This is it… After weeks of profiling each and every one of Team17’s first one hundred games, we’re finally at the home stretch with the games of 2018, featuring Overcooked! 2, Yoku’s Island Express and the 100th game itself, PLANET ALPHA.
Year: 2018 | Developer: Petroglyph Games | Publisher: Team17 | Format: PC
Buy on: Steam
As gamers of the 90s, when the opportunity came up to publish a real-time strategy from the creators of Command & Conquer, how could we possibly resist?
Created by Petroglyph Games, the team formed from the ashes of C&C creators Westwood Studios, and responsible for modern RTS games like Star Wars: Empire At War, Grey Goo and 8-Bit Armies, Forged Battalion was designed for repeated multiplayer sessions in mind and placed a huge emphasis on unit customisation. Add in a rocking soundtrack from C&C composer Frank Klepacki, and you have a strategy game that was sure to appeal to classic RTS fans.
Forged Battalion launched into Steam Early Access in January 2018 and completed development in August 2018, taking on board feedback from a hardcore group of fans along the way. If you’re excited for Petroglyph’s upcoming Command & Conquer remake, then why not check out their most recent RTS creation while you wait!
MY TIME AT PORTIA
Easily one of the most ambitious productions on the Team17 Games Label, My Time At Portia is a huge open-world adventure, with life-sim, crafting and even dating elements, offering an idyllic escape into a beautiful fantasy world.
Created by Pathea Games in Chongqing, China, My Time At Portia was an instant hit on Kickstarter in late 2017 and quickly built up a fantastic player base of fans throughout its Steam Early Access period across the whole of 2018.
“We really love the art style of Hayao Miyazaki,” says My Time At Portia director Zhi Xu, for who a welcoming carefree atmosphere was key to the game’s popularity. “And we love post-apocalypse stories, so we decided to make a fairy tale-ish, Miyazaki-esque game with the post-apocalypse background.”
“The game producer herself also is a big fan of simulation game, dating game, and RPG games,” Xu continues. “So we were thinking, why not we combine these three elements into one game, a simulation dating RPG game.”
The combination of genres worked a treat, and we were so happy and proud to see a huge community grow around Portia, with players gathering daily to play, give us feedback and stream their adventures on YouTube and Twitch. “We thank our fans,” says Xu. “We really appreciate their suggestions, and it’s their suggestions that makes Portia a better world.”
As well as a great fan reception, the PC version of My Time At Portia also launched to positive critics’ reviews, including an 8.0 from IGN, saying “After playing over 65 hours, I’m still finding more to explore and build.” The PC release is only just the beginning and we receive messages every day from console players asking when they can get to play on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, or Xbox One. Patient players won’t have to wait too much longer. We’ll see you all in Portia!
After working at Rare for several years and contributing to the likes of Perfect Dark: Zero and Kameo: Elements of Power, programmer Nic Makin decided to go it alone and make the game of his dreams, an arcade style beat-‘em-up that harkened back to the classics of the 1990s heyday. That game, was Raging Justice, a gritty side-scroller with Rare fan-pleasing pre-rendered graphics and a unique arrest mechanic. Reminding certain Team17 staff of some of our own early arcade inspired hits like Full Contact and Body Blows, Raging Justice and the husband & wife team at Makin Games felt right at home on our Games Label.
“Raging Justice was born of our love of the golden age of arcade games,” says Makin. “I’d grown up always wanting to make arcade games, so here was my chance.” Nic Makin teamed up with fellow Rare alumni Jay Howse, who modelled each Raging Justice character in 3D before snapshotting poses to create every individual frame of 2D animation, and Steve Burke, who provided the soundtrack, only a year after working on the score to Yooka-Laylee too!
The team originally designed Raging Justice as a mobile game called Fists of Justice, but as the scope and ambition of the project grew, it was clear that the game had to be on PC and console! “We started thinking small, trying to design a game for phones or tablets, but over the course of the initial concept we realised that it would be awesome on consoles and PC, especially with the resurgence of arcade-sticks. It meant higher definition graphics, more involved gameplay, surround sound, multiplayer, achievements… the list goes on, but it was worth it.”
