Hands On: Concursion

Concursion Boss Battle 2

If anyone asks you what is the key to a good platformer then there should really only be one answer: cat suits. If they then ask you what the second key to a good platformer is then it should always be tight controls.

The latter applies to most games, but where pixel-perfect jumps are required even a slight delay can provide an excuse for the player to blame the game for their follies, which may cause them to dismiss the whole game outright.

It was with some tension that I sat in a preview room and got my first look at the full version of Concursion. However I wasn’t worried about the game letting me down; it responds to inputs accurately and succinctly. I knew that any mistakes that I made would be entirely my own, and I was definitely going to make mistakes as the game features some devilish puzzles that require pinpoint-accurate execution as you flit between the game’s different modes and characters on the fly. These include various different kinds of platformer (a warrior, a samurai and an astronaut) alongside a side-scrolling spaceship shooter and a Gauntlet/Pacman-style game, all of which play completely differently.

Concursion Space Shooter

What worried me was I was playing in front of the enthusiastic developer of the game and bricking it each time I failed.

“You are doing pretty well. I mean, that’s level 57,” he said reassuringly, after I died for about the eighth time in a row. “This is showing off some pretty advanced systems and the learning curve will prepare you for this.”

I liked the demo a lot. The game is often ingenious in using its different characters and play styles to create clean, clever routes through each area with the simplistic art style betraying a much deeper underlying set of rules. Things really open up in the full game with an overworld system, far more complex levels and new implementations of the verbs that are laid out (each character has their own set of skills, for example the Samurai has a sword slash, wall slide and double jump while the astronaut has an inertia-based boost that allows him to float through the areas assigned to him).

Concursion Boss Battle

In the beginning the divisions between these worlds and play styles are clearly defined; the division between each concursion is set in stone so you know when you will be moving between each of the modes. Later levels show how that these patches of other worlds will move around and change how you approach different challenges.

Also impressive is how Concursion is instantly accessible, as the inputs are intuitive and instantly familiar, but then additional complexicities are layered on top in a multitude of ways.

Concursion Space Shooter 2

Concursion is looking good for a game which only recently appeared on my radar but I definitely recommend that everyone go and check it out on Greenlight and and vote it up, especially if they enjoy focused platformers in the vein of Super Meat Boy and Rayman Legends.

But wait, there’s more!

 

 

This is AJ with Arcadian Rhythms. If you’d like to introduce yourself and what you do, basically…?

Sure! My name is Daniel Garfield. I’m the developer at Puuba for the game Concursion: it’s kind of a five-way mashup of a whole lot of gameplay in one. I guess I’m the lead developer, only developer and level designer.

Nice! So, yeah, we’ve had a chance to actually play the game – we kind of rushed in yesterday to have a go and you’ve been kind enough to show us the actual full game. I’ve really enjoyed the levels I played in the original demo and I’m really surprised by how much depth the game is displaying. Of the stuff that you demoed to us today, there’s some really awesome stuff, like the fact that you went from a bullet hell shooter on that boss fight through to an almost infinite runner style game – basically against the ever-moving, shifting screen. The different styles and how you actually meld them together is really impressive and really, super-responsive as well, which is one thing I really favour about a good platformer: you’ve got to be able to react quickly to everything and the game’s not going to hold you back.

We spoke a little bit before this interview started and, well, what did you do before? I mean, to make a game this fully fledged, I was expecting quite a long history in games.

A long history playing games! Consoles back to all you can name. But before this, I was a developer doing post-production for Hollywood studio works. So, working with Disney, Universal, Paramount, Fox – those guys – doing licensed games and apps, especially on Blu-rays and things. Lots of small games, probably a lot of things that you’d find at your local store today, but none of it would have my name on it.

Yeah, right, I understand that – I’ve worked in QA for long enough. So, what were your main kinds of inspiration then, in terms of when you were looking at what kind of games you’d like, ‘I’d like to be able to put this into my game, or these elements of it into my game’?

