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Retro Interviews: The Freedom Planet Invades Florida Supercon Edition

Miami is known for quite a lot of things, but a burgeoning event for comic and game aficionados of South Florida, the Florida Supercon, bubbled to one of its biggest shows yet. Invading the Miami Beach Convention Center located a stones throw from South Beach during the Fourth of July weekend, the event featured several game development studios showing their works. Joining the likes of Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight and Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami 2 was a small group under the banner of Galaxy Trail, makers of Freedom Planet.

For those unfamiliar with Freedom Planet, take a moment to consider the halcyon era of the MegaDrive. Taking cues from Sonic The Hedgehog, Sparkster (or Rocket Knight, if you prefer), Ristar, and Pulseman among others, Freedom Planet stars speedster Sash Lilac, the brawler and biker Carol Tea, and the timid but imaginative Milla Basset, on a journey to save the land of Avalice from certain peril. You know, the typical thing that will send heroes out to smack a few baddies in the face.

Given its origins as a Sonic fangame that grew to its own style and found great success not only on Kickstarter but on Steam’s Greenlight service, Galaxy Trail’s presence at Supercon definitely warranted checking in on the game, now that its Steam release of July 19 is just around the corner. There, I met with the lead programmer and creator of the game Stephen “Strife” DiDuro.

Gene: Tell us a little about Freedom Planet and what it’s about.

Strife: It is basically a nod to ’90s-style Japanese platform games, like Sonic, Mega Man, and a little bit of Gunstar Heroes too with the bosses. When we originally started it, I started it as kind of a nod to Sonic with some small Flash project, but we had a Kickstarter at some point and it was amazing. We got like 13 times what we asked. So since then, it’s grown so much and it’s really interesting how much the game has evolved in the past three years since we worked on it. A lot of people are getting excited about it. I am too. It’s coming out on Steam right now. We’re set for July 19. So, I hope people get a kick out of it. So far, the feedback’s been really positive.

G: A lot of people have been liking it here at Florida Supercon?

S: Yeah, I’m surprised. A lot of people have said, “We’ll buy it!” We’ve got two stages that are playable here right now: the first stage Dragon Valley, and the third stage Fortune Night. It’s kind of interesting seeing how everyone is learning how to play the game through the way the levels are designed and nobody’s really gotten stuck yet. There’s only been like one or two cases where I had helped out, and one case was because she was a little two-year-old kid.

FreedomPlanet_CarolG: So I’m seeing right here, Carol was using a motorcycle. Do they all have special abilities?

S: Yeah, every character is completely different. The main Sonic similarities come from Lilac because she’s the fast character. She has this boosting move where she can dash like a comet in eight different direction, kind of like SparksterRocket Knight–and she can also whip enemies with her hair.

The second playable character is Carol, who is a green wildcat. She’s more technical based, like she has really fast punches and kicks and can also wall jump. I’d compare her more like a Capcom character. She’s got kind of like a Chun Li kick as a special and she can jump on walls like Mega Man X. She’s a little bit slower, but she also has a motorcycle she can ride, which doubles her speed and makes her attacks more powerful.

G: I saw she was riding up the walls with it.

S: Yeah, her motorcycle defies gravity sometimes, like you can drive straight up walls. When I made, I kind of just went with what was fun, not necessarily with realism. A lot of people get a kick out of her motorcycle.

There’s a third playable character, Milla. She is a hound dog. She’s more like a Nintendo character, like she has a flutter kind of like Yoshi and she can summon and throw these green blocks, like Super Mario Bros. 2, and she can summon a psychic shield in front of her and aim it to reflect enemy attacks. She’s kind of like the mage in a sense, so she’s got less life but her attacks a bit stronger.

FreedomPlanet_MillaG: You mentioned this is coming out on Steam. Do you plan to bring this out on other consoles?

S: I had that as a stretch goal to try and get it on Android, PlayStation Vita, that kind of stuff, but I overestimated the amount of time and money it would take for that. So what we’re going to do is focus on the Steam version first then move to other PC platforms like Good Old Games and Humble Bundle. We’re going to save up money and try to get it on PlayStation Vita or Wii U. This kind of game was made for handhelds. I can see it being very successful on the Wii U pad or the Vita.

G: It kind of makes me sad because I’m standing here with my 3DS in my pocket and I’m going, “Man, after seeing how Shovel Knight handled 3D, this would look really pretty in 3D.” Probably a technical feat though.

S: Yeah, I think in terms of 3D, the easiest part would be making the parallax background 3D. That’s something to look into. I’d like to hire some additional programmers. I was actually talking to Taxman about possibly using the Retro Engine, but he seems really busy. Like, they’re thinking about coming out with an indie project. I don’t know, he was kind of vague about it.

G: Yep, that sounds like Taxman.