“We designed Raging Justice as we went,” recalls Makin. “Not an ideal process, but it worked for us. Any new idea was trialled and, if it worked, added during the development. Things like the tractor ride-on (inspired by the beast riders in Sega’s Golden Axe) were a product of this anarchic process, each time a new idea was suggested we tested it to see if it was fun if it was it got added.”
“The thing we wanted to capture more than anything was the feeling of being in a fight, not as a superhero, but to feel like being in a brawl,” says Makin, who also added his own stamp to the genre with a new “arrest mechanic” which was praised in reviews and gave players the opportunity to slap handcuffs on perps rather than simply beat them into submission.
After a few years in development – Nic worked on Raging Justice in his spare time while also holding down a day job – Raging Justice was brought into the Team17 games label, where the game was assessed and improvements suggested, including a third playable character to offer more choice during co-op rumbles. “Team17 offered any help we needed to complete the game, to ensure our vision for what we were making was as good as it could be,” says Makin. “From user-testing and design feedback, to advice on porting the game, and then with launch they managed the whole process for us, giving us the space to continue working on the features we had planned post-launch. They were so easy to work with, it didn’t feel like we had partnered with a publisher, it felt like our team had grown.”
Raging Justice released in May 2018 and found a loving home with a fanbase eager for more authentic retro brawlers – a genre in short supply these days. Makin Games even found time to improve the game after release with a much-requested 3-player co-op mode!
“I’m most proud of how we captured the feel of the Nineties arcade brawlers but with a modern take,” concludes Makin. “The toughness of the arcades and the addiction of one-more-go that was needed to ensure players popped another coin into the machine. Maybe one day I’ll actually make it into a fully-formed coin-op!”
YOKU’S ISLAND EXPRESS
When two former colleagues who worked together at Starbreeze on mature themed action games like The Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness, formed their own indie games studio, it was obvious what they should create next… A pinball platform game starring a dung beetle postman of course!
Just how did the idea of Yoku’s Island Express come about? “Mattias Snygg and I started with the simple idea of combining pinball with an adventure game,” explains programmer and Villa Gorilla co-founder Jens Andersson. “It was an interesting idea and fit our skillset very well, so we started playing around with it. We are big fans of prototyping and iterative development, so we just tried things and moved in the direction that felt most interesting. The storytelling aspects are both something we think are important, so the trick was to find the right balance and integration between those adventure areas while still retaining the fun of basic pinballing.”
“Mattias came up with the idea of using a dung beetle early on when we discussed how to bring character and personality into the game. It seemed like a wacky enough idea and it hadn’t really been done before. Early on there were two separate modes where Yoku jumped into the ball whenever you went into a more pinbally area, but as we got more things in place we realized we could just have him be tethered to the ball and we thought that was hilarious. Yoku being a postman actually came in quite late when we worked on the story-aspect and wanted to give him more of a purpose than just showing up in a time of need. Being a postman felt like a great backstory and provided several interesting gameplay opportunities.”
As Villa Gorilla’s iterative design progressed, it became clear that their adventure game should actually be an “open world” platform game, or Metroidvania. “It took a very long time to discover how to utilise pinball mechanics in an open world and to get the pacing of that right,” recalls Andersson. “We experimented a lot with various in-world mechanics like the tunnels you use to enter an action area as well as the basic controls for Yoku. For a long time, we had the same buttons to move Yoku left and right as controlling the flippers, based on the philosophy that having more buttons is a bad thing from an accessibility standpoint. It wasn’t until we separated those into two pairs of buttons that things started clicking. A lot of things started to fall into place, and it started to become seamless what was meant to be an adventure area vs. a pinball area.”
Despite its unusual mix of genres, or perhaps because of it, Yoku’s Island Express was a critical hit! One of the best reviewed games in all of Team17 history. Among the praise for Yoku, IGN called it “wholly unique and incredibly fun”, PC Gamer called it a “beguiling game of modest brilliance”, while Gamespot declared it “charming, delightful and wonderfully satisfying” in their 9/10 review.
