As some of you may know before our game Celeste a lot of the team was working on a procedurally generated metroidvania called Skytorn. Since Celeste we’ve been pretty quiet about the game as we figured out what we wanted to do with it.
I’m going to cut to the important thing first: We’re no longer going to be finishing Skytorn. I’ll go into the details behind the history of the game, and why we’ve come to this decision. I’m really sorry for those of you who were excited about this game. We were too. We poured a lot of time, energy, and heart into the project and we’re definitely sad it’s never going to see the commercial release we were hoping for.
If you haven’t heard of the game before, you can check out this most recent gameplay video:
Here’s a list of the core Skytorn team:
Noel Berry (Programming, Technical Art)
Amora Bettany (Character Design, Portraits)
Pedro Medeiros (Programming, Gameplay Art)
Ben Prunty (Music)
Power Up Audio (Sound Design)
WHY WE AREN’T FINISHING IT
There’s a bunch of reasons, but the main one is… Skytorn just never figured out what it was.
Having worked on the game for several years we constantly struggled with what the game was. To its core it was a procedurally generated adventure game without permadeath, but the procedural elements always clashed with the Metroidvania themes, and I didn’t know how to design around that. The story & progression slowly became much more linear as a result of being unsure how to tackle an open & randomized world. Taking out the procedural parts felt like it defeated the purpose of what the game was, so as it shifted towards a more linear adventure, the procedural map stayed but simply got more and more constricted, until the proceduralness of it didn’t really mean anything — it was just… there. And this is a LOT of overhead for basically no payoff. Why make a procedural game at all if you don’t really get the benefits of it being procedural?
But we kept working on it, polishing it, adding art and content, to what was ultimately a broken core. I thought that we could keep working on it and be able to restructure the gameplay as we went, as we really figured it out. But at some point you have all these systems and then changing anything at the lower level becomes a lot of work.
If we were to finish Skytorn I believe it would require us to throw away a lot of the code & gameplay design. A lot of aspects could be kept — our story, the art, the sounds & music, the general theme — but the gameplay would need to go. And at this point, we’ve all learned a lot. As much as we all love Skytorn and how much it’s meant to us over the last several years, we’re excited for new things and new projects. I’m okay saying it was an amazing learning experience, and we’ll take all these lessons onto our next project.
In 2012 I quit university to go indie full time, supplementing my income by doing freelance web design. I wanted to create a commercial game, and went through a lot of different ideas and experiments before settling on Skytorn. At the time I was excited about procedural generation and had made tons of small prototypes, and a game about generated floating islands seemed cool.
Pedro and Amora joined the project right from the start. We were good friends and prototyped a lot of small projects after they had finished up working on TowerFall with Matt. The game moved along pretty quickly, and it felt like it was coming together smoothly, although from the beginning we never really figured out what it was. This is a problem I’ve had on numerous projects and has been a big learning curve for me personally: I get excited about the feeling and atmosphere of a game before I know what the design actually is.
We redesigned the core a bunch of times, particularly the island generation. The general structure was always the same: There’s a floating island, and then 3 main dungeons you can go into, each of which contains a power up.
The story started coming together and we had a pretty good idea of where it was going in that regard. We kept polishing things and making new enemies and powerups. We tried to address the core gameplay problem a bunch of times, but honestly I was too hesitant to try doing what I think would really have fixed it: Making it a much more open and free flowing game that allowed you to really experiment with the progression and take it however you liked. It’s interesting because after we’d taken a break from the project for a while, Breath of the Wild came out and did a ton of this stuff perfectly — things we’d been thinking about but I just wasn’t confident enough in my design capabilities to do at the time.
In 2016 we started Celeste, which began as a much smaller side project we thought would take a few months to complete. I think it was in January 2017 the team sat down and decided we’d spend 2 or 3 months full time on Celeste and put Skytorn on the back burner. Of course, Celeste ended up taking a whole year full time from that point, and Skytorn development completely stopped. When Celeste development & post release work finally slowed in ~May 2018, we were faced with the tough decision of reworking Skytorn to its core, or beginning work on something brand new, taking in all these lessons.
If you want to check out more of our development, you can read through our tumblr devlog.
SO NOW WHAT?
The Celeste team is sticking together and working on something new, but we’re not ready to talk about what yet. We’ll have news to share in the new year.
Thanks everyone ❤ To finish, here’s some artwork and images from Skytorn.