EGX: Cloudbuilt's Jet-Propelled Parkour

This new parkour platformer challenges your old-school Sonic and Mega Man skills... in 3D.

Preview by Pete Davison, .

Over the years, a lot of developers have found that 3D platform games seem to be much more difficult to get right than 2D ones.

Cloudbuilt, an upcoming offering from Swedish indie developer Coilworks, is an attempt to look at the situation from a different angle. Rather than specifically attempting to make a standard 3D platformer, a conversation with creative director Anders Davallius at the Eurogamer Expo reveals the approach he and his team are taking, and it's an interesting one.

"We're taking ideas from the old 2D Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man games," he tells me. "We're also taking inspiration from Mirror's Edge, but we're not trying to copy these games; just borrow some of their best ideas."

The influences are immediately apparent as soon as you start playing -- each level is an intricately-designed platforming challenge with multiple possible routes to your goal (Sonic) that is frequently bastard hard (Mega Man) and which requires skillful use of main character Demi's parkour abilities to progress (Mirror's Edge). At the same time, it has a character all of its own thanks to a gorgeous aesthetic that makes the whole thing look almost hand-drawn -- think Gravity Rush, though Davallius notes he doesn't own a Vita and thus has never played it -- along with a wonderful fluidity of movement once you get your head around how to control the main character.

The game's story revolves around female protagonist Demi, an injured war veteran currently undergoing mental rehabilitation. The levels are all the product of her imagination, and thus have something of a surreal air to them, and they represent her working through her various issues on the road to one of four different endings.

"You can feel free to ignore the story, though," says Davallius. "More than anything, this is a game for gamers."

It's an overused soundbite, but it's definitely applicable here: at its core, despite the ambitious-sounding story, Cloudbuilt is a solid, "pure gaming" experience that demands you master its systems quickly and improve your skills over time. There's no unlocking of skills and growing in mechanical complexity as the game progresses -- everything you need to know to navigate the game's increasingly challenging levels is provided to you at the outset.

Demi's an agile protagonist. Not only can she run and jump in traditional platformer style, she can also run along and up walls, then jump off them to get to otherwise difficult-to-reach areas. A "booster" device she's equipped with allows her to double-jump and continue to run along or up walls much longer than she would be able to under her own steam, though its use is limited by an energy bar that gradually refills over time -- or immediately if she collects powerups. Certain challenges require that Demi plan a careful route that takes her through powerups while continuing to boost for a long period, though there are often multiple ways to approach a given situation.

Like many of Sonic's later levels, Cloudbuilt's levels aren't a straight line to the finish. They twist and turn in all three dimensions, frequently double back on themselves and require that you have full spatial awareness of where you're going, where you've been and what Demi's innate abilities are. To help with orienting yourself, though, the next checkpoint you need to aim for is always marked with a pillar of orange light, and the level's goal is marked with a green pillar. If things go disastrously wrong, restarts are instantaneous and checkpoints are frequent, helping to take some of the sting out of failure -- though the more times you die in a single attempt on a level, the greater your time penalty.

That's where another aspect of Cloudbuilt being a "game for gamers" comes in -- although Davallius and his team are clearly pleased with the story and concept for the game, they've also built it to be an enduring challenge for those who like to do more than just clear each level once and then be done with it. At the end of each stage, you're given a ranking according to how quickly you complete it, and each level has a number of different variations available to increase or simply change the challenge. Think you're good? Try it with a fragile protagonist who can't take nearly as much damage, or without the benefit of Demi's weapon that can destroy enemies from a distance. Or just try it again with your own improved skills -- it's the kind of game where the more you play, the more you can feel yourself getting better, until you reach a stage where you can zip through the challenges without having to stop and get your bearings every few seconds. I was initially absolutely terrible at the game when I tried it and wasn't much better by the time I left the booth, but I did feel like I'd improved noticeably, and was apparently only the second person since the start of the Expo to make it through one of the levels I tried.

