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Evolution: Mutazione – “Platformer Days”

Evolution: Mutazione – “Platformer Days”

Welcome to the "Evolution: Mutazione" series, a new series of blog posts where Mutazione Creative Director and Die Gute Fabrik founder Nils Deneken deep dives into the early days of the development of the multi award-winning Mutazione.

Last week we launched the first in a series of podcasts, where Alessandro (Composition and Audio Design), Douglas Wilson (Audio Engine Programmer and Design) and I (Creative Director and originator) talk about the early days of Mutazione, particularly focusing on the sound and music. From the early days, to the gardens, the town and the themes of the game as a whole. Many people worked on Mutazione over the years, but in focussing on these early days of the game we drew together Alessandro, Doug and me, as the three originators of the game.

Alongside that podcast, I am going to accompany it with a series of articles that focus on the same themes. So, in this article I will talk about the early days of Mutazione and am excited to share a selection of previously unpublished concepts and sketches with you all.

To listen to the accompanying podcast, check it out here:

Here’s how Mutazione starts:

The Player plays a retro game, reminiscent of Game and Watch console games. They control an abstract motorcycle, dodging obstacles shown in crude two-colour rendering. There are only three positions on the road the bike can ride.

Suddenly they hit an obstacle and the shot framed by the game zooms out. We see that what they were looking at is a screen in the dashboard of a retro futuristic police car, next to an ashtray littered with cigarettes, the console punctuated by a pornographic key chain. The game playing on the screen shows an abstract version of the street in front of us. As the camera frame pans up we look out of the windshield and see a motorcycle with its rider in front of the car. It’s night and we can see only as far as the headlights of the vehicles. Seems like we’re involved in a car chase!

Image of a dashboard of a retro futuristic police car following the player.

We hear sirens and the read dialogue snippets of two cops ranting about the motorcyclist. They’re unsympathetic, corrupt characters, and the player soon realises that they’re still controlling the motorcycle.

The controls are more fluid now. The road is in a bad state and rarely used, there’s overgrowth, holes and junk that needs to be avoided, eventually the motorcyclist hits an obstacle and crashes.

The biker veers off the street and is sent flying down a slope into a dense thicket. Strange birds erupt from the place the motorcycle ground to a halt. Now from the perspective of the crash we see the headlights of the police car appear on top of the slope. They don’t seem to be interested in investigating further, and we hear muttering about monsters and mutants that will soon take care of us, if we’re not already dead.

Image of the siluette of a motocyclist crashing down a slope into a dense thicket.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you cry, “that’s not how Mutazione starts!” “I would have distinctly remembered a police chase and motorcycle crash!” And it’s true, these days Mutazione begins with Kai saying farewell to her mother, and embarking on a ferry that brings her to the mysterious community known as Mutazione. She meets her sick grandfather, grows magical musical gardens, and gets to know the lovable mutant village community.

But there was a time when there was a motorcycle crash. Where - while unconcious - the central character had a weird dream of hotels and nuclear bombs. Where, when they woke with a broken arm, they discovered their backpack stolen by a strange-looking monkey. Where, to survive, the player had to make their way down into the centre of a giant bomb crater and into the swamps where they would face platforming challenges, avoid dangerous mutated creatures, all to finally collapse in the town square of Mutazione village.

This is not the game we ended up with, but this is where it all started. When I came up with the world of Mutazione and its characters, I imagined the game to be a 2D Platformer, inspired by classic games like Another World or Flashback. In the early days of the Mutazione concept, Kai was a motorcyclist on the run from the law. Before Kai became the Kai we know, they were a customisable character, with customisable gender characteristics. The character’s body was also less realistically drawn and more cartoony, with noodle-like arms and legs.

This image shows an early version of the player character in front of one of the game backgrounds, which was internally called "The Riverbed".
This early concept made it as an environment into the final game. It was also used for store capsule images and app icons.

Besides thePlatforming genre, I imagined many and varied game mechanics and challenges. From a golf minigame; where the player had to rid the sick Papu Tree of infected Dot Zombie Parasites by golfing them into a waste disposal tube; to a painting game, where the villagers would extract the colour from the parasites to make signs outside the village, to scare wild animals away.

Image of a discarded player character golfing a pink blob into a trash tube on an enormous tree crown.
Image of a discarded player character standing in a swamp scene filled with neon-colored signs, of which one says "Mutatione" and points to a tunnel in a treetrunk.
An old concept of an entrance to Mutazione village. Back then it was called "Mutatione".

The game-world was much darker, post-apocalyptic, contained greater danger and with a general tone which was a little more whacky.

A map of the game world from around 2011. You see the giant tree in the centre, ruins, swamp, a junk yard, a mushroom forest, derelict highways and roads.
A map of the game world how I imagined it around 2011. The red star marks the crashsite.
an image of the giant robot head on a junk yard

There was a junkyard, and at its centre there lay a giant robot head, called Robotron 2000. Robotron was a sad, derelict war robot from the past who had been involved in the nuclear war that had created the crater around Mutazione. Alessandro had even created a theme for this character, which you can hear in the podcast’s first episode.

The first prototype

This, therefore, is what formed one of our earliest prototypes. It took place in a dream sequence, when Kai is unconscious from the motorcycