Journey To The Savage Planet’s Head of Art, Erick Bilodeau, on Typhoon Studios Approach To Design

As I sat down to try out Journey to the Savage Planet at E3, I was struck by its hands off, almost meandering pace. This is a game that doesn’t push its agenda on you, instead opting to let you explore at your own pace. It offers a colorful, vibrant world, packed with interesting discoveries around every corner. Think No Man’s Sky, but with a healthy dose of intention.

The team behind Journey to the Savage Planet impresses. Newly founded Typhoon Studios is comprised of ex-AAA developers, among them is creative director Alex Hutchinson (Far Cry 4), executive producer Reid Schneider (Batman: Arkham Knight) and head of art Erick Bilodeau (Batman: Arkham Origins). With its unorthodox, hands off approach, the game plays unlike what one might expect from a group which includes prior AAA talent. In the short time I had with it, I found it tough to categorize. Feeling so dissimilar to the AAA roots of the team was a welcome surprise.

Erick Bilodeau was available for interview and helped me process my experience with Journey to the Savage Planet. Asking Erick about the team’s inspiration on the project, he let back the curtain on the fun, light-hearted approach they wanted to capture. Originally setting their sites on a serious world, they soon determined that was the wrong approach, saying they really wanted people to enjoy themselves. “If we had fun making the game,” Erick said, “people would have fun playing it.”

Prepare for adventure!
Courtesy: 505 Games

I always try to define “fun” in terms of gameplay loops, the cycles the player is sent through during gameplay. I wanted to know the gameplay loops the team at Typhoon hoped to lead the player through. Erick described the structure of the game as a “loose funnel.” What Erick described to me was a world with equal amounts of structure and openness. This fit really well with what I experienced in my demo, finding a world that presented a task to me that it trusted me to find the solution to. During my time, I found myself stopping to really think through how to get from point A to point B. I found it refreshing.

Starting off at your base ship, you must explore a new planet to determine its suitability for human life. Kindred Aerospace, your employer, touts itself as the “4th best interplanetary exploration company.” There’s a pleasing undercurrent of off beat humor to the whole thing, creating a light atmosphere that’s easy to jump into. Think Galaxy Quest to the Star Trek of No Man’s Sky.

Its very hands off for sure, but being handcrafted instead of procedurally generated gave me just the right amount of push to continue. I always found No Man’s Sky to be apathetic towards me, which in turn dwindled my desire to press on. I found just the right amount of nudge in Journey to the Savage Planet to encourage me, the intrepid explorer. Striking me more than the visuals or the humor was just how alien the world felt. My curiosity was peaked from the outset. I never quite knew what awaited me, and yet the tone of the game assured me that exploration would be a good time. My time with the game was short, just managing to best a large creature near a far off check point. Playing the short bit I did of Journey to the Savage Planet offered me a glimpse of a hand crafted world, with cleverly hidden mystery to be uncovered.

I sure hope he’s a good boy…
Courtesy: 505 Games

The “loose funnel” approach is only helped by the art design. When asked Erick described it as “slightly sterilized.” He continued, “We didn’t want to go full on cartoon, so we came up with that weird hybrid, which is super colorful, but with grain and detail. So we slightly took reality and shifted it away.” The world bursts with activity and color, gently guiding your eyes to points of interest.

I travelled through several different biomes, and sensed a gentle back and forth between player and developer. I had a collection of objectives to accomplished and forewent many of those to just go off and explore. An hour with the game only introduced me to the world, and I wished I was free from the timer. There was an ongoing conversation going on between myself and the development team, which is a feeling that I love. The uniqueness on display here is quirky and strong. I could tell immediately that Journey to the Savage Planet will benefit from being played in the quiet of your home.

In closing my time with Erick, I wanted to know the vision of Typhoon Studios. “We want something refreshing,” he said,”we are choosing a different approach that’s more light weight.” I got the sense that Journey to the Savage Planet is focused on being a relaxing, chill experience. Being able to come home and fire it up for a quick session looks like its forming into something as refreshing as Typhoon is aiming for.

About the author

Thomas played Super Mario Bros at the age of 4. That changed the game for him. DOOM 1993 had a similar affect. He revisits it frequently and it profoundly impacted his play style and preferences. He loves making the connections between games and the people that make them.

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