Planet of the Eyes is a retro puzzle adventure game by Cococucumber featuring an atmospheric journey of a lone robot through a mysterious world.
A finalist for “Best Indie Game” at the Canadian Videogame Awards, players are guided through a stunning visual mix of puzzle and platforming challenges by audio logs left by another survivor to explore an unknown world filled with danger.
At the start of production, one of our first challenges was to create a robot protagonist that combined form and function, while still having a unique, recognizable look.
As the themes in Planet of the Eyes revolve around isolation and going on a journey to confront a new frontier, we took inspiration from the stories of Isaac Asimov, retro sci-fi covers from the 50s and 60s, and other more famous robot characters to see what could work. We began with some visual references:
Looking at these robots, we latched on to the more humanoid designs, with strong shapes and prominent eyes. These designs work well as they allow the player relate to the character, almost in a little brother type of way. As the robot in Planet of the Eyes is a silent protagonist, we wanted to nurture this connection even more, to really let the players to project their thoughts and feelings on to the character.
Another idea we wanted to get across is that he’s quite a young robot, probably the equivalent of a human toddler. When he’s navigating his way through the world, we want you to see that he is in fact quite small as compared to his environment, and so his size needed to reflect this.
Also, the scale of the robot makes it even more visceral when the character gets crushed, killed by spikes or smashed into pieces - which, unfortunately (or fortunately?), is consequence of playing the game.
After several rounds of sketches for robot designs based on loose categories, like ‘boxy’, ‘toy-like’ and ‘shelled’, we came upon a design that is inspired by a polaroid camera.
This design stood out to us because of several reasons. First, we wanted to set up at the start of the game that the main character is an exploration robot, and so having the face of the robot reflect the design of a camera was a good tie-in to this idea.
Another reason we chose this design was because it was a nod to the retro influences in the design direction. Visually, Planet of the Eyes is inspired by the colourful retro sci-fi artworks of Syd Mead and Ed Valigursky. Their use of limited but saturated colour palettes is something that we wanted to convey in our game; a contrast to the darker undertones in the story and music.
The retro polaroid camera also brought back a sense of nostalgia and optimism in space age exploration, a feeling that we wanted to get across in Planet of the Eyes.
Finally, the test of what made this robot work was to see the character in motion. We animated the run cycle and suddenly this robot came to life and radiated cuteness.
We made a design choice during the pre-production stage that the robot should be a silent character to really give the player an experience of uninterrupted gameplay flow, and to immerse them in the world through the audio narrative.
The story in Planet of the Eyes is told through audio tapes left behind by Zack, the night watchman on-board the crashed spaceship, which are picked up by the player along the way. You can listen to one of the audio logs in the story trailer below.
Thus we faced the challenge how to convey the robot’s personality without using text. So how did we do this?
One way was to work with the in-game camera. At the start of the game, we were conscious to keep the camera fairly close to the robot. This helps the player connect with the character early on, and solidify a bond with the robot.
On a slightly darker note, we thought that adding in a lot of opportunities for the robot to fail or die, the player ends up rooting for the character even more. We especially like the one where the robot gets pulled apart by the beetle in the pipes level. The robot struggling - but ultimately getting ripped apart- followed by a fast respawn time really helps the player feel the failure, and nudges them to try again.
Do the Dance!
Another interesting thing that we noticed when we were showed the game to new people was that they would pick up the controller try out every button. This inspired us to include a dance button, where the robot does a little dance animation. It serves no purpose other than to charm and entertain the player. From the smiles we’ve been getting when we watch players discover this, we think it was a good call!
Looking back, we think that the robot design achieved what we set out to do: to create a relatable and unique character that is recognizable and emphasizes the story and experience in the game. Through the use of animation and the camera, we crafted an opportunity for the player to feel responsible for this little robot, and the desire to pilot him through to the end.
When we designed the robot, we drew inspiration from retro sci-fi influences in their use of colour and sense of space-age adventure. The Polaroid camera influence in the robot gave this guy a distinct and relevant look which we’ve grown fond of, and hope you do too.
Planet of the Eyes is available now on PS4, Xbox One and Steam (PC/Mac).
The developers, Cococucumber, can be followed on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and on Made With Unity.