Published on October 22nd, 2014 | by Nich Maragos0
Notes From Indiecade: EarthNight
I’ve never been much for runner games. I’ve given the genre classics a try, but Canabalt never engaged me for more than a few minutes, and Bit.Trip left me cold despite its musical whimsy. So it surprised me quite a bit when I found myself ranking Cleaversoft’s upcoming runner game, EarthNight, up there with the best of what I played at Indiecade.
EarthNight’s odd premise has you playing either as the bald, bearded Stanley or the young, pigtailed Sydney in a propulsive quest to slay the dragons that have taken over the world. One at a time. From space. “We were aiming from the start to create the most engaging epic runner game ever created,” says Cleaversoft lead designer Rich Siegel. “To do this, we really wanted to create a sense of scale and presence in a world that is larger than the small part that you are running on. Our first three worlds are the Thermosphere, Mesosphere and Stratosphere.”
The game begins when your chosen character jumps out of their junker spacepod and begins falling to the planet’s surface through a sky absolutely choked with dragons. The skydiving portions represent the game’s level select, explained thus by Cleaversoft lead developer Rich Siegel: “Each different colored dragon represents a different set of levels. In the final game there will be multiple versions of each color dragon, but they still maintain the same theme.”
Once you land on a dragon, you’ll start on its tail end and advance inexorably toward its head. This is the part that had me hooked, right from the start. Where Canabalt has a fugitive feeling, always on the run from whatever’s chasing you, and Bit.Trip Runner wallows in the rainbows and blips of retro video games, EarthNight has more of a headlong, punk rock vibe to it. You’re always dashing forward to your objective, or down to the next dragon, giving the game a propulsive, driven, angry feel. This, after all, is a game where every level ends in a tiny human punching a dragon in the skull until it dies, then jumping off to freefall onto another dragon.
“Each character has two-button controls, which seems simple but really requires a lot of skill to master,” says Siegel. “Sydney’s controls feel very counterintuitive at first but once you get a feel and get accustomed to her, it’s very satisfying and gives a skilled player very precise control.” I loved Sydney for the opposite reason. The feeling of controlled chaos that already exists in the game, which perfectly expresses those punk overtones, is only amplified when playing as Sydney, whose special “anchor” button increases her velocity even further. As much of a handful as she can be to control, I gravitated to her for the same reason I field Wyldside in most of my Android: Netrunner decks: that giddiness of more, faster, now.
The dragon you choose as you fall does matter, according to Siegel. “In the first world, for example, the blue dragon is pretty easy and has opportunities to get health back, while the black dragon is absolutely brutal. It’s up to the player how they’ll traverse the world. The game can be beat only running on four dragons, but without the powerups from certain dragons it would be very hard. A standard run would be between eighteen and twenty-five dragons on the way to Earth.”
Though EarthNight is described on its website as “a roguelike runner,” don’t assume its procedurally generated levels mean it’s nothing but a score attack. “There is absolutely an endgame, with the planet’s surface being the final world,” Siegel clarified. “EarthNight is the name of the final world and the destination you are trying to get to. Players will skydive all the way from space down to the planet’s surface. Goals change over time. The first goal is to kill one of each type of dragon to unlock all of the items in the game. After that, players will be going for wins, special wins, time attacks, all sorts of different runs depending on your play style. I have high hopes it’s the kind of game that people can play forever. The path to EarthNight is always different and riddled with danger.” It’s never easy fighting with dragons. But what worth doing is easy?