Playful Corp discusses its cutesy Xbox One platformer and what makes it special.
For all the talk about platformers on the Xbox One, Microsoft’s console has had a real problem with mascots. And while Playful Corp’s recent Super Lucky’s Tale – a sequel to the Oculus Rift platformer – didn’t exactly fill that gap, it was still a fun adventure.
To learn more about the game, including why it targeted consoles after the original’s VR release, GamingBolt spoke to Playful head of marketing and communications David Calkins. If you’ve yet to play the game or want to know more about its development process, read on.
"We’ve seen a growing appetite for nostalgic platformers lately and the timing seemed perfect to for a game that taps into that nostalgia and serves it up in a modern, refined experience."
Lucky’s Tale was exclusive for the Oculus Rift when it launched. What was the response and what motivated bringing the sequel to consoles this time around?
Our experience making Lucky’s Tale was uncharted territory for us in couple ways. We were still relatively new to developing games for virtual reality. And though we are huge fans of the platforming genre, it was our first time actually making one. Despite those challenges, we are really happy with the final game and ecstatic that those who get a chance to play it are just as enthusiastic for it as we are.
For the sequel, our biggest goal was to bring Lucky to as many people as possible. We love the character and the delightful feel of his world and fellow critters – we wanted to bring that joy to a wider audience. So when we got the opportunity to work with Microsoft on a full sequel that would also be a launch title for the Xbox One X, it felt like the right next step. We’ve seen a growing appetite for nostalgic platformers lately and the timing seemed perfect to for a game that taps into that nostalgia and serves it up in a modern, refined experience.
Super Lucky’s Tale appears delightfully old-school but still provides a fresh approach to its gameplay. How did you balance between these two aspects during development?
Early on in development, we stumbled onto this idea of making a “playground platformer”. For us it became a helpful way to view our approach to Super Lucky’s Tale. It meant that rather than limiting ourselves to one specific kind of gameplay, we wanted to dig deep into the genre and explore all of the unique ideas that have evolved over the years, and then incorporate as many of them that fit within our overall vision for the game.
A lot of that involved going back to our favorite platformers from recent and distant past and asking ourselves what made them truly fun to play. It was a treat to realize how well most of them hold up even today, and that the groundbreaking ideas from the more innovative ones still resonate and feel fresh. After spending enough time standing on the shoulders of those giants, it became a matter finding unique ways to incorporate them into Lucky’s world, from movement mechanics to level design to the charm of memorable, funny characters. What made it all come together was that we developed the game to match the tastes of modern gaming – things like amazingly detailed 4K environments, intuitive level design, a rewarding game progression that leaves out some of the older games’ frustration points.
Why did you opt for a 2D platforming approach to the gameplay and how do you often the subvert the traditional 2D approach?
About a third of the game’s levels are built in 2D style. There are a few reasons we found them compelling. First, they were partly inspired by the “foxhole” moments in the first Lucky’s Tale, where you and Lucky went underground and were suddenly in a mostly 2D environment with limited z-axis depth. We really enjoyed those moments and thought they fit nicely into the game, giving players a break from the full immersion of VR to something a bit more intimate. They have a similar effect in the sequel, making for a much more diverse “playground” by adding variety and color to the experience and giving players a break from the larger, more immersive 3D levels. We think it does wonders for the game’s pacing and overall flow.
"A big pillar for us was keeping the game’s controls simple enough that even the most casual player or genre newcomer who sat down to play Super Lucky’s Tale could pick it up and feel empowered to take on the gameplay and have fun."
There are many subtle things we did to make the 2D levels feel fresh and subvert traditional approaches. There’s a lot going on in those levels, even more so than the 3D ones, such as NPCs doing humorous things in the background, or moments where you jump into a foxhole and surface in the background where you have to navigate a series of platforms from a distance and at a smaller scale.
From initial impressions, Super Lucky’s Tale is being praised for providing additional objectives but not making things too complicated for the core gameplay. Was this your intention for the experience and do things become significantly more difficult over time?
We know a lot of people who felt platformers became too difficult once they went ‘3D’. Most of those games have an additional layer of abstraction in terms of managing the camera, understanding your position relative to the obstacles ahead of you, and orienting yourself towards an area’s goals. These elements add a lot of complexity to the gameplay and essentially leave a good portion of the audience out in the cold.
A big pillar for us was keeping the game’s controls simple enough that even the most casual player or genre newcomer who sat down to play Super Lucky’s Tale could pick it up and feel empowered to take on the gameplay and have fun. That’s not to say the game is without challenge. But instead of having the difficulty lie in things like controls, we focused instead in increasing the difficulty in the levels themselves. The intensity of the gameplay increases as you progress in the game, but it’s all built on a framework of intuitive, accessible controls. For example, while you have the option to rotate the camera in the 3D levels, you don’t actually ever need to do it to get through them. This makes for a game that is more broadly appealing and something the whole family can enjoy – a goal we strive for with all of our projects at Playful.
