The Curious Case of Clustertruck
Published 3 years ago
The Story Behind Landfall Games' Chaotic Truckformer Clustertruck
Right on the heels of their successful launch of their multiplayer dogfighting game, Air Brawl, Landfall Games has been hard at work on their second title, Clustertruck, a chaotic physics based truck platformer. The game is a collaborative effort by best friends and co-founders, Wilhelm Nylund (CEO) and Philip Örum (Lead Programmer). Over the past year Clustertruck has rapidly grown from a simple idea to a full fledged game with a passionate Reddit fanbase helping shape the game’s trajectory throughout the entire development process.
Clustertruck at its core, relies on simple platforming mechanics within unpredictable environments. It’s a first-person platformer where "the floor is lava" and you have to jump on top of speeding trucks to survive. The game’s unpredictable nature, creative level design, and unique gameplay embody the values of Landfall Games, which is focused on pushing the envelope on innovative mechanics and game aesthetics. While the game’s style has changed drastically, its core mechanics have remained the same.
The origins of Landfall Games began when Wilhelm and Philip met in Cybergymnasiet Stockholm, a video game high school in Stockholm, to work on their senior project. “We made a terrible game which was an FPS mixed with Risk,” says Wilhelm. Undeterred and with their first game under their belt, they moved onto a new project. “After that experience we thought it was incredibly fun making games and we started making another one, a game with dogfighting planes that later became Air Brawl.”
The duo worked on Air Brawl for three months until they graduated high school in 2014. Philip decided to continue his schooling at the University of Skövde where he continued to learn programming while Wilhelm took a year off to work on Air Brawl at home. Wilhelm spent a year finishing the development of Air Brawl, with some programming help from Philip who worked remotely. During this time Wilhelm was invited to join the Sweden Game Arena, a premiere Swedish game incubator at the University of Skövde, which provided him the business expertise he needed to launch his game. After a year, of development Air Brawl launched on Early Access in the summer of 2015. With little more than Wilhelm’s grassroots marketing on Reddit, it became a commercial success and was nominated for the Swedish Game Awards.
“Somehow it worked out and Air Brawl got a lot of attention on Reddit. It sold quite well,” says Wilhelm. “From there Philip decided to drop out of college and started working with me full time. Right before the full release of Air Brawl we also met Petter Henriksson, who joined our team to work on programming and PR.”
I was just thinking it would be a lot more fun if I could just roll down the window and climb up on the roof and just jump home.
Even before the full release of Air Brawl, Wilhelm was already hatching an idea for a new game. In August, after showcasing Air Brawl at Gamescom, the team prepared for a long drive home. “The road from Germany to Sweden is twelve hours or so,” Wilhelm recalls. “So I was just sitting there and I was pretty bored. I was just thinking it would be a lot more fun if I could just roll down the window and climb up on the roof and just jump home.”
Wilhelm describes the initial idea of the Clustertruck which he shared with Philip that same day. “I wanted to make a game where I could jump on cars and avoid falling off, while continuously moving forward.”  Philip was hesitant, considering they hadn’t even finished their first game, but Wilhelm was convinced he had something novel.
This simple idea evolved quickly within the following two days. “I made the truck model and some basic behavior the first night we came home,” says Wilhelm. “On the second day of working on it I had a basic prototype that I posted to both Reddit and Imgur.”
The GIF racked up over a million views within a week, along with thousands of newsletter sign ups. “In just a couple of days we already had over ten thousand people that signed up, which was as much as Air Brawl had gotten over a year of development,” says Wilhelm. At this point they knew they had a hit. With Air Brawl’s pending full release in November, the team committed to working on Clustertruck as their next full time project after Air Brawl.
While the core gameplay was solid, the foundation of the game still needed to be created. “My idea was to have it be level based. Start at this point and jump to finish line,” says Wilhelm “From there I started churning prototype-esque levels where everything was built from cubes and squares.” Although it began with a minimalist style, Wilhelm shifted to adding more art content. “A lot of the levels are still the same design as in the cube phase but just with assets instead of squares,’ says Wilhelm.
