One of the great things about the current and previous generations of video games is that you can not only get tons of old games for new systems, but you can also get new games in old genres. Case in point: Lumo, an isometric arcade adventure being made by Triple Eh? Ltd., which Rising Star Games will release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC this April. To find out how it fully embraces the spirit of those ’80s games, but with modern tenets, I spoke to Game Director Gareth Noyce as he played his way through the opening rooms.
In a very basic sense, what is Lumo?
It’s a modern reinterpretation of a genre that, in Europe, we called the isometric arcade adventure. It was started by Knight Lore, which was made by Ultimate Play The Game, who later on became Rare. Touchpoints for the U.S. guys would probably be Solstice on the NES, and Equinox on the SNES. They had a fixed isometric view, since you couldn’t do 3D back then, and they mixed puzzles and platforming with a lot of exploration.
Lumo is not a remake of those games, and it’s probably more along the lines of how I remember those games being. The first game I ever bought was Head Over Heels, which, in Europe, was the most highly regarded isometric game. So when I went solo with Triple Eh?, I decided that I really wanted to make a game that touched upon the first game I ever bought as a kid. So Lumo is kind of like what I think might’ve happened if we hadn’t stopped making those games sixteen years ago, what kind of stuff would we be doing with them now. I’m trying to be very true to the genre.
What is the story you’re telling in Lumo?
I’m not telling a specific story. When it starts, you’re a kid at a retro game show, and while you’re walking around, you get Tron-ed into a game, and find yourself in a place and you have to explore it.
Though before you start playing Lumo, you have to decide how you want to play it. There’s “Adventure” mode, which gives you infinite lives, immediate respawns, it saves at every room, and you can find a map. But there’s also an old school mode that’s like playing it in 1985. There’s no map, no saving, and you have a finite number of lives, though you can find more as you play.
I assume the two modes otherwise the same…
Yeah, they’re the same.
Are there multiple difficulty settings within each mode?
No, just the one.
I noticed that you have a choice between playing as a boy or a girl, and there’s a choice of clothing colors. Is that just an aesthetic thing?
Yeah, it is.
Though we do have different options when it comes to the camera. You can have it leaning left or right, or have it be straight up and down. I figured that some people haven’t played this kind of game in like twenty years, so you not only have a choice of how you’d like the angle to be, but you can test it out before you begin to see which way you’d prefer.
Though I put in the multiple angels because Head Over Heels had up in one direction, and Knight Lore went in the other direction, and when I asked people on Twitter which they’re preferred, it was a 50/50 split.
Okay, now that the kid has been Tron-ed into the game, she’s become a midget with a really big hat, which makes her look like Cartman in South Park: The Stick Of Truth.
That’s a new one. I’ve heard the mages from Final Fantasy, and I’ve heard Orko from He-Man.
I was actually going to ask if there was a reason that the kid was a kid.
Oh, the kid is a kid because I was a kid when I played my first isometric game. And the reason she’s a midget is because being smaller makes the threat larger, and you’ll care more about a cute little kid than a six-foot-tall guy with a beard.
And what’s with all the rubber duckies?
They’re a collectible. I wanted to add more challenge to the rooms, though it has proven to be a good way for people to learn the mechanics. Especially since, if you die while trying to grab one, the room resets.
Are the rooms randomly or procedurally generated?
Nothing in the game is randomly or procedurally generated, they were all designed.
I noticed that you can move the boxes.
Some of them. Only the brown ones that don’t have metal corners. Originally, it was just the ones with no metal corners, but in watching people play the game, it became obvious that wasn’t clear enough, so I made them brown.
And what about that box with the googly eyes?
Ah, that’s the Love Box. If he can see you, he will follow you around, so you can trick him into going somewhere in the room so you can climb up on it like you would a regular box.
Does it do anything if it catches you?
It just sits down.
It doesn’t start humping your leg…
No, but there is a version later on that’s like the punk version because it has spikes, and if it runs into you, it kills you.
I noticed one room where you were getting chased by a giant ball, and the kid even did the “I lost my hat” thing like Indiana Jones. Which is the second movie reference I’ve noticed. Are there a lot of old school game references as well?
Yeah, tons. There’s a level that’s a remake of a level from a Commodore 64 game called Chimera. And when you take the elevator to get to that room, the music is this song that was recorded by a journalist from the ’80s magazine called Your Sinclair. They actually hid the song on the cassette that came with the magazine. So I tracked the guy down, begged him to let me include the song.
There’s also an homage to Marble Madness, another level that’s like the old isometric shooter Zaxxon, a cheeky reference to the maze in Pac-Man, and a couple others. But none of them impact the gameplay. If you don’t get them, you won’t miss anything.
To be fair, most of them were done to make me laugh.
Is there a reason, given the old school gameplay and references, that you didn’t make the graphics old school as well?
Yeah, it’s because I wanted to make a modern game and do modern things with it. I wanted it to have modern lighting and modern physics.
Think of it more as a love letter to the guys who inspired me, and my take on what those games were. I wanted to salute those guys.
Is that why you didn’t opt for old school music as well?
Well, I didn’t want a retro sounding soundtrack, I wanted something different. I was actually going to do the music myself, but a friend of mine, who’s on Bandcamp as Dopedemand, he saw the game and said he really wanted to do the music. I think he did a great job of making it really ambient and atmospheric, kind of like William Orbit.
I did do the death sound myself, though. I originally used the dying sound from the game Space Harrier, but obviously I couldn’t use that sample, so I did my own approximation of it, sped it up a bit.
Lumo is coming out for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PC. Are there any differences between them?
The visual fidelity on the Vita is slightly reduced for the textures, but the gameplay is exactly the same. Though the PC lets you decide which button you use. But then, Lumo only uses only one button.
And is there cross-save and cross-play between the PS4 and Vita versions?
I know there’s cross-save, but we haven’t said if there’s cross-buy as well.
Finally, have you showed the game to anyone so young that they wouldn’t have played these kinds of games as a kid? Y’know, because they are kids.
Quite a few. They love it. They love the character, and they love that it’s different. Not all of them. There is a skill barrier for some kids, but I’ve given out alpha versions on Steam, and gotten a lot of feedback from people who say their kids love it.