The Layabouts are an indie game dev team that approaches the creative process with an enthusiast’s perspective and an irreverent style. We caught up with Game Designer Joe Pierce to find out more about their upcoming Vita projects
Hello The Layabouts! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Can you give us a little backstory into your studio and how you got into developing games?
Hey there! It’s no trouble at all.
Most of us here at the Layabouts have known each other for over ten years now, since we were kids. We all met on an old internet community full of adolescent, would-be webcomic and webtoon creators. We all loved making things, not just those things, and some of us were even making amateur game projects back in those days. A few of us decided to form The Layabouts as an outlet to make different projects, and originally it was more of an… art-collective? I guess that’s a good way to put it. We made whatever we felt like at a given time, most of it pretty weird, and we called ourselves the “Fantastic Media Creation Heroes!” It was kind of silly…
At some point, that identity started to fall by the wayside, and a lot of us were itching to get more serious about making games. So, here we are, making video games!
You’ve got two Vita titles in development right now, the first of these is Legend of Doodle. What is Legend of Doodle about?
The Legend Of Doodle is an exploratory platformer set in a pencil-drawn world with a focus on elegant simplicity. One day, the kingdom of this world is engulfed by an inky black darkness, consuming everything it touches with an almost gleeful enthusiasm. In the aftermath of this incursion, the reclusive Doodle seems to be one of only two survivors. You’ll need to travel this quiet and desolate world in search of others, clinging on to what little signs of life you can find, uncovering secrets, and discovering the nature of these shadowy invaders.
Initially, we were inspired a lot by some of the earlier work of Matt Thorson, games like Jumper or An Untitled Story, but as we’ve grown and worked on the project over the years, our goals have changed. We’ve done a lot to try and emphasize the loneliness of Doodle’s adventure, from the music and the level design to your interactions with other characters. The pace of the game is very deliberate; difficult, but rarely manic in the way a game like Super Meat Boy is. It takes place in a huge, interconnected world map, but the journey is made screen by screen, block by block, one foot over another – underlining the scale of the world and the distance between you and anyone else who may still be out there.
Our approach to combat also falls in line with this way of thinking. Outside of boss fights, we’ve built a lot of challenges and mechanics that don’t really require traditional ‘platformer enemies’. Your primary obstacle is the world itself, and what enemies we do have in the game operate in ways that highlight their existence as a part of this world, another piece of the puzzle, rather than just simple hazards. We’re happy with the results, and hope others will be just as happy when people can finally get their hands on the game.
How is development going for Legend of Doodle? It seems a long time ago that we first heard about it…
We’re trucking along. Everyone working on the game is spread out, some of us have other obligations like school or work, but we’re doing what we can to wrap things up. We’re almost at the content completion stage, or ‘beta’, so most of our remaining workload falls under the polishing, bug fixing, and porting processes.
Game Maker can also be, for lack of a better word, a bit ornery at times. It’s not always the most reliable IDE to work with, and it can make rapid iteration a bit of a chore, especially on a larger project like this, but we’ll push through. We’ve dealt with it for this long, we can deal with it for a bit longer!
What made you want to bring Legend of Doodle to the Vita?
Doodle’s a game we’ve been developing on and off for a long time now. It’s sort of always been a constant for us, coming back into our lives between other projects. Back in early 2014, I think around maybe March, YoYo Games and Sony announced a Game Maker: Studio partnership, and at that same time we were ‘in-between projects’ and getting back into the swing of production on The Legend Of Doodle. Vita seemed like a perfect fit for the game we wanted to make, and considering this announcement was for the engine we were already using, we decided to pursue it.
Have you got a price point or release date/window in mind?
We’re hoping to have the game finished and released in early 2016, somewhere within the $5-$10 range.
You also have another title in development, Collectems. Collectems certainly has a very familiar look about it, can you explain a little more about it?
Collectems is a Role Playing Game set in an alternate history Earth where genetic experimentation lead to the creation of strange mutant creatures. During the late 20th century, these ‘Collectems’ boomed into a new industry, an industry fueled by highly evolved, made-to-order, subservient monsters. They’ve bled into every facet of daily life, changing the nature of war & commerce forever.
The game explores the tensions surrounding this relatively new technology, the ethical questions it raises, and the impact these creatures have had on the everyday lives of those living in the Tamota Peninsula, the birthplace of Collectems. Players will travel Tamota, meet its citizens, capture these Collectems, and try to find their place in a world that’s perpetually balancing on a knife’s edge.
The inspirations behind Collectems are very clear, what will set your game apart from that?
Ah, actually, I’d argue we haven’t made most of the biggest inspirations for the project very clear at all! And I know that sounds kind of surprising, but In terms of plot, structure, and overall pacing; the game is very much a western RPG through and trough. Think Fallout 2, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns, Planescape Torment, Baulder’s Gate – titles like that. The Collectems feature heavily into the game’s battle system, but your interactions with other people in the world are in many ways much more important. How these people have been affected by these things is a bigger focus than the monsters themselves. Everyone has a different agenda, including the player, and working through these conflicting goals will involve making a lot of difficult, politically charged, morally grey decisions. I’m definitely aiming to emphasize the role playing part of Role Playing Games.
That’s not to say combat won’t play a large role in the game. Often, a lot of these disputes may need to be resolved with force, and you’ll roam around with a large team of Collectems by your side to engage in these conflicts. Battles in Collectems are brutal – they’re lethal – and you’ll need to be smart about how you organize your team and who to send into what engagements. When a Collectem dies, it dies for good, and there’s no bringing it back. Fallen Collectems will leave behind some aspect of themselves in the form of gene clusters; partial remnants of their stats, moves, or abilities, which can be applied to surviving teammates, and it will be up to them to carry on their legacy after death. Even if a Collectem makes it out of a battle alive, they’re likely to be wounded, and will need some time to recover before they can be sent out into battle again. Overall, I’d like battles to occur a lot less frequently in Collectems than most other RPGs, but carry a greater individual importance.