S: Yeah, we’ll see what happens. I’m definitely keeping my options open.

G: Always good. I want to talk a little bit about Lilac here. I do remember she showed up in Sonic: After the Sequel as a little bit of an Easter egg. I remember around the time that came out, most of us were like, “Oh… is that okay to have in there? Is he going to be upset?”, because at the time, you wanted to distance yourself from the Sonic side so it wasn’t too obvious.

S: At that point, when I first started, Lilac wasn’t a dragon, she was a hedgehog. As I said before, I just wanted this to be like a small fangame project of sorts. But when the game expanded way beyond that and it was going to be a commercial indie game, obviously, I changed her to a dragon but that worked out better. I upgraded her design. Sonic: After the Sequel used the hedgehog design. I thought it was okay, but I was a little bit concerned because I got help making Lilac from a Chinese artist, Ziyo Ling, and I need to ask her for permission on certain things. I was a little bit worried about that, but she didn’t mind. So it all worked out in the end; I was just a little bit nervous at first. But I think it’s really cool that Lake added Lilac in Sonic: After the Sequel as an Easter egg.

FreedomPlanet_LilacG: You mentioned early retro games. I’m noticing Lilac just pulled off a few wall bounces here like Ristar.

S: Yeah, that move is kind of like a mix of Ristar and Rocket Knight. I built it off of Ristar first, but someone mentioned to me, “Oh, it’s kind of like Rocket Knight.” And I went, “Oh, that’s cool.” With Rocket Knight, his energy regenerates really quickly, like Lilac’s. When I first started the game, actually, Lilac’s energy was dependent on how fast she was going. That turned out to be a little too complicated. I thought it was an interesting mechanic at first, but it was too unwieldy. So now her energy bar just completely regenerates after she boosts. It’s a lot more fun and there’s a lot more potential for speedruns.

G: How many levels are planned for the game, or do you not want to give that out just yet?

S: No, it’s fine. There are 14 levels. There were originally 11, but the final stage ended up being too big so I split that into four separate stages.

G: Good stuff. Thanks very much for your time!

Afterwards, I gave the game a spin on the demos the team had running. Playing through Dragon Valley as Lilac, it was nice and refreshing to jump right into a game without tutorial prompts or anything and just let the game naturally introduce concepts to you. It honestly felt like I had the MegaDrive controller in hand once more. This was something I also noted of other players (the booth was pretty popular all four days) both young and old that they were able to just pick up and play. Some will be quick to dismiss the title as derivative, but its bundle of nods to classic 16-bit games works well enough that it feels like its own game.

A couple of extra notes: the game features voice acting for the characters and the music is performed by a trio of DiDuro himself, Shane “Blue Warrior” Ellis with vocals by Dawn Michelle Bennett, and Leila “Woofle” Wilson, who previously produced a piece for Sonic Megamix.

Freedom Planet launches Saturday, July 19 on Steam for $14.99. The demo I played through can be obtained off the game’s official website for PC and Mac.

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24 Comments

  • Reply

    Feels kinda weird that this game is almost out when I was part of the legion telling Strife to make a fangame a paid product.

    Nice to see this is almost realized.

    • Reply

      thanks, dude

      RPG Maker games being sold for 15 bucks each on steam truly wasn’t enough, now we’re getting paid fangames, game that should be accessible for free with optional donations is now paid for everybody

      you’ve truly contributed to making the community less greedy and overall better, kudos

      • Reply

        …except the part where this got upgraded from a fangame to its own thing because god forbid someone is trying to make moves into the industry?

        Yes there are some fundamental problems with how the indie scene is getting treated by some, but this is not one of those cases.

    • Reply

      It was a fangame two years ago. Now it’s a large, finished, fully original game with quality content, one that rivals and in some ways exceeds the qualities of many existing indie games on Steam. If it had stayed a fangame, it would’ve been free, but would’ve had very limited quality and features, and quite possibly have never been finished. Now it’s going to be completed well beyond its original vision and feature high quality art, sound, music, and gameplay, so yes it is now actually worth something. Above all, if people are buying the game, it’s not just to own it, but to support even greater games to be made in the future. That’s part of the point of going commercial with it.

    • Reply

      Yeah, man. What kind of world do you think you live in? This is the 21st century, when people should not be paid for their hard work.

  • Reply

    “Fully original”

    the whole post tells about how all the ideas are borrowed from other games
    characters are Sonic OCs which are based on copyrighted character designs

    I guess in XXI century it’s okay to charge people 15 bucks for fangames that not only look like they belong in 1998 but have mechanics based on 20 year old ideas and don’t even have original character designs.

    I understand the effort they put into it but 15 dollar price tag is a tad too high for what this is. On top of it all it’s a digital release so distribution costs them nothing aside from listing fees. And there’s only 14 stages, so you, in theory, pay a little over 1 dollar per stage. Nice.

