Recently, Mattias Snygg of Villa Gorilla took some time with us at Gaming Respawn to answer some questions about the team’s up coming game, Yoku’s Island Express. It’s an open world pinball/Metroidvania style adventure that seeks to capture that feeling of exploration as a young child. Current target for release is Winter 2017/2018.
GR- Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about Yoku’s Island Express. An open world pinball game that blends in Metroidvania aspects is quite the interesting concept, how did the idea for the gameplay aspect of Yoku’s Island Express come about?
VG – At first it was mostly about putting those two concepts together. What would it be like to combine pinball and open-world? I love pinball on its own, and I love open-world and Metroidvania games, so it felt fresh and intriguing to try and work out what kind of experience you could get out of those core components.
Having locked on this as our next project, the real work began trying to figure out how to actually make it work. Turns out that there were a whole lot of pitfalls, and I think we fell into most of them along the way!
GR – What are some of your favorite pinball tables? Metroidvania games? Did any directly influence Yoku’s Island Express?
VG – I’ve played a lot of Mars Attacks, that one hits the spot for me. As for Metroidvania games I really enjoyed Cave Story, and I think FEZ qualifies as well thinking about how that game is structured. The influence from existing games is probably there, since we sometimes look to other games for solutions to similar problems, but our case is a bit special with what we’re trying to build, so any direct comparison is kind of hard to make.
GR – I have seen that Yoku’s Island Express takes inspiration from the joy of exploration as a young child, how does the game incorporate that into the story?
VG- I think it’s a question of perspective. Beyond how it informs the art, where we’re trying to infuse a sense that there is a playful mystery to discover behind every rock and root, the world itself is full of secret places and mystery, some of them ancient and oblique. In our game you’re very much the little guy thrust into a big world with old creatures who have stories and motivations you might not immediately understand. Your own part might seem small and insignificant at first, but as the story develops, your own role changes with it.
GR – The game’s story sounds quite intriguing, were there any works in particular that inspired it?
VG – We draw inspiration from all over the place, from Lovecraft through Miyazaki to the 1997 Kevin Costner vehicle, “The Postman”. Story-centric games certainly need a plot or some form of story beats. For me a good game story serves you with a clear motivation for what your next goal is, it’s something you keep in the back of your mind and it propels you forward, but the moment-to-moment action is also story. Those are the things that you feel you’re discovering on your own. In a game like ours, we have a great opportunity to let the game world tell a large part of the story through the art and the things you come across, which I think is still the most elegant and often most powerful way to do it.
GR – Coming from a background with larger AAA studios, has “going indie” given the team any unforeseen challenges in the development?
VG – I think our previous experience in game development has been a big help in most cases. Even though everyone develops blind spots as you get used to doing things a certain way, hopefully your own blind spots don’t overlap with those of the other people on the team. One thing that most developers face is the ever-present danger of feature creep, and coming from AAA we’re used to having more resources at hand to build more expensive stuff, but we’ve been very careful to go in with open eyes when talking about new features. That being said, the project has certainly grown a lot in scope and complexity since our initial planning!
GR – Many indie developers take to crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo to help with development costs. Did Yoku’s Island Express use any of these platforms and why/why not?
VG – We talked about it as a way of jump-starting some awareness of the game within the gaming community, ultimately decided against it since we knew we’d stay afloat financially and wanted to have full focus on building the game. So far, it’s been all out-of-pocket (we’re low maintenance), but I’m starting to look forward to splurge on a new pair of socks.
GR – How long has Yoku’s Island Express been in development?
VG – We’re about three years into development, first it was just me and Jens. Later, we brought in our level designer, Linus, and most recently our art intern, Johanna.
GR – Building a proprietary engine for Yoku’s Island Express sounds like a lot of work. About how much of that 3 year development period was spent working on the engine itself?
VG – The engine is being developed alongside the game, so it’s pretty much three years in the making. It’s custom tailored for the kind of fast, iterative game design we do where the game and the game editor are the same thing and you build and play in the same environment. We’re able to add custom features that would be hard or even impossible to do using an off-the-shelf engine. It all comes down to what game you’re making, and if the engine investment is going to give you a unique edge or if you’d just be better off with something already developed.
VG – We have a ton of ideas and rough concepts for what the next couple of projects should be, but we’re too focused on finishing off Yoku’s Island Express to do any serious work on anything else. The idea is to keep doing these unusual, interesting projects that build on our strengths as a studio.
GR – Will any future projects be using this engine as well?
VG – Quite likely, yes. Ultimately, that comes down to what we end up doing next, but it would make a lot of sense in all sorts of ways!
I’d like to thank Mattias again for taking the time to answer our questions, and we can’t wait to see more of Yoku’s Island Express in the future. Check out all there is to know about Yoku’s Island Express HERE.