Yoku’s Island Express was something of a slow burner throughout 2018, its reputation slowly growing as word of mouth spread about the joys of “pinballvania”, and by December it had appeared in more than 40 game of the year lists, topped by a nomination for Best Debut Indie Game at The Game Awards.
“It is really the full package that I’m most proud of,” says Andersson when we ask him what makes Yoku’s Island Express great in his eyes. “With Yoku, we managed to get the game in place a while before we had to ship it, so we had time to actually polish and fix the issues that bothered us. Thanks to that it feels like a complete experience where each mechanic and story element works together as a whole. I love how it feels like such a pleasant world to visit and all the different characters, secrets and other things you can play around with.”
Yet to sample the delights of Yoku’s Island Express? A free demo is available now on all formats.
Want to hear more about the making of Yoku? Check out our podcast interview with Villa Gorilla.
One of the most original and underrated games in Team17’s recent history, Mugsters is an unpredictable action puzzle game in which players must commandeer all kinds of vehicles to escape a series of islands. Packed with variety, challenge and explosive situations, it’s miraculously the work of just one person, Finnish developer Riku Tamminen.
“The original concept was an isometric car game, without the player being able to get out of cars. Driving away from a flash flood… or something,” recalls Tamminen. The island escape goal came later, as did the ability to move between vehicles, avoid alien pursuers and rescue buddies to escort to freedom. “Because the game has no guns, I thought it would be a fitting thing to do mugging type action,” says Tamminen. “Most of the time you’re beating up the aliens and taking things from the island so possibly the player is the Mugster.”
Making any videogame can be a long and arduous task, but to make one alone is an incredible achievement. Tamminen even welcomed a child into the world during Mugsters’ development, just to make things even more stressful! Yet, the humble programmer remains fairly modest about the achievement. “To me, developing a game is almost like playing a long personal and stressful game from start to finish. Weirdly satisfying and addicting. So starting Mugsters alone was definitely about having full control on the design on my own terms… There’s no one else to blame for all the choices than yourself. Obviously, the game got a boatload of help on nearly all aspects from Team17, so I definitely wasn’t making a game alone after signing!”
After signing to the Team17 Games Label, Tamminen received the same development, publishing and marketing support that all label partners received, but also discovered a problem that few others experience too… “The biggest challenge was that my project was done in 50% English and 50% Finnish words, so the Scandic letters became quite a headache at start when sending source code to Team17. It took crazy amount of time to translate everything into plain English!”
Mugsters earned a cult following upon release and remains a fun little adventure game for those who like to indulge in a little vehicular mayhem, and received praise among certain reviewers. For example, The Xbox Hub called it “a wonderful little game and unlike just about anything you have played before,” in their 9/10 review.
For Tamminen, it’s the little things that make him most proud about Mugsters. “I still enjoy the explosions for some reason,” he says. “They’re definitely not the most complex thing in the game, but something in them just feels right to me.”
If you’re keen to see what makes this unique game so much fun, we highly recommend the free demo, available now on Nintendo Switch.
While the original Overcooked! was developed solely by indie studio Ghost Town Games, development duties on the bigger and more, er, onlinier sequel passed to Team17’s internal studio, with the original creators overseeing and approving key design decisions.
Gavin Hood led design on Overcooked! 2 and describes the co-development process. “Ghost Town Games were incredibly helpful and effectively shared all their knowledge of the first game, they really helped us to understand the design ethos they had for creating stages. They were always very keen that new kitchens were created gameplay first, so that every kitchen added to the game started by taking a single idea of what gameplay that kitchen was going to use; sliding counters, teleporters, splitting the chefs up and having to use conveyor belts. Gameplay choices always came first when creating new kitchens and I think it’s one of the standout strengths of all the stages we designed for Overcooked! 2. Every stage has its own groove. I really think the way we worked with Ghost Town Games and the amount of feedback, openness to help us and at the same time let us try new things led to a game that feels like an extension of what they made with the first game.”
