Robots In The Skies: What Makes Cloudbuilt Tick

By Nathan Grayson on May 2nd, 2013 at 6:00 pm.

Yes, everything really is this pretty. No, you will not have any time to stop and admire it.

Sorta kinda not really Mirror’s-Edge-ish sprintleaper Cloudbuilt‘s heavenly looks are well-documented, but how does it actually work? That might sound like a silly question to you. I mean, sprinting, jumping, and wall-running? How hard can that be? You eat joggers, gymnasts, and Persian princes for breakfast. But there’s much, much more to Cloudbuilt than meets the eye, so developer Coilworks has released a new video dissecting what its precision platformer is all about. The short version? Looking as awesome as the player does in this trailer is actually much, much harder than it, er, looks.

So basically, the goal is to move as quickly and flawlessly as possible while doing some slight exploration to find the path that best suits you. It’s also a game about using walls for everything except what they were intended for, so you’ll be doing plenty of running up them, leaping over them, climbing around them, and just generally making them wonder if they shouldn’t have instead been a doctor like their mother wanted.

I actually got to play a bit of Cloudbuilt at GDC, and it is – as you might expect – exceedingly tough. It’s simply not possible to stumble through one of the game’s floating broccoli castles and survive by the skin of your teeth. Each challenge demands mastery. I mean, levels are still beatable if your whole run isn’t perfect (you get a checkpoint after each major obstacle), but don’t expect to look like the whir of speed and grace who nimbly danced through the level above.

But, in many ways, finally looking like some kind of neo-Viking marathon ballerina is the ultimate reward for learning all of a course’s curves and dimples. After I intimated a Coilworks dev with my aggressively mediocre skills, he ran through a few areas as though endowed with the eternally supple finger joints of Zeus. A few sticking points aside (yes, the game really is that hard), the difference was night and day. I was jealous. I wanted to be able to scream through the skies like that. And I think that’s exactly what Coilworks is going for.

Another thing worth noting: I remember almost every challenge shown in the above trailer with startling clarity. I even remember the solutions I found for them, though I doubt my flabby fingers could still manage the necessary steps without tripping over their own two fingerfeet. Whether that’s indicative of truly great level design or the fact that I died and had to repeat certain portions a bunch, I’m not entirely sure. But it’s interesting, certainly.

My only big issues were with movement (it felt a little stiff and unnatural) and wall-running, which I never quite got the hang of. The latter fundamentally alters the function of boosting, turning it into a means of inching up and down walls. That’s quite a big change from its normal role as a beastly burst of forward motion, and I had trouble flipping a corresponding mental switch. Moreover, movement on walls was (purposefully) very sensitive, and thick webs of obstacles demanded intimate knowledge of its intricacies. It might have just been part of the learning curve, though. For obvious reasons, I have no way of knowing just yet.

At any rate, Cloudbuilt seems primed to be an intensely challenging, beautifully stylized runner/platformer. The version I played still felt like it needed some tweaks, but there’s already plenty worth getting excited about.

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34 Comments »

  1. BTAxis says:

    Somehow I get a 3D Sonic vibe from this.

    • belgand says:

      I wouldn’t even say “somehow”. My first thought was that they finally found a way to make a good Sonic game.

      Oh wait, it isn’t out yet so my anticipation of it being good perfectly fits into the typical Sonic cycle! NOOOOO!!!

  2. Mr. Mister says:

    So it’s like Distance (or Nitronic Rush) with guns, but without cars and (from the looks of it) ceiling-riding.

  3. Premium User Badge

    skalpadda says:

    I’ll never get used to hearing Swedish accents in trailers.

    The game looks fun!

  4. Flappybat says:

    The pencil sketch shader is really hard on the eyes. It might be more tolerable ingame but the videos did not make it look good in motion.

    • cowardly says:

      Had the exact opposite reaction ^^ I love this kind of sketchy aesthetic! But I can see what you mean, my friend is having trouble with the trailer too.

