Hot on the heels of their Solium Infernum announcement at the end of September, the studio behind strategy RPG Armello have announced another new game they're working on during tonight's PC Gaming Show Preview stream. It's called Jumplight Odyssey (or "J-Lo" for short, as League Of Geeks studio director and co-founder Trent Kusters affectionately referred to it during an early preview presentation I attended last week), and it's a starship roguelite colony sim that has big 70s anime vibes. Specifically, Star Blazers, the English adaptation of Leiji Matsumoto's seminal Space Battleship Yamato, with which Jumplight shares a lot of its core visual DNA.
In it, you play as Princess Euphora, who's on a mission to save her people from the space conquering Zutopans, jumping from planet to planet in search of their Forever Star. It's not due to arrive in early access until sometime next year, but I've seen a sneak peek of it running in an early alpha build, and lemme tell ya. FTL, Rimworld and Two Point Hospital likers (bear with me on that last one) are going to want to take note of this.
Despite Jumplight Odyssey's somewhat explosive introduction (embedded above), the general mood onboard the starship Catalina as Kusters walks me through his hands off demo build is surprisingly chill. Indeed, with its colourful visuals and "Tokyo midnight disco" music, as Kusters calls it, the Zutopans and the evil General Voltan feel like nothing but a distant memory. "We want it to be toy-like," says Kusters, cutting between cross-sections of the Catalina's various decks in a lovely, smooth scrolling motion. Each deck is a fully "simulated machine," he tells me, with resources moving back and forth and crew members going about their day.
"Every one of these people has their own division, they have their jobs in that division, they will take shifts, they'll go to sleep, they will need food, they'll have needs," Kusters explains, and it will be your job as captain of the ship to make sure they're satisfied. But that's not all you've got to worry about. "You're going to need to keep your water running, and you're going to need to oxygen in your rooms, similar to FTL," he adds. It won't go as far as asking you to lay down cables and hook everything up manually, as some management games do - Kusters says you can just "put a switchbox in the room and you've got power, so to speak" - but there will be plenty of room for optimization as a run progresses.
That's because every deck essentially starts as a blank slate in Jumplight Odyssey, giving you full control over what to build and where. "You're building and editing this whole thing," says Kusters, and to demonstrate he begins work on a special chamber for the Princess Euphora.
"Anyone who's played Two Point Hospital and that sort of thing, it's just going to be super intuitive for them to dive in and just build stuff here."
"Anyone who's played Two Point Hospital and that sort of thing, it's just going to be super intuitive for them to dive in and just build stuff here," he says, first selecting his room type from a drop-down menu, before deciding the overall floor dimensions. Next comes the door, which snaps into place on the Princess Chamber wall blueprint, and then Kusters tabs over to place down some more room-specific furniture. Your classic four poster princess bed, some bookshelves, a large, imposing desk (right in front of the door, of course), and a rug to finish it all off.
"I'm not the type of gamer to spend hours in here doing this type of thing," Kusters admits, "but you can tweak all these props in the ship. You can just pick them up and move them down." Indeed, later in our chat I ask whether there are any diehard Sims players on the team pushing for more of this kind of gameplay, and surprisingly there are. "In Melbourne, EA Firemonkeys is just EA's big AAA mobile studio and they do The Sims Mobile, The Sims Freeplay, and so one of the folks on the team was like an engineer on The Sims, we've got designers who worked on The Sims, and our principal designer was from EA Fire Monkeys, so you know, funnily enough, we do have some knowledge in the building!"
That know-how is immediately apparent, as everything not only snaps easily into place, but Kusters reveals he's just done the entire thing using a controller rather than mouse and keyboard. In addition to PC, you see, League Of Geeks are also aiming to release Jumplight Odyssey on PS5 and Xbox Series X when it launches in full, so intuitive and easy to master controls are an absolute must. I'm also pleased to hear that they're hoping to get a verified Steam Deck stamp for it at launch, too. Good news all round, then.
Once it's confirmed, some fetching yellow tarps go up and your busy warren of workers kick into action. Panning over to the cargo hold, I can immediately see a couple of lads from the supply division starting to load up the necessary resources onto a hover cart, which they'll then take up to the floor with our soon-to-be Princess Chamber on it to start work.
While we're waiting, Kusters shows me what some of the other crewmates are up to. Some are off-shift and are hanging out in the kitchens grabbing a meal, while others are taking a quick kip in their sleep pods. Some were even playing a game of chess in the break room. "It's really about building out this world, this simulated little village," says Kusters, which will no doubt make losing a run feel all the more painful.
Indeed, you can't be complacent when playing Jumplight Odyssey. This is still a roguelite, after all, and the Zutopans are hot on your trail. Linger too long in any given system, and they're going to catch up to you. And as you have hopefully seen in the trailer, that kind of confrontation is only ever going to end one way: you blown to smithereens.
"A loop of the game is 'Jump, Extract, Prepare'."
"A loop of the game is 'Jump, Extract, Prepare', and you're doing that just like in FTL," Kusters explains. "You're jumping from system to system, except with us, you're stopping in a system and you're going, 'Okay, we're here, let's get the resources, let's save any survivors that are here, bring them aboard, let's, you know, oh no, there's pirates in this system, we got to defend ourselves against them,' or whatever it might be. And once you've extracted as many resources as you can, it's time to jump."