Cloudbuilt is a game that's clearly been built for computer players. Davallius admits that while there's controller support in the game, it's really built for the faster response times that mouse and keyboard controls afford -- indeed, in the few levels I played, there were numerous occasions where you have to make split-second decisions and movements in order to successfully pass an obstacle, and I can imagine it being much more difficult with a controller.

That doesn't mean Coilworks is against the idea of developing for console, however; when I asked him if the team had any interest in working with Sony as part of the company's big indie push, Davallius told me that he had spoken with Sony on several occasions -- the trouble was, however, that Cloudbuilt's emphasis on mouse and keyboard control didn't make it especially console-friendly. He's not ruling it out for the future, but for now the intention is to focus on the PC version, with Mac and Linux versions to follow if there's sufficient demand for them.

Cloudbuilt's an impressive, enjoyable but very tough game -- and it's all the more impressive for the fact it's the developer's first game that will see release -- although that said, the basic engine was built for an earlier, cancelled project that proved to be somewhat too ambitious for the five-person team that currently makes up Coilworks. It's been in development for a year and a half already, with Davallius hoping that it will see release by the end of this year. Much of that is dependent on it successfully getting through Valve's Greenlight program, however, so if a jet-propelled third-person Mirror's Edge with strong 2D Sonic and Mega Man influences sounds like something you want to play, make with the "Yes" votes!

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Comments 5

  • Avatar for Britler #1 Britler 4 years ago
    How complex are the controls? As in, like, how many different forms of input are required? I'm basically wondering if it would be at all possible to play it on 3DS in the style of Metroid Prime: Hunters or Kid Icarus. People complain, but personally I LOVE the move-with-left-stick/aim-with-stylus style of control, and find it an unspeakable tragedy that we aren't all drowning in a deluge of first- and third-person shooters and other interesting applications of stick-and-stylus control - as, say, this game would be. There's SO much potential here, damnit! (Personally, I'm still harboring dreams of a top-down Zelda that uses the stick for movement and the stylus and L for everything else - incidentally, can someone tell me why they didn't do this for the DS games?)

    Thinking of the MP:H controls applied to this game really is heartbreakingly exciting... it's such a shame nobody is taking advantage of this method. People are confused by Nintendo's decision to do without the right analog slider and the seemingly-archaic use of the single-touch and non-capaciwhatever screen, but, it makes a lot more sense when you consider that Nintendo always intended for the screen and stylus to be used this way, for exactly this sort of precision - like a mouse, basically - and not only for what amounts to customizable buttons and gestures and such.

    I so, so, DESPERATELY wish that Nintendo would make a big AAA FPS for 3DS and show everyone how it's done. All it would take to get the market on board with the control scheme, I think, would be a few quality first-party games in quick successon. Like if, over the course of, say, one holiday season, we got a properly AAA Metroid Prime game (I loved Hunters, but you know what I mean), then something like a new GoldenEye (personally, I'd prefer a new IP for a Nintendo shooter myself, but since the whole point here is to shift people's attitudes, gotta go with brand power), maybe a stick-and-stylus form of Star Fox (by Platinum, please?), maybe something like Nintendo-does-Diablo, maybe even some kind of RTS (maybe Pikmin, maybe something else)...

    (There ARE some stick/stylus equivalent of "twin-stick" shooters on the eshop, but I'd really love it if someone would make a really awesome one, please.)

    Basically, if people got on board wth this, you could bring streamlined versions of all sorts of previously PC-only genres to the handheld world. In many cases, the stylus actually works better than a mouse, while also allowing use of a thumbstick rather than WASD. Basically, there's a mountain of possibilities here, and we're all missing out, and it's a tragedy.

    Anyway, forgive the rambling, I actually didn't have time to write this but couldn't stop it from pouring out once I started, heh... but basically, my point is: everybody go play Metroid Prime: Hunters, and imagine how much god damn fun this Cloudbuilt game would be on 3DS, 'cause I'm totally right.

