Molding Breakers: Inside view of Hyper Light Breaker

Early in my interview with Heart Machine’s founder and creative director, Alex Preston, he corrected me on an important detail about Hyper Light Breaker. I referred to the first few minutes as its sequel, but he clarifies, “It’s not Hyper Light Drifter 2. It’s a follow-up, meaning it’s an installment in the franchise of Hyper Light. So it’s a different game, different cast, different gameplay.” After getting a chance to learn more about the game and see it in action, this difference makes a lot of sense. I would be misleading to call it a sequel, given how different the games look and play.

Breaker is a 3D rogue-lite with a strong emphasis on multiplayer. Players explore an area called Overgrowth, collect weapons and gear, and fight monsters. And while the first Hyper Lite game had a fixed protagonist with a focused narrative, Breaker allows players to create and customize their own warrior, known in this world as Breakers. It’s a completely new direction – something the team is clearly excited about.

“I’m the type of person who likes to creatively do new things,” says Preston. “I feel creatively exhausted if I’m doing sequel after sequel, the same thing over and over again with slight variations.” They express admiration for Image & Farm, the developer behind the SteamWorld games, a series where each new entry is a different part of the same franchise. “I don’t think it’s any different for us,” he says. “In it, we think about what it means to exist in a hyperlight world.”

An ambitious approach

Most Hyper Light Breaker sounds instantly familiar, but Heart Machine has made great strides to make this experience fresh. After learning how to build 3D environments for Solar Ash, the team decided to take things a step further and create Overgrowth: an open world that’s different for every run.

The design process was long and challenging, says Preston. “It’s basically design with math at the end of the day.” Even though the world was procedurally generated, the Heart Machine didn’t want to experience it that way. “We’re making sure that there are still good sight lines, that the 3D world is great for exploring and traveling through. You still have hidden things, you still have objects and objects and enemies distributed, and it feels more handcrafted. And that was the intent. Can you get a better level of design in a procedural world? Ya know, takes some effort.”

Hyper Light Breaker game reveal

Initially, Overgrowth was a series of separate biomes organized in a tiered format, but midway through the development process, the team realized that the tiers could be merged into one. Referred to as “Panzea Shift”, the new approach simultaneously opens up new opportunities in the level design process and condenses some of the work required to make individual levels. Biomes still exist, but now they’re interconnected in a way they couldn’t be before.

“We did something very special,” says Preston. “That’s one of its many unique aspects. And it’s probably its most unique aspect.”

Build a breaker

To explore this diverse world, you need to create and customize your breaker. Preston clarifies that the character creation process isn’t “deep”, but you’ll be able to choose a caste and style the character you like. Players will also be able to customize the loadout to suit their particular tastes; The gun and sword from The Drifter return, but they’re only part of a wider arsenal to pick and choose from. “It’s still high energy, still fast paced,” says Preston. “But at the same time, we have more detail and depth to our combat systems than we’ve ever had before.”

You have to choose your weapons carefully as you fight your way through development. Your character’s main goal is to defeat large bosses known as Crowns with the ultimate goal of defeating the Drift King, the main source of evil in this world. But to reach any of these powerful foes, you need to find and activate beacons guarded by mini-bosses. While perhaps not as dangerous as crowns, Preston says mini-bosses are “still average, average bosses, but they’re more randomized throughout the runs.”

Hyper Light Breaker game reveal

Heart Machine gave us a look at one of these bosses in particular: The Last Master. As a dead, resurrected Breaker, he has a similar appearance to the player characters but is noticeably taller, fooling any Breaker into approaching him.

“(The Last Master) is a reflection of the player character in a lot of ways,” says Preston. “So, they use a lot of the same weapons and loadouts as you, but more specific and tailored to their theme.” The mini bosses will dash and jump just like the player characters and can even climb walls to keep up if you try to get away. They are designed to be as terrifying as they are deadly.

“Teaching players through death is really interesting,” Preston says, ruminating on Roguelike for a moment. “With single-player affairs or other games that don’t have this kind of structure, you’re usually trying to protect the player from death long enough or at least provide them with outs. But with roguelikes, you’re kind of intentionally trying to kill the player in multiple ways because, ‘Hey, runs are runs, and you’re back. And inevitably have more runs’ advantage.

That said, don’t expect Dark Souls level difficulty from this game. “I don’t think we’re ever going to make an easy game, but I definitely wouldn’t say our games are going to be super hardcore,” Preston clarified. “We want to have access just as much as we want to have challenge.”

Creating a community

Preston and the team aren’t keen on demon-lighting because of the war. After years of working mostly in secret on Solar Ash, Hart wants to spend more time developing the machine “in the open.” With a rogue-lite structure, it will be able to push the game into early access, connect more with the community and polish its product accordingly. Because of this genre, the game is “much more accessible in a lot of ways and has a ton of replay value,” says Preston. It’s not a game you play once and put down; Ideally, players can get together with a group of friends to play regularly.

Throughout our conversation, I notice a particular focus on the idea of ​​community and solidarity. I ask Preston if this is a response to the isolation the world dealt with at the start of the pandemic, but he shakes his head and says, “Not at all. It’s something I’ve been thinking about forever.” He says it will be a return to Glitch City, a collective of indie developers of which he was a founding member in 2013. In Glitch City, developers don’t necessarily work on the same projects, but it provides a space for them to coexist while working. On individual projects. It is in this atmosphere that the Hyper Light Drifter was created.

Hyper Light Breaker game reveal

Now, Preston says community is an important concept for Heart Machine as a whole, and Hyper Light Breaker’s multiplayer elements are a clear example of that. With multiplayer elements built into the foundation of the game, the game is playable with co-op enabled from start to finish. When I asked about the game’s inspirations, I expected Preston to list a bunch of indie roguelikes, but he also brings up more social games like Destiny 2 and Phantasy Star Online.

“I think there’s a lot of feeling lately that video games are like modern golf or other ways to hang out,” he says. “The hope is that there will be some element here that makes it feel like you’re hanging out with friends.”

Hyper Light Breaker will enter early access next year. When I asked Preston what a successful launch looks like, he had a few answers. They want to turn on the lights, do enough to allow the Heart Machine to make games: both are standard responses. But in the end, he offers one more marker for success, one that explains the game’s core ethos.

“I think (the game will be successful) if it resonates and it makes an audience for itself, not just core Drifter fans. It brings in new people, and it starts connecting friends and strangers online to have fun together.” Preston concludes. “You know, if players can have fun online together, that’s a good marker of the success of this game.”

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