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Hyper Light Drifter Special Edition: additional content through channeling the main character

Creating new content for a known game without killing the vibe: How channeling the Hyper Light Drifter protagonist became an efficient technique to design new content for Hyper Light Drifter Special Edition for iOS and Switch.

6 Min Read

That exciting (and awkward) moment: you’re challenged with creating exclusive content for a known game. The challenge intensifies when you realize everything in this game has such a cohesive vibe and wholesome experience, that the new content is likely to feel artificial. And here comes the dreaded “creative block”.

My name is Miguel García, and I am the Creative Director of Abylight Studios. Today, I would like to share how the additional content for Hyper Light Drifter - Special Edition was conceptualized and created, and how channeling the main character manifested as a legit content building approach.

Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action roleplaying game developed by Heart Machine. The game pays homage to 8-bit and 16-bit games, and is considered by its lead developer Alex Preston as a combination of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo.

The adaptation and publication of Hyper Light Drifter - Special Edition for iOS and Nintendo Switch was given to us, Abylight Studios - Spanish publisher and developer. We started making games for Nintendo 14 years ago, even though our core team started off with making Nintendo games back in the 90s. At any rate, we were all very excited to be presented with this opportunity.

 

When first given the task to design the extra content for this great game, I knew it was not going to be an easy one. Hyper Light Drifter is a very symbolic game, where the music, atmosphere, and each pixel, all have a meaning contributing to a bigger master plan. Since every single bit plays an important role, the extra content needed to be designed to fit and feel perfectly.

Alex Preston had already “green-lighted” some weapons and new suits that the team had designed. We were having great results with the optimization of the project as we had the game running smoothly on the Nintendo Switch; playing it was simply amazing. The technical part was under control, so we needed to work on the creative side: this is when I took up the torch. Because of the symbolism and motif created throughout the game, the new area had to be meaningful, a part of the already recognizable journey, and instill something in the player. The hardest task of it all was to use the original language.

Hyper Light Drifter is a game that connects with the player in an almost unconscious way. When one plays, the environment tells much more than perceived at a first glance, and going through the game’s world is a journey of internal transformation for the player. The essence of Hyper Light Drifter is intricate and precious, therefore incredibly challenging in terms of creation of extra content.

And it did take time to shape up in our case. We had several brainstorming sessions, gave it several rounds - but nothing seemed to resonate with the right notes to fit the artistic symphony of the game. Time was passing and, to make matters worse, I had to travel to a video game event in Croatia (wonderful country). These trips can be rewarding, but not while you are facing a “writer’s block”.

I remember that, while on the trip, I went to meetings and fulfilled other obligations that felt completely wrong at that moment. My mind was in another world, fighting against dangers, exploring lost civilizations, immersed in the pure creative process. Those of you who have gone through a similar creative process know it can be very painful. It’s very invasive, because when you are in this state, the process invades your mind and the air you breathe. It takes control of your brain and you wake up thinking about the game, exactly where you left off when going to sleep. Some call it a “creative birth”, and after each one a little bit of you goes with the game.

So there I was, in the middle of old Europe, going through this difficult process, when suddenly, the creative muse dawned on me: Instead of looking for the answers outside, I turned inside and began to capture in my notebook everything I was feeling during the creative process - but in the form of a new playing area. I channeled the Drifter to explore new areas, immersed in the feeling of loneliness and curiosity for the unknown.

SPOILER ALERT: Please do not read the following 3 paragraphs if you did not play the additional content yet.

  

For me, just like for the Drifter, everything starts with a search. The steps in the forest where nothing is what it appears to be, crossing some paths that seem to lead back to the initial position. After several attempts and senses sharpened, you reach and climb up a tall tower. At this point you know where you must go, even though it ain't going to be easy. Lots of dangers plague the climb to the top. The Drifter must fight with all kinds of special enemies, middle bosses, while avoiding traps and other deadly elements. 

Later you reach the top, exhausted, and after discovering a surprise everything seems to shake and collapse while you faint. Now, Drifter and I become one. Waking up in your interior conscience, everything that seemed real has collapsed and as you go through yourself in this very small passage, you relax, putting everything in its place and realizing the dark truth: your greatest enemy is yourself. All the suffering and hardship are part of the lights and shadows of the creative process. 

At the end of that small passage, the Drifter sees a dark version of himself, its worst enemy, but now you know it and you must defeat it. He confronts him and wins the battle. He is rewarded with a new powerful weapon and knowledge. Immediately, you feel completely different; the calm, the control surrounds you. You have faced the real enemy and came out stronger, even your mind is clearer. The straight path awaits in front of you, now you know you have the power to defeat anything.  

Hyper Light Drifter - Special Edition was born and I can not be happier with the work done by the team. Very good reviews have made the Nintendo Switch version the best rated one in Metacritic of all the released so far, and we’re looking forward to getting players enchanted with the iOS version.

I still get chills whenever I see someone playing the passages of the new area of Hyper Light Drifter because of its significance to me: a hard metaphor of the creative process. But as you already know, in this game, nothing is certain, many things are not what they seem and the meaning depends on the eyes of the beholder.

What’s the next step? Hyper Light Drifter - Special Edition in your pocket! The iOS version with all the original, as well as some special content, is being prepared for release on July 25th, with preorders already open in the AppStore.

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