Poppy Developer Willem Rosenthal Creates True ‘Retro Style Game’ With Modern Conveniences

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As the video game industry continues to project into the future with next-gen consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, many developers are looking to the past. Nintendo is adding the N64 and Sega Genesis games to Switch Online, while Sony and Microsoft release older titles through PS Plus and Games with Gold each month. Independent studios are also leading the charge with an exponential number of retro-style games. Pompom: The Great Space Rescue Developer Willem Rosenthal believes a lot of developers fall into the trap of making their titles “look retro” rather than just presenting themselves as retro games.

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He said there are many games that use or refer to archaic ideas with a nod and a wink. While this is a perfectly reasonable way to pay homage to consoles of yesteryear, Rosenthal is more interested in creating an experience as it would have existed in the early 1990s – despite releasing on Modern PCs and Switch. Game Rant spoke to Rosenthal about the creation Pom pom in a game that Nintendo “would be proud to release” on the SNES.

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Pompom: Action-Platformer with a twist

In the upcoming game, players guide Poppy the Hamster through eight worlds to save his owner Hoshi from the clutches of space pirate Captain Cat and his crew. However, rather than directly controlling Pompom, players alter the surrounding environment: placing platforms, holding objects like lanterns, or using tools like shears to clear vines. “Basically I thought it would be really exciting to build a level as you go,” Rosenthal said.


Pom pom is the full realization of Walkie Tori, a project produced for the Game Jam 2018 Game Maker’s Toolkit (GMTK). The challenge of this game jam, broadcast by British video game journalist Mark Brown; creator of the popular YouTube channel GMTK, had to take a basic genre and remove one of its main mechanisms. Rosenthal’s idea was to create an action game where players cannot control their main character, inspired by Donkey kong (1994) on Game Boy and the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series he spawned, Mario and wario on SNES, and lemmings on Amiga. Unlike these games, Rosenthal found Pom pomIt’s unique in focusing on a “flow experience”.


Because Poppy never stops moving, there is a “rushed time limit feeling”. Players need to be quick to figure out the puzzle mechanics one might see in a game like lemmings with a limited amount of “freeze time” to place items, maneuver the hamster around the danger while collecting coins and a single carrot on each level. Pom pom started as a side project as Rosenthal felt exhausted from his ongoing action-arcade game Go go Kudamono!, but he said he’s proud of what he’s become.

“I did [Walkie Tori] in a game jam and I couldn’t get it out of my head. That’s why when the pandemic hit and I felt I needed a break from Kudamono, that’s what I turned to. It turns out that it could be a complete Super Nintendo game. “

Pompom’s SNES plans


camp maintenance willem rosenthal tomo october 2021

Rosenthal said the SNES is “probably my favorite console of all time,” and its first library laid the groundwork for much of Pom pomthe design of. Her art style was aimed at being “cute, not saccharine-sweet”, rather. Super mario world than other titles of the time that he appreciates as Super Metroid. He began by working on world and level designs, having already established mechanics in Walkie Tori, then decided to go for a cute animal mascot that “puts it all together” – especially Poppy because he liked the Hamtaro the franchise is growing.


With these pieces, he was able to “connect the dots” and “come up with something that feels right,” extrapolating the idea of ​​space feline antagonists due to his hamster protagonist roaming various worlds. Another tip he pulled from the SNES classics was giving Pom pom a distinct motivation, saving a loved one, even though it’s not a very story driven game.

RELATED: 10 Things Modern RPGs Can Learn From SNES RPGs

Rosenthal’s current development studio, TOMO CAMP, is a solo venture, but he worked with Japanese artist Bruno Levi to help create cutscenes and promotional art emphasizing that motivation. It attracted Belgian composer and programmer Lynn, who was already into Super Nintendo-style music and helped to Walkie Tori – “Just the right songwriter for the job.” The sound design for Pompom was also done in collaboration with Ali Cedroni of Norwegian audio company NokNok, which has credits including Sable, Totally precise battlefields, and more.


However, one of the most important parts of Rosenthal’s design ethic was to create as much content as possible to avoid recycling ideas and keep things as “exciting” and “unexpected” as possible. Yoshi Island was a big inspiration, and he tried to emulate how this game introduced new mechanics or enemies on almost every level, “unlike anything you’ve seen else”.

Keep modern amenities


camp maintenance willem rosenthal tomo october 2021

A demo for Pom pom released on September 25 in preparation for Steam Next Fest. This demo includes eight levels of different parts of the game that have been tweaked, helping to create a roadmap for completing the rest. Rosenthal said Pom pom The content is complete and hopes to launch in 2022, but the demo also offered the opportunity to get feedback and refine the design of a sort of platform game that people need “a lot of time to do.” get used to it “.

Pom pom is designed to be something unique, but not a punitive experience that only “expert gamers” can go through. Players are supposed to die as they learn each step, but hopefully not to the point of frustration. Although he aims to create a game straight out of the ’90s, Rosenthal “doesn’t believe that a game that wants to look like it’s from that period has to take away modern conveniences.” There are planned accessibility options like screen shake removal and easier fixes to add more freeze time – plus, it’s ready to add a lot more based on reading tests.


At the same time, while Rosenthal’s “first priority” is to create a well-rounded and fun game for everyone, it would also be curious to see something like a speedrunning community emerge around the game. Basic would remain “as pure as possible”, but he would like to introduce new ways of playing, such as special abilities that lend themselves to speedrunners. Rosenthal expects people will want a modern experience, but he hopes to give them one that feels really retro – right down to optional settings like playing 4×3 with a CRT filter.

“For me, I think it would fit in really well with the first Super Nintendo library, and these are my favorite games. I can only speak for myself this way, but I’m trying to do something where if I saw it on the shelf. I would like it. “

Pompom: The Great Space Rescue is in development for PC and Switch. A demo is available now on Steam.

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Source: Steam


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