Lemmings-type games can be a frenetic experience. Just try not to tear your hair out as you watch your little creatures wander into an untimely demise. Spirits, the latest game from Berlin-based developer Spaces of Play, maintains the idea of leading creatures towards a certain goal. However, it’s also done with a serenely animated art style.
To learn more about Spirits, I talked to designer Andreas Zecher.
“In Spirits, you help leaf-like spirits to find their way through a poetic, yet dangerous world,” said Zecher. “You need to sacrifice spirits to create wind clouds, block wind currents, build bridges or dig through the ground. In every level, you need to save a certain number of spirits, so you need to make sure to use the ones you have wisely. As a secondary goal, you can try to pick-up hard-to-reach plants, which will grant you a higher world rank.”
Zecher notes that the game mechanics of Lemmings proved to be a starting point for Spirits’ overall design. Spaces of Play went into this game with the goal of allowing for player creativity and for dynamic environments — hence, the addition of wind as a major element of many of the game’s levels. The spirits will fly along wind currents, so it’s up to players to make sure they fly towards the exit and not towards hazards. While wind is often dynamic, there will also be opportunities for players to create their own wind.
“In some levels players create the wind all by themselves by creating wind clouds,” added Zecher. “Other levels feature complex wind currents from the start that are a vital part of the level design. All four available actions influence the wind currents — directly, by modifying the wind using the blow or block actions, or indirectly, by changing the level geometry with the grow and dig actions.”
In addition to getting spirits from point A to point B, Spirits will also offer replay value through “perfect solutions.” Each level will contain pieces of plants and players can pick up all plants to achieve that stage’s perfect solution. Players that complete stages with perfect solutions can climb their way up Spirits’ online world rank, while also unlocking Steam and Game Center achievements.
While Spirits offers an enjoyable Lemmings-type experience, the game’s major draw is its unique art style. “We took a lot of inspiration from outside games, such as Swedish artist John Bauer, Japanese animation, and filmmakers Studio Ghibli,” said Zecher. “The art style of the game took many iterations, especially the character design. Our goal was to create a game world with a natural setting and fairytale-like characters. The first sketches were grey-scale only, to focus on the drawing style and character shapes. The idea of spirits looking like leaves came from insects that mimic their environment for camouflage. Later, we added color to the background of the levels to achieve lighting that feels like as if the viewer looked into the sunset through a dense forest. The strong orange color in the background makes the overall atmosphere friendly but the dark blue (note that it’s not pure black) ground color keeps a spooky touch to it.”
Spirits features 46 levels, including four new ones tacked onto the latest release. Zecher says these four come from Mads Johansen, who topped the iOS version of Spirits for a number of months. “We met him by chance at the Nordic Game Jam in Copenhagen,” added Zecher. “Before we ran into him we were looking at the world ranks and wondering ‘Is this guy cheating?’ We didn’t think these scores were possible. But then he showed us how he legitimately became #1, and it was just incredible for us to see. Mads had some really cool ideas for his bonus levels, so you should check them out for sure if you haven’t already.”
Spaces of Play is hard at work on several side projects, including the iPad comic, Touch Sensitive, and the physical box-stacking game Ordnungswissenschaften. As they move on to their next endeavor, check out Spirits on iPad, iPhone, Android and Steam.
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