February 10, 2014 10:15 PM | Lena LeRay
Cosmochoria is going to be the first release from one-man studio 30/30. I call it a survival sandbox, but that isn't quite right. You can plant seeds, but there's nothing else to build, no recipes to seek out and learn, no crafting. Developer Nate Schmold calls it "a love letter to old-school action/arcade games", and although you can see the influence of games like Mario in Cosmochoria, that's not quite right, either. It's more than that. It's a blend of the two genres, combining elements of both with colorful imagery and atmospheric background music to create something fresh.
When the game starts, you are presented with a humanoid, naked but for a space helmet and a jet pack, standing on the surface of a planet in space. You have one seed, which you plant. When the plant finishes growing, which doesn't take very long, it produces one or more new seeds for you to plant. As you plant seeds, the planet's color changes. It transitions from dull gray to vibrant colors while the planet's heart reddens, grows, and pulses more and more strongly. Plant enough seeds and the look of the planet's heart changes, indicating that the planet is "done", in a sense, though you can keep planting as long as there is space on the surface.
When you're done with one planet, you can travel to another and start the process over. Some planets have gates which activate when a planet is finished and will throw you straight to another planet, near or far. You're always free to escape the gravity of your current planet with just your jetpack, though, and float through outer space until you find another planet to cultivate.
You aren't alone in the universe, though. Aliens often come along in flying saucers to harass you with laser fire and drop invaders onto the surfaces of your planets. You have your own weapon with which to fight back, but you can't plant and shoot at the same time and if too many aliens share the planet's surface with you it gets hard to dodge. Occasionally you'll have boss enemies, such as huge, fire-breathing space worms, come through. When destroyed, aliens drop crystals which can be collected and used to purchase permanent upgrades and one shot defensive items between games.
And you play many games, since if your lose all of your health, it's game over. A finished planet can heal you, though doing so makes the planet's color start to fade again. Planting more plants will give a planet more life to heal you with, but if there's no more room for plants then there's no way to get more life out of it.
When I commented to Schmold on how that could be seen as an eco-friendly metaphor, he said that he'd seen it as more of a spiritual theme until he started showing the game to people. "I knew I wanted the essence of the game to be 're-establishing life'. Plants made sense to me even from early on because I had the idea for the mechanics of 'planting' then 'waiting while it grows', so it seemed to be the most organic/natural way for that to take place, where you could effectively establish the initial seeds and then leave the planet while it finishes growing. The whole 'bring life back to the galaxy' thing is treated in the game not so much like a 'we must do our part', but I want it to almost have this mysticism to it... like in another universe, this little naked dude could be thought of as a god as he is essentially bringing life to these planets." Schmold isn't religious, he says, but he wanted to incorporate the idea that planting these seeds could lead to the existence of new civilizations millions of years down the line, to give more importance to what the player was doing.
As for why the player avatar is a "naked pink guy", Schmold says it came about almost accidentally. "The original sprite I had was more of a space man, but after I started going through some art revisions from more of a comic book style to more of a vectory soft style, I did the 'body' of the naked guy, thinking I could then dress him. When I had the body done, I wanted to see what he would look like with a helmet on and when the helmet was placed on him it was like, 'That's it. He's perfect,' and [I] just ran with it. I even drew a penis on him originally, but thought it might be best to keep that out of visibility, so he's a little asexual now."
One of the things Schmold wants to add to the game is unlockable costumes for the naked pink guy, but he's very adamant about the game never having microtransactions. "I remember the old school NBA Jam or Killer Instinct days," he says, "when new costumes/new characters/etc. could be unlocked as a reward for skilled playing or for entering a super long unlock code, not as a reward for giving [developers] more money, so that's what I envision as the game gets more developed."
Schmold is aiming for a PC release across Windows, Mac, and Linux this fall, though the price of the game is currently up in the air. He'll be running a Kickstarter in April which, if successful, will allow for the game to have greater scope. He wants to use Kickstarter funding to do things like refine the enemy AI, add more bosses and weapons, and support gamepads."If I can get some support behind it, it would give me some resources to pour in some more time into all aspects....If the Kickstarter doesn't do well, then I have a basic game I can release in the fall and can work towards updates to the game over the next year to get it where I envision it," says Schmold. "Plus, I really want to explore multiplayer with this concept. Having two players rocking around either in a co-op mission or against each other, either locally or remotely, [is] really something [I've] wanted since day one. But without some financial support, it would likely be years before I could get something together I'm happy with, just due to the amount of work involved."
If you're interested in supporting Cosmochoria now, however, you can vote for it on Greenlight.