Sidescrolling indie action platformers have been some of the most memorable games of this past generation. Titles like Inside, Little Nightmares, and Planet Alpha have transported players to highly stylized and interesting worlds and have even offered up some great minimalist storytelling to boot. Wishfully Studios, a new start-up indie studio in Sweden, is also looking to enter that space with its debut title, Planet of Lana.
The studio is crafting a new indie action platformer that takes heavy inspiration from games like Inside, The Last Guardian, and even Journey in some regards. When I originally saw the art for the game on Twitter, I thought it was just concept art, but it turns out that’s actually what the game is planned to look like in action.
I recently caught up with Adam Stjärnljus, Creative Director and Lead Game Designer of Wishfully Studios to learn more about his studio’s debut project.
The Escapist: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and give a rundown of Wishfully Studios?
Adam Stjärnljus: I’m the Creative Director and Lead Game Designer at Wishfully. I also draw most of our art that we have so far in the project. We’re a newly born studio based in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Planet of Lana is our first game. Several of us in the team, me included, come from an animation and film background with over a decade of experience of creating creative films in the commercial media industry. Because of that we are a heavily design, animation, and narrative-driven studio. Then we have several people in the team that come from a tech background, and game experience-wise our lead programmer is one of the co-founders of Tarsier Studios.
Ah, that’s interesting. I’ve done quite a few interviews with Tarsier. What kind of films did your team work on?
Stjärnljus: Mostly TV commercials, corporate films, TV show intros, as well as some documentary projects for both international and Swedish clients over the years.
Anything that the general public would have seen?
Stjärnljus: Hmm, tough to answer, hard to know what people have seen. Here’s a link to the production company that me and two colleagues at Wishfully have run before this game endeavour: http://makersonly.tv/
We did a promo film for Republic of Gamers via DreamHack a few years back. Our lead animator Olle Engström has worked on projects with Google, American Express, and many more.
I’ll have to check that out! So tell us about Planet of Lana then. It’s a sidescrolling adventure game from the looks of it, but what’s the story about?
Stjärnljus: Yes, it’s a single player sidescroller. We call the game a “cinematic puzzle adventure,” and the story revolves around a young girl named Lana, who sets out on a seemingly impossible quest to save her younger sister who’s been taken prisoner by mysterious machines. To her aid comes a tiny little creature, Mui, who gradually grows to be invaluable to Lana, both as a collaborator and as a friend. Together they travel across the beautiful but hazardous planet of Novo with its fierce wildlife and exotic ecosystems, toward an unknown destination in the far distance.
During their journey we learn that the two companions are part of something vastly bigger. That their quest is the final chapter of a long forgotten history, stretching over centuries – stemming from a now gone part of the galaxy. Against this dramatic backdrop Planet of Lana unfolds as a coming-of-age story and a story about trust and friendship.
The game seems to certainly be inspired by its contemporaries, such as PlayDead’s Inside for instance. Are you looking to make some innovations with Planet of Lana in the sidescroller genre? The companion seems to be an innovation for that matter. How are they integrated into the gameplay?
Stjärnljus: Yes, we are very inspired by Inside, which I think is an absolutely fantastic game! As well as The Last Guardian, Journey, among others. Also old titles that we grew up with such as Another World and Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. Anyway, our gameplay revolves around logical puzzle solving and platforming, but it’s also centered around the collaboration between Lana and Mui, and this is where we want to bring something fresh to the genre hopefully.
You don’t switch control between the characters. Mui is completely autonomous until you give a command; you can think of her as similar to a dog companion. The constant threat of the machines, fierce wildlife, and unpredictable ecosystems forces the two companions to make full use of their different traits, abilities, and sizes. What Lana and Mui can do, separately and together, and how the planet and creatures react to them individually is the key of the gameplay.
It might not be show-stopper innovative, but we focus on creating a unique package of fun, engaging gameplay, a story with characters that you can make an emotional connection with, and an inviting, beautiful world that you want to experience.
So you keep mentioning that the world is a threat to the player. Will there be any sort of combat in Planet of Lana then, or is it more similar to Inside where you use the environment and puzzles to take care of threats?
Stjärnljus: There will be no combat; Lana is a young girl and can only use her wits and agility to make it through the world. Mui, though small, nimble, and agile, also has no firepower So it’s definitely similar to Inside in that you use the environment and puzzles to get past threats. But you also sometimes can use the planet’s threats to your advantage, without saying too much.
The art you’ve shared with me depicts a lot of varied environments in the game, and what I can only assume is a big boss-like creature you’ll face somewhere in the game. What’s the scope of Planet of Lana, especially considering it’s your first title?
Stjärnljus: For the scope we’re looking to create a 4-5-hour long game for consoles and PC that will feel like an epic adventure in mini-format. Variation in both environments and gameplay is something we will focus heavily on. Regarding the “boss-like creature,” you will meet it, but I don’t want to talk to much about it for spoilers. But we wont have any “bosses” per se in the game.
Where did the style come from for Planet of Lana? It’s super striking, reminds me of Studio Ghibli quite a bit, at least in an aesthetic sense.
Stjärnljus: Thank you! Yes, the style is heavily influenced by Studio Ghibli and especially Miyazaki’s films. The film Spirited Away is one of those films that really left a mark on me, and the tonality and feel of his films is something we want to influence both the visuals and story of our game.
I wanted to make something less detailed than Studio Ghibli’s style that feels more rough hand-painted but still having those inviting colors and general feel.
When do you expect that you’ll be sharing more about Planet of Lana in the future?
Stjärnljus: The plan is that sometime later next year we will let game media play our demo for first gameplay impressions. With that said, we’re continuously updating our social media channels with behind-the-scenes material to let people see our progress!
Are you looking to pitch it out to find a publishing deal or anything? The game is still early in development. You’re not expecting to release until 2022, correct?
Stjärnljus: Yes we’re expecting to release in 2022, and we’re right now in development of a playable demo that we will pitch in hopes of getting funding for the rest of our production. We’re having on-going discussions with several potential partners at the moment.
Alright, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about Planet of Lana today! Is there anything else you’d like our audience to know about the game? Seems we’ll have to catch up again sometime next year when you’re ready to reveal a bit more about what you’re putting together here!
Stjärnljus: Thank you so much for showing interest in our game; it really means a lot to us! We’re putting all our hearts into the development and hope to deliver a unique experience to players when the game is done.
This interview has been edited for clarity.