    I’m not even going to argue about this any further, if you believe throwing 15 bucks down the shitter on a fangame, which back in 2005 you’d be able to download for free from the creator’s webpage without any limitations, it’s your problem, really. I’m not spending a cent on this game.

    • Reply

      All games take ideas from other games. The creators of Freedom Planet are just more honest about it than most game developers. But you know, fuck those guys for trying to move up from Sonic fangame makers to commercial game developers.

    • Reply

      Well, let me put it like this: I like a lot of the games they listed as influences. And while sure, I can go back and play those any time I want, the prospect of something new which appears to have a touch of quality and spit-shine put into it that incorporates concepts from them to do its own thing is appealing.

      At the least, it worked for Shovel Knight and its NES-game homages. The defense there though is that YCG are all established devs from WayForward so they knew their stuff. I’m willing to give Galaxy Trail to see how they do.

      Besides, it’s not like the “golden age of gaming” wasn’t full of knockoffs charging $54.99+ to play them and they were awful. :V

    • Reply

      See my reply to the other post above, “it was a fangame two years ago”.

      When I read things like this I know the person writing it has no idea what they’re talking about, and is judging Freedom Planet purely on the surface. The game goes well beyond what any fangame ever does, and while there are aspects of gameplay from other older games involved, they’re not only enhanced, but woven together elegantly and create something far richer than any of those elements did on their own. The final recipe of this is something that stands out on it’s own and forms an new experience you won’t get with anything else.

    • Reply

      Do keep in mind that this is the age of gaming nostalgia. It is perfectly true that we have the technology to make a game of much higher quality than this all the time, but a lot of people lately have been looking back to the “good ol’ days” and remembering the sort of games they played back then. This game is merely pandering to that. Know your market, see?

      At least its more original than I had been expecting it to be. Though I confess, it still feels like it’s missing something to me personally…dunnno what.

      As for the price, I have to agree. $15 does seem a little steep for what you’re getting, which pretty much is an old school Sonic clone, and not much else. Were it maybe, oh, half that price, then I’d be much more interested. Even $9-10 seems a bit more reasonable than the full $15.

      But hey, at least it beats paying, what was it, like $11 or $12 for Sonic 4 Episode 2, which was barely worth half of whatever this game’s worth, even with the superior graphics. At least with this game the creators at least TRIED to be a little creative and original, which is more than I can say on Sega’s handling of Sonic 4.

    • Reply

      “And there’s only 14 stages, so you, in theory, pay a little over 1 dollar per stage. Nice.”

      Didn’t Sonic 4: Episode 1 have only 6 levels? Totally worth the $15.00 people paid when it first came out!

      Freedom Planet has (at least) 3 playable characters that each handle very differently, fully-voiced cutscenes (if you want them), 3 difficulty settings, unlockables, collectables, mini games, easter eggs, and a lot of love and detail put into the visuals, plus the stages are each kinda fucking long.

      Also, it’s got great gameplay, a compelling plot and a soundtrack that doesn’t sound like DYING CATS AND DUCKS. I THINK THOSE ARE IMPORTANT ASPECTS WORTH NOTING.

    • Reply

      @Scyphi
      “As for the price, I have to agree. $15 does seem a little steep for what you’re getting, which pretty much is an old school Sonic clone, and not much else.”
      Yes thank you for sharing that you know nothing about the game and you’re just blindly tossing out criticisms. It’s not even a Sonic clone to begin with, the gameplay is vastly different from Sonic and goes well beyond the scope of anything the original Sonic games did with gameplay mechanics. You’re comparing an apple to an apple pie. Both begin with the apple, but the two are completely different foods.

      “This game is merely pandering to that.”
      No. This was created with OUR love for the 90s era of games, and the game was made to reflect that passion. It was not made in a deliberate style as some kind of attempt to pander to a certain market. It was made from our own interests and thus attracted others with the same. It’s seriously upsetting that some people can’t see this and reflexively make that accusation. It just indicates you’re either heavily conditioned by things that do this or you have no sense of what is and isn’t a labor of love.

      “Sonic 4”
      Don’t even put this game on the same plane as Sonic 4. Freedom Planet actually does 360 platforming physics correctly and that just scratches the surface. This game actually has soul and love put into it and has a grand vision. Compare any song from Sonic 4 to any song from Freedom Planet. Spend even a short time with the Freedom Planet demo and tell me the gameplay isn’t leagues better than the trash that was Sonic 4.

    • Reply

      @Mr Lange

      Actually, I have been following the game’s development since about when it stopped being a fangame and began being a legit game, and seen various development progress of it over the months/years, read up on it and what details of the plot they’ve made public, and I think I even took the time to play a demo stage once, so this isn’t me just looking at it at face value. And indeed, a lot of love and care has gone into the game, and it is pretty polished and as I said, very creative for a game of its league. I’m very happy for the crew and their success in getting it on the market and applaud them for it.

