Playtonic launches £175k Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter campaign

UPDATE: £1m stretch goal reached in less than 24 hours, simultaneous console release confirmed.

UPDATE 2/5/15 2.30pm: Yooka-Laylee has surpassed £1m in funding in less than 24 hours.

This milestone will mean that the game will now launch on all of its platforms simultaneously (that's PC, Mac, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One), as opposed to having a staggered release.

£1m had been the final stretch goal mark, but Playtonic has now come up with further features should the campaign continue to rise even higher (which certainly looks likely).

£1.1m will unlock a special "N64 Mode" in the game and credits "GK Rap" video from composer Grant Kirkhope - riffing off the famous DK Rap from Donkey Kong 64. £1.2m will add a developer walkthrough and video commentary for the game.

Earlier stretch goals zoomed past ensured the game will launch with a co-op mode plus 2-4 player local versus mode with eight mini-games, boss battles on every level, a special quiz show challenge level, character transformations, and more NPCs.

Playtonic has also had to continually open extra order space for some of its campaign's higher' backer tiers - some of which had completely filled up twice over during yesterday evening.

UPDATE 1/5/15 5.35pm: Well, that escalated quickly. Yooka-Laylee has smashed through its £175k Kickstarter campaign in less than an hour.

ORIGINAL STORY 1/5/15 5.00pm: Playtonic, the new developer founded by former Rare veterans, has launched its Kickstarter campaign for Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee.

The project has a crowd-funding goal of £175k, and a projected release date of October 2016.

The game's two stars have already been revealed. Yooka is a lovable-looking chameleon who can use his tongue to grapple across long distances and scoop up items to give himself different properties. Meanwhile, Laylee is a maniacal bat who hangs off Yooka's ears and carries him around levels. He can also use a sonar attack.

Yooka-Laylee includes five worlds, expandable levels and hundreds of collectibles. But its team of ex-Rare developers have grander ambitions. If Yooka-Laylee hits its stretch goals, it will launch simultaneously on all of its platforms: PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One. Split-screen multiplayer will also be included.

And beyond that? Playtonic is interested in all manner of things, including potential Amiibo support on Wii U and character crossovers on other platforms.

Eurogamer visited Playtonic this week ahead of its Kickstarter campaign going live and went hands-on with an early pre-alpha version of the game - the one you see in the footage below.

After just two months of development, animations are fluid and the game's Unity-developed environment is already in place. The characters move and feel as they should, while everything from Yooka and Laylee's idle animations to their flapping, hovering jumps shows an attention to detail. And the platforming, collectible-snatching gameplay will be familiar to anyone who played Banjo back in the day.

But there's plenty more still to do, as Playtonic's team told us. For the details of what's to come, read our full interview below:

***

"Rare's about 10 miles down that way," our driver says, as we approach the junction ahead.

If this scene was perfect we'd be at a literal fork in the roads. Clouds would rumble over Rare's headquarters in the distance while, in the opposite direction, Playtonic's new splinter studio would sit, lit up with sunshine.

But this scene actually takes place as we drive through a roundabout during a normal, overcast day in the Midlands. Oh, and our driver for the day is Playtonic's technical art director Mark Stevenson. He's picked me up from the station on his way back from lunch.

Playtonic's studio is, well, a room in which seven people quietly work away on their computers. There are a few hints dotted around the office as to their heritage - an N64 and SNES tucked underneath a TV screen, a Kameo coffee mug - but in this small space sits half a dozen people who worked on some of the best-known console games of all time: Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye and Donkey Kong Country, along with more recent titles such as Viva Piñata and Kinect Sports.

1

Across the hall are other small businesses in other small rooms, and the office of the local Conservative Party group. I ask for the studio's Wi-Fi details and they tell me they have named their local network as 'Green Party' as a joke to annoy their neighbours.

In fact, just days from their big launch, there's an odd sense of calm in the room. Is no-one at Playtonic just a little bit nervous?

"If we had a countdown clock we would be sh***ting ourselves." That's managing director and creative lead Gavin Price. "We all take it in turns panicking for everyone else."

"We spent so long at Rare in such a big company that doing this all ourselves feels surreal..." adds art director Steve Mayles, creator of both Banjo and Kazooie. "I'm bricking it."

"But, actually, it's really easy to make this kind of game," Price continues. "We've made two prototypes for it before. We trust each other to do the right work. We're not in a company where we have to design by committee, or make a version of the game which is dumbed down to porridge."

That said, there will be surprises in store for those who have grown up with the team's work at Rare. Expandable levels have already been mentioned, where you can unlock extra areas by exchanging the game's 'Pagie' collectibles. Another new feature in Yooka-Laylee will be its Play Tonics, which will act like BioShock's modifiers of the same name.

"So we have Play Tonics in the game - slight twists on the gameplay," Price says. "Maybe you pick up the right one at exactly the right time, but your friend may not. Or maybe you just pick one up that makes it look really silly."

Players begin the game with a standard moveset and gain new moves at the start of levels. Additional moves can be learned in any order of your choosing.

"By the end of the game you'll be able to unlock all of the moves and then go back to explore areas you've been to before," Price explains. "The hub world will be like a mini-Metroidvania game so that moves you gain allow you to get to different areas, as well as it just being a bit of a playground to mess around in.

"Oh, and I want to do something really cool at the end of the game," he teases. "I won't talk about it just yet as it will be kind of linked to the success of the Kickstarter, if it does well, but it will expand the life of the game considerably..."

