Expanding vision and expectations-how Heart Machine hopes to use Solar Ash to amaze players.

Solar Ash represents a huge leap forward for Heart Machine. After the launch of the Hyper Light Drifter inspired by 2D Zelda in 2016 and its acclaim, game fans scrambled to see what would happen next, and many people were surprised to see something completely different. Solar Ash is bigger and bolder than Hyper Light Drifter in every respect, from its switch to a full 3D world to its new emphasis on the high-speed traversal of combat-focused dungeon crawling. But what is sun ash? Alx Preston, the creative director of Heart Machine, took us to the game and discussed its origins, gameplay, and how he responded to the fear of the downturn in the second grade.

In Preston’s words, Solar Ash’s “stupid elevator speech” is Super Mario Galaxy meeting the shadow of a colossus. Given that Solar Ash takes place in a beautiful abstract alien world, has a large number of platform games, and allows players to fight against the Titanic boss, this description is valuable. Unlike the 2D pixels used to build the Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash’s fully realized 3D environment gives Preston the opportunity to create the kind of immersive escape world opportunity that provides him with an immersive escape world during the emergence of 3D graphics.

“At some point, I did have ambitions to go beyond 2D. I wanted to get into 3D because I think games really changed my view of creative possibilities,” Preston said. “The first few 3D games I really like, such as [Super] Mario 64 and all these things, it made me see a whole new world. “

Heart Machine still retains most of the details about the Solar Ash plot, but we do know that the player controls a voidwalker named Rei. You ask what is a Voidwalker? Think of them as cosmic cave explorers exploring black holes in search of resources. Preston described Rei as a “very capable” void walker with a good mind on her shoulders. She needs to be good at her job, because a particularly dangerous black hole called Ultravoid may swallow her home. In order to prevent this from happening, she must plunge headlong into the void to find a way to save her planet.

There is a fragmented and surreal world of alien beauty in Ultravoid. Tree-sized mushrooms, sea anemone-like grass, and glowing orange rivers-all of which are surrounded by a thick layer of green clouds-are just some of the natural landscapes that players will appreciate. Solar Ash is a psychedelic visual enjoyment full of colors.

Ultravoid is divided into various vast biomes, and the fragments of these worlds may have been consumed for hundreds of millions of years. Everything is designed to emphasize the main selling point of the game: the high-speed platform. When designing the Hyper Light Drifter, Preston originally wanted the game to have fast traversal elements. However, due to Drifter’s more limited scope and focus on its more powerful combat aspects, these ideas were put on hold.

Rei is the incarnation of agility, using a form of skating to elegantly explore Ultravoid, which Preston said was inspired by Tony Hawk’s professional skaters, Jet Grind Radio and Super Mario 64. Especially for Mario, Preston is mainly fascinated by the speed runner chain and the action of the plumber to complete the game in a fast way. “Watching the speed race and how they did it, it was a process. It was very inspiring for me,” Preston said.

In addition to skating and jumping, Rei can also run in on the track and use a convenient lasso to hook the grab points and pull himself through the gap. Solar Ash is about movement and the flow of traversal, and Preston hopes to seamlessly connect these movements to overcome obstacles and feel as satisfying as it seems. It looks so cool that missing a jump can hurt yourself, but fortunately, due to the lack of fall damage, nothing else.

Along the way, various monsters will appear and hinder Rei’s progress. They do not pose serious challenges; you can knock them down with just a few clicks. Also don’t expect to learn new combined strings or anything similar. Heart Machine wants to keep the player moving, so the battle consists of simple hacking elements, while using speed boosts and dodge to defeat the enemy before returning quickly to explore. Since you may still be in the middle of the platform while fighting, the depth comes from how the player integrates the environment into their offense.

“We threw a bunch of things at you during the platform challenge to improve it,” Preston explained. “So, this is a fusion between their environment and the individual mob or the mob themselves. We are trying to balance this interaction and intersection.”

To this end, in addition to oncoming opponents, it is also necessary to face a large number of flying enemies or enemies who live on the platform for long-range attacks. But in the final analysis, the enemy is more or less a glorified speed bump. They will get in the way, but if you are agile and smart, you can let go of them without losing the motivation to move forward.

