How Yooka-Laylee is updating the ’90s-style 3D platformer for the PS4 generation

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How Yooka-Laylee is updating the ’90s-style 3D platformer for the PS4 generation

Playtonic aims for the feels with its Kickstarter-funded adventure

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Several games development veterans walk into a bar. After a few jars, they come up with the idea to create a game inspired by one of their previous successes. A kind witch hears their wish and grants them millions of pounds to create said game. The bewildered-but-grateful development team skip out into the night to dive into their newfound wealth, Scrooge McDuck-style.

Okay, so that’s not quite how Yooka-Laylee was conceived. While a trip to the pub may have been involved, it took years of hard work, the formation of a new company, some revised concepts and eventually a hugely successful Kickstarter funded by 80,000 eager backers before their open-world 3D platformer became a reality.

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Ironically, after all that, it only took 38 minutes for Yooka-Laylee to hit its crowdfunding target, flying past £1 million in under a day, and amassing a total of £2.1 million by the campaign’s crescendo.

“It’s still a shock,” says composer Grant Kirkhope. “None of us for a second thought that it would get that far. We never actually saw the funding counter at zero – we thought it was broken!”

Now 20 people strong, the modest Playtonic team are using this inspirational feat to drive them in making a game that feels like a spiritual successor to the bygone Banjo-Kazooie era. Which means big environments, wacky characters, a colourful art style… and collectibles. Wait! Come back!

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“We want to capture the good things about collect-athons from the past and avoid the tedium,” explains writer Andy Robinson.

“Every collectable has meaningful impact on gameplay. For example, quills can be used to pay for special moves, butterflies refill the health and power meters, and Pagies unlock new areas and environments, which in turn open up fresh challenges and secrets.”

Playtonic is confident in its approach, showing an example where Nimbo the cloud (lamenting his ex-wife… don’t ask) can be filled up with water. This causes the lush world to be drenched with rain, filling up riverbeds and unlocking new areas. Shoot him up with ice blasts instead and the world becomes snow covered, opening up different challenges – so a once surefooted race mini-game seamlessly becomes a slippery ice skate.

Refreshing the genre also extends to the titular duo. Yooka the chameleon can use his powers to blend with environments and tongue-lash enemies, while Laylee the bat has the ability to fire sonar blasts and fly. Both can swallow fruit to imbue them with special powers, but it’s the mischievous character design which really brings them alive – leave the controller alone and Laylee will gnaw at Yooka’s shoulder, resulting in a comedic tussle between the two.

The game’s playful sense of humour really shines when talking with the Playtonic crew about the additional members of the eclectic cast.

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“We wanted the characters to live on beyond just this game so that we can build our own universe,” says Andy. “So when we designed them, we thought about whether they could be in a different genre, or star in their own game.

“Big baddie Capital B was fun to write – we gave him a lot of business-style taunts, like ‘just you wait until Q4 of the game! Did you know world-on-world, you’re down on your forecasts?’ My background is in the media, so I’ve spent so much time sat in conference calls, listening to all of this stuff!”

And then there’s Trowzer, the snake ‘salesman’. “Gavin [Price, Creative Lead] suggested a snake in shorts, and I thought that sounded ridiculous,” smiles character artist Steve Mayles. “But after going away to think about it and coming up with a concept, it worked really well.”

“We thought that the humour behind Trowzer was really subtle…” says Andy.

“I thought it was terrible!” laughs Steve.

“I think Steve was one of the guys who didn’t get the joke the first time around, half the team didn’t until afterwards!” jabs Andy, prompting a howl of derision from Steve.

“We want to create a family game for everyone, but get in fun jokes for an older audience – like in The Simpsons or Pixar films.”

All jokes aside, the team takes their responsibility to their fans – and backers – seriously.

“It would be easy for us to just go into autopilot when making the game, so we’re very conscious about that,” says Grant. “That said, there’s not much out there that looks like Yooka-Laylee right now, which is weird because back in the ’90s there were tonnes of 3D platformers.”

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“And anyone can do nice graphics these days because the technology is there,” says Steve. “You really need something to stand out. We’ve played many games recently where you feel exhausted when you finished them because it wasn’t as enjoyable an experience as you wanted. But every time you pick up the controller for Yooka Laylee we just want you to have a good time.”

And it’s that sentiment which is at the heart of Yooka-Laylee. Because no matter how the game was initially devised, the toothy grin of its titular heroes sums up Playtonic’s gratitude.

“It’s been amazing to have the support of Sony and be on magazine covers… the whole process has been pretty wild, especially for such a small team,” says Andy.

“And we’ll never forget the backers who essentially started Playtonic off,” says Steve. “We’ll be forever grateful to those people. It’s been wonderful.”

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9 Comments

  • I really miss the action 3d plattformers from ps2 gen.

    Yeah, they kind of overwhelmed the consoles at that time, we grew tired of them… but…during the ps3 generation, there were only a few (and those on ps3 were the fortunate ones -hd collections and ratchets a lot-, in xbox360 there are almost none).

    So I really looking forward this game, I really enjoyed ratchet on ps4 (but I got taste for more!) and there are some indies worth playing (grow home, city of colors…), but we miss the greatness of an action plattformer AAA title.

    I think we all have a great deal of tps and fps, maybe the time has come to play again on colorful, stress-free worlds…

    Thanks for your game. It really look superb on your trailer…can’t wait for buying it.

    (and think about the little ones, try to put the voices in as many languages as possible)

  • The only project I have ever funded on kickstarter. I can’t wait for that email giving me access to this fascinating world. I really miss Banjo Kazooie (nuts and bolts was awful) they had a charm, that not even Mario could match.

    The list of names working on this project really are the who’s who of the N64 era and this makes Yooka-Laylee a must have.

  • I really “hate” such powerful graphics as we have right now wasted on “realistic enviroments”… dont misunderstanding me, Uncharted 4 it’s great -just finished last saturday btw- but… truth is I’d like to play a 3d cartoon plattformer with huge open worlds and a lot of verticality…

    mario 64 meets grow home for example.

    last batch of action plattformers lacks the verticality, and it’s a shame, there is nothing more breathtaking than rising to the highest point and looking around… (just before you jump to check the new hovering power-up you took… XD )

  • This looks awesome :)

  • I’ve been waiting a long time for a real platformer to re-appear.

    Last one I played was The Last Tinker, and that totally butchered itself. It didn’t even have a jump button.

  • I’m a proud backer of Yooka-Laylee, March can’t come fast enough.

  • I love this game !! Banjo live again ..

  • Yooka Laylee looks like a lovely game, but what worries me is it being a collectathon. Please don’t lock game progression behind “collect X thingies in order to advance” nonsense.

  • I can’t wait to play this game, i’ve been checking it since i saw the first videos around the internet. I really hope it’s not going to disappoint (but it seems it won’t) ;)

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