Interview: Cubed3 Discusses Evergate with Stone Lantern Games

By Nayu 16.09.2020

Cubed3 recently caught up with developer Stone Lantern Games to discuss its Evergate project - a game that is currently available across Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows systems. Evergate is a haunting 2D puzzle-platformer set in a stunning hand-drawn vision of the Afterlife with an original score recorded by a live orchestra. Players get to navigate 85 challenging stages and unleash the extraordinary powers of the genre-defining 'Soulflame' to help a lost soul reincarnate on earth! Cubed3's Nayu recently gave the game a glowing Bronze Award in her review, saying "the highly detailed levels and clever game mechanics make any time spent in Evergate worthwhile." Join Nayu, as she sits down with Stone Lantern to discuss the title in more detail…

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Cubed3: Are you able to share any insight on the unique method Evergate has for traversing the environment using crystals and light?

Stone Lantern Games: The most obvious detail about coming up with the Soulflame was how many iterations of bad mechanic designs we went through to get there. We made almost a dozen prototypes over a year-and-a-half to finally find one we really had fun using.

When we were getting closer to final idea, it went through a number designs: from a dual-coloured, puzzle-element activator beam, to a jump-granting beam that only worked when hit against a special surface, all the way to something that resembled the Soulflame but only worked when you hit wood, of all things.

Ultimately, the final form of the Soulflame was used because it provided the most flexibility, creativity, and challenge when paired with different crystals and puzzle elements. We called those paired elements "toys" and we prototyped a lot of them and chose our favourites for the final game.

Cubed3: Considering the otherworldly feel of the game, what was the reasoning behind using such tranquil music in some of the environments? It does make doing the same puzzle over and over less frustrating.

Stone Lantern Games: Your instincts are spot on. We know that Evergate provides a real challenge both from a puzzle perspective but also on the execution, which means repeating levels is not only required, but part of the fun. If players felt rushed by the music, repeating levels would be exhausting. The music was a vital part of what balanced the game.


 

Cubed3: Is there a reason why the player's avatar is so tiny compared to the rest of the screen in the levels, and why often the entire puzzle is seen on the screen rather than part of it (and the avatar being bigger)?

Stone Lantern Games: That's a great question, because it was a tough, thought-out design decision. The decision to keep Ki small and to zoom out to see the whole puzzle came 100% from mechanics and gameplay testing. We built the game first by removing all the visuals, art, and music. It had to be fun at that level and then we could add all the good stuff back in afterwards. As the Soulflame requires you to position Ki, aim through a crystal, and connect to the Source, if any of those components were off-screen, it felt unfair and frustrating. We needed the player to take stock of the whole puzzle and have all the options in front of them, so we moved the camera back.

We made Ki small because it was the best for platforming. We found that it was most fun when Ki acted like a "point" on the screen. We realised that large, bulky characters would hit their heads on platforms above them, or that it was frustrating to see your character miss an edge and not use their upper bodies to save themselves. When the character was small, it allowed for precision platforming.

It's also the reason why Evergate doesn't feature a lot of "mid-ground" assets, instead focusing on background and playground visuals. The mid-ground visuals would make the puzzle look complicated and it was harder to see the available Source in the level. We would have loved to zoom in super-close on Ki all the time, because there's a lot of detail there that you miss from being zoomed out, but always "is it fun" wins out.


 

Cubed3: What cultures and countries did you draw from for the game's inspiration?

Stone Lantern Games: Before making any of the memories, visual assets of the game, or mechanics for the levels, we researched the places and cultures we were featuring. We compiled development boards that highlighted not only important cultural elements but also their values and history.

For China, Cynthia leaned into her family's heritage and spent a lot of effort trying to find out what children looked like and cared about in 1700s China. For Alaska, part of the research was watching the amazing video series that the game, Never Alone, put out about the culture and heritage. Mike reached out to a katajjaq throat-singer to perform for the Alaskan levels. You can hear the stunning vocals and it really adds to the mystic, ethereal feeling of those memories.

For England, we borrowed from Kent's time living in Great Britain as a child. We tapped into the fear he felt when walking the WWII tunnels of the Cliffs of Dover. The research we did for what it was like to be a teenager in London during WWII started with a lot of good material from the BBC. It was such a terrifying time and their resilience was so impressive.

Cubed3: What would you like players to take away with them through experiencing Evergate?

Stone Lantern Games: First and foremost, we want players to walk away feeling like they have mastered a new form of platforming. It should feel second nature and, really, it should feel like an obvious tool of navigation - like this is how they would like to travel in other games. That would be a real win.

Cubed3: Were there any difficulties in creating the levels that have been unique to Evergate's game mechanics?

Stone Lantern Games: Yes! Definitely. Designing levels with space for creativity, while creating good challenges, was tough. Our motto became: "there's always something." Want to move up a crystal slightly to make one shot easier? It makes another fun shot impossible. Want to add a crystal to make a double-shot possible? It breaks the puzzle with another route that is now too simple. We found that the combination of the Soulflame being usable anywhere on the level and the puzzles not limited by a grid layout caused an enormous amount of variation in the players' ability to interact with it. This is, of course, where the fun of the game is - but guiding the level's design to the right balance was really difficult.

Cubed3: What inspiration was used for the gate at the end of each level? They feel a little like Japanese Tori gates, which would fit with the game's spiritual theme.

Stone Lantern Games: When we first set out to make a game in 2016, we based the characters and setting around early Japan and Japanese Shintoism. The visual language and inspiration for early drafts drew from these elements. The evolution of Evergate was long and winding, taking huge 180-degree turns on a monthly basis, but the gates retained some of that early influence and kept their Japanese inspiration. The Tori gates being an entrance into a sacred space felt like a good fit for the afterlife of Evergate.

Cubed3: Is there anything about the Nintendo Switch's hardware that helped you develop the game or made any aspect trickier?

Stone Lantern Games: Generally speaking, the Nintendo Switch has performance specs that were lower than what we had designed Evergate to play at. Mike and Ariel spent months optimising the game so the experience would be identical. That said, the "HD Rumble" featured by the Joy-Con is amazing. Coming up and matching rumble "profiles" to different actions of the game was both fun and rewarding. Those actions really came to life.

Cubed3: At any point did you consider using motion controls as part of the game? Why/why not?

Stone Lantern Games: We didn't consider that form of control. We know that the biggest barrier for new players trying Evergate is the control scheme. It feels natural after you get the hang of it, but initially there's a lot to keep track of. Using motion controls would probably just add to the confusion, but I'd love to see veteran Evergate players give it a shot!


 

Cubed3: Can you share any early ideas that didn't make it into the final game?

Stone Lantern Games: Oh boy, we have literal years of ideas that didn't make the game. Probably 75% of our design documents refer to characters, ideas, and mechanics that aren't featured in Evergate. Some of the early ideas included:

- Hiroko: A girl in the afterlife with a ribbon leg and a fleet of ribbons following her. The mystical fleet of ribbons would grant her powers and help her progress. The story rallied around her past and how she had lost that leg.

- Teddy Bear: instead of playing as a human in the afterlife, we explored what it would be like to play as a keepsake of the person who the story was about. You were essentially the teddy bear of the main character.

- Long-eared Spirit: we also explored a world of spirit civilisations that were partitioned by their behaviours (there was the artist community, the warmongering tribe, the wise ones, and so on). You played as a nomadic character from the artist community going on a journey to bring peace to an unstable land.

Box art for Evergate
Developer

Stone Lantern Games

Publisher

PQube

Genre

Puzzle

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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