Super Lucky’s Tale is a platform game that debuts on November 7, the same day that Microsoft is launching its Xbox One X game console. It’s no coincidence, as Microsoft is reaching out to a broader audience of gamers with the Xbox One X, and the platforming title from Playful fits the bill.
Game studio Playful previously launched Lucky’s Tale as a virtual reality game on the Oculus Rift VR headset. Then, it repurposed the game as an exclusive for Microsoft. It might be too much to hope that Lucky will be as big a platform mascot as Crash Bandicoot is for Sony and Mario is for Nintendo.
But it’s clear that Microsoft is investing in the category so that it can capture a wider demographic of gamers. The company is launching other family-friendly titles this fall to reintroduce players to catalog games, such as Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection, Disneyland Adventures, and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure.
I spoke with production and creative leaders Jorg Neumann and Clayton Kauzlaric from Microsoft about Super Lucky’s Tale, and they showed me a demo during my interview. The game cost $30, a price that is lower than most other full $60 games. That’s another thing that makes it more accessible. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: I played Super Lucky’s Tale before at the preview event, and I wondered how you felt about needing a mascot character for Xbox fans.
Jorg Neumann: Paul Bettner from Playful used to be at Microsoft — at Ensemble — and I think we’ve always had a friendly relationship. He came to us and said, “I have this intellectual property. I think it would be awesome for Xbox,” and we said, “Yep, that would be awesome for Xbox.” We really like Paul and his team. It wasn’t as much of a premeditated thing.
GamesBeat: Xbox hasn’t really had that the way Nintendo has always had Mario or Sony has had Crash and the like.
Neumann: We’ve tried it a few times. Clayton was the lead designer on Voodoo Vince [laughs].
Clayton Kauzlaric: I don’t think mascots are ever created intentionally, though. It’s by consensus, by public reception, that they exist. To me the mascot of the Xbox is Master Chief.
GamesBeat: But Microsoft has never really had something like a platform character that’s recognizable or associated with the brand.
Neumann: Probably subconsciously that’s part of why we fell in love. We have amazing cars in Forza. We have Master Chief and Marcus Fenix. We have Steve from Minecraft. But he’s a delightful little fox, and we all fell in love. That’s a better way to think about it than anything strategic.
GamesBeat: As far as repurposing from VR to this — they said they started from the ground up?
Neumann: Absolutely. We quickly realized that the camera wasn’t going to translate super well. The levels were all built on splines with a single viewpoint in mind. You want more freedom, need more freedom in a full platformer for the console.
Kauzlaric: I’ll replay the whole intro since I don’t think this was something we saw. This is an existing save where we’ve already played through a lot of stuff. We’ve unlocked all the levels, all the worlds. Normally, you get to an area and there’s a letter from his sister, giving him a progress update and some little bonuses. … We didn’t want there to be a heavy tutorial or anything like that. You just jump in and play and pick up stuff as you go.
Have you seen most of the sky castle world? This is the hub area now, which you might have seen some of before. Look at the draw distance. I just love this in 4K. There’s the first area, which a lot of people saw in the E3 demo, and then, there are some pretty challenging side-scroller areas. There are burrow dashes, all these little hidden minigames and puzzles. It’s progressively unlocked as you make your way through the world.
Let’s go to Veggie Village. That’s got some good stuff. We have the holiday-obsessed yeti in Holiday Canyon, and, of course, the sad ghosts in Spookington, but let’s do Veggie Village. There are four worlds altogether.
GamesBeat: What was the thinking around having more family titles at this launch?
Neumann: Aiming for everyone is something we feel strongly about. We have fantastic hardware, and it ought to be for everyone. When I had the opportunity — when Xbox One X was being contemplated — I basically pitched, “Hey, we have some wonderful family titles in our past like Disneyland Rush with Kinect. We can bring those back.” As the hardware moves on, it was becoming harder to even play those titles, so I was excited to bring them to 4K, to make them really shine again, and add different interfaces. You can play with a controller on Xbox or still the Kinect if you want to and on PC with mouse and keyboard. Any way you want to play those classic games is possible again. I’ve always felt like Disney things stand the test of time so well. Now, they’ll be available forever.
The other thing I always say — making home consoles, we’ve kind of fallen away from couch co-op games. It’s a shame. I’m often sitting there with my daughter, and I want to play something with her together.
GamesBeat: The usual thinking is that a new console comes out at higher price, and only hardcore gamers will pay for it. You’re kind of defying that conventional wisdom.
Neumann: If we were just a console manufacturer that might be true, but I’m also excited about what we can do with Windows 10, where the barrier to entry is completely different. You can play them to your heart’s content there. Yes, people who buy them for the new console will see them in 4K, and they’ll look amazing, but they’re available to everyone, backwards compatible all the way to Xbox One S. It was really just down to the desire to entertain families again.
GamesBeat: So, you could have introduced this at any time? There’s no particular reason it had to be now.
Neumann: That’s true. There are certain types of energy we get when we have a launch. We sort of re-contemplate everything. In this case, we thought, “There haven’t been very many family titles in the Xbox One generation.” I was working on something early on, Zoo Tycoon, that was born out of a similar desire. I looked at the launch portfolio, and there was nothing for kids to play, nothing I could play with my daughter. We made Zoo Tycoon with Frontier, and now, we’re revisiting that with Ubisoft. We have four games that families can play together.
