Many are familiar with the story of 38 Studios’ (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning) untimely demise. As expected, a number of those affected have already bounced back and found employment elsewhere. In the case of Shane Barber, he’s fallen back into the realm of independent game development, along with his partner, David Yandell.
“Flight of the Wisp is a casual-style puzzle game,” said Barber. “You play as a wisp, a small ball of pure energy that changes elemental form upon contact with other forms of energy. You must then use your varying forms to manipulate your environment in order to solve the elemental-based puzzles that are preventing your escape from an underground abandoned laboratory.”
In an effort to create an object filled with particles, Barber ultimately decided on creating a ball that looked like the mythical will-o’-the-wisp. Taking inspiration from a number of puzzle titles, Barber and Yandell paired gameplay elements from Magicka and Portal, blending them together with the 2D side-scrolling action of the Mario series to create their game. To top it off, the game has been placed in a Steampunk setting.
“The Steampunk style was perfect for our game,” said Barber, “not just as an aesthetic. But it also provided us the latitude to create all forms of Jules Verne-inspired machinery and contraptions that could be manipulated by the many forms of energy you can play as. Even steam itself plays a significant role in the game for manipulating contraptions and the environment.”
The environment itself provides ample opportunity to play around with physical objects. Barber notes that nearly all of these objects will be affected by some form of energy and the player will need to figure out which energy types can solve the puzzle surrounding them. These energy types include fire, water, wind, electricity, heat, and frost. Players will have to navigate these different energy types to operate objects like Tesla coils, water wheels, windmills, and TNT boxes. Barber also notes that some contraptions will need more complex energy combinations.
“Other puzzles are composed of several components,” added Barber, “often requiring more than one element to manipulate. There are Zeppelins that carry crates, requiring wind to push and hot air to keep aloft; Strandbeest-like machines that inch their way across the ground, as long as their tanks are full of water and fire creates the steam to power them; and Auto Cannons, self-reloading contraptions that require fire for the initial fuse, and wind to perpetually load and fire their charge. The environment itself also provides several challenges that require knowledge of the elements — broken doors or walls that can shatter when water fills the cracks and frost expands the fissures, crates that must cross rivers but can only do so when frozen, and soft earth that can be eroded away to contain water or provide access to another portion of the level.”
If that’s not enough of a challenge, Barber says that players will also need to figure out how to transport one form of energy to a different area. “Since your form changes to whatever energy type you touch, you will often have to find ways to carry electricity through water filled tunnels, push steam through heated rooms, and bring fire through vacuum sealed chambers,” he said. “Not to mention the host of other energy nullifying devices you will encounter like demagnetizing fields which zap your electricity, ceiling sprinkler systems that douse your flames, and Tesla Coil barriers that jolt the water from your wisp’s body.”
Previously, Shane Barber worked on large-scale worlds over at 38 Studios. The laboratory of Flight of the Wisp will be fairly large, but will also carry a more traditional structure. “Flight of the Wisp is intended to be a casual puzzle game,” explained Barber. “The game is broken into levels or stages. Each of the levels you encounter is similar in length to a classic Super Mario level and average about 3 minutes. However, as you begin to explore more of your confines, you uncover that the lab you are in is only a small part of a larger underground complex. As players ventures closer to the surface, they will pass through other locales attached to the complex, like mines, smelting facilities, energy processing plants, and assembly line factories. Each new locale will reveal more of the mystery behind your existence and the place you find yourself in.” Barber also notes that the game will start off with 30 levels, with more coming via DLC and a level editor set to release to the community along with the game.
After talking about Flight of the Wisp, I discussed with Barber the collapse of 38 Studios and the number of developers that reached out to those affected by the studio’s closure. I asked what made him decide to go the indie gaming route.
“When 38 Studios collapsed, it was inspiring to see how many developers reached out a helping hand to us,” said Barber. “Several developers approached me with opportunities, but I’ve always had a dream of creating the games no one else was attempting to make. Development of games has become a very large and costly endeavor. I aim to change that with Phoenix Dawn. The games I played when growing up were made in garages and basements by two people, but had a soul to them that is harder and harder to find in games now days. We want to go back to game development’s roots, we believe in creating games intelligently and efficiently, with no compromise on quality and always taking advantage of the newest technology. At Phoenix Dawn Studios, that’s what we aim to do, and the player is the one who wins in the end.”
There are already plans to expand the studio beyond its two co-founders, and Barber hopes to build on the studio’s cost effective platform. In the meantime, Phoenix Dawn has a Kickstarter up for Flight of the Wisp and the studio hopes to have the game ready for a February 2013 release on PC and Mac, with iOS, Android, and Ouya versions coming soon after.
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