      However, since the beginning, it was obvious what the game was drawing inspiration from and the interview above confirms it for me. So despite all I have learned about this game, I still have the nagging feeling in the back of my head that says “it’s pretty much a Sonic clone.” And it is. A very CREATIVE Sonic clone, mind you, and not just one of those run-of-the-mill, swap out the cast and not much else games you see, because obviously a lot of work’s gone into this one to give a new and fresh experience. And in many ways they succeeded. But at its heart, it’s still a Sonic clone.

      Not that’s really a bad thing, actually, I’m all for a Sonic clone game so long as it’s done well and right. Heck, if I’d had the skill and time, I’d probably make one myself. My real gripes about this game isn’t even really about that at all (the only reason I even brought it up was in response to certain other posters, who I also thought were being unfair on the matter, and was trying to get them to see it from another, more reasonable angle. Clearly I failed) but rather it’s price…and that it’s rather anime-ish in feel which is just a personal problem (not big on anime, see). Were it not for that, I’d probably be all over this too.

      As to comparing it with Sonic 4, I was merely seeking a common ground with which to compare the game with in terms of marketing. In retrospect, I suppose making that comparison is pretty unfair. Freedom Planet obviously has received much more work and care than Sonic 4 could’ve ever dreamed of.

      I still stand by what I said on the price. $15 bucks is still rather steep for a game like this. It certainly has promise, yes, and I wish it best of luck, but $15’s still just a tad too steep for me. If it maybe had more along the lines of, say, 24 stages instead of the 14 I’ve heard it has, or those 14 stages are significantly long, like way longer than any stage for a game of its class would have (say triple the length of the average Sonic stage), then maybe.

      But this is personal opinion, and I’m just getting it out there. Take it or leave it. Wasn’t looking to start a fight, so now that I’ve said my two bits, I’m bowing out of the discussion.

  • Reply

    Original?

    Freedom Planet? That’s the same thing as Planet Freedom, from the Sonic OVA .
    They may as will have called the mane character cinos

    • Reply

      That’s like saying that a pill bug is the exact same thing as a bug pill, StitchSonic.

      Or like saying that the Death Egg and Super Sonic were completely inspired concepts. Besides, I don’t see you getting upset over real life resistance groups for being called “freedom fighters” even though it’s the exact same term used in SatAM.

    • Reply

      Is there honestly any point in saying things like this? Do you really care enough about the fact this game’s being sold for $15 and is a quality, fresh (since “unique” and “original” seem to be off-limits terms for you) gaming experience that combines aspects from games that have long since been left untouched for years, to be complaining about “unoriginality?” Is there honestly ANY reason to be upset over this outside of having to pay $15?

      Please just answer this question. If this game was free, would you have any interest in it and play it, and recognize it as being a quality game if it was such?

  • Reply

    Oh please, I’m buying this regardless on release day.

    And yeah, I don’t recall Star Wars ever bitching about the Death Egg or DBZ about Super Sonic and “7” chaos emeralds.

  • Reply

    All right, seriously, when did everybody become so violently negative about this game?

    Personally, I thought the demo alone was amazing. Saturday’s coming so slowly it almost hurts. 🙁

    • Reply

      I think it’s just guys hating without much perspective. The game’s pretty fun as it is. Why get upset about video games?

    • Reply

      I’m in the opposite camp – I think Saturday’s coming up REALLY fast, and worried that Strife’s not gonna be QUITE 100% finished with the game, even with all the leaps and bounds he’s making during this crunch period.

      At least I can rest safely knowing that even if the cutscenes are missing key info or have the occasional sprite that’s not quite up to par with the others, the core gameplay is done, and solid enough that it’ll presumably hold up with a little bit of patching.

      (Besides, I have my own workload to worry about at my day job.)

  • Reply

    The DJ Man disapproves of selling fan-games on his platform without approval from the original IP owners and DN’s expert programming team. Shame my disapproval on Steam Greenlight didn’t change anything.

    • Reply

      If it’s any conciliation, the frame in which you portray your disappointment brings me nothing but joy.

  • Reply

    Those discrediting FP as a “just a fangame” are really don’t have a necessary perspective to judge the game right now. Game isn’t even out yet and the beginning of the game as a fangame doesn’t mean that the game cannot be expanded and tweaked in quality – even to the commercial level.

    Team Fortress started as a simple game mod for example. Game was ported, expanded and sold as Team Fortress Classic later on. That was over 15 years ago.

    Stop whining and simply check the game. Rumors from betatests say it is REALLY good

  • Reply

    Don’t understand the negativity. Played the demo, loved it – bought it.

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