It all sounds ambitious - enormously so for a group of seven. But Playtonic is adamant Yooka-Layle remains their game to work on at their own pace, and any growth in the company will be slow and organic.

"We're back to the old Rare mentality where you want to stay late and work on things so you can surprise the lads with it when they get in the next morning," Price recalls.

"Teams were so small that, if you didn't do it to a good quality, no one would," Mayles adds. "Later on, it was more of a factory line approach where you'd do something and then just hand it off to someone else. It ended up where you were working on games and not really caring about them..."

Playtonic is also wary of signing any publishing deal that may hinder their creative process.

"By now someone would have said, 'you can't have a chameleon and a bat,'" Price says. "They would say, 'no one's done that before! Change it to a space marine and a droid instead, they sell.'"

3

In the future, Playtonic may partner with a digital publisher, but only to handle things like Steam key distribution, things that the team would be "rubbish" at and would only distract from making the game.

Some of the studio's staff left Rare and the Microsoft mothership as late as last summer, with the desire to work on a project based around Rare's heyday and to do it in their own way.

Speaking to Playtonic, we get the feeling Rare currently isn't developing anything similar to Yooka-Laylee - or its staff would have taken the easier route of staying put.

"I think the remits for both companies are so far apart," Price says when asked about Rare's current status. "When you're a first-party company like Rare - the things you can do, the mass-market projects you make with the budgets they can spend - it automatically means that what we're doing will be different."

That said, Playtonic and Rare are still friends, and the proximity of both their offices means that former colleagues can still drop by to see how Yooka-Laylee is shaping up. But Playtonic is now free to do things how they see fit, including launching on as many platforms as possible at the same time.

"Now that we're independent I don't think we should release it on one place before another," Price states. "It would be disappointing if we couldn't, and instead had to release it on one platform first to fund development of later versions."

That said, Playtonic is still interested in bonuses for different platforms, although only when they can be made without owners of another platform feeling like they received a poorer version.

"We've got scope to have platform-specific conversations - even if it is just character crossovers," Price continues. "But I don't anyone on any particular platform to feel like they have a weaker version of the game."

Playtonic is interested in creating Amiibo for the Wii U version, and a potential Rare crossover for Xbox One.

"I'd want Banjo and Kazooie lost in our game. They would have a jiggie collectible, and if you have a pagie we can swap. We could have a Kameo appearance," Price puns.

"Yeah, and people would just ask who that character was," Mayles laughs.

Mayles is the one responsible for the look of the team's leading duo of characters. The process of designing Yooka and Laylee went through a few iterations, but he settled on the two animals fairly quickly.

"We got to the chameleon very early," he says, "but then we needed a sidekick."

2

"We had an idea for a witch at one point," Price remembers, "a witch on a broomstick. But when Steve sat down and came up with these and - well, he's always going to make them look amazing, that's what he does - he can do it in his sleep.

"And with this one, we wanted the characters to really reflect what they can do - because Banjo never did anything bear-y. You originally just drew a bear," he says to Mayles, "no-one told you too.

"In fact, it was originally a rabbit that Ed [Bryan, fellow Rare employee] did - and Ed was bad-mouthing your bear to [Rare founders] Tim and Chris Stamper. They asked him what he thought about it and as it wasn't his character anymore he was saying, 'oh I dunno...'"

"People still talk about that rabbit..." Mayles replies, incredulous. "I think it was only in the game for a day. It had a wooden sword!" He pauses. "It quickly went."

"Anyway, for this Gavin just said, 'you're the character guy, get along with it,'" Mayles continues, thinking back to Yooka-Laylee's initial stages of development earlier this year. "At first I drew a tiger but he was too macho, too much of a hero. We settled on a chameleon as it fitted a lot of moves we wanted, and we had the idea he could eat things which then give him specific properties. So he could eat a rock and become rock solid.

"There are few things people now expect from a platformer," Price adds, "like a double jump and a ground pound. The idea was that we could do that but also do it with nice animations and in a way that made sense for the characters."

The team also hopes to include a split-screen local multiplayer mode, something of a dying art. This may have to be left for a Kickstarter stretch goal, but the team feels strongly it should be included if possible.

"I still love local multiplayer - there's something about screwing over the guy sat next to you," Price laughs. "Back at Rare we used to play Smash Bros., GoldenEye, Mario Kart. We even put a split-screen mode in Banjo-Tooie.

"The frame-rate killed it a bit," Steve chips in, "but we used to break it out every Christmas."

"We used to have the Rare Christmas meal then go up and play it," Price remembers, "and then have the same arguments every year about not knowing what quarter of the screen you were in as it was a bit broken."

Playtonic appears to have a firm grasp on what it wants to do, then, as well as years of experience on how to do it. But Kickstarter has been a double-edged sword for several developers - and relying on player nostalgia has not always guaranteed a smooth ride.

"I feel a strong sense of duty to do it perfectly," Price says, "and do it in a way that makes it better for everyone. People have said to us 'this is the first Kickstarter I'm going to back' so there is a pressure there to do it right as that is the only way we're going to see more interesting games do well on Kickstarter, too."

And if it doesn't work out?

"We'll go back to Plan A - it will just take longer," Price concludes. "Kickstarter isn't life or death, but it will be a bigger scale and on more platforms. And those are things that I really care about."

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Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips

News Editor

Tom is Eurogamer's news editor. He writes lots of news, some of the puns and all the stealth Destiny articles.

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