Going on three years now, Freedom Planet launched on Steam after a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. For the uninitiated, Freedom Planet drew heavy inspiration from Sonic the Hedgehog, while also adding a huge emphasis on combat and exploration. Fast forward to now, and we’re highly anticipating the release of the sequel, Freedom Planet 2. Sporting a fresh look, new engine, and so much more, GalaxyTrail is looking to up their game significantly. We sat down with Strife, a very active member of the Retro forums, to discuss the sequel, transitioning tools, and much more.
“So from the first game, you guys made the transition from Multimedia Fusion to Unity. Did you run into any difficulties with that? Has it been easier that MF or a bit of an adjustment? What exactly do you feel makes Unity better than Multimedia Fusion?”
Strife: There was definitely some heavy adjustments on my end. I’ve been working with Clickteam tools for over 17 years (I started when I was 11) and I’ve completely gotten used to its quirks and the way it does things under the hood. I felt pretty lost when I started working with the new engine in Unity. Fortunately my experience with general code syntax from college, as well as some guidance from Christian (he even rearranged the default Unity to layout to better resemble Multimedia Fusion), I was surprised how quickly I got used to it, and I really appreciate the edge it has over MMF2 in almost every way but especially with performance and object handling, two of the biggest issues I struggled with in FP1. While there are some things in Unity that required painful workarounds when they were a snap in MMF2 (like pixel perfect rendering), I don’t regret making the switch at all.
“It’s been revealed that Freedom Planet 2 is going to feature hubworlds! What can fans expect those to be like?”
Strife: Hub areas are something I actually wanted to do in the first game, but I quickly realized it would be too ambitious and that there wasn’t enough side content in the game to justify their existence. With the introduction of collectible items and powerups in FP2 and the increased focus on world building, I feel that hubs are now something we can work with in a meaningful way. Our current plan is to include four major hub areas in each of the four main cities. They’ll contain a lot of the optional story stuff that players are free to access or skip depending on their preference, and they also present opportunities to collect and buy new items. I would expect something like Shovel Knight or Shantae in terms of complexity. One of the things I’m most excited about is the fact that our character designer Tyson Tan has created over 100 unique NPCs for the hubs. He wanted to avoid the use of clones to expand the NPC population, and while it’s definitely going to take a while to animate every NPC, I think the results will be worth it. The few NPCs that we’ve publicly revealed have gained a surprising fan following (especially Maria Notte, a bat news reporter with realistic arm wings).
“Point blank, what are some criticisms of the first Freedom Planet that you and your team have taken into consideration for the sequel?”
Strife: The story elements of the first game were the most polarizing part. Those who criticized the cutscenes felt that they were too long and dragged the game down. I understand the sentiment, especially since RPG styled cutscenes aren’t something that is expected in a 2D platformer, but rather than get rid of them entirely, I would like to think that there’s a right way to handle it and we just haven’t found the sweet spot yet. For the second game, rather than try to write the story by myself, we put together a team of writers with more experience than me who drew inspiration from real world cultures and mythologies, and I think it helped significantly. We also took comments about the voice quality to heart, so we rented time with a professional recording studio in Texas and had all of our voice work done in one place. Many of our voice actors have also gotten a ton of experience since FP1 by playing parts in anime or other video games – Sean Chiplock for example (Spade, Dail) has moved on to voice characters in Breath of the Wild, Alejandro Saab (Mayor Zao) voices the lead in Akiba’s Trip, and Dawn M. Bennett (Lilac) is a regular at FUNimation Studios and has gotten parts in Fairy Tail, One Piece, Dance With Devils (where she plays the lead) and a ton of other animated productions. We’re hoping that with the hub areas and being able to tackle certain “story arcs” in different orders, the story bits will feel more harmonious. And of course, the cutscene-free Classic mode is still an option this time.
“Are you looking to try a more unified (no pun intended) release this time? Or should fans expect Freedom Planet 2 to release on Steam first, then to other platforms in the future? And perhaps, do you have an idea of what platforms we can expect to see FP2 on?”
Strife: I don’t think the release schedule will change much this time around, mostly because it’s a lot easier to beta test on PC since it’s the platform we’re developing on, and Steam makes it very easy to coordinate patches and updates. With consoles, there’s more of a waiting period involved if you’re self publishing, so I’ve generally waited until the PC release is in good shape before moving on to console ports. As far as platforms, I’m not always sure about what I’m allowed to say, but I think I’m allowed to say what I WISH for, which is that I hope we get to see a release on Nintendo and Sony platforms again.
“Multiplayer isn’t really something that comes to mind with Freedom Planet, but given the inspiration it draws heavily from, can we expect maybe some co-op or competitive modes in Freedom Planet 2?”
