We talk to Timespinner creator Bodie Lee about his retro Metroidvania title.
Metroidvania games have seen a massive resurgence lately, and we’ve been treated to a bevy of excellent games in the last few months that have reminded us just how good this genre can be when it’s at its best. That’s been thanks mostly to talented independent developers, who’ve taken the core concepts of a Metroidvania experience and put their own unique spins on it. Next in like is Timespinner, developed by one man studio Lunar Ray Games, run by Bodie Lee. Inspired by Metroidvania games as well as retro action platformers, Lee’s Timespinner is a unique beast, and one that we have plenty of questions about. Recently we got the chance to ask Lee some of these questions, and it led to an interesting conversation, to say the least.
"Timespinner was influenced by the 2D pixel-art games of my childhood. From Super Metroid and Mega Man X, to Castlevania and Star Ocean, there are lots of pieces of those games that have inspired me."
It’s clear that the game is inspired from some video games from the ‘90s. Can you tell us more about these inspirations and influences?
Timespinner was influenced by the 2D pixel-art games of my childhood. From Super Metroid and Mega Man X, to Castlevania and Star Ocean, there are lots of pieces of those games that have inspired me. However, looking back on fond memories of those games, I’ve found that I have very rose-tinted ideas about them. If you ever go back and play an old game, you’ll see ways that they weren’t as great as you remember. For Timespinner, I wanted to capture the feeling of what I remembered those games being, despite the fact that those memories may be inaccurate!
How exactly do the protagonist’s time-bending powers affect gameplay?
The two largest time abilities are time-stop and time-travel. With time-stop you can briefly freeze all enemies and objects in the room, allowing you to safely manoeuvre them, or to even use enemies as platforms to reach new areas. Time-travel is used to explore two versions of the world of Lachiem: its barren present and its lush history, a thousand years in the past. Time-travel’s emphasis is on physical exploration and historical research- and how changing things in the past can affect the future world.
What are some of the main themes and ideas that the game’s story will be dealing with?
The two central themes to the game are sacrifice and resistance. As a Time Messenger, the protagonist’s original task is to sacrifice her own life history in order to save her clan. But, with the Timespinner broken, she decides instead to do the only thing left to do: fight against the powerful Empire that took everything from her. As the game progresses, these two themes weave together to create a powerful story.
"Older games were created within hardware limitations. When you try to evoke the nostalgia of those titles, it’s important to be mindful of those limitations. Which do you adhere to? Which do you let go of?"
What would you say are some of the crucial elements to get right when making a retro-inspired game?
Older games were created within hardware limitations. When you try to evoke the nostalgia of those titles, it’s important to be mindful of those limitations. Which do you adhere to? Which do you let go of? It’s a balancing act between making the game palatable for modern gamers and also keeping it evocative of the classics. An easy example is a save system: Older games stopped gameplay in order to make you choose a save file, confirm a save, and then wait for the data to write. In this situation it’s a better to use a sleeker modern approach to saving, such as auto-saving and checkpoints. Be careful not to take too many modern tweaks, though, as it can cause the game to lose its retro charm!
Can you tell us more about the roles that Familiars play in the game?
Familiars are small flying creatures that follow you throughout your adventure. They can even be controlled by a friend via local co-op! Familiars attack enemies and cast offensive or healing spells, but are generally weaker than the protagonist. The primary familiar, Meyef, is also an important character whose role grows as the story unfolds.
What is the progression system in the game like?
Player progression is similar to other RPG platformers: the player levels up, but so do your Orb weapons, spells, and familiars. The game is also designed such that the player will get new abilities and attacks fairly frequently so that their style can evolve as they play.
Will the game be quite difficult or will it remain fairly accessible?
The game features multiple difficulties to allow players to choose how they play: Dream, Normal, and Nightmare mode. Dream is the same as Normal, except you are revived instantly upon death (effectively making you immortal). Nightmare mode is unlockable and is very difficult, giving hard-core players something to challenge themselves with.
"One thing that’s been challenging for me (and still continues to be a challenge) is being a good “marketer” for the game. As a solo-dev you have to wear a lot of hats, and marketing/social-media tend to be very draining and time-consuming hat."
Are there any particular challenges you faced during the game’s development?
One thing that’s been challenging for me (and still continues to be a challenge) is being a good “marketer” for the game. As a solo-dev you have to wear a lot of hats, and marketing/social-media tend to be very draining and time-consuming hat. For example, after the Kickstarter, I needed a way to regularly communicate the progress of the game to the backers, but writing Kickstarter updates take me at least a half-day of work. I tried a few different things, like regular forum posts, but those had the same problem as the Kickstarter updates; I would spend time not working on the game in order to communicate about the game. The awesome solution I ended up going with was doing weekly Development Livestreams on Twitch! This let me both demonstrate to fans that I was making progress with the game without losing any time on development! Huzzah!
Will there be multiple endings in the game or is the story fully linear?
The game does feature multiple endings. Each ending changes based on decisions and progress you’ve made in the game.
Are there plans to bring the game over to the Xbox One and/or Nintendo Switch?
After life cools down after shipping the game, I’ll have time to work on the promised 3DS port as well as be able to look into the feasibility of other ports, such as Xbox One and Switch. It would be pretty awesome having Timespinner on those platforms!
Is there a specific reason why the game is not coming on Xbox One and Switch?
The current platforms that the game has shipped on (PC, PS4, and Vita) are a result of the 2014 Kickstarter campaign’s stretch goals. It’s been my top priority to get it on these promised platforms (including the future 3DS version) before anything else. I am, after all, the only programmer in a 1-man company, so doing multiple unrelated ports at once isn’t really feasible when trying to make a game at the same time. Not to mention, the Switch didn’t even exist when the Kickstarter happened!
Will the game feature PS4 Pro specific enhancements? What can players expect if they are playing the game on PS4 Pro? And how will the base PS4 version turn out in terms of resolution and frame rate?
The game runs in 1080p and 60 FPS. As the game is built using the XNA Framework, the maximum resolution is unfortunately capped at 1080.
"I’m glad I made the Vita version. It’s uniquely satisfying being able to play your own game on a handheld console. It’s kind of a dream come true!"
Sony is winding up production on the PS Vita soon. Two questions based on this- What is your reaction? Since production is getting stopped, do you think developing the game for the Vita was the right call?
It is a bit sad, but not unexpected. This seems to be par-for-the-course for older platforms. I’m glad I made the Vita version. It’s uniquely satisfying being able to play your own game on a handheld console. It’s kind of a dream come true!
Next gen is coming sooner or later. From a development perspective, what is your biggest expectation from PS5 and Xbox Scarlett?
I hope that the next platforms make indie-game development as seamless as possible. Looking back, it seems like the big console companies have made big improvements in this department and I hope that that trend continues!
What is your take on the ongoing drama of loot boxes and microtransactions?
If you’re paying real money to gamble in a game, you’re still gambling. If your country regulates gambling, it should apply to games as well.