What can Lucky do throughout the game in terms of default abilities and whatnot?
For most of the game, Lucky has a few simple controls like jump, double jump, and a tail swipe attack in addition to basic movement. There’s also a new mechanic we added for the sequel called burrow, where you dive into the ground, continue your path by digging forward and end it by springing back up to the surface. Here’s a fun tidbit. The burrow move was partially inspired by a video of a fox jumping on a trampoline. As we refined it, the move resembled a cross between the bouncy nature of that playful fox with the grace of a dolphin diving in and out of the surface of the ocean. Its final implementation felt like a revelation, and spurred even more ideas to make Lucky’s movement more fun down the road.
There are also a few bonus levels, such as on-rails runners and marble rolling mini-games that add a bit of extra variety to Lucky’s movement. Though the abilities are simple, there’s a lot of satisfaction from combining them and finding a rhythm that lets you gracefully flow over the terrain. We ramp up the game’s difficulty with each new level in a way that challenges players to master these simple controls and, by the end, become experts at movement combos.
How many worlds and levels are there to explore in the game?
There are four worlds, each with several main levels and a series of bonus levels. Each level is a world full of different creatures and habitats, and each has been taken over by a member of the Kitty Litter, the game’s antagonists.
"If you’re just rushing through the game to finish the story, it’ll take you anywhere from 4-6 hours. Unlocking everything and getting every achievement takes more like 8-10 hours."
What was your primary design philosophy when it came to designing levels?
It goes back to this concept of building a playground. To expand on that, we challenged ourselves to experiment with all kinds of variety in the level design and game mechanics. With some platformer games you know what you’re going to get with each level – maybe it’s a series of levels where you run from left to right, and while the setting might change, it’s essentially a uniform experience throughout. But with Super Lucky’s Tale, we wanted every level to feel almost like a different kind of ride. In addition to gameplay variety, we filled the world with a lot of optional collectibles and secrets to discover, making it fun to go back and replay areas. The end results is each level is a bit of a surprise where you’re not quite sure what to expect.
How long will a default playthrough be for someone who doesn’t collect everything?
If you’re just rushing through the game to finish the story, it’ll take you anywhere from 4-6 hours. Unlocking everything and getting every achievement takes more like 8-10 hours.
What are your thoughts on Super Lucky’s Tale being sandwiched between so many big releases this year?
It may seem counter-intuitive to say this, be we welcomed it. Releasing as a launch title for a new Xbox is a fantastic opportunity to introduce Lucky, who’s still relatively new and unknown in the gaming world. The fact that the Xbox launch coincided with a lot of other game releases was out of our control, but in particular we found that being released alongside several other big platformer games helped boost awareness for all of them simultaneously, Lucky included.
The game received Xbox One X support. Is native 4K and 60 frames per second on the cards?
Yep! It was built for true 4K resolution and runs at a smooth 60 frames per second throughout on the Xbox One X. You will have the same experience if you’re playing it via the Windows 10 store on a decent gaming PC.
What is the resolution and frame rate of the base Xbox One version?
Super Lucky’s Tale runs at 1080p and a consistent frame rate of 30 FPS on both the Xbox One and Xbox One S.
"It is surreal to think that something we’ve worked on can now be experienced by players worldwide."
Will Super Lucky’s Tale see any post-launch support? Is there any DLC planned at some point in the coming months?
We’re currently focused mainly on fixing the remaining bugs we weren’t able to get to before launch. We already released one big update a couple weeks ago that resolved a lot of minor issues early players were seeing and are fixing more when we can.
As for future content involving Lucky, we don’t have any details to share at this time, but we are definitely interested in telling more of Lucky’s story and are eager for the chance to do that. We’ll have more to announce in the coming months, and I think that fans of the game will be pleased.
Following the release of the base game, will you release the game on other platforms like PS4 and Steam? And is there is a reason why you are not launching on them given their larger install base?
We’re currently focused on giving as much opportunity as we can for Lucky to shine on the Xbox One and Windows 10 platforms. Again, while we don’t have any details to share beyond that, it’s fair to say we’re always interested in bringing Lucky to even more audiences.
Is there anything else you want to tell our readers before we let you go?
It is surreal to think that something we’ve worked on can now be experienced by players worldwide. The stories we’ve been hearing from players who’ve fallen in love with Lucky are what make game development such a fulfilling art for us, and their feedback is incredibly important to us. Case in point: look at how the games progressed from Lucky’s Tale to Super Lucky’s Tale – a big part of the improvement was that we listened to what players were saying and internalized it as we were concepting the sequel. So please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts with us about Super Lucky’s Tale. Tweet to us, post on our Facebook page or send us an email!
Lastly, I’d love to give a quick call out to Playful Corp.’s next game: a cinematic, side-scrolling sci-fi platformer for PlayStation VR called Star Child. You can find out more about it here: www.starchildthegame.com.