Metanet walks us through the design philosophy behind its hefty update to the hard-as-nails platformer
When we last spoke, N++ had just come out on PS4, and we were ecstatic. It was the debut of this long-awaited sequel to the arcade-style ninja platformer that was released in 2004 (N), finally in the hands of PlayStation fans, and there first!
Since then, we’ve been busy adding to N++ and making it even bigger and more beautiful with the free Ultimate Edition update that launched just before the new year. Go grab it now! We’ll wait ;)
The Ultimate Edition is what N+++ (3 plusses!) would look like, if there were ever going to be such a thing – with it added 60 beautiful new colour schemes, and a dozen or so dynamic ninja headbands, so that you can really feel the wind in your ninja hair, plus a whole bunch more delightful surprises.
The big news is that we’ve doubled the size of the game, bringing it to an utterly unprecedented 4340 levels, AND there’s a brand new game mode called Hardcore.
Hardcore Mode lets you see the levels you’ve beaten in a whole new light by grouping columns of episodes into Stories and tweaking the rules of the game, making every attempt matter and every death a nightmare scenario you’ll want to avoid at all costs!
Hardcore is especially great for speedrunners, since it provides a nice neat challenge you can really sink your teeth into. Anyway, with this update, whenever you feel like dipping in, there will be new levels for you to play, effectively forever!
One thing you may not know is that on average about 2-3 hours of work go into making each meticulously hand-crafted level, from start to finish. Since N++ is all about the levels, this is pretty important. T
The Ultimate Edition’s 4340 levels took about 10,000 hours of development time, just for level design and testing! That’s over 400 full days, or 1250 8-hour work days, spread out over 4 years of development.
So how do we make sure each level feels great to play? Our level design secret-weapon is the wealth of knowledge we’ve amassed over the past decade of designing N games.
This includes things like understanding the best ratio of enemies and objects to balance risk with reward, and how to best hide secrets (which, as you may know, is one of the biggest new things in N++).
What sets N++ apart from other platformers is the way the ninja feels to control – at first floaty and slippery, but soon precise and acrobatic, as you get the hang of it.
After so many years of playing and making levels, we know exactly how the ninja moves and accelerates, and what sort of momentum you can retain in every situation. This means that it’s easy for us to get an intuitive sense of what jumps are possible and what tile arrangements will feel great to move around on, which makes for some really stellar levels.
But the levels look so simple, you might be thinking – why does it take so long to design them? Well, they really only look simple. We design each level in many layers, testing and retesting hundreds of times, trying to consider how different players (eg newbies, speedrunners, party-goers, highscorers, etc) with different goals and abilities will make their way through the level.
Although N++ is a very challenging game, we try to accommodate a broad range of players, gently refining the level mechanics and goals until there’s a satisfying possibility for everyone. Our years of experience making levels and watching people play them helps us quickly grasp what works and what doesn’t.
There are several standard goals/layers in each level, for example: just make it to the exit; get all the gold; find the secrets; etc. In most levels there are many, many ways that each goal can be attained.
We want to support each player’s agency and individual personality, and let each choose their own path through the levels so that every success is really their own.
Their high score replay is preserved for all to see, which is one of our favourite parts of the game – watching replays is great, because if you’re stuck, you can get tips, and otherwise it’s just really enjoyable to see all the different play styles other players have!
The heart of N++’s design is a delicate balance of challenge with reward, and tension with joy, so that players can really appreciate how their skills are developing as they play, and feel proud of themselves when they complete an exceptional task.
It’s all about that thrill and satisfaction. That’s what makes N++ the game of “just one more try!”
Why not try making an N++ level of your own, using the built-in level editor? Just choose “Create” from the main menu.
When you’re done making and testing your level, publishing it will add it to the free global database of N++ levels, where you can challenge friends and players all over the world to try it. There are already over 30,000 levels and counting!
Thanks for reading, we hope you continue to enjoy N++! Happy N Year (plus plus)!