Hyper Light Drifter
|Hyper Light Drifter|
|Release||Windows, OS X, Linux
|Mode(s)||Single-player, multiplayer (Beta)|
Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action role-playing game developed by Heart Machine. The game pays homage to 8-bit and 16-bit games, and is considered by its lead developer Alex Preston as a combination of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo. Preston originally launched Kickstarter funding for the title for approximately US$27,000 to develop the title for Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux computers, but ended up with more than US$600,000, allowing him to hire more programmers and artists, and expanding the title for console and portable platforms through stretch goals. Though originally scoped for release in 2014, various improvements in the game and issues with Preston's health set the release back. The Microsoft Windows, Linux and OS X versions were released in March 2016, and the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions in July 2016.
Gameplay and story
Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action role-playing game fashioned after The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, rendered in a pixelated style comparable to Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. The player controls the Drifter, a character that has access to technology that has long been forgotten by the inhabitants of the game's world and is suffering from an unspecified illness. The story concept was inspired by lead developer Alex Preston's heart disease, and has been likened by others to Studio Ghibli's Castle in the Sky, while Preston cites the studio's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind as inspiration for the game's world.
The Drifter is equipped with an energy sword, but can gain access to other modules that expand their weapon and ability arsenal. These often require power from rare batteries scattered around the world. Weaponry includes traditional console role-playing game archetypes, including long-range guns and area attacks. Rather than scavenging ammunition from the game world to load the player's guns, the player's ammunition instead charges when hitting enemies with the energy sword. The player faces increasingly difficult monsters, both in number and ability, requiring the player to hone their tactics to succeed in the game. Preston's goal was to replicate the experience of playing on the SNES, noting that the unit had "amazing, almost perfect games designed for limited environments" which he challenged himself to simulate in Hyper Light Drifter. One feature of SNES games that Preston captured is that there is no spoken dialog, placing more emphasis on the game's music and visuals to tell a story.
Hyper Light Drifter is primarily based on the vision of its key developer, Alex Preston. Preston had been born with congenital heart disease, and throughout his life has been hospitalized with digestive and immune-system issues relating to this condition. While in college, Preston had used the mediums of painting and film to illustrate his experiences with frail health and near-death conditions.
Preston envisioned Hyper Light Drifter as a video game as a means "to tell a story [he] can identify with, expressing something personal to a larger audience, so [he feels] more connected and have an outlet for the many emotions that crop up around life-altering issues". Further, he had yearned to develop a game that combined the best elements of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo for many years, which would feature world exploration and combat that required some strategy by the player depending on foes they faced. After several years of being an animator, he felt he could do so in 2013. The theme and story for the game, featuring a protagonist suffering from a terminal disease, is meant as a metaphor for his own health.
Preston originally set out to make the game for Windows, OS X, and Linux computers, and started a Kickstarter campaign in September 2013 to secure US$27,000 in funding to complete the title. Prior to starting the campaign, Preston had secured the help of programmer Beau Blyth who created titles like Samurai Gunn, and musician Disasterpeace, who worked on the music for Fez. He opted to develop the game under the studio name Heart Machine as an allegory for the various medical devices he often needs to track his own health, and to use for future projects following Hyper Light Drifter.
The project funding was exceeded in a day, and quickly grew over US$100,000 within a few days of its launch. To encourage additional funding, Preston created new stretch goals, including additional game play modes, more bosses and characters, and expanding the release to include the PlayStation 4 and Vita, the Ouya, and the Wii U consoles. These goals were all met by the completion of the campaign, with more than US$640,000 raised. Preston stated that he had had these additional platforms in mind when first launching the Kickstarter, but did not want to overpromise what he felt he could deliver. The additional funds have helped Preston hire additional developers to aid in porting the game to these additional consoles.
The game was originally set for release in mid-2014, but was delayed until the second quarter of 2016, due to the expanded scope of the game, the need to perfect the game before its first release, and the lead developer's health issues. Preston found help from several developer friends around the Los Angeles area. He and a number worked together to build out Glitch Space, a small open office space for small developers to work from and share ideas with others. Besides his own team, Preston got frequent help from developers Ben Esposito (Donut County), Brandon Chung (Blendo Games), and Ben Vance. Preston was also encouraged by letters of support he got from people across the globe after reporting on some of his health conditions. The letters influenced Preston to alter the story in Hyper Light Drifter as to not make it about a problem facing a single character but something shared by many.
