Lumo: An Interview with Gareth NoycePlatforms: PC
, an isometric platform puzzler has been, in the words of its creator, “bubbling away for the past two years”. Gareth Noyce, sole developer of Lumo, is a charming, personable chap, his voice on our Skype call bearing little of the weariness or nerves you’d expect as his project nears completion. “With these things you have no idea what the reaction is going to be like” he posits as Lumo, currently in Early Access on Steam, nears full release.
After leaving developer Ruffian, famous for triple-A games like Crackdown 2 as well as assisting on franchise behemoth Halo (in the Master Chief Collection), Noyce chose to forge his own path. Initially he looked to start an offshoot with a few other Ruffian team members, creating mobile games. No clear idea of what to do it essentially boiled down to a desire to create something with which he felt personally satisfied. Rather than remain at Ruffian and move on to the next AAA project, Gareth felt that the “universe was pointing me towards something”. That something would be find him shuffling emails and juggling spreadsheets - standard procedure in game development - only now it would be from his home.
Downsizing from a massive team to one person saw Gareth learn a great deal from scratch. He had no in-depth knowledge of Unity, 3D modelling. Neither did he know all that much about animation, also learning rigging, skinning and all manner of other tools vital to development. Working within British game development, coupled with his love of some of the pioneering games of the 80s and 90s inspired the direction he was to take - towards Lumo.
While developing Gareth made sure not to revisit any of his favourite games of yore. Despite being inspirational and key to the tone of Lumo, he wanted to imbue his game with the irreverence, humour and charm of titles like Head Over Heels (the first title he ever bought) without running the risk of accidentally copying anything. More a tribute than verbatim. Of course, some things did make the leap, if only as nods to games that meant so much to him - the spikes in Lumo are part-and-parcel taken from Equinox.
“When building a core platformer it’s also hard not to be influenced by genre titans like Mario” Noyce opines, explaining how he tried to steer clear of repeating tried-and-tested formula. “Likewise, when your game is set in dungeons with puzzles it’s difficult not to get Zelda in there”. Nevertheless, Gareth avoided those traps by focusing on other parts - one such being the “language of Lumo”. Establish the tone and the game would follow.
He specifically wanted to make a fundamentally British game. “Most games are made with an American market in mind, except perhaps for Fable. I wanted to go for a more parochial aspect” Gareth tells us. He explains how the games of the 80s felt like extensions of their culture of origin. “UK games were very UK, Japanese games felt Japanese. The whole industry was celebrated in magazines - there were these distinct personalities. Now there are newer, better things, but I wanted to doff my cap towards these era”.
Of course, games of the 80s and 90s had personality but were also bastard hard at times. Noyce is keen to smooth off the harder edges of the time - creating a “modern game in an old school skin”. Of course there are homages also; hidden warp zones in the game feature tributes to Q*bert, Marble Madness and more, although it won’t be ruined by a lack of checkpoints or crippling punishment for failure. Gareth’s personality is in there too - his girlfriend recognises his bad jokes that are in there, as are some terrible puns and in-jokes borne from underground development.
The soundtrack is personal too, a down tempo, ambient score from Dopedemand - a friend of Gareth who deviated slightly from the brief for something ‘Orbit-esque’. “It was better than what I had in my head” says Gareth, “it’s different from anything you’ll hear in other games”. Now in the final push towards completion, the fun part is over. It’s all getting it working with Steam - “the last 10% is 90% of the work!” he says, “But I’m in a happy place right now.” After a feature on Eurogamer and exposure at a few, select public showings he’s still nervous to its reception. “There’s been loads of positive reaction and it’s nice to get feedback - you can never guarantee anything with these things…”
The game itself looks great, encouraging spatial awareness as much as puzzle solving and platforming. There’s no need to be pixel perfect in timing jumps, nor does it feel basic. Noyce is pleased too and already has ideas for what comes after Lumo. “There are some ideas in there - I kind of know what I’d like to do. Perhaps I’ll take a busman’s holiday” he says. Looking at Lumo, he’ll certainly deserve it.