Gavin Price MD, Playtonic Games
Playtonic’s founder Gavin Price quickly convinced several former colleagues to join his new studio, pitching them an opportunity to work on the kind of game they used to make during Rare’s heyday. Here, he discusses Yooka-Laylee’s delays and areas to improve on, while expanding on plans for continued support of the game – as well as what’s next for the studio.
How did your plans change between the end of the Kickstarter campaign and Yooka-Laylee’s launch? With the Kickstarter stretch goals that we put out, we weren’t honestly anticipating to tick them all off, and when we did, we had to put some thought into that, and certain elements like the Tonic system and the co-op mode, for instance. We weren’t just thinking about them in terms of [this game]. We had to think in terms of the whole Playtonic universe, and ask ourselves what we wanted to do with those features from game to game; these are elements that are going to exist with us throughout a lot of our games. With the Tonics we have our own internal perk and achievement system. And with the co-op mode, we really liked it when we finally came up with The Bee Team, but it was a bit late in the day to maximise the opportunity with them. So we’ve kind of introduced them but we thought it would be even greater to give them more cool abilities in the future. Like when you see bee swarms in cartoons, and they make the shape of a hammer above a character’s head to hit them – I always found that funny because bees could sting you if they wanted to. With features like that, it’s actually set us up well to expand on them in the future and do even more.
Delaying the game past its initial delivery date must have been a difficult choice. Did you consider postponing it further? That first delay occurred because we did our own internal review on the game, and it took us absolutely ages to do the first level. We hadn’t quite realised how big the game was. And then we did the other [worlds], and the whole review process took ages. We had an internal quality bar we wanted to hit consistently throughout the game, and we knew we were going to have to take longer polishing it all. Having known what we’d promised with the Kickstarter, we had this huge commitment to deliver on that vision as well. We made a thorough assessment on how much longer it would take so we didn’t have to announce a second delay.
Did you feel any pressure from your backers at that stage to determine a fixed release date? I know what you’re saying, and you’d think that’d be the case, but it was actually the opposite. All the time our backers were saying, ‘Take as long as you want’ – which every developer would always love to do, I assure you. But we had this commitment to only spend the Kickstarter money. We wanted to remain in full control of the budget and other than what we had to put aside for things like code fulfilment and physical goods and shipping we worked out that the money would run out. We said, ‘If we want to stay completely independent and fully in control of our destiny, that’s the point in time we have to get this game done by.’
With hindsight, is there anything in particular you would have done differently? Yeah, I’m a real harsh critic of us. I’ve only ever seen the bad stuff in the games I’ve released. Already we’re discussing how we [should] do internal reviews sooner and more frequently, how we nail down exactly what we’re trying to achieve with everything we’re doing, so we can have everyone pulling in the same direction with regards to what’s going on in the level spatially and how much detail there is in certain places. You can put so much more detail into a level, but sometimes it goes against the legibility. It’s been an opportunity for us where we’ve all been creatively free and left to our own devices, and synced up when we needed to on this project. But we’ll probably have to put a bit more structure in if we’re to really improve our craft, which we all want to do – we all want to get better at making games. We won’t have overbearing management processes and structures, it’s just about making sure we’re all playing the game earlier during development and have time to jump on stuff that we spot.
You’ve clearly got one eye on the future, so what’s next for Yooka-Laylee and Playtonic? We’ve thought about a sequel, and we’ve thought about other stuff as well. We’ve got our eyes on so many genres, and we’re actually trying to figure out how to do everything we want to do in a timely manner. It’s too early to specifically say anything about what exactly we’re going to do next, but we’ve got some options open to us, which means hopefully – even though our eyes are bigger than our bellies – we can become this multi-game company that we want to be. And I think it’s important to show that you love your game even though it’s out. So we’ll have some internal discussions over what we want to put in. We’re big fans of speedruns in the office, so there’s been some talk of having an official speedrun mode, as well as thinking about extra game content which delivers more unique things and fixing performance issues if and when they arise. We still want to show a lot of love for this game. We’re not just going to forget about it.
“But we’ll probably have to put a bit more structure in if we’re to really improve our craft, which we all want to do”