GamesBeat: Would you say this is the opposite of Cuphead as far as difficulty goes?
Kauzlaric: [Laughs] We really worked hard with our feedback, as we were play testing and researching stuff with Playful around this game, to make sure that — yeah, there’s stuff for the hardcore to completist. The hidden stuff in the levels can be very challenging to find. But we wanted to make sure that someone just playing casually, someone who enjoyed the sense of exploration, could still have a good time playing the game.
The main path of the game, you only need to find maybe 70 percent of what’s there to get to the final boss. But hardcore gamers are going to have a good time.
Neumann: I think it strikes the right balance. To me, the litmus test is always if the people in the test department say, “This title rocks,” we know we’re going to get the core gamers and other people. They all like it because it’s challenging enough but never frustrating.
GamesBeat: Do you have selectable difficulty levels?
Kauzlaric: It’s built into the worlds themselves. It’s not like you choose easy or medium. It’s more like, what do you have the appetite to attempt while you’re in the worlds and doing the side events? If you just want to get the clover, those unlock the boss doors. But there are also puzzle levels, sliding block logic puzzles, little marble mazes. If you’d rather do some of those and skip some of the really hardcore platforming, you can do that. I’m a completist jerk, so I try to do everything.
GamesBeat: Is there something you wanted to do that was unique among platformers?
Kauzlaric: It’s funny. Is it unique if I say that just playing something that has a nice, pleasant story, that lets me see these worlds and characters — it’s the stock in trade of a character platformer, but you just don’t see that very much anymore.
Neumann: From my perspective, when the burrowing came in, that was a new dimension. You go underground, and there are some really cool timing puzzles.
Kauzlaric: We talked about that quite a bit. What’s the signature move, what’s the thing about the game that makes it stand out? We all agreed that his burrow move — we jokingly call it “land dolphining” because that’s the thing it has — as far as character platforming mechanics, that’s explored in interesting ways. You can find stuff. You can dig up treasure. You can fight certain types of critters that are underground. I think Playful did a great job making use of that move.
Neumann: Their character design is awesome. Everything feels just right. It’s fun. You start exploring this world, and there are always little details to find, little rabbits chasing you down, little chicks or something. It’s so cute. You don’t see that very often. The craftsmanship is so good. When you walk into their offices, every wall is full of pictures. They’re perfectly named as a company, calling themselves Playful. They just want to have fun. Their mission in life is to make each other laugh. You can feel that in the game and everything they do.
Kauzlaric: As publishing partners, I think we felt like, at every turn, it was about how we could help put their personality in the game. This is the hub area for Veggie Village, with all the little side things unlocked right now. You can go through and do whatever you want. Anywhere in the ground, you can burrow a bit, and you might find a ring of things to explore. We’ve done a little tuning since the build you played in September — the visibility, the core moves, the way you can turn and jump. We tried to sharpen that up a bit. The little kids there talk about side quests. We had so much fun seeing that stuff come to life.
GamesBeat: As far as deciding whether to do this as a third-party title or an exclusive, was there any particular thinking along those lines?
Neumann: I think Paul Bettner really wanted to work with us. The best relationships are always the ones where we can truly collaborate with each other. Paul was looking for a collaboration. When we had our team put together, it was all people who went down there and fell in love. We never fell out of love. It was one of those super harmonious developments. I think we inspired them to push harder. They delighted us all the time. You see it in the end result. We all love this game.
Kauzlaric: The worms are the best. Also the fact that they keep referring to their nub appendages — this is a kind of exploratory level that pays off with a song. You get to see those guys play this sort of bluegrass tune together with nonsense gibberish talking. To me, it’s all these little details in the world, all those bits of life, all those points of interaction that tell you whoever made this loved it.
There are some hidden things way up in the trees to the right, but those are hard jumps. That’s [what is] meant about the skill level. You can just do the main path on this one, and it’s not too bad, but there’s hidden stuff in the treetops and other nooks and crannies, and, of course, one jump means you fall to your death.
The backstory is that the evil inventor of the kitty litter blew out all the breakers, the concert’s been cancelled, and the Soggy Boggy Boys are sad. You’re finding these breakers throughout the level to let them play their music again. They reward you with a toe-tapping tune. There’ll be one of those levers up across the platform to the left of you. Those floating discs there are the ones you want to cross. The switch is right in front of you on the landscaping. You can just jump over that awning, down to the ground, and it’s in the corn patch up above. I’m just trying to be helpful! [Laughs] I’ve played this game every day for more than a year now, and I still love it. And now, you get to hear the dulcet tones of the Soggy Boggy Boys.
Back to your question about what distinguishes this as a platformer, I think bluegrass music is my main answer.
GamesBeat: Is this the sort of thing that might have ongoing content, or do you see it as a one-time release?
Neumann: Nothing’s announced yet. [Laughs] But as I said, we love it.
GamesBeat: Do you think that’s a necessity these days?
Neumann: I don’t think it’s a necessity. I think people will fall in love just like we did. They’ll want to play this as much as we did.
GamesBeat: What do you get with the hardware beyond the draw distance?
Neumann: Well, we have 4K textures. The Atmos mix is fantastic, too. The sound guys tell us it’s the best thing there is. They were very excited.
Kauzlaric: Ah, I just got destroyed. Again, that’s an optional side path.