at the same we didn’t want to wind people up either so we had an option in the update that allowed for a more restrained form of the voices than the one we shipped with."
Designer Lockwood said he agreed with many of the criticisms:
“A lot of the criticism we probably expected and were aware of from the day it came out. We all knew where the issues were. Mostly because we didn’t have a lot of time to do everything that we wanted and how we wanted it. So a lot of criticism people had we probably agree with.
“I think one of the only things that did surprise me was the voices because as I was playing I was like: ‘Yeah this is fine it’s just like what the old one used to be’ – and that’s kind of the point of this game. So the voice thing for me was a surprise but a lot of the other criticism I just accepted and that’s fine. It was a tough project I think.”
The trio went on to caution other developers considering Kickstarter due to the non-game related commitments inherent to crowd funding. Stevenson commented:
”There’s lots of other things work-wise, like having to provide regular updates to the community, and all the rewards that we had to produce in-house like booklets, posters, T-shirts… I had to produce artwork ready for print, something I’d never done before in my life!"
Lockwood went on:
“There were days where we would all go into these rooms and sort out all the T-shirts because they all had to be in groups of large and small or whatever. That was time where I could have been working on the game!”
Finally, Lockwood spoke of the necessity to keep promised features that might have been jettisoned had the development not been tied to the promises of the Kickstarter:
“For example we did bosses and minecart sections as well as arcade games – all these extra things where, if we hadn’t made any of these promises, we could say: ‘You know what, this isn’t really working so well so we’ll just ditch it and spend more time on the more core areas of the game’.”
Stevenson agreed with this:
“That’s one of the worst aspects. You have to promise stuff up front and then you’re kind of committed to it. For better or worse. With games it’s an inherent difficulty that what sounds great on paper may not work that well in practice and often times things have to be iterated on again and again or even just scrapped."
That's just a few extracts from the article, so be sure to check out the entire 'When We Made...' interview over at MCV for more details on the trials and tribulations of making a complex game through crowd-funding. By all accounts, development on 2D spin-off Yooka-Laylee and The Impossible Lair is progressing much smoother - read our interview with the composers of the game's music (including the legendary David Wise of Donkey Kong Country fame) for a taste of what's to come from Playtonic in the near future.
Did Yooka-Laylee live up to your expectations and are you happy with the updates the game has seen since launch? Looking forward to Yooka-Laylee & The Impossible Lair? Let us know below.