Development Update: Cloud Jumper

Cloud Jumper, the serene new exploration game from Hyper Luminal, is a bit of a curveball from the Dundee-based studio. Their previous game Big Crown: Showdown traded in frantic multiplayer mayhem, whereas Cloud Jumper is about gently sailing through the skies and visiting little floating islands while taking the time to smell the pixelated daisies.

“In a nutshell, Cloud Jumper is a really chill exploration game,” Rob Madden from Hyper Luminal told us. “It’s about exploring the sky. You pilot this little flying tugboat and fly from area to area in the skies and explore islands and meet characters and do quests for them.”

In Cloud Jumper, players are tasked with reuniting a community of sky islands that have become separated by a storm. They’ll do so by completing tasks, crafting materials, discovering secrets and upgrading their ship so they can climb to the Roof of the World.

“The whole point is that you’re meant to try and reach the top of this ancient lighthouse that used to light the sky. It’s gone out and you need to re-light it,” Madden said. “So you kind of jump across areas of the sky and meet other characters and they let you upgrade your ship. That lets you kind of bounce your way up to the top of this lighthouse to push back a storm that’s separated all the islands.”

Getting The Look

One look at Cloud Jumper’s gorgeous candy floss visitas was enough to plant it firmly on our radar, so it’s no surprise that the visuals were a driving force behind the project from the beginning.

“That was kind of the whole impetus for it, to make something that was really pretty and felt really nice to be in. I love Studio Ghibli and classic pixel art of pink clouds and floating islands and infinite waterfalls, and all this sort of subgenere of powerful pixel art, so the whole point of the game was really just to build a world that felt like that. And then naturally, exploration just kind of came from that. It’s like, now you’re in this world, all you want to do is explore it. You want to see where the island is off in the distance and you want to go down into that floating cave and figure out what’s in there. The mechanics and story just sort of tumbled out of that initial idea.”

As well as the tranquil setting and distinct colour choices, part of what makes the Cloud Jumper look so unique is its mixture of an old-school pixel art style with modern visual effects and post-processing techniques. Madden kindly explained a little about how they achieved the look.

Pixelated Perfect

“The core style is really pixelated and that’s directly inspired by the game I love called A Short Hike. We use a very similar principle for how we deal with pixelation. Essentially, we just render the game normally to a really downsampled texture, that we then view that. So the whole game kind of just gets crunched into a little texture, and then that’s what we look at.”

“Then we combine that with higher-end Unity post-processing, like depth of field. That’s really important because the game is so pixelated, so we use the depth of field to kind of reduce the noise. We combine that with some fog and we use a lot of bloom [lighting] and a lot of tone mapping and things like that. And then a tonne of just cool particle effects as well.”

More than just eye candy for the sake of eye candy however, these visual tricks are essential to conveying the game’s living storybook-like feel.

“It’s a whole world set in the sky so we wanted everything to kind of move and feel alive, and the particles and animations are a really big part of that. Everything has trails or has big wisps and sort of flows across the screen in different ways.”

You Can Go Your Own Way

When it comes to the actual playing of Cloud Jumper, players will be able to follow three playstyles: Trader, Explorer or Researcher. These aren’t hard character classes they select at the beginning of the game, but rather flexible roles that players will drift towards naturally depending on their own personality.

“The quests will have solutions that you need to pick one way to solve a problem. For instance, one of the quests might be that you need to help some characters repair their dock. You need planks to repair the dock, and how you go about finding those planks may be different. A trader may go and find the materials and craft them. And an explorer might fly around and find loose planks hidden in the world that they pick up. Or a researcher might use a sort of a relic that they can scan to to earn some money to purchase planks from a marketplace. So there’s three different ways that those types of players can solve the same problem.”

Sandbox In The Sky

In tune with Cloud Jumper’s laid back atmosphere, supporting this kind of player choice is a way of letting the player feel comfortable in the world and allowing them to pursue the things that interest them most.

“There’s a little bit of a feeling of a sandbox. There’s just this notion that there’s a goal you have to accomplish, and there’s a bunch of tools that you have to accomplish that and how you can use those tools is up to you.”

“If you’re a player that really likes stories and the lore of the world, then maybe Researcher would really appeal to you and that’s what you’ll spend a bit more time upgrading. If you’re a player that just likes to uncover every icon on the map and figure out every little location, then Explorer is probably the way that you get in. You’ll spend a lot of time flying around and upgrading along that path. So there definitely is an element of choice whereby players are really free to play whatever they feel like at the time.”

The invetory and trading menus in Cloud Jumper

Silver Linings

So, to recap: Cloud Jumper takes place in a world where people have become isolated from one another because of an unexpected, widespread event? Imagine that! Given that much of Cloud Jumper’s development has taken place during the pandemic, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask how Hyper Luminal has adjusted to the situation. Spiffingly, it turns out.

“We’ve managed it really well. It’s difficult for us, because we’re a really close studio, you know. We’re moving up to close to thirty people now, but when we were in the office we had a really nice big open plan office, and everyone spoke to everyone. And it was really easy to just slide your chair over and see what someone was working on and speak to them about it. So trying to keep up that kind of closeness in that community has definitely been a challenge, because you have to organise formal calls and all this sort of stuff.”

“But I think the team’s done great. I think everyone’s really just kind of gone with it. We just have to be really careful about organising, consistent meetings and things like that. But we’ve doubled in size in the past year, so we’ve been hiring all throughout COVID. And we’ve brought in some great people onto the team in that time.”

Hyper Luminal aren’t ready to talk dates yet, but despite the complications around working from home, things are looking good for launching Cloud Jumper sometime early next year. In the meantime, please wishlist the game on Steam (“the wish list really help with publisher talks,” says Madden) and try to resist daydreaming at gifs of fluffy pink clouds for hours at a time on Rob Madden’s twitter.

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