You'll need to build up your jump before you can safely escape, mind, so if the Zutopans do catch up, Kusters says "you're just basically holding out as long as you can to be able to make [it]." But he tells me it will be obvious when the Zutopans are hot on your tail, and there will be different alert levels to select from so your crew are ready for any untoward boarding parties. There's green where everything's chill and fine, while Yellow tells all hands to be on deck. Red Alert is your classic 'everyone to battle stations' situation, where construction will cease and all blast doors will be sealed, but it then scales up further to Magenta, which also makes your marines combat-ready to receive intruders, as well as full Trek-style Black Alert, which cuts all power to everything but your critical systems and rations food and water.
"You're doing the real Picard or Kirk-style actions, and it's that captain fantasy," says Kusters. "You've got the build and the lead aspect of things. You're building your ship, you're optimising, you're engineering and figuring out how the ship is most optimally run, and then you've got the other side of leading things. You're scrambling your fighters, you're changing the alert level, you're assigning and promoting division officers and things like that."
Indeed, with League Of Geeks currently experimenting with having around 200 crew members onboard, those division leaders will be your primary contacts when you're issuing orders to different parts of the ship. There are four in total - Engineering, Science, Supply, and Combat - and you'll be able to invest resources you've scavenged from the surrounding star system to upgrade their capabilities.
"We really want to build this game in a way that, you know, folks just go, 'Ah, God, no, I should have been invested in nuclear energy instead of a fusion reactor!' Or, you know, 'I went too hard into automation, and then I had no crew redundancy when I got attacked by pirates!' Or, 'I've got to invest in more people moving forward,' or, 'Maybe I shouldn't have promoted that troublesome combat division pilot," says Kusters, highlighting the many available paths open to you to help facilitate multiple runs through this procedurally generated universe.
But it's arguably that last scenario that has me most intrigued. For in addition to those division leaders, each crew member will also have their own set of unique personality quirks that will affect the way they behave.
"You might have someone who's a card shark and they play cards at any opportunity they get at the expense of their own health," says Kusters, and he even teases that "you might have a serial killer onboard" in one run as well. Obra Dinn in space? Now that's something I'd like to see, although if that did happen on one of my runs, I'd probably want to have serious words with my chief security officer, possibly in close proximity to a vent-able airlock - which you'll also be able to do, Kusters confirms, albeit under the guise of 'saving your ship and stopping fires' and things like that. Noble causes, you understand.
You'll also be able to make promises to your crew, such as 'No one shall go hungry!' and the like, which your crew will hold you to over time. If you break your promises, your crew's Hope bar will decrease, and if you lose all hope, it's one of the ways your run can come to an abrupt end (that, and, you know, getting blown up or you, the princess, dies in the line of duty). It's the kind of thing that has me thinking back to Frostpunk and all the moral quandaries that ensued out of its Books Of Law system - although I'm hopeful Jumplight Odyssey will go a little easier on the whole 'forcing children down the mines' style of problem solving. It has a pet pig called Ham, for crying out loud, you can't ask me to deal with big moral grey zones and have a pettable farm animal on board that makes everyone happy. There's a law against that sort of thing, I swear.
Still, however Jumplight's promises system ends up playing out, it's the knock-on effect of your crew's individual relationships that I'm looking forward to digging into the most. "We really want to create those dynamics and you'll have relations like brothers, sisters, partners and things like that," says Kusters. "So someone might be dating your ace pilot and then their partner dies and your ace pilot's out of action for a long time."
It all hints at the kind of emergent storytelling that Rimworld has done so well for the better part of a decade, which Kusters cites as " one of the core inspirations" for Jumplight, especially when you start throwing in additional environmental effects as well caused by whatever star system you happened to have jumped to next. "There could be a red giant system, where the temperature rises across all of your rooms, and you're just constantly, you know, you've got to manage that," says Kusters. "There are some systems that are dead systems that are just like, there's nothing there. There's no resources, so you maybe you can hang out there for a bit. You've also got white dwarfs, where things get colder, there are asteroid belts that you can extract more resources from, things like that. There's also one that's like a star, I think it's a starry sky or a nebula, and every night that you're there you can actually get extra hope because of the beautiful stars, right? Yeah, you get a passive increase to your hope."
There's certainly a lot to dig into here, but the biggest takeaway I had from my preview presentation was that it all looks and feels highly approachable. I'll be intrigued to see exactly how stressful things get once battle with the Zutopans really kicks off, but League Of Geeks are also preparing multiple difficulty modes to help accommodate as many playstyles as possible, too. In addition to the regular recommended difficulty, there's also going to be a Chill and very build-focused mode, as well as a Frantic, all hands on deck mode that will no doubt appeal more to the hardcore roguelikers out there.
They'll also be working on adding additional captains and ships over the course of their early access journey, where Kusters says they expect to stay for "about a year", as well as "a bunch of systems and features," again, taking a leaf out of Rimworld's playbook and gradually building and building and building on their small subset of core, critical systems - just, you know, on a slightly tighter time scale. League Of Geeks are also looking very much to the future with Jumplight as well. "As you know from Armello, we did early access and then we continued to support it post early access, so we have plans for DLC and stuff post-launch as well."
All in all, a very promising start for Princess Euphora and her faithful SDF Catalina, and here's hoping that Forever Star of early access comes sooner rather than later. To find out more, head over to Steam and the game's website.