The one new feature both parties agreed should be at the centre of Overcooked! 2 was the one most requested by fans too but adding online play the right way was easier said than done. “Implementing a robust multiplayer system in a game as frenetic as this was a challenge for the network guys here and I’m not going to lie, it took a lot of time to nail in a way you could jump online and enjoy the game, but it was worth all the effort,” says Hood. “We really wanted playing with friends online to feel like playing with them locally. We thought that if you got all your friends together before you went to play a game, you could swap and change the game mode you were playing, jump about the story and frontend seamlessly just like playing locally. On a technical level this system was a lot of work, especially as we weren’t using our own servers but in the end I think the system is pretty perfect and very easy for anyone to use.”
As well as online play, Team17 and Ghost Town Games also felt strongly that a true sequel to Overcooked! should also add new gameplay features, which is where both throwing and “dynamic kitchens” came in. “Very early on I felt that throwing would add greatly to the game,” says Hood. “Getting throwing into the game in a way that added to what the game stands for was tricky and required a lot of work, changes and conversations with the guys at Ghost Town to finally end on something that worked for everyone, and I think the inclusion of a core mechanic that features across every stage and game mode is the thing that really helps give Overcooked! 2 its own personality. Throwing can also lead to both funny moments and moments of great skill and coordination whilst staying simple to use, for that reason I think throwing is the addition I added that I’m proudest of. “
Dynamic Kitchens, meanwhile, were arguably the most showstopping addition to Overcooked! 2, a new feature that looked great in trailers, enthralled viewers watching others play on YouTube and caused extra excitement amongst players by radically transforming the playing area mid-stage. “Dynamic kitchens were an idea that Ghost Town had on their original list of things that might be fun for a sequel,” says Hood. “I thought it sounded cool and really wanted to include it. Overcooked! is all about the kitchens changing on you so I thought about how cool it would be to literally travel from one kitchen to another, I was really invested in this concept even though it turned out to be a huge amount of work.”
Not every Dynamic Kitchen made it into the final game, and one abandoned concept for the new feature, as Hood describes it, sounds particularly cool. “The dynamic stages that never made it into the game are the ones that were designed for themes we ultimately decided not to add. At one point we had the idea of a TV studio theme, like a cooking TV show. The dynamic stage for that theme was going to involve set hands pushing all the props around as if setting up the studio for a game show. It seemed like it would be super cool to go from a cooking show to a gameshow stage, but yeah, the TV Studio theme ended up missing the cut…”
The loss of the TV studio certainly didn’t hurt Overcooked! 2’s fortunes. From the moment it was surprise revealed during Nintendo’s E3 2018 presentation, right through its release and DLC, Overcooked! 2 has been a big hit with fans. Bigger, better, packed with new ideas, new kitchens, recipes, chefs and that all-important online play, it’s a game that we’re immensely proud of, that we feel lives up to the vision of Ghost Town Games and seems to be adored by the Overcooked community. Even more exciting than that… There’s still much more to come. Stay tuned for more announcements in the future!
SWORD LEGACY: OMEN
Team17’s first Brazilian signing was also a collaboration between two distinct studios. First, Firecast Studio who had previous experience creating a casual box-pushing puzzle game, and second Fableware Narrative design, a studio specialising in videogame storytelling. Together they created a game they would not have been able to make alone – a tactical RPG based in an alternate Arthurian legend: Sword Legacy: Omen.
“Around 2013/2014 the Firecast team and I had finished our first project working remotely, a small casual game called Jelly Dreams,” says Sword Legacy producer Bruno Lanzarotti. “So to me and Rodrigo, our art director and game designer, it was clear that it was possible to develop a more ambitious and bold project.”
“Everyone on the team played RPGs in their childhood,” says Lanzarotti, “and we also have a passion for turn based tactical games like XCOM, Shadowrun, Darkest Dungeon and The Banner Saga. We can say that we finally worked with the game genre that we really love.”
As well as taking inspiration from the videogame world, Sword Legacy’s story was heavily influenced by mythology, literature and film, and early on in development even had an art style similar to the 1985 animated movie, The Black Cauldron, as creative director Arthur Protasio explains. “Sword Legacy’s original aesthetics were, in fact, very similar to a colourful and cute Disney movie. However, as development progressed, we came to realize the visuals did not properly match the tone of the story and combat. That led to a very important and intense revamp process in which the aesthetics of the game took a turn for the dark, somber and grim. Which was an essential stage of the project’s evolution. Had we not gone through this process, Sword Legacy would not have the unique look it has today.”
