TRINE 3: THE ARTIFACTS OF POWER
Frozenbyte’s trio of reluctant heroes head into the horizon
Trine 3 breaks with series tradition in a number of surprising ways, but one aspect that has remained comfortingly familiar is Frozenbyte’s spectrum-defying insistence on finding even more colours to cram into each sequel. The game’s stylised fantasy locations are even more detailed than before, presented as a rich haze of fantasy clichés that are rendered with such skill and passion that they somehow feel fresh again.
The prospect of reaching each new vista remains a real draw, but Trine 3 goes further by allowing you to step into them, too. You’re no longer restricted to a narrow horizontal plane, and levels now twist and contort as you switch from traditional side-scrolling to intothe-screen hang-gliding and all manner of gradients in between. It lends its worlds considerably more presence.
“We actually started with traditional 2D Trine gameplay, but soon felt that it wouldn’t be enough for a third instalment,” designer and Frozenbyte CEO Lauri Hyvärinen tells us. “But our artists suggested that we consider full 3D, and although we knew it would be a tremendous risk and a lot of work, we decided to go for it. You have to raise the bar to keep getting better.” Whether that risk has paid off is still unclear. It’s certainly true that the added space creates a more convincing world, and dramatically increases the scope for complex puzzles, but it also puts more pressure on the series’ rather flimsy feeling, physics-based platforming. The floaty, imprecise movements of the main characters are exacerbated when they’re not kept on the straight and narrow, and it’s often very difficult to judge depth when moving into the screen. But there are plenty of positives, too, not least in the way it improves the feel of combat when flailing Pontius’s sword amid a gaggle of goblins.
“It’s been really challenging but it’s also showing a lot of potential now,” Hyvärinen explains. “We had to redesign and rewrite all the gameplay stuff, and many of the technical aspects as well. We’re still polishing them and looking into the player experience, and there are lots of little details that we need to get right.
“On the art side it’s made it even more challenging to make all the gameplay-related things clear to the player, while still retaining the visual splendour of the previous games. We’ve always had minor trouble with certain items getting lost in the background, or some background elements being mistaken for gameplay elements, and that’s something we have to focus on. Obviously getting the camera right was always going to be difficult, and we’re still experimenting with the best angles to show the levels.”
There’s still time to get everything into shape. And the new ideas that the team have introduced are promising, the best of which are the shorter challenge levels that focus on a single character. They allow the design team to create obstacle courses tailored to a specific set of abilities, in the process smoothing off one of the series’ rougher edges: the possibility of cheating your way past areas by spamming them with conjured-up boxes. It’s an issue Frozenbyte is keenly aware of.
“The abuse and chaotic mayhem has been part of the intended design from the very first game, but of course we’ve seen it sometimes go too far and result in too simplistic solutions,” Hyvärinen says. “Bypassing a puzzle as such isn’t a problem – we encourage exploiting and thinking outside the box – just as long as it’s not done in a monotonous one-solution-for-all kind of way.”
This thinking has, thankfully, permeated the main campaign, too. “It’s still possible to abuse the physics and [characters’] abilities, but we’ve paid attention to making sure the player needs to think about the puzzles a bit and can’t use the same brute-force technique for everything. So, while there’s still a lot of freedom, now the different puzzles should require different kinds of tactics.”
Trine things out
Trine 3’ s Early Access build includes an odd addition: a sprawling physics playground in which precarious towers of blocks wait patiently for your influence, and gliders catapult you across the world. “It started out as an internal playground, really,” Hyvärinen explains. “It was a lot of fun to try out different concepts and physics ideas, and we thought if we were having fun, then players would too, so we decided to offer it as something special to our Early Access fans. It might even give some ideas to modders. We’ll keep updating it continually, and some of the elements might end up in the story levels later on.”