In any case, you don’t have time to let the little fish sweat for too long. Your main task in each area is to find and kill its remnants. These huge beasts come in various shapes and sizes, but they are hidden and must be pulled out. To summon Remnant, first Rei must take out Dregs, which are strange eyeballs attached to walls and other surfaces scattered in the environment. It takes some platform skills to reach and destroy them, but doing so will inspire Remnant to reach all its majestic beauty. The remnant we saw was a huge flying snake, protected by thick bone armor, similar to the spine.

Of course, getting the beast to show up is the easy part. The real challenge is to dismantle it. Defeating this particular Remnant requires Rei to jump on its back and move towards its head. Remnant soars in the air, challenging the player to stay on the ship as it twists its body and tries to knock Rei down. Li gradually jumped and slid forward, taking out the glowing nodes along the way, until she reached the target. Once perched on the skull, she sends a final blow to the head, as a fatal blow, its impact rushes through the screen in the form of black and white flashes, creating a dramatic effect that is eye-catching. Although I saw how Rei eliminated this particular Remnant, Preston said that other Remnants have different behaviors and patterns. In terms of the number of Remnants players will face, Preston just said they will “have a lot.”

Once Remnant falls, a node on a towering device called Star Seed will light up. In every level we see, this strange device can be seen almost anywhere, and the central goal of the game is to activate all its nodes. A visit to Star Seed found that the majestic corpse of the remnant of the soul that had just been killed is now at its base. People will assume that this area will be the final resting place of other ruins, but Preston mysteriously said, “They lie down while lying down.”

The areas in Ultravoid seem to be nothing more than a series of platform challenges, but if you decide to explore around, there are still many secrets and knowledge to uncover. Certain pockets, which Preston calls narrative spaces, allow players to spend time examining ancient buildings and artifacts to obtain information that can be used to construct the game world. Compared with Hyper Light Drifter, Solar Ash elaborated its narrative in a more direct way. For example, it has actual text. Talk to the NPC and they will share a personal story about how they ended up in Ultravoid.

“Our staff has invested a lot of time and energy to enrich and express many different ideas about the events that happened here, as well as the sad or tragic stories that occurred in these different biomes that were sucked into Ultravoid,” Preston said .

Speaking of other roles, Rei will also get help from allies. One of them is Cyd, which is a sentient AI that can provide guidance for each area and background story of Voidwalker. She also made some limited upgrades for Rei. There are also huge, ethereal humanoid creatures seen in the trailer. Rei frequently visits this creature, and its role is one of the most enticing mysteries in the game. However, Preston is not ready to delve into the elements of this story, so this creature is still left to our imagination.

Solar Ash has been in development for four years, and Heart Machine has grown from 10 formal employees during the production of Hyper Light Drifter to more than 20. Most of this increase is the equipping of designers with expertise in making 3D worlds, and although the learning curve presents challenges, Preston said the secret to dealing with these difficulties is to ensure that there are good people on his team. “I think this is the key to me, which is to ensure that you continue to bring in talented and kind people who want to build real stimulants together and are good collaborators… it becomes more enjoyable and easier Take the burden of work. Challenge.”

Of course, for every studio that succeeded on their first debut, there is always a fear of sophomore downturn. As a designer, Preston said that he was anxious about failure like other creative people. He is his own worst critic. Although he is extremely proud of Solar Ash, his fear of disappointing players who like Hyper Light Drifter occasionally raises his head.

“That said, you can’t let it play your best side,” Preston said. “And you must be able to move forward and focus on what is in front of you. It is not possible or something similar. Otherwise, you will spiral upward and you will only be trapped. That’s it. This is a trap.”

Despite these anxieties, Preston is extremely proud of Heart Machine’s achievements with Solar Ash, and firmly believes that it creates an interesting and unique experience.

“No matter how much you score, people are disappointed because the next one is not Hyper Light, or whatever, there are a lot of really cool things here, if you miss it, it would be silly.”


This article originally appeared in Issue 337 of Game Informer.