Although Firecast’s work on Jelly Dreams had given the developer a good background in grid based and positional gameplay mechanics perfect for the tactical genre, the team was eager to add in even more tactical features and rose to the occasion with some great mechanics of their own to add to the genre. “We tried to mix in some different strategy features, such as the stress system, overkill camera, and map interactions between the heroes,” says Lanzarotti. “During this process the feedback from our Team17 staff was very important to us because it was a fresh and experienced eye. So after the feedback rounds we changed a lot of mechanics and made new enemies to create a more intuitive and a deeper tactical experience.”
“The stress system is one we’re particularly proud of,” adds Protasio. “The gamble players need to make when deciding to use Willpower points is something we believe creates a nice twist in combat. It basically represents that there’s no reward without risk and also serves as a metaphor for characters’ courage. Knowing how to use Willpower in the game can make or break you. Succeed and deal massive overkills, but fail and watch your heroes despair.”
Released exclusively on PC, Sword Legacy: Omen has developed a small but loyal following and has been warmly received for its tactical play and rich fantasy world. From a development perspective, it remains a proud work for the two teams, who started with modest experience and managed to create an epic game in their favourite genre to take its place alongside games they had only previously admired from afar.
“It’s incredible how our idea has started with only five guys from Brazil and now a lot of people around the world has worked and played with us!” exclaims Lanzarotti, while Protasio add, “The project’s success story is a true achievement for two indie development companies that decided to unite their forces and go against all odds.”
Team17’s 100th game release, and the reason you’re reading this whole retrospective series, PLANET ALPHA features beautiful modern visuals as well as classic gameplay concepts, and in many ways recalls the very earliest games from our Amiga days, in that it pushes the available technology to its limits to achieve dazzling results, and was the work of a very small and dedicated team.
Developed over the course of five years, PLANET ALPHA is the passion project of Adrian Lazar, who cut his teeth professionally at IO Interactive, working on the Hitman and Kane & Lynch games before going it alone. “PLANET ALPHA started at the end 2013 as a personal project of mine,” he recalls. “I stopped enjoying video games mostly due to the unsaturated, monotone and gritty trend that was popular back then and by chance I played the 1991 classic Another World on iPad, searching for something different. I instantly fell in love, not so much with the mechanics but with the atmosphere. I always had a big passion for space, alien planets and sci-fi in general and so the spark ignited.”
Lazar worked tirelessly in Unreal Engine 4, employing an innovative art style free of textures to create the otherworldly (Another Worldy?) feel of Planet Alpha, repeatedly redrawing and reworking the visuals to make them as beautiful to behold as possible by the time of release, while also featuring meaningful platform puzzles.
“Over time the game changed a lot since it’s original conception,” says Lazar. “The story changed a few times, we updated the art style and most importantly the gameplay evolved constantly. For example, at some point you had a gun, a force shield and a small robot helping you but we realised that it wasn’t the direction we wanted, it was detracting from the exploration feeling so we removed those and focused more on the stealth and puzzles. Our approach, and main challenge at the same time, was to make the puzzles feel natural and incorporated in the world, as opposed to feeling like something that a level designer placed there intentionally.”
PLANET ALPHA was received well by fans and critics alike, particularly on Nintendo Switch, where a free demo is currently available to download. Nintendo Life even gave the game a 9/10, calling “it one of 2018’s most important indie releases.”
“I think just being able to make a game that we can be proud of, is a big enough achievement for me,” says Lazar when we ask him how he feels about PLANET ALPHA now it’s complete. “We were a small team that punched above our weight and I believe we delivered.”
That’s your lot for 2018, and indeed for this retrospective series. We hope you’ve learned a few things about Team17 history along the way. The T17 story doesn’t end there of course. The Room on Nintendo Switch, followed in late 2018 and we’ve already released Genesis Alpha One early this year. Hell Let Loose is on the way, we’ve recently taken over Early Access development of Golf With Your Friends and there are more surprises still to come!
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