    (Also, Renegade Kid - of Mutant Mudds fame - have an upcoming FPS eShop game called Cult County that anyone inspired by the above incoherent yet strangely inspiring(?) ramblings should keep an eye on.)Edited 2 times. Last edited September 2013 by Britler
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #2 pjedavison 4 years ago
    The controls are designed for mouse and keyboard, but with a bit of contortion, they might work on 3DS.

    You look around with the mouse and move with WSAD, just like a regular first- or third-person shooter. You jump with space, double jump with space in mid-air, activate the boosters (which allows longer wall-running or dashing) with shift. That's it, really; you could achieve something similar with the stick/D-pad and L trigger on your left hand, and possibly the stylus and R trigger on your right? It could work.

    Unconventional control schemes are interesting, albeit not always successful. It'll be interesting to see how Valve's weird new monstrosity pans out, for example, but you're right, a lot of people underrate schemes like the ones you describe -- as well as the Wii's Nunchuk and Remote, which is actually surprisingly competent for shooters and action games, too.
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  • Avatar for Britler #3 Britler 4 years ago
    @pjedavison Thanks for the quick response. Yeah, that definitely sounds like it could work; Metroid Prime on DS jumps with a double tap of the stylus, which works a lot better than it sounds, though I don't know how well it would work in something more twitchy and precision based. But there are a fair amount of options, which is kind of the point.

    And I absolutely agree about the Remote and Nunchuck, it's such a shame we couldn't have more like Resident Evil 4 and Sin & Punishment. I really hope we still have more of that to come on WiiU. I mean, it's a shame we couldn't have more truly original uses like Skyward Sword, but you'd think EVERYONE could get behind straight up shooting. But people seem to have built this weird emotional block about motion controls in any form.

    You kind of have to applaud (and/or be appalled by) the mental gymnastics necessary for a person to believe that a mouse is "more hardcore" than a gamepad, but that a Wii remote or a stylus is somehow LESS. I've never been able to wrap my head around that logic.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #4 pjedavison 4 years ago
    @Britler The game that made me realize Nunchuk and Remote worked well for third-person 3D games was, of all things, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. You don't actually do any shooting in that -- the remote is used as your flashlight, but it also serves as a means of rotating your viewpoint, while movement is on the Nunchuk's analog stick. It worked really well.

    Sin and Punishment is actually on my shelf from when I took advantage of a local game store's closing-down sale, but I'm yet to try it, to my shame! I wonder if Nintendo will do what some people seem to think they will and ditch the Gamepad in favor of either a "normal" controller or the Wii's control scheme?
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  • Avatar for Britler #5 Britler 4 years ago
    @pjedavison Ooh, thanks for the reminder - Shattered Memories has been on my radar for a long time, I love the remote-as-flashlight idea.

    Sin & Punishment is completely bonkers. It has this way of never, EVER letting up that is unlike anything else I've ever played. For the entire duration of the game, you will literally never go 30 whole seconds without something new showing up, it's just nuts.

    I don't think Nintendo will back off at all from the Gamepad. I'm pretty confident they have some tricks up their sleeves still... so far they've been scrambling to get out the meat and potatoes stuff to get a decent installed base, but once Mario Kart and Smash Bros are out and they can relax a bit, I think we'll start seeing some stuff that really uses the Gamepad in interesting ways.

    I really do hope there'll still be a lot more of the Wiimote, though; it works so well in the right circumstances. Apart from the obvious, like more Metroid Prime, I'd love to see a Luigi's Mansion game that uses the remote, and more Skyward Swordplay - even if they decide to go back to traditional controls for Zelda and have to offload the swordplay to a new franchise - and I would dearly love for Capcom to build a proper Resident Evil game around the nunchuck/remote controls. The scheme they built for the Wii version of RE4 is too perfect not to merit its own game.

    Basically, my little heart would overflow if everyone got their asses in gear and used this generation to do all the things with the wii remote that they should've been doing for the last five years.
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