Now, I know there’s been a lot of pixels lately. It’s like the indie world has decided en masse to pretend the last twenty years of gaming didn’t happen. And, if it means it’ll erase Kane and Lynch 2, maybe that’s not such a bad thing… However, if you only play one more cuboid-obsessed title this year, it’s got to be the next game from Towerfall Ascension’s Matt Thorson. Made by IndieHouse, a dev team who all live and work together, Skytorn is a striking-looking action-adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world among the clouds. Oh, and did I mention the pretty pixels? Born in a unique environment, the game has five members on the development team who are just as likely to be talking about work over breakfast or an impromptu couch session of Towerfall.
“It’s been a really great and rewarding experience,” explains programmer and designer Noel Berry. “IndieHouse is essentially just a house of five roommates, except we are all musicians, artists, programmers and designers creating videogames. It’s extremely nice being able to hang out around the kitchen table and discuss game design and what we’re working on with like-minded people.”
In Skytorn you take on the role of explorer Nevoa who is questing through floating islands in the clouds after a disaster has ripped the land asunder. The detail of the world is beautiful as our hero’s hair gently bounces as she runs through the atmospheric world and raindrops pummel the rich crumbling environments. “Both myself and Pedro Medeiros, the artist, are heavily influenced by a lot of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic work, and I think that has left a strong mark on our game,” says Berry. “We wanted the world to feel mysterious, large, and expand outside of what you see in the game. Somewhere you could really get lost in, with lots of old technology and interesting creatures to interact with. Pedro specifically references Flashback and Super Metroid as inspiration for the art style in Skytorn.”
Exploring dungeons is the order of the day, and instead of a more traditional weapon, Nevoa is armed with a trusty shovel – meaning she can both tunnel through the world and also destroy enemies with a quick swing (and maybe a pun about them digging their own grave?). “We gave Nevoa a shovel because we knew from the beginning of development she was going to both fight and destroy terrain, so it was the obvious choice,” tells Berry. “As you progress through the game your shovel gains different power-ups and abilities that change how both the combat and digging works. There are different power-ups you can find throughout the world, so when you play again you’ll definitely encounter some you haven’t seen before.”
Shovel abilities include electrifying the ground around you and creating new ground where it digs, but it’s the combination of combat and platforming that really shines. Just like Towerfall Ascension depends so heavily on its pitch-perfect jumping and arrow flinging, Skytorn’s Nevoa is nimble on her feet, dodging and rolling around enemies with ease. Footage on the game’s dev blog shows her leaping off walls, attacking, and jumping into the air to avoid being toasted by a fire-producing nasty. “One of our main goals right from the start of developing Skytorn was to make a platformer that had really solid and fun platforming mechanics,” confirms Berry. “We wanted the player to feel very in control, while you wall-jump, crawl, ledge-grab, roll, dig, and fight monsters.”
The game is procedurally generated so each adventure will be unique to you, and the devs have introduced some roguelike elements… but those attached to their progress will be happy to know there’s not quite as much permadeath. “Skytorn definitely has roguelike elements, but it strays further from that genre than games like The Binding Of Isaac do,” explains Berry. “Though the world is procedurally generated, it’s not recreated when you die. Rather, you continue to explore the same world as before, unless you decide to start a new adventure.”
Hand-in-hand with the word roguelike comes the question of difficulty, and the platforming already looks like it could become fiendishly tricky. “The game doesn’t start off too difficult, but as you dive into the island and progress through the various dungeons the game gets continuously harder,” says Berry. “It’s tough to say how hard the game will get yet, but we definitely want to challenge the player. They also always have the option to just wander and explore the world if they encounter enemies that are too tough for them.”
The team has been heavily influenced by Thorson’s development experience on Towerfall, which is good news for us. “It’s shaped what Skytorn has become a ton,” agrees Berry. “Matt is a really solid designer, and having him around on a day-to-day basis giving feedback and input has made Skytorn a much better game than it otherwise would be.
"On a personal level I’ve also learned a lot simply by living in the same house as Matt while he developed Towerfall, and seeing all the different challenges you have to overcome when creating such a large game.” We can’t imagine getting on as well in house GM, but it’s irresistible not to say that we’re digging this already…