Not unlike other indie developers, marketing was the last thing on Wilhelm’s mind early in the development process. “I’ve never sat down and thought ‘How am I going to marketing my game?’,“ says Wilhelm. “It has more been I’ve been a Redditor for a long time and I wanted to see what other Redditors thought of what I was making.”
Through his interactions with Reddit communities such as /r/Unity3D and /r/Gaming, Clustertruck’s game development naturally became a collaborative process.
“Instead of making a thousand different things then releasing a game, I get to hear what people think immediately,” says Wilhelm.” The game’s dedicated fanbase grew out of this constant effort to share his development journey with other developers and gamers on Reddit.
During development, Wilhelm relied heavily on his game’s subreddit community, /r/highwayfightsquad, to provide him instant feedback throughout the level design process. “Whenever I have a new idea or new feature I automatically record a gif and post it on Reddit to instantly get a feel for what people think of the idea,” says Wilhelm. This feedback drove his design choices, which were focused on sustaining player movement and level variety. “I always try to make it so that the game design doesn’t get repetitive. I always add half of the new levels in each world with a completely new mechanic.”
As the team continues to polish the aesthetics of Clustertruck, they’ve drawn creative inspiration from the artistic style of two recent releases, Campo Santo’s Firewatch and Thekla Inc’s The Witness. “When they came out I just bought both of them and spent a lot of time walking around in both worlds. I just loved how beautiful both of these games look. They’ve been the main inspiration for the design of Clustertruck,” says Wilhelm. For Wilhelm, Firewatch provided inspiration in creating beautiful and cohesive environments. “There’s nothing that stands out that doesn’t look good. Whenever you’re playing and you stop and look somewhere, it looks a painting, like a photograph. It has definitely inspired how we’ve designed levels in the game.”
Over the course of the next few months the team’s focus revolved around refining the experience . Making movement as smooth as possible was a main concern for the team. “As soon as we released our alpha build publically we received feedback from users about movement feeling clunky,” says Wilhelm. “When I was playing our alpha, I thought the movement was great. I was so used to it. I couldn’t see the flaws with it. ” With this feedback Wilhelm deleted the movement script and redesigned it completely, this time with much more positive reception from his alpha testers.
At the same time the team isn’t just refining the game, they’re pushing through several new features with the overall goal of maximizing replayability. Their recent part SUPER HOT homage part demo, SUPER TRUCK, showcases a slow motion effect which is one of the many abilities they plan to feature in the game. “We want to have a bunch of different abilities for the player.” says Wilhelm.  “We want to have abilities like double jump or air dash which are references to other games.”
I want to give the game infinite replayability. Whenever you give tools to people in the gaming community, they make crazy things.
Another important feature the team is working on is a comprehensive level editor that allows users the ability to make their own maps. The team is  incredibly excited about the huge range of creations possible with this tool. “I want to give the game infinite replayability. Whenever you give tools to people in the gaming community, they make crazy stuff.” says Wilhelm. “We want to make it so the levels you make look as good as the ones we make.”
While Landfall Games’ core team is just a bit bigger at three strong, there are still many important projects in the pipeline. Philip continues to manage the hardcore programming for the team working on systems like the level editor, the net code, and Steam integration. Wilhelm is mainly tackling game programming including refining level designs and improving movement. Petter also contributes as a programmer and is currently working on a replay system for the game while also managing the business side and PR for the studio. There is one outside specialist, Karl Flodin, who’s responsible for the music and sound effects for the game. Overall the team is planning on staying small and staying busy.
With Clustertruck planned for release later this fall for PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox, and PS4, there's a lot on their plate, but the development process still continues to be a labor of love. “Since Philip and I have made our first game two years ago, I haven’t been able to stop,” says Wilhelm. “Being able to create something from nothing, and having someone say ‘Hey that looks fun’, it’s so rewarding.”
Nathaniel Ventura