InnerSpace: Why it’s plane sailing for PolyKnight’s gravity-defying debut - Games Weekly

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

InnerSpace: Why it’s plane sailing for PolyKnight’s gravity-defying debut

PolyKnight Games wants players of its debut commercial release to “disregard the notion of down”. InnerSpace invites you to pilot a craft through a series of interconnected inverted spheres: large planetary ‘bubbles’ whose dimensional idiosyncrasies bear inspirations as wide-ranging as 19th-century satirical novel Flatland: A Romance Of Many Dimensions and mecha anime Gurren Lagann.

There’s another influence that springs to mind, of course, and it’s a little closer to home. “One of my favourite games not even for the experience, just entirely for the idea is Super Mario Galaxy,” creative director Tyler Tomaseski tells us. “I really adored  the physics of that and spent a lot of time prototyping my own take on it.” An experiment based on this initial idea was the seed from which InnerSpace first sprouted.

EAD Tokyo’s finest hour isn’t, however, mentioned in the game’s Kickstarter pitch, which secured this fledgling studio $25,000 in funding. Much of the total has been spent on server and software costs, and Tomaseski is already prepared to delay the game past its planned October release date if it means meeting their ambitious targets. “If we need to keep working day jobs and paying for this ourselves, [we will],” he adds.

The success of its crowdfunding campaign was by no means assured, even with the meticulous preparation and research invested by producer and project manager Eric Brodie. InnerSpace is a tricky game to pin down: the Kickstarter document likens it to Proteus, Shadow Of The Colossus and Crimson Skies, three games which ostensibly have little in common. Tomaseski was initially resistant to boiling the game down to a list of inspirations, but such is the way on Kickstarter. “As a developer I tend to think of my games in an overly complicated way,” he says. “So not only is it hard for me to simplify my ideas, but it kills me a little bit on the inside to do that.” Nevertheless, he realised comparisons were necessary to attract the kind of backers he was keen to court.

The Shadow Of The Colossus-esque guardians are enormous demigods there’s one for each world, and you’ll need to defeat them all to complete the game. In that regard, it shares structural similarities with the Team Ico favourite, though Tomaseski insists the emphasis is not on combat. “It’s not necessarily like we strap guns to the plane and ask you to go shoot stuff. There’s never going to be a point where we force you to fight a boss; it’s going to be very open. There will be things to collect, little side quests, or you can just enjoy exploring this huge space.”

Indeed, you’re cast as the cartographer, encouraged to chart this 3D space and find hidden relics, bringing them back to the archeologist, who upgrades your craft in return. The relics are optional and players can happily ignore them should they prefer to simply defeat all the demigods and see the game’s ending. But those who explore more thoroughly will be rewarded, their efforts giving them a greater understanding of the world: as well as powering up your craft, each relic contains a piece of lore. “We have, for example, drawings scientists have left, like cross-sections of creatures,” says Tomaseski.

These are worlds you’ll be exploring from above and below your craft is capable of travelling through air and water. It’s built around the ability to stall. Hit stall when you’re underwater and you’ll hold still, allowing you to rotate freely before bursting away. The trade-off when submerged is slower movement, and the level design will adjust to accommodate these changes. “Whereas it feels like Crimson Skies [when airborne], it’s more like Star Fox once you go underwater,” Tomaseski explains.
“We’re not trying to make a game for everyone. We’re trying to make it for a few”
The game’s intuitive controls help ease any early difficulties with orientation, after an initial experiment with more simulator-like handling proved to be confusing. “The aim of a lot of flying games is to simulate the experience of flight,” Brodie says, “but we realised, through prototyping, that wasn’t going to be the goal of this particular game. Instead, it’s about experiencing this world and it just so happens you do that in a plane. We wanted people to be able to observe their surroundings without worrying too much about where they are.”

They suggest it should only take half an hour to acclimatise, and that being able to explore freely through 3D space allows players to mentally map out the worlds, albeit in a non-traditional fashion. “We’re encouraging people to more abstractly consider space in a very 3D way,” Tomaseski says. “You’ll start thinking of areas relative to one another.” A brief session with a very early build hints the process will be more natural than it sounds.

It’s clear this young studio is enjoying the “weird, difficult challenge” of making the game, though Tomaseski’s keenly aware audiences may not view its peculiarities  with similar relish. “It’s important to not pander to the lowest common denominator,” he says. “We’re not trying to make a game  for everyone. We’re trying to make a very good game for a few people.”

Perfect Pitch
Brodie, whose secondary role is as the team’s marketeer, attributes the press coverage InnerSpace’s crowdfunding campaign received to “a whole lot of luck and voodoo”, though that belies months of careful preparation. Brodie conducted detailed research on the etiquette of contacting journalists, helped by local developers who’d been through the same process. The presentation of its Kickstarter bid was equally crucial, and Brodie scrutinised successful and failed campaigns, focusing on studios of PolyKnight’s size and games of similar scope to fine-tune the details: “The project is unique and striking enough that it catches the eye. We just had to make sure we had some eyes on it.”

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