Dreamview Ahead: PROTOLAND
Jewel-toned skies, 3D platforming, crunchy gunplay, glittering particles, and dreamy bubbles of bullet-time? First-person shooter PROTOLAND isn't the kind of game we usually expect from Paulo-Lameiras. It turns out, for the creator of 2D Dreams hits such as Cyber Trigger and the Impy-winning Solar Blast, that's kind of the point.
In some ways, this pulse-pounding demo - which debuted in time for our DreamsCom '22 dev session(opens in new tab) streams, and is playable in Dreams right now - is part of a mission to make up for lost time. Here, its Portuguese developer talks to The Impsider about PROTOLAND's inspirations, the jump from 2D to 3D - and how Dreams has been the key to fulfilling a lifelong wish.
(Requires that you own Dreams)
How did you become interested in developing games? And how did you discover Dreams?
Videogames have always been a passion for me, but back in the ‘90s, there weren't many tools to learn and grow by ourselves [as game designers]. Until not long ago, game design was not a reliable option here in Portugal, so I ended up following a different career. When Dreams was announced in 2013, immediately I saw its potential and the opportunity to materialise that old dream - so my game design journey started the day the Dreams beta was released.
You’re well-known for your 2D pixel and retro games in Dreams. What is it about retro-style games that you find enjoyable or inspiring? Are there any retro games that you feel had a particular impact on you?
I love modern gaming, so I would say that my inclination to create retro games has mostly to do with my personal experience and nostalgia factor. I grew up playing ZX Spectrum, Amiga 500, Megadrive, etc, and always dreamed about making my own versions of those games and genres. It's happening now :)
How would you define your personal style as a game developer? What is most important to you when making your games?
I don't think that I have a particular style - I just like beautiful and intriguing things. For better and worse, I also have an obsession with polish, and wouldn't release something that wouldn't at least match my own standards. I usually spend the first months working exclusively on mechanics and gameplay, and keep graphics and level design for last.
In between, I spend dozens of hours on testing alone. I'm an anxious person, so this is the way I’ve found to guarantee that I'll not rush and release an unfinished game. From Dreamers’ feedback and my own experience, I try to avoid decisions that tend to annoy players, such as walls of text with too many controls right from the off, long cut-scenes that you can't skip, slow walking through big and empty environments, and so on.
How would you describe PROTOLAND?
Protoland is inspired by the first-person shooters from the early ‘90s: Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM, Quake, et cetera. I want to bring back the simplicity and sense of exploration of those early classics, but with some modern features and effects.
It’s quite a different project to your other Dreams creations. What made you interested in developing a 3D first-person shooter?
I like most genres (well… except rhythm and sports) so i'm trying to cover everything that I would have already made if I had learned game design years ago. In Dreams I’ve created some platformers, shoot ‘em ups, a beat ‘em up, a real-time strategy, a racing game and have plans for many more. My latest games, the pixel art ones, got me fairly popular in Dreams, so with Protoland I'm trying to prove to myself that I can do an equally polished game in 3D.
How different is designing a 3D level to designing a 2D level? What lessons have you learnt?
There's a perception that making a 3D game in Dreams is easier than a 2D one, but for me it's the other way around. It's probably the case if you pick a puppet and place it in an environment, but if you want to make everything from the ground up, a 3D game requires a lot more work. You have to deal with more variables, gameplay that should work in more directions, it has to look good from all perspectives, and players will find more ways to get outside the playable area.
Making a 3D game is more complicated, but that challenge is exactly what I love about Dreams and game design.
The art style is striking - those rippling clouds! - and feels quite different to your other games too, even though it does also feel retro-inspired. What kind of references did you draw from for this art style? What kind of mood were you looking to create?
I really like a mysterious setting, no matter if it's historical, sci-fi, in a movie, a book or a videogame. I think that an intriguing atmosphere alone has the power to create stories and boost imagination by itself, feeding our will to investigate and explore the environment around us.
I also prefer simplicity over chaos; too much noise that is not part of the level itself kills the atmosphere for me. That is why I always go for a simple HUD, a clean image, and not too exaggerated light sources.
There are a few different weapons available in PROTOLAND’s demo, and they all feel noticeably different to shoot. What’s your approach to giving each gun its own identity or ‘feel’? Do you have any top tips for other people who might want to make a gun feel good in Dreams?
I'm trying to balance quantity and diversity. There are not that many, but you will find the 'typical' ones (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle and a very powerful special one).
As for the combat feel, I have added everything that came to my mind that could help, from 'in scene' sounds, screen shake, controller vibration and lots of effects. I think that special effects and physically based particles add a lot to impact and fun factor. Since I created a ‘freeze’ system for this game, now I'm making experiments with a slight stop every time an explosion triggers. It's subtle, but I think it adds some more power to every explosion.
How does it feel to make a first-person shooter in Dreams? What are the advantages of using this engine, and what are the big challenges?
I don't have experience with other tools to compare with, but from what I understand, being comfortable with Dreams definitely helps to get into other scripts more easily. The principles are the same, but Dreams has the advantage of being an all-in-one. You can go from creating logic, music, sculptures, animations, sharing your stuff and playing other people's creations in a matter of seconds. It's fast but also very versatile.
The only challenges I face with Dreams are related to the thermo, but trying to go around limitations with optimisation is part of the fun.
What are your plans for the rest of PROTOLAND? How many levels can we expect, and when do you hope to release the full game?
My original plan was to make one big level in a single scene, like I did with my previous projects, but soon I realised that it would be impossible (the small demo level already maxes the thermo!). It will be a multi-scene game with five levels and an arena, and it's planned to be released this autumn.
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