I know there’s a lot of people out there who have this impression of the game as little more than “Pokémon for PlayStation Vita”. A lot of that impression is our fault, of course – we’ve been relatively quiet about Collectems, very much intentionally, but I worry sometimes that the game’s image is getting away from us. While Pokémon is definitely a huge source of inspiration, I don’t want anyone to expect Collectems to have the same lighthearted tone. I feel bad that anyone might have been lead to think that was the case up until now, because that’s dishonest, and I hope to make those differences more and more obvious as time goes on. But for now, to put it simply: I’d be surprised if the game didn’t end up with an M rating.
How much gameplay do you expect to see in Collectems?
It’s hard to say, really. Putting a number to that sort of thing is never easy, especially this early into a project. At the same time, I’d like the game to be long enough to provide a thorough exploration of this world and its people. I think it’s important for the project to deliver on that, and doing so will likely require a significant amount of content. It remains to be seen, but I hope we’re able to make the game as big as it needs to be.
Will the game just be one release or can you see yourself release a dual version? Any plans for a retail release?
Actually, with some of the randomized elements we’re experimenting with (such as monster locations or area layouts) we’re hoping to make it so that, in away, everyone has their OWN version of the game. The original idea behind Pokémon’s dual versions was to get players sharing and talking with one another, so what better way to get people communicating than making everyone’s experience different? That’s the goal, anyway!
As for a retail release, I know that I’d love to see that some day, but we don’t have any official plans at the moment. We’ll just have to see what the future holds.
Is Collectems likely to be a one-off release or do you see it potentially growing like Pokémon?
I don’t think the game will ever be as big as Pokémon was, and that’s not really what we’re trying to do with this project either, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have ideas for other stories set in the Collectems universe. It’s a very important world to me, and I hope I have the good fortune of one day being able to tell those other stories, but it’s going to be a huge undertaking to get this one game done, so I’m trying to keep my focus there for now.
Was it an obvious choice to choose handheld as a platform for Collectems?
I’d say so. We had already become licensed PlayStation developers by the time we began more recent discussions about Collectems, so it was an ecosystem we already wanted to be a part of, and the Vita seemed like a natural fit for the game.
The Vita and PS4 share quite a few games already, many with cross save/buy/play. Any plans to tap into any of that?
Yes! When possible, I’m 100% committed to supporting all of those features on every project we release for PlayStation platforms.
Any ideas on when Collectems might be released?
I hate to disappoint, but it’s going to be a long time. The game’s still very much in the pre-production phase, what with The Legend Of Doodle taking up most development resources right now. Almost all of the media we’ve shared so far has been conceptual. None of that is final. We’re still figuring out the look and style of the game, and I think it will be some time before we commit to anything on that front.
The Legend of Doodle is a game that’s taken us six years to make for a variety of reasons, many of them technical, and that’s not something we can really afford to do again. Before we really move forward, I’d like to have the infrastructure and technology in place to develop Collectems properly. We’re going to be moving from Game Maker: Studio over to Unity for all future projects, and I’d like to have a solid grasp of developing for Unity before kicking into high gear on Collectems. That may involve making a different smaller project in-between, but the experience is vital. It’s what the game deserves, and it’s what the people who want the game deserve. There’s just no telling how long that might take, unfortunately, but we’ll be sure to let everyone know as soon as we have any idea ourselves.
How do you find developing for the Vita? Is there anything that you like/dislike/wish you could change?
Honestly, most, if not all of our developmental woes have been the result of Game Maker: Studio, but I think I’ve already said enough about that! No real complaints about the Vita platform itself. I love its big beautiful screen and that it’s powerful enough to handle a straight port of a PC game without needing crazy amounts of optimization. The biggest thing I wish I could change is the ridiculous expense of those proprietary memory cards, though. That, and going back in time and making sure the Vita got more support from major developers!
What games have been standouts for you on the Vita? Is there anything that you are looking forward to?
Honestly, and I kind of hate to admit it, but I haven’t actually had the chance to play very many Vita games. I’ve mostly been using my PlayStation TV to play a lot of old PSP JRPGs I never got the chance to experience until now. I was finally able to start on Persona 4 thanks to the Vita re-release though, and my experience with that has been wonderful so far. I hope to have more time to play and enjoy that once The Legend Of Doodle is finished. As for upcoming releases; Severed looks incredibly interesting, so I’ll definitely be giving that a try as soon as I can!
Do you have anything to say to our Vita readers?
Regardless of how long Collectems takes to finish, I fully intend to support the PlayStation Vita. Even if, by some twist of fate, it would be the last thing ever released for the system. So please; keep the dream alive!
One last question; What’s the better model in your opinion – OLED Vita or Slim?
What, no love for the PlayStation TV? Ha ha, I know, I know, you’re mostly asking about the form factor here. Truth be told, the only member of the team with their own personal Vita is our programmer, and it’s an original OLED model. The devkit is also based around that model as well, so I don’t know what the slim is like. I have a sneaking suspicion that I might actually like the lighter slim model more as, from what they tell me, the original model Vita can get rather heavy after long periods of use. That OLED screen is beautiful though, so it’s a tough choice!
We would like to thank Joe for his time with this interview! The Legend of Doodle is set to launch soon on the Vita and we will bring you more news as we have it!
This interview first appeared in our February issue of The Vita Lounge Magazine. Stay tuned to our magazine for more exclusive and magazine first content soon!