Yooka-Laylee is almost upon us, and the folks over at Playtonic are finally ready to share with the world a game that has been many years in the making. Drawing on their experiences from collective years spent at Rare, the studio's debut title looks back to classic 3D platformers like Banjo-Kazooie, while also updating the formula with a few modern twists. It's with that in mind that we put some questions to writer and comms director Andy Robinson to find out how they're feeling ahead of launch.
Gamereactor: After your crowdfunding success and the many new 3D platformers being worked on or that launched this year, are you feeling like there's a revival of the genre?
AR: It's fantastic to see more platform games on the horizon, such as the Crash Bandicoot updates and of course Mario. It's great news for the genre and good for us as a studio, because more games attracting an audience to this genre will only help our cause.
We think fans will agree that Yooka-Laylee is very different to what's out there, being an open-world style of platformer where the adventure is just as important as the jumping. We trust players to take their own route through the game and play at their own pace, with no mini-map or waypoints telling you where to go.
GR: Are you surprised how well games that are spiritual successors (like Castlevania, Shenmue, and of course Banjo Kazooie) have performed in crowdfunding?
AR: Not really, because game companies and development models have changed radically over the past 15 years, but the fans never went away. In fact, they grew older and even hungrier for games like ours and those you mentioned! Large companies for whatever reason following different trends leaves gaps in the market for teams like ours and hopefully we can satisfy the platforming hunger of the fans out there! Fan power being able to enable and direct development rather than games being purely business-driven is a great thing to see occurring.
GR: How do you differentiate yourselves in terms of collect-a-ton and level design challenges?
AR: We want to put player choice at the core of Yooka-Laylee and we're doing this with Trowzer's moves, - which can be purchased in different orders - Tonics - which allow players to modify gameplay to their own style - and expandable worlds, which empower players to explore environments at their own pace. Yooka-Laylee also makes big changes in how we handle collectibles, with gameplay progression at the core of each item. Butterfly Energy will refill the player's health and new power meter, which is used to power the special moves in the game. This allows us to create some really interesting platforming puzzles, while avoiding the tedium of resource management.
GR: How are you approaching the Nintendo Switch? What would you expect in terms of success for this specific version?
AR: It's a bit too early to go into specifics with this version, but rest assured we're working directly with Nintendo to get it out as soon as possible for our many fans and Kickstarter backers on that platform. We're big Nintendo fans here, so it's very exciting to be working on Nintendo Switch.
GR: Would you like to create 3D platformers for long-forgotten but legendary franchises in the genre such as Rayman, Donkey Kong, or even Banjo-Kazooie?
AR: The most important thing for the team at Playtonic is that we maintain the autonomy and culture that allows us to create the kind of games we want to make. When working with another company's IP, you inherently lose some of that independence, so right now we're focusing on expanding the Playtonic Universe of stories across many different game genres.
GR: What other fun combination of names did you consider for the game?
AR: The idea that we could phoneticise Ukulele stuck very early on, and from there it was a process of finding two words that sounded right. At one point it was 'Yoku-Laylee' as a Hawaiian dictionary revealed that Yoku means, 'to eat bugs' and Laylee means, 'to fly', which was pretty convenient! But ultimately Yooka sounded better. My proposal for 'Yookalay-Lee' was swiftly rejected.
GR: Now that you're ready with the game it would be nice to know what difference it makes to create this sort of game with modern tools and equipment (compared to the N64 days)?
AR: With modern tools planning and designing worlds can happen in 3D a lot sooner. However, because of the increased amount of visual fidelity you have, creating a design language to guide the player around without hand-holding has become tougher.
The power of modern systems can be used to decorate a world with more detail, so all of a sudden everywhere can look interesting and important which can blindly lead the player around an environment for no achievement creating a feeling of being un-rewarded. So that's one area that's definitely more challenging than it would have been 20 years ago.
GR: Do you have any plans of expanding the universe even further? DLC and such.
AR: The plan with Yooka-Laylee was always to build a universe of characters destined to live on in future games and different genres. We already have plenty of ideas for which characters could potentially star in their own games one day! (Dance Dance Trowzer is definitely on the table)
In the short term, as promised in our Kickstarter campaign we will be working on free DLC for our backers once Yooka-Laylee is shipped and done. The support they gave us during the development of the game was simply incredible, and we'll be paying them back for many years into the future.
GR: What are the biggest benefits of working with a publisher like Team 17?
AR: Their business nous helped us immensely, as we've shipped many games as individuals, but not many of us have run a company before! Things like budgeting and payroll could've been very disruptive if not managed properly.
Team 17 also bring a wealth of development knowledge for stuff like QA, version creation and store placement. Basically, all the stuff that allowed the Playtonic team to focus on the fun bits of game creation without distraction!
GR: Finally, what would you say you are most proud of with Yooka-Laylee?
AR: Personally I'm incredibly proud that we've managed to create this huge, complex game with an average of 15 people - and we did it whilst building a team and company at the same time!
The amazing support of our Kickstarter backers has put us in a very strong position for the future, and we hope they continue to enjoy the games we make for many years to come!
Yooka Laylee is heading to PC, PS4, Xbox One and, eventually, Nintendo Switch, with the first wave of launches set to take place on April 11. Stay tuned to Gamereactor for our impressions of the game and much more in the run up to release.