Planet Al­pha’s mak­ing its bid for the Most Beau­ti­ful Alien Planet award, un­aware that that doesn’t ex­ist.

A jour­ney to an­other world – in more ways than one

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The power to change day to night – or vice versa – is an im­me­di­ately ap­peal­ing one. Who hasn’t felt the sun stream­ing through their win­dow in the mid­dle of a glo­ri­ous kip and wanted to make it bed­time again? But in this at­mo­spheric plat­former from a for­mer Io In­ter­ac­tive alum­nus, it’s got a rather more im­por­tant use: creep­ing around in the dark­ness on a hos­tile planet might be the only way to pre­vent your­self be­com­ing an alien snack. The idea for Planet Al­pha has been rat­tling around Adrian Lazar’s brain for close to five years now. It all started at the end of 2013: dur­ing his Christ­mas hol­i­day from work, Lazar found him­self “bored to death”. So he started work­ing on a project in his spare time. “I was work­ing on Hit­man at Io In­ter­ac­tive and I needed some­thing that wasn’t about bru­tally mur­der­ing peo­ple,” he laughs. On a whim, he played Eric Chahi’s An­other World and that set the cre­ative wheels in mo­tion. “I just loved its at­mos­phere,” he says.

For Planet Al­pha’s vis­ual style, Lazar took in­spi­ra­tion from some­where very dif­fer­ent. “I moved to Copenhagen nine years ago and I was so blown away by the long twi­lights that we have here,” he ex­plains. “When the sun sets, it can last like an hour or more – it’s just amaz­ing.” When he tried to repli­cate it in his game, Lazar was struck by how the ad­just­ment in light­ing changed ev­ery­thing. “Visu­ally, in try­ing to recre­ate that as an artist, I saw it as an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge. And, of course, tech­ni­cally it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult be­cause ev­ery­thing needs to look good at any time of day.”

A cun­ning planet

From what we’ve seen, Lazar has lit­tle to worry about on that front. This is a heart-stop­pingly hand­some side-scroller – in any one mo­ment you’ll wit­ness ex­tra­or­di­nary sights, such as colos­sal space­craft fly­ing past ex­trater­res­trial whales, swim­ming grace­fully through pur­ple skies. It’s a world that feels thrillingly alive; even with­out your in­ter­ven­tion, it flour­ishes, fol­low­ing a nat­u­ral day-night cy­cle that you can con­trol. Deep within its dense jun­gles

“You’ll wit­ness ex­tra­or­di­nary sights, like space­craft fly­ing past ex­trater­res­trial whales”

you’ll find large mush­rooms that stretch up­wards, seek­ing the sun’s rays. Alien struc­tures, too, re­spond to light and dark.

Many of these changes aren’t merely cos­metic; they af­fect the way you progress through the game. Lazar won’t be drawn on de­tails – though it doesn’t take a ge­nius to imag­ine how you might use those mush­rooms – but he con­firms that new ar­eas will only be­come ac­ces­si­ble at cer­tain times, and that your ap­proach to any sit­u­a­tion or threat will be sim­i­larly af­fected. If you need to sneak around, then night­fall should pro­vide use­ful cover from enemies. “We’re try­ing to tie all of our game­play pil­lars – the puz­zles, the plat­form­ing, the stealth and the ex­plo­ration – to the day-night cy­cle some­how,” Lazar says.

To main­tain the or­ganic feel, the game’s pac­ing will be dic­tated by the set­ting. For the most part, you’ll be tak­ing it slowly, creep­ing around to avoid deadly crea­tures, or solv­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal brain­teasers. But then you’ll find your­self sprint­ing at full tilt, slid­ing down slopes as shots from a back­ground bat­tle frag­ment plat­forms in the fore­ground. Lazar is keen not to over­play these mo­ments, how­ever: “We’re not just throw­ing some­thing in to force it. Of course, we have our plat­form­ing mo­ments where things have to col­lapse and you’re run­ning and yeah, those are fun. But those should act as a sur­prise: we want to make them fit the en­vi­ron­ment and hap­pen at the right time just to keep things fresh.”

Al­pha’s papa

As an artist, Lazar is ob­vi­ously a fan of vis­ual sto­ry­telling. So while Planet Al­pha will have a nar­ra­tive of sorts, don’t ex­pect knotty lore spread across dozens of col­lectable doc­u­ments or au­dio logs. “Some­times, there will be things that are way big­ger than you, and you can’t do any­thing but just watch and some­times you can ac­tu­ally in­flu­ence things. But I think it’s more in­ter­est­ing and more chal­leng­ing to tell a story with­out forc­ing the player to read it. We have a very ba­sic alien lan­guage with sym­bols rep­re­sent­ing alien words, and peo­ple that want to learn more could de­ci­pher those. But the story will be pretty easy to un­der­stand with­out hav­ing to do that.”

In other words, it’s Planet Al­pha’s world that speaks loud­est. It cer­tainly cap­tures the spirit of its big­gest in­spi­ra­tion, evok­ing An­other World’s blend of won­der and dan­ger. “I wanted to imag­ine what it would be like to be there in real life,” he says. “You’d be wor­ried about what’s go­ing to eat you or maybe fall­ing to your death, but you’d also have this feel­ing where you don’t know what’s dan­ger­ous and what’s not. Like if you see an in­ter­est­ing crea­ture you can’t de­cide if you should run or ap­proach it. It’s like a na­ture doc­u­men­tary some­how – I keep pic­tur­ing David At­ten­bor­ough look­ing at stuff. I think he would love this place.” Hey, if it gets At­ten­bor­ough’s en­dorse­ment, that’s good enough for us.

Part of the rea­son the game has been so long in de­vel­op­ment is Lazar’s metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to pac­ing.

Some­times you’ll pause for a mo­ment just to take it all in. And some­times be­cause walk­ing for­ward would mean get­ting crushed by an 80-foot di­nosaur.

The game’s incredibly vi­brant pal­ette is a re­ac­tion against the “grey, de­sat­u­rated, mono­chrome” games Lazar was play­ing dur­ing his fi­nal months at Io In­ter­ac­tive. Greys and browns are in short sup­ply here – and the game looks all the bet­ter for that.

The fly­ing whales re­mind us of artist Roger Dean’s ’70s prog rock al­bum cov­ers. Though we’re still not let­ting ed­i­tor Robin play his Yes al­bums in the of­fice.

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