    • Coilworks says:

      We can’t be entirely sure what aspects of the style you have a hard time handling, but we are aware that the art style is really sensitive to video compressions, and look a lot different in videos with a higher bit rate, and off course in game as well. We are kind of sad that the YouTube compression messed it up as much as it did.

  5. Bhazor says:

    That game looks so pretty and like so much fun there’s got to be a catch.

  6. Felixader says:

    Now put this in a BLAME-like (if need procedurally generated) world with wordless storys told by laying about assets of things, and you will make me really, really happy.

  7. GreatGreyBeast says:

    So, basically Prince of Mirror’s AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

    Looks cool.

  8. The Random One says:

    Does the main character have thrusters attacked to her ponytails?

    • Coilworks says:

      The booster packs are a bit further down on her back, attaching thrusters to your head is not something I would recommend. Then again most of what you do in Cloudbuilt is not something I would recommend doing in real life.

  9. coilworks says:

    Hi everyone

    Really fun to read what Nathan had to say about Cloudbuilt! We thought that we would stick around for a while and if people have questions we can try and answer them.

    • Ross Angus says:

      What engine is Cloudbuilt built in?

      • Coilworks says:

        It’s an in-house engine based on OpenGL and PhysX.

        • Ross Angus says:

          Nice work. I like the illustrated effect: I’ve not seen anything quite like it.

        • FlowState says:

          How did you find working with PhysX? I’ve dabbled in it a bit, since it’s seemingly regarded as best-of-breed, but I found it somewhat bloated. Have you had any difficulties with performance? Did you consider any other engines?

          The game looks awesome, by the way.

    • cowardly says:

      Nathan mentions the movement felt “a little stiff and unnatural”, is that still something you’re working on? I’d love to play a game that lets you move fast and with great responsiveness, and this looks like a strange combination between what I like in Sonic and Mirror’s Edge, something I’d love to see ^^

      Anyway, given what I’ve seen, I’ll be wanting to play this, so upvoted on Greenlight!

      • Coilworks says:

        The animations you see in the trailer is very much work in progress. We are only using about half of the animations we have created, and some key features are still missing from the animation system. Rest assured it will be much better in the final product.

        We are going over and addressing gameplay and control issues continuously, and we will continue to polish and improve them to make it feel as natural to use as we can. We are also trying to playtest as often as possible to make sure we are going in the right direction. I think we are getting pretty close :).

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    Kreeth says:

    Okay so I did the Greenlight vote thing. Haven’t done that before – when can I buy it? I’d quite like to play it quite soon please.

    • Coilworks says:

      At the moment we are focusing on getting the game done and getting through Greenlight so the game can be sold on Steam. Once we have some sort of pre-order set up we’ll let everybody know about that, and we are aiming having the game out for you guys to play as soon as possible.

      And thanks for the vote, each one takes us a step closer to Steam!

      • Shadowcat says:

        The game looks amazing, but I’m not buying it on Steam. Please consider releasing this on GOG (in particular), and other retailers.

  11. elevown says:

    While it looks interesting, how come its SO jerky? its like its only updating the screen 4 times a second with big obvious and constant jumping of the frames.. It would have to be smooth to be playable.

    • Coilworks says:

      The frame rate took a bit of a hit in the trailer, since running the game maxed out at 1080p and recording video with Fraps does put some pressure on our riggs. But when we don’t have the video recording software taking up resources, we don’t have any problem hitting 60 FPS on graphic cards that are a few generations old.

  12. mechabuddha says:

    When watching the video, it seemed like there were some framerate issues. I really hope this a result of how the video was encoded. Is the actual game smoother?

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    LTK says:

    It looks gorgeous, but I recognise a lot of the elements from the first-person runner InMomentum. I didn’t really like that game, so I don’t expect this one to click with me either.

  14. DatonKallandor says:

    Who’s the music-maker for this? It sounds a lot like Artem Bank.

  15. DanMan says:

    Looks like it’d be fun – for about 20 minutes. Anything else happening except for what i’ve seen in the vid? I hate Space Harrier.

  16. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    How do you see anything when the character model is right in front of your view with fire coming off it?

  17. funkygibbon says:

    I intimated a dev once, and there I go, doing it again.