As I performed by way of Sea of Stars, I was greatly surprised by how expansive the areas felt. Not within the open-world sense, to be clear, however somewhat, that Quebec City-based Sabotage managed to create ranges which are each dense and multitiered whereas additionally feeling well-paced and breezy to get by way of. Often, the dungeons within the traditional Japanese role-playing video games that impressed Sea of Stars may really feel repetitive and drag on.
“At Sabotage, the approach is, ‘Okay, let’s tackle a genre that we’ve always loved and’ — it’s a bit of a pruning process — ‘leave behind what didn’t really age well and rethink what might be better,’” explains Thierry Boulanger, Sea of Stars’ inventive director. “And what we want is for a modern player who maybe is making first contact with that genre, that their experience as a modern gamer is as good as how we felt when we were nine and we’re playing those games.”
Part of this, Boulanger says, got here all the way down to figuring out style “irritants” and attempting to supply a unique method. In the case of traversal, that meant breaking away from the restrictive grid-based motion of the video games of previous. For instance, one of the earliest ranges, Coral Cascades, attracts from the aesthetic of a rocky seashore space in Chrono Cross however applies it to an enormous cliffside that your celebration navigates by leaping, swimming and shimmying throughout ledges.
“There’s a little verticality in the level design and it clashes in a way that feels like a bit of an innovation or an iteration. You’re not used to going seamlessly in and out of water like this, jumping up on things from all these angles, and all,” he says.
“I think it was Savannah [Perron], one of our animators, who said: ‘It really annoys me in games when I can kill a dragon but if there’s a fallen tree in the way, I can’t just hop over it, I have to go out of my way.’ It’s these kinds of moments where you’re like, ‘Yeah, that fits with the narrative in combat but outside of combat there’s a different set of rules.’ And we really set out to make something that would feel more seamless.”
Later in Sea of Stars, you’ll additionally unlock gadgets like a grappling hook that solely additional open up navigation. “It feels like a game where it’s all these small pockets. It seems like we’re constantly just doing the fun part and then moving on,” Boulanger says with amusing. “And it also seems, in turn, that makes things more bite-sized and more approachable for the player. It just feels lighter overall.”
It’s a surprisingly considerate method to traversal in a JRPG-style sport, nevertheless it’s one which is smart while you perceive Sea of Stars‘ lineage. As Boulanger tells it, that all stems from veteran Ubisoft Montreal developer Philippe Dionne, who worked on a few Prince of Persia titles and was even part of the initial small core team on the original Assassin’s Creed.
“Throughout my career, I was lucky enough that we ended up at the same place. I was like, ‘I saw you on a panel with [Metal Gear creator Hideo] Kojima, I can’t believe it’s you.’ And he’s like, ‘What a nerd! That was only in a Japanese newspaper!’ I’m like, ‘let’s just skip that intro, can we be friends?’” says Boulanger, laughing. “And we’ve had this friendship for over 10 years now, and we just hang out all the time, and we play all the games. We have a very similar brain in terms of [game development]. He’s more introverted — he doesn’t want to do interviews anymore and obviously, we respect that — but I wish more people could pick his brain because he is an absolute genius.”
It additionally helps that Sabotage has added its personal little thrives of character to the world. The studio’s first sport, The Messenger, had a witty tone, and that extends to Sea of Stars in some ways. From the DJ-ing rocky Boulder Douche enemy and rodent folks miners to a goofy pirate gang and a celebration member who makes use of a frying pot lid for a weapon, Sea of Stars injects quite a bit of levity into its save-the-world narrative.
“There’s a bunch of things even just from the Canadian perspective — there are a couple of self-inserts there. I try not to use the soap box too much,” he says with amusing. “For example, in the cooking ingredients, the description of maple syrup says it’s too expensive, which I fully believe. ‘Underrated and overpriced,’ I think is how the description goes. I will die on this hill!”
