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Robots In The Skies: What Makes Cloudbuilt Tick

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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Nathan Grayson


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