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.
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 Sparkster—Rocket 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.
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.
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.