Can you speak to how the game is leaning into its non-linear Metroidvania-inspired roots?Mikey:

Metroid is such an important franchise to Erich, Justin, and myself. We naturally gravitated toward the idea of little pockets with secret items and interactions, and to our horror, we started to realize we were designing a complicated lock+key Metroidvania game. Our initial reaction was that we couldn’t do something as complex as a Metroidvania, given the team size and all the constraints we were under as an indie studio, but we just couldn’t stop ourselves from adding in little Metroidvania ideas and level designs. We finally gave in and decided to lean into what we all wanted to do and ended up making a game that has a lot of Metroidvania elements while still maintaining a relatively linear A-Story. It was a massive challenge to build in all the potential interactions and all the dialogue the guns might say, given the nonlinear nature of a lot of the game, but we were fortunate enough to get a really dedicated Head Writer/Narrative Director, Alec Robbins, that was able to take this challenge off Erich and myself. Alec went super deep into figuring out all the potential dialogue choices that allowed us to expand more on our sadistic Metroidvania designs.

Erich: At the start, we evaluated the difference between a tight linear narrative game and wide open non-linear experience. Our previous games were very linear and allowed us to hone in on the player’s moment-to-moment experience, control exactly how we wanted the narrative to move, and get jokes just right. We knew we wanted to open things up more, let the player have more choices and more comedy, but we didn’t know how non-linear to go. We wanted players to have choices about what bounties they tackled first and that we should send players back to the same locations so that they could build a relationship with each world. As we experimented with making our missions have branching paths and areas to explore, it just felt natural to use abilities to gate off things for return visits, and we found ourselves making something we loved, a Metroidvania-inspired world!

Leaning into the humor aspect, High On Life features companions that happen to be talking weapons. Can you talk about how you designed the game’s guns, both from a gameplay and narrative perspective?

Narrative Director Alec Robbins: The talking guns—we call them Gatlians—went through a LOT of iterations. We modeled them a bit after RPG party members, where they’re your adventure crew, and they speak for the player when you’re interacting with NPCs. It took a while for us to figure out how to handle dialogue and how to work within achievable constraints. There are moments in the game that change depending on which guns you have available, and each gun has different reactions to some of the story beats as you come across them. When picking which gun to equip, you’ll be thinking about both their personality and their combat mechanics. Sometimes, I want to chill out and hang with J.B. Smoove’s character, Gus, who’s really chilled out and friendly. Other times I want to hear what Tim Robinson’s character, Creature, might say; he’s more of a wildcard. It’s all about flavor; some players might only use Creature when necessary for progression, and they’re going to have a very different textural experience from players who use him all the time.

Mikey: We started off on paper, sketching out a ton of gun ideas. The looks of all the guns were based on their potential gameplay mechanics. Erich, Justin, and I sat down and went through all the concepts and cherry-picked ideas we liked until we whittled the guns down to something manageable enough to prototype. Erich started prototyping the guns, and everything just slowly evolved as the game changed. Once Nick Weihs, our Technical Director, took over combat design and iteration, we started to land on really solid mechanics for the guns. We went through a couple big design changes on the guns throughout the project, but the core stayed mostly the same as the initial pitches.

Erich: A lot of the gun ideas started from: We want this gun archetype; what would be funny or interesting if it had a personality? Is an SMG super aggro because it’s spitting bullets out constantly? What if a sniper rifle told you to shoot at the wrong targets? What if a grenade launcher shot its own children and was really proud when they blew up? But not all of the guns had so much careful thought put into them – one gun, in particular, came out of Justin just repeating a phrase over and over, and we thought it was so funny we based a whole gun around it. When it came to gameplay, we spent a lot of time figuring out how to weave the guns’ style, their personality, and their utility into the game. Early on, we knew we wanted the guns to not just shoot but also have “abilities” that extended beyond combat. We iterated for a long time on how those abilities would be connected to the guns and how they would control. At one point, the guns even kept track of how much you used them and would level up their abilities + their relationship with you over time. While this was fun, it felt a little too “gamey” for our style, and we opted to keep the gun’s personal development directly tied to the story.

Source: Unreal Engine Blog

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