The building blocks of a platformer
Published 8 months ago
A Q&A with the man behind the feel (and gibberish) of Yooka-Laylee...
Yooka-Laylee is a love letter to classic platformer-adventure games from the genre veterans at Playtonic. Players can expect all manner of beautiful worlds to explore, quirky characters to meet (and beat), a vault-load of collectables and just the right amount of nonsense puns.
To offer some insight into our madness, here are a few words from programmer-come-voice-actor Chris Sutherland, the man responsible for both the mechanics AND the fart noises for a generation of classic games…
For those who don’t know, could you give us a brief summary of what Yooka-Laylee is about?
Yooka-Laylee is an open-world 3D platformer inspired by classic games of the genre that a lot of our team members were lucky enough to work on in the past. There are huge, beautiful worlds to explore, quirky characters to meet and lots of collectibles to horde on the way!
Our heroes Yooka and Laylee tackle a huge variety of puzzles and challenges in search of Pagies, the magical collectible used to unlock and expand new worlds, each crammed with oddball characters, hulking bosses, minecart challenges, arcade games, quiz shows, multiplayer games… and much more!
For the team, it’s been amazing to work on a game like this again (many of us worked on the Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country games many years ago).
We hope fans of the genre will be pleased to discover lots of familiar elements from the past, but also the new innovations we’re bringing to the genre like expandable worlds, which allow players to literally make the environments bigger, more complex and full of advanced challenges. So players have a constant choice to make on their progress through the adventure: ‘do I spend my Pagies to make this world bigger, or go in search of another world?’
The core mechanics are one of the most important elements of any platformer, and as lead programmer you’ve been responsible for the feel of many classic games. Can you explain the process of creating the movement in a 3D platformer?
In any platforming game the player is going to spend most of their time navigating through scenery, so it’s important that the core character movement feels fun just by itself. That fun comes from a combination of things, like how the character handles in different environments (on ground, in the air or while swimming underwater) and then how that movement connects with the animations.
For Yooka-Laylee, I started with a blank cube rather than a character model and then worked on creating mechanics for the cube to navigate a 3D world. Basically, if you can make moving a cube entertaining then you are going to stoke up the fun levels even more after replacing it with a well animated Bat and Chameleon!
However, while it’s important that the characters are fun to look at, we have a rule that gameplay always trumps animation. So if the player character is going to be performing a move hundreds of times throughout play, having it feel great is our first priority.
How did you come up with the roster of crazy moves in the game? Yooka and Laylee seem to have quite an arsenal…
With Yooka-Laylee we started with the characters first. We decided to find characters that were interesting and then see what moves fitted them, rather than the other way around which is what we did on Banjo-Kazooie. So, ‘what does a chameleon do and what does a bat do?’
This allowed us to come up with a really fun list of abilities that were not only entertaining to use, but felt innate to each character. So for example Laylee has a whole suite of sonar abilities she can use to smash glass and stun enemies, while Yooka can use his tongue as a grapple hook or to grab objects.
As well as programming a long list of classic games, you also have a secret penchant for voice acting?
Yes! In the old days there weren’t really any professional game voice actors, so we used to get members of the team to provide voices. If it makes the game better I’ll try mostly anything, so I ended up behind the microphone for Banjo and Kazooie, Daniel Carrington in Perfect Dark, Battletoads and a few others. The one people always bring up is the Killer Instinct announcer, which I’m lucky enough to still provide for the Xbox One version.
It doesn’t always work out though; when we were creating ‘Project Dream’ (later to become Banjo-Kazooie) there was a pirate’s song that required real speech (these were pre-gibberish days). We tried my ‘pirate voice’, but with each retake, as the verses advanced it became less pirate and more Scottish, in the end we located someone more able to Yo Ho Ho and Splice the Mainbrace!
How did you come up with the voices for Yooka and Laylee?
The whole team spent a fair amount of time making unusual noises as we posed the question, ‘What does a Chameleon and Bat sound like?’ In hindsight, I doubt our office neighbours were very pleased…
Laylee was the first voice we created, and I think this matched quite quickly what was in our heads. Yooka took a few iterations, as we wanted to keep him sounding distinct from Laylee and at the same time appealing as one of the lead characters in the game. I don’t think he’d have much chance becoming a star if we made him grunt and burp all the time!
Playtonic Games