Well, key was finding five games that all worked together seamlessly; that all kind of have similar shared goals and things. But specifically, to each of the five flavours, I’d say: Pacman, Mario, Ninja Gaiden, Gauntlet and then, for the jetpack one, I often say Solar Jetman, which was a game for Nintendo and, er… I’m wrong! It doesn’t work that way. I played it recently, after having developed this, and it doesn’t work as I thought it did. But holistically, it’s like you said: those hyper-accurate, responsive platformers, like Super Meat Boy. I really wanted to take all of those together into kind of a cohesive, singular package that really controlled tightly in the way that I wanted.

It definitely shows, I have to say. So, how many levels are you planning to put into the game? You mentioned a number of them.

There are just shy of 70 levels, not including our bosses.

That’s pretty impressive. And, so far, every level you’ve shown us has basically played completely differently, which was really good! What would you say is probably one of your proudest levels?

You know what? There’s two boss fights that I really enjoy. Er, I’ll spoil them. It’s not a plot spoiler, but you’re kind of fighting this gigantic beast and he’s in the background, and you can’t attack him directly. He’s throwing fireballs and lots of fire , and the screen is moving across the stage as you have to make your way through it. And the whole time you’re fighting on these islands suspended on top of lava, and finally you kind of charge the factory by running on these treadmills to flip a switch, only to have the lava drain, a kind of crusher rod to come down from the ceiling to smash this young beast on the head and, in fact, you’re going to have to jump into the lava pit that you’ve been avoiding the whole game because, submerged beneath, is an entire Pacman-style maze.

Wow, that’s awesome.

We build boss fights that very literally throw dimensional balls at you. They will throw spotlights of a platformer at you while you’re trying to catch air in a jetpack, and try and take that jetpack away from you.

Mentioning dimensional bubbles and stuff like that, it doesn’t just shift the way the character looks, it actually changes what the backgrounds look like [and the gameplay mechanics]. But also, notably, the music. You obviously had different musical themes and stuff like that, but it wasn’ t yourself who made the music. Who was it and what was the background in getting that person involved?

Well, the composer’s name is Christopher Hoag and he’s actually a long-term friend of mine, a really close friend. I’m really lucky to know him. He’s an Emmy-nominated composer, so quite accomplished, and he’d never done video game work before. So, I kind of brought him this idea of: ‘Can you do a soundtrack for a game?’. ‘Sure, easy’. ‘Well, hold on… can we do the soundtrack five times over, completely? Like, beat for beat, measure for measure, orchestrated differently, so they’re not quite the same song? And we’re going to cross-fade them all. So, based on your proximity to each dimension, you might hear more electronica, you might hear more guitar-driven rock, you might hear more chip-tune retro, and all those songs are actually composed in such a way that they can blend and play at any ratio of mix or on their own.’ That was the challenge I threw at Chris.

Again, I think it works really well. The blending between the different styles of music is really, really cool and it definitely leans towards giving the game its own identity as well. In the same way as – and I’m only going to say this once and then I’ll never say it again, but: the kind of Tarantino-esque way of merging genres and making it have its own identity, even though you’re clearly taking homage from different areas. The game never feels, like, ‘Oh, this is just the Pacman level or the Mario level’ and I’m really impressed by that. What are your future plans for this? When is the release date?

Well, so, we just hit content completion about a week ago and we’ve finished the last of our levels, and the last of our bosses is done. So, we’re just about to hit polish mode. You know, making sure everything feels just right, making sure there’s checkpoints where there ought to be, making sure there’s no real difficulty hotspots, and we’re setting about eight weeks aside for all of that massage process, QCA included, with just a small team of us – just three of us. So, eight weeks from now we plan to be done, give or take a little leeway, and then going out to the world.

I should mention, we just came on to Steam Greenlight and posted up to it under a week ago, and so any votes we can get there – much obliged! Obviously, a lot of my heart is in that right now.

Have you nudged Sony or any Sony representatives?

I haven’t. I probably should!

To be honest, the push that they’re putting here [at EGX Rezzed 2014] has been phenomenal. Pretty much every developer we’ve been speaking to has been very, very positive about Sony trying to make things happen.

Cool.

Anyway, thanks a lot for taking the time to show us the game and also answer these questions. We really appreciate it!