From crowdfunding to major backing
The challenge in creating a platformer is figuring out what you could do differently from everyone else. While the same could be said about any genre, you have to admit that it's especially challenging for plaformers, a genre that is so simple at its core. Cloudberry Kingdom's answer is in its AI level creator, which switches up the design of every level you play, every time you play it.
Originally a Kickstarter-funded project, Cloudberry Kingdom was developed by a core team of four -- including around 12 contractors -- at Pwnee Studios. "When we did the Kickstarter thing, we had distribution deals on Wii U, PSN, and Steam, but Microsoft just really wasn't playing ball with us," said Pwnee Studios' Jordan Fisher.
In need of a major publishers backing to get on the restrictive XBLA, Pwnee started shopping around, eventually finding a partner in Ubisoft. "We actually met Ubisoft at E3, and they liked the game a lot, and they could get us onto XBLA." On the previously mentioned publishing deals, Fisher continues: "That was sort of the trade-off. We would let them have a slice of wherever it was published in exchange for them getting us on XBLA. It's definitely been worth it though, since they've been getting us marketing and all sorts of support."
Cloudberry Kingdom (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Mac, Wii U, PlayStation Vita)
Cloudberry Kingdom is platformer. You run, jump, dodge, and otherwise navigate your way from one end of the screen to the other. So in that sense, you know exactly what's on offer here. That said, it takes cues from modern genre classics, such as Super Meat Boy. That's to say, it can get hard -- very hard. The levels are actually pretty short, but success is dependent on your ability to keep one continuous flow and rhythm going throughout the level.
Unlike Super Meat Boy, challenge isn't what the game is built around. The big draw of Cloudberry Kingdom is in its randomness; an algorithm that randomizes every facet of the game is the focus. So while the difficulty curves in the same way each time, the enemies, traps, power-ups, and more switch up. What's cool about this is that it really changes the way you play, especially in a competitive setting. Topping leaderboards, showing up friends, or even just outdoing yourself has little to do with the traditional tropes of pattern memorization, and all about how adaptive your reflexes are.
The best way to appreciate this is to dig into the tools yourself to see the ridiculous amount of factors the game takes into account, which you can then edit to create custom levels. While the actual geometry of a level is not adjustable, there are a bevy of options. The setup here is deep, yet easy to understand.
Everything in a level -- its length, enemies, traps, platform types -- can all be adjusted by a simple set of sliders. You simply go through a list, and adjust the frequency of each. And if you want to be like me, you'll crank everything up to max on your first try. If you're feeling that brave (read: stupid) Cloudberry softens the blow, with a handy AI that can take over a run through a level.
This isn't the New Super Mario Bros. type of AI assist, mind you. The computer will only show you how to get through a level, but there's no actual game progression. "You might see a level and say, 'Oh this is impossible'. But the computer can come through just to show you that there is always a way through a level," explained Fisher.
It's deceptively simple if you only give it a quick gander, but spend a little time and you'll see that there's quite a bit working under the hood of Cloudberry Kingdom. If you enjoy a good platformer, then it's well worth keeping your ear to the ground for this one.
Adam Freeman's Berzerk-influenced Hazard is pretty snazzy, also completely free
2:00 PM on 09.11.2014