It’s a platformer without platforms, and it’s both engaging and mesmeric in equal measure. If you think about the PSN game, Flow, but then add in a bit more of a point to things, you’re on the right sort of track.
As with all games that look so enticing, it’s those visuals that draw you in – and Ynglet’s visuals weren’t just a hand-drawn aesthetic: in many cases they were literally hand-drawn. “The original game jam prototype had actual hand-drawn line art by Sara Sandberg which we photographed,” Nifflas says.
“In the new version, we wanted to keep the same style, but with thinner, sharper lines. So, our technical solution had to be different, but a lot of the art is still originally drawn on paper.” That technical solution sees Nifflas and Sandberg using their own graphics software, as existing tools were unable to generate the geometry and UV data required for how the lines in levels grow and shrink, while combining it with sharp lines and a depth of field effect. “Unity has gotten really good at allowing me to import a custom file format as a regular asset, though, which makes the process very smooth,” Nifflas says.
This need to use custom tools isn’t something Nifflas presents as a cross to bear, mind – there’s a liberating effect on development that comes from being able to combine said software with a con-strained visual style: “[That] definitely added the benefit of a lot of unusual effects being really easy to implement,” says Nifflas. “When everything was finally in place, modulating line offset, thickness, blur, and cutting holes became really easy, something the game takes advantage of a lot.”
To go into a bit more detail: “All lines are represented by curvable geometry. But, the outline of each line has two collapsed polygons, one for increasing the line thickness, and one for extending the depth of field. I use up both the normal three UV channels with data for the shader to be able to do this. The ability to grow and manipulate the shapes along the lines emerged naturally, it wasn’t actually something I even planned first.” Simple, then.
And just to throw more technical delight in there, Ynglet is backed by an adaptive, responsive soundtrack – again, a tool built by Nifflas – which plays algorithmic music directly integrated with the game itself. This allows for more of a dynamic response from the music, both to what the play-er is doing and what’s happening in the game, rather than just crossfading/jumping in and out of different pre-baked music tracks.
Nifflas describes the software as ‘needlessly complicated’, and that’s probably not an understate-ment. “In the core of the music software is a node-based system where different modules, repre-sented by scripts, can be connected and pass data to each other,” Nifflas explains. “Such a module can be a sampler, FM synthesiser, or devices for generating/modifying musical notes and scales.
“An interesting aspect about this is how notes are selected,” Nifflas continues. “Instead of using absolute note names, I reference a note in the units of ‘pitch’, ‘degree’, ‘awkward’, ‘approxima-tion’, and ‘octave’. Pitch is a multiplier of the sound’s base frequency. Degree references the note index on a musical scale. Awkward roughly translates to ‘OK, how weird would it be to play this note right now?’
Approximation is similar to degree, except it is not exact and is meant to be combined with an Awkward value. Octave is what it sounds like. So, when I want to play a note, I pick out which of those values I want to supply – they’re all optional – and the system will pick out an appropriate note from one of the active musical scales.”
It’s a system that offers up countless adaptive possibilities for Ynglet, as well as being able to add new chord progressions to already ‘composed’ melodies, or the ability to compose said melody by drawing a maze and having little walking ‘things’ pottering about colliding with other things – every collision makes a noise based on their location, coming together to form a percussive whole.
Beyond just some complex coding ideas and concepts way above the heads of some humble writ-ers, this soundtracking tool results in a game backed by what is recognisable music, but something driven entirely by the player’s actions. Nifflas is aiming for a finished product where the player al-most creates their own soundtrack based on their play style, how risky their jumps are, how quick-ly they reach new checkpoints, and all manner of other factors.
“Something I want to do that I haven’t done yet is make the music dynamically affect the game-play, too,” Nifflas says. “I just recently added support for this. I’d like to incorporate player-driven rhythm elements, where the player both creates the music but [also] has to time their actions ac-cording to what they created.”
The idea for Ynglet might not have come from a particularly grand place – using momentum to jump between bubbles – but the closer we get to the finished game, the more it looks like this will be full of surprisingly high concept aspects. We await its release later in 2020 very much with bated breath.
Genre: Platformless platformer
Developer: Nifflas / Triple Topping
Publisher: Triple Topping