With the most recent delay announced in August 2015, Heart Machine said that they will plan to release the Windows and OS X version first with the console versions shortly thereafter once they clear the console certification processes. The Windows and OS X versions were released on March 31, 2016. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions were released on July 26, 2016. In February 2016, Heart Machine revealed that there are currently contractual issues between Nintendo and YoYo Games, the developer of the GameMaker: Studio engine, beyond their control that may prevent the game from being ported to the Wii U, and while they hope they can offer this platform at the end, they have considered the Wii U version "in limbo."
Several patches have been applied to the game since its initial release. One of these patches made the game slightly easier, in response to feedback about the game's difficulty. This patch made a number of minor changes to the game, most notable of which was the addition of a brief period of invincibility when the player uses the Dash mechanic. The reduction in difficulty led to debate amongst the game's fan community, split between those who liked the new patch, and those who preferred the old, more challenging version. Three days after this patch, the developers re-balanced the game to add back some of the difficulty.
A mode featuring two-player co-op gameplay was planned during the initial development of the game, and was intended to be a feature at launch, but it was cut due to time constraints. On April 27, a beta version of the co-op mode was released. An update that went live on May 5 fully implemented the co-op multiplayer feature in the game.
In September 2016, Preston announced that they had to cancel the planned Wii U and Vita versions, offering those backers the ability to redeem the game on another system or be refunded if desired. Preston cited issues with rebuilding the game from the ground up on these systems due to issues with GameMaker Studio on these platforms, noting that it took six months to get the game ported to PlayStation and Xbox. The ongoing issues between Nintendo and YoYo Games were yet resolved at this point. Preston also had further concerns on his own health, putting his well-being as a priority.
Hyper Light Drifter received generally favorable reviews, holding a score of 84/100 at the review aggregator Metacritic. Common praise has been given to the game's visuals, sound design and combat mechanics. Kyle Hilliard of Game Informer awarded the game a 9.5/10, claiming that the game "has already positioned itself as one of the best experiences of the year." Brandin Tyrrel of IGN called the game a "gorgeous, trendy hunk of stylish old-school sensibilities mated with the iconic hues of pixelated indie charm." Christian Donian of Eurogamer praised the game's "intoxicating" atmosphere, as well as Disasterpeace's "typical delight" of a soundtrack. Kevin VanOrd of GameSpot cites the game's art direction as "rich and thoughtful," and comments on its "fluid, demanding, and fair" combat system.
Mixed criticism commonly falls upon the minimalism of the game's storytelling method. Tyrrel alleges its "abstract storytelling" is a con, while Griffin McElroy of Polygon claims that the game's story is replaced with "moods," and "quiet moments with constant scenes of breakneck, pitch-perfect action."
The Drifter is a playable character in the Wii U games Runbow, and in the upcoming Hex Heroes. The Drifter will also be added as an expansion character in the board game Kingdom Death: Monster.
|2016||Independent Games Festival Awards 2016||Excellence in Visual Art||Nominated|||
|Golden Joystick Awards 2016||Best Original Game||Nominated|||
|Best Visual Design||Nominated|
|Best Indie Game||Nominated|
|The Game Awards 2016||Best Independent Game||Nominated|||
|Best Action/Adventure Game||Nominated|
|Giant Bomb's 2016 Game of the Year Awards||Best Game||Nominated|||
|Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences D.I.C.E. Awards||Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year||Nominated|||
|Game Developers Choice Awards||Best Debut||Nominated|||
|Independent Games Festival||Seumas McNally Grand Prize||Nominated|||
|Excellence in Audio||Nominated|
|Excellence in Visual Art||Won|
|2017 SXSW Gaming Awards||Most Fulfilling Community-Funded Game||Pending|||
|Excellence in Musical Score||Pending|
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