Originally published on Pixelitis.net June 29, 2014.
After playing Philadelphia-based indie developer Cleaversoft’s EarthNight at E3 2014, I’ve come to the conclusion that stabbing dragons in the head has never felt so right.
EarthNight is a PlayStation 4 runner-type game where dragons have taken over the planet. The remnants of humanity have fled to space, and two unlikely heroes – a 14 year-old schoolgirl named Sydney and an unemployed photographer named Stanley – decide to do something about the fate of mankind.
I wouldn’t say that endless runners have been a favorite genre of mine, although I do enjoy their challenge and accessible nature. Nevertheless, EarthNight stuck out to me, particularly in its visual undertaking and its unique premise.
“From a gameplay perspective, we set out to make the deepest, most beautiful runner game of all time,” Cleaversoft’s Rich Siegel told me after my hands-on with the game at Sony’s booth. “We’ve liked all these runner games on iOS, but feel like they lack depth. They don’t have the kind of depth of a game or what we’d expect from an awesome game. So we set out to make one with a lot of depth. One that is a big step up from everything out there.”
If canceling the dragon apocalypse as a schoolgirl and a hobo photographer already sounds awesome to you, then I encourage you to read on.
EarthNight has primarily been worked on for the past two and a half years by four people, including Siegel, Davey and Chipocrite, in addition to a few part-timers.
On the game’s long development cycle, which originally started on just iOS, Siegel said the small team had “set out originally for a six-month project, got caught in a time vortex. Once we started getting deeper and deeper into development, more art got made.”
“Something I never liked about these runner games is that as you get really far in them, your eyes start to bleed,” Siegel continued. “It’s going faster and faster, you’ve never gotten a break, your head starts to freak out. EarthNight gets very hard when you get close to the planet, but there’s always a break. Skydiving, there’s no threat, it’s just a moment of majestic beauty. Let yourself collect [before] the next hard dragon.”
And that’s what really piqued my interest in the game: skydiving. The game is essentially split into two portions. First, you’ll be running from left to right along the back of a long dragon serpent, dodging and jumping onto creatures as you make your way to the dragon’s head. When you reach it, you have to mash ‘X’ to repeatedly stab at it.
After you take the dragon down, Sydney or Stanley will jump off and the camera will shift to a behind-the-back skydiving mode similar to Pilotwings. In this state, you’ll be hurtling down towards Earth, maneuvering your character towards another dragon serpent gliding around in the atmosphere. Once you touch down, it switches back to running.
Combine this with the chiptuney wonder of the soundtrack, composed by Chipocrite, and it makes for a strikingly beautiful moment, where one can regain their composure before touching down on another dragon and wreaking havoc all over again.
While I’m genuinely concerned about this eventually becoming a little repetitive, Siegel assured me that the game will let you customize Sydney and Stanley with upgrades, which you purchase using the tons of garbage, or “scraps” collected during the runner segments. The game will feature eight “worlds,” which are different parts of the atmosphere as you make your way down to the planet.
The game makes use of only two buttons, one for jumping and the other for “anchoring,” which makes you fall faster when airborne and alters the speed in which you run.
Despite this simplistic control scheme, the two characters differ greatly from each other. Stanley was made with casual gamers in mind. He attacks with a sword and I found him much easier to control than Sydney, who is recommended more for experienced players. Although I found Sydney to be a bit more difficult to control, she has an interesting homing dash move and according to Siegel her control style will ultimately feel more satisfying to those who master her.
The game’s high-res visuals are perhaps its most standout feature. Every sprite and every animation, as well as all the background objects, was hand-painted by Cleaversoft artist Paul Davey. “His art previous to the game is really the inspiration for the game. We’ve worked together on a couple of iOS apps and decided that we really need to make a real videogame based on this art. For him and me, this is our first, like, I’ve made some other little games in the past, but this is going to be our first real videogame.”
Following a positive showing during IndieCade East back in February, Siegel was contacted by Sony about bringing the game to PS4. This led to a heavy crunch period of readying a playable PS4 demo for E3.
“We’ve crunched harder for this than we’ve ever crunched before. This is both characters, a lobby, a menu, worlds 1 and 2 strung together and running on PlayStation 4, which we’ve never done before.”
EarthNight is expected to make its dramatic touchdown onto PlayStation 4 sometime in 2015, with an iOS/Android, PC and Vita release to follow “three months later.”