As indie adventure Pine Hearts nears launch, NME sat down with Scottish developer Hyper Luminal Games to discuss the game’s accessibility support, themes of loss, and “Souls-like level design”.
An isometric adventure game set in Pine Hearts Caravan Park, Pine Hearts follows protagonist Tyke as they fill out their hillwalking journal, solve puzzles, and reminisce on their childhood memories of the area.
Speaking to NME, creative director Rob Madden shared that Pine Hearts was made following the loss of his father, who passed away from cancer in 2019.
“I wanted to make a game about that experience, but it was important that the game told this story in a positive and hopeful way, and didn’t dwell too long on the actual component of loss,” shared Madden. “I think we’ve managed to strike a nice balance between those things in the game.”
Besides Madden’s own experiences, Pine Hearts also draws on the likes of The Legend Of Zelda and FromSoftware‘s Dark Souls series for inspiration – the former for its puzzles, the latter for their interconnected areas and levels. Pine Hearts‘ Steam page describes it as having “Souls-like level design,” though Madden clarified that the game “uses this design philosophy in a very light and user-friendly way”.
“We think of the world layout as a little layered puzzle box,” Madden explained. “You’ll start out with limited navigation options, but it’s clear that there are things you will be able to interact with at some point down the line. As the player gains new tools and abilities they can start to peel back the layers and create new routes and shortcuts for themselves, to access areas that they couldn’t before.”
Behind the scenes, Pine Hearts has been made with a different approach to many games. The team at Hyper Luminal prioritised making Pine Hearts accessible to more gamers during the development process, rather than revisiting it for improvements closer to launch.
Pine Hearts. Credit: Hyper Luminal Games.
Searra, accessibility lead and UX/UI designer at Hyper Luminal Games, told NME that prioritising accessibility has “definitely shifted” how features have been planned, designed and reviewed in Pine Hearts.
“We ended up building a rhythm of critiquing new mechanics or visual design elements with an ‘Accessibility Lense’ frequently, throughout core development,” shared Searra. “This allowed us to simplify where we could, or to remove any potential barriers we flagged at those review stages. Another new facet to this process was building in touchpoints for gathering crucial community feedback, to flag pain points and validate our design solutions.”
Looking ahead, Pine Hearts is set to launch in early 2024, though an exact release date is yet to be announced. A free demo is available here.
In other gaming news, NME recently spoke to actor and Surgent Studios founder Abubakar Salim about his studio’s debut game about grief.
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