The next big game from Inkle, creator of 80 Days and this year’s magnificent Overboard, doesn’t have a name yet. Referred to by the studio simply as ‘Highland game’, it’s a beautiful, painterly platformer with narrative elements set in, you guessed it, the Scottish Highlands.
The developer has been posting updates about the making of the game over on its website, in an attempt to be more transparent about the development cycle than it ever has before. It’s fascinating watching the team discuss early prototypes and dig into their process.
I recently spoke to Jon Ingold and Joseph Humfrey, co-founders of Inkle, about the making of Overboard, and I took some time to ask them about the Highland game and how they think it’s shaping up.
“That’s a tricky one,” says Humfrey. “What’s interesting about this game is that it’s the exact opposite of Overboard, in that we’re attempting to take a more open development approach. Ever since we finished Overboard, everything has started to go a lot more quickly, because everyone is back on the project. Writing and development is all accelerating now, which is exciting.”
A platformer is something new for Inkle, whose games are usually more driven by dialogue. “It’s unusual for an Inkle game in that there are some very gamey mechanics in there,” says Humfrey. “It’s a platformer that feels quite reminiscent of the old 2D Prince of Persia games in some ways. That’s something that we’re spending a lot of time on, just trying to make sure it feels fluid.”
“We don’t want it to feel like Celeste or something, where it’s super punishing and you have to keep retrying,” he adds. “We want it to feel challenging and have some risk, but not have it be this kind of endless death loop. Finding our own space there is one of our biggest challenges right now.”
Of course, being an Inkle game, narrative will still be an important part of whatever the Highland game ends up being. “It’s part of our wider project of making narrative good and seamless across games in general,” says Ingold. “The thing we’ve always been driven by is looking at games and seeing the way that narratives are so often alluded to, but not engaged with.
“They’re abstracted from the game or separated from it. They’re very much told by association. And the one thing we try to do, whatever genre we’re in, is make sure what’s happening in the story is what the player is doing.”
“If Inkle makes a platformer, what kind of platformer would it make? And it’s not gonna be punishing or inaccessible, or an abstract journey of grief and loss through a surreal landscape, because we don’t do that. That’s not how you make a narrative that’s rock solid. That’s how you allude to a narrative.”
It’s early days for Inkle’s Highland game, but you can follow its creation on the developer’s official development blog. As someone who’s spent a lot of time rambling around the Scottish Highlands IRL, I’m intrigued to see how Inkle translates that experience to a videogame.