Strife: In the sequel, multiplayer is at least a technical possibility (compared to MMF2 where the engine simply wouldn’t work with it), but there are some big things we would need to consider first, such as certain stage layouts having one-way gimmicks that wouldn’t account for two players. It’s not a priority at the moment, but if we have extra time after the main game is finished, I certainly wouldn’t mind experimenting with limited co-op features or multiplayer mini-games outside of the core stages.
“There’ve been some changes in designs for most of the characters, obviously they’re all taller and more detailed, but is there a story reason for some of these changes or is it just the style the team has come to?”
“As of now, there’s four main playable characters. What goes in to deciding their attacks/upgrades/combos/etc. (besides what they already had of course.)”
Strife: In many games with multiple characters, each character will fundamentally play the same way but with adjustments to their core stats like speed, power and durability. In the case of Freedom Planet, I wanted to give characters wildly different move sets, but also give each character the tools they need to tackle the same challenges. This avoids the situation of having to create new stage layouts for specific characters. I think about character abilities the same way I think about the weapons in Mega Man games. In Mega Man, each weapon has a different specialization that makes it ideal in some situations and hard to use effectively in others. This encourages players to experiement with different weapon combinations in different situations to see what works best. I keep this kind of interaction in mind when designing the move sets of FP characters. Perhaps most importantly is that I try to design each character’s moves to reinforce that character’s personality and style. Lilac is a speedy character with a love for racing, so all of her moves are built to reinforce her speed and the momentum she gets from her Dragon Boost. Carol is an agile character whose attacks emphasize her literal cat reflexes. Milla has gone through a huge amount of character growth since FP1 and this is expressed through her energetic animations and her faster, more focused attacks. Neera’s slower but stronger moves make her feel more intimidating, and her larger pool of directional-based attacks makes her feel like she has more experience than the other characters.“To go with the previous question, how difficult is it to balance out an entire level with four different characters in mind? Does it require a lot of retooling in the process, or is there plenty of planning ahead of time?”
Strife: This is actually a brick wall I ran into when I tried to add Torque to FP1 as a playable character. His run-and-gun style of play didn’t mesh well with the existing stages, so instead of trying to rework the stages in his favor, I decided to bench him until I have time to create a different game that takes better advantage of his move set. With FP2, I kept a few extra things in mind to avoid repeating this mistake. I gave all four characters some sort of double jumping move they could use to clear similar gaps: Dragon Cyclone for Lilac, Jump Disc for Carol, Puppy Float for Milla, and a literal double jump for Neera. They also have the same top speed, and I justified this for the slower Neera by having her create an ice floor under her feet that she skates across. With each character having similar horizontal and vertical mobility, it gives me reassurance that if one character can clear an obstacle, there’s a solid chance the others can too. Done right, this sort of thing reinforces the open-ended stage design. Not only do the stages have multiple routes to explore, but you have four characters with completely different move sets as well as many individual moves having a secondary utility function. With all of this together, I hope it creates situations where two players will clear a gap or defeat a tough enemy in different ways even if they use the same character.
“At what point did you and the team decide to make a sequel? Freedom Planet 2 is obviously in the works right now, but do you see yourselves doing something entirely different in the future?”
Strife: We decided we wanted to do a sequel shortly after finishing the first game. In my case, I saw a lot of things in FP1 that I wanted to improve, and I wanted a chance to bring back some of the ideas we had to scrap to get it released in a realistic time frame. As far as other projects go, I have some ideas for other games I’d like to try at some point. I’ve also wanted to make a 3D racing game since I was a kid, so I hope I have the chance to try that someday.
“Outta the whole cast, who’s your favorite character and why?”
Strife: Out of the characters I’ve personally created, I don’t think anyone comes close to the complexity and depth of Mr. Stumpy.
As for my ACTUAL answer, it’s probably not a surprise that Lilac is my favorite. I’ve put more time and effort into her character than anyone else, and her specific set of moves makes her much easier to design levels around than the other playable characters – probably because she has the tools to take immediate advantage of the terrain. The irony that I don’t actually own the copyright to her doesn’t escape me, but I guess in a way, this has motivated me to hold her in much higher regard than I would have otherwise. Honorable mention goes to Mayor Zao, who is some ways is a happy accident. My initial idea for the character was more submissive and villainous, and probably more annoying, but due to the way the story turned out and because of the random quirks we gave him (like the +5 stat bonuses), he ended up being something of a badass and his greed is more of a charming flaw in an otherwise well-meaning character, similar to Nintendo’s Wario. I absolutely love his dialog in Freedom Planet 2.
“Got any new screenshots or anything to share with us?”
Strife: They were part of a set of “tiny” NPCs that Tyson drew for us, haven’t decided if they’ll actually be NPCs yet though…