He provides that there are “probably around 12 things” which are within the sport which are French-Canadian nods, together with “Malkomud,” an early rodent sorcerer boss that goals to evoke magic and earth whereas additionally referencing the French time period for “rascal” or a mischievous individual. “As you just say them out loud as an English speaker, unbeknownst to yourself speaking French-Canadian, that adds a little bit of depth to the thing you talked about. I certainly had fun with that.”
and dynamic lighting#pixelart #screenshotsaturday #indiedev #rpg pic.twitter.com/XxX4TM4Xj6
— Sea of Stars (@seaofstarsgame) November 13, 2021
But even when you can’t respect all of these little winks, what ought to catch everybody’s eye is the sport’s attractive pixel artwork aesthetic. Making it much more spectacular is the dynamic lighting, which sees Zale and Valere utilizing their respective solar and moon powers to alter the time of day on the fly. There are even nighttime variations of songs to accompany these shifts. Boulanger says one individual, Jeakim Hamel, labored on the dynamic lighting for the reason that very starting of Sea of Stars‘ growth in 2018.
“He was one of the first two people to work on the game because we started with that basic idea of the dynamic lighting. Because the pipeline, all of the production, all of the assets that we make have to answer to the technical needs of the dynamic lighting working out,” he explains. “And that’s been a full-time job for him for five years straight. He was polishing and fixing stuff all the way to the gold milestone about a month ago.”
Boulanger provides: “He’s a wizard — he just does magic.”
Part of making a sport’s world really feel alive and value exploring, of course, additionally comes from including in a range of aspect content material.
Note: This is the place the piece shifts to important spoilers, together with the endings of Sea of Stars. Stop studying right here when you haven’t crushed the sport.
When you attain the ultimate boss, you’re in a position to go off and do a range of sidequests in beforehand inaccessible areas, together with character-specific missions. But past that, Sea of Stars ends on a reasonably open-ended observe, with Zale and Valere stopping their very own mentor, Erlina, however the principle villain, Aephorul, will get to flee, leaving them to pursue him.
However, when you do deal with the plethora of aspect content material — which incorporates secret bosses and dungeons — you possibly can unlock the true ending. While it’s simple to see how some folks may need been pissed off with a considerably inconclusive ending, Boulanger says this wasn’t truly a priority.
“For me, that’s another big Chrono Trigger inspiration,” he says of the choice to incorporate a further ending. The 1995 time-travelling Square RPG famously has a slew of totally different endings, which was fairly novel for the time.
“By the endgame, you can go to the final boss whenever you want, everyone can get their ultimate weapon and all that. We absolutely had to have something like that, because it feels so good because by that time you can fly and go wherever. And so now you’re invested.”
That additionally meant accepting that most individuals are going to have that shorter ending, which incorporates the ever-lovable Garl remaining useless. “Let’s actually own this and then for those who actually go and complete everything, you get a very, very meaningful reward. But for some people, the game will be, ‘Well, my friend is dead, I got revenge on my mentor, but the actual bad guy was just let off the hook, and so be it.’”
It additionally allowed Sabotage so as to add a good quantity of surprises to the sport, like a pleasant ‘Flimsy Hammer’ collectible questline that concurrently paid tribute to The Messenger and the event workforce itself. “It felt right. It was super wholesome,” says Boulanger of that secret, which you’ll be able to examine in full element right here.
There are additionally two Galaga-style “shoot ’em up” sections — one for the ultimate monster combat within the sport’s base conclusion and the climactic encounter with Aephorul within the true ending.
“You don’t expect a space shooter against a screen-wide bad guy. For phase two of the Aephorul fight, the reference I sent to [senior concept designer] Bryce [Kho] to design him to express the [on-screen] space it should take, was the old Batman logo,” says Boulanger with amusing. “It’s like Batman’s head with the cape and it’s written ‘Batman’ inside, I was like, ‘These are exactly the proportions that we need.’ That’s a little Batman easter egg in the game.”
Sea of Stars is now obtainable on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC. It’s additionally obtainable by way of Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Extra and Premium.
Image credit score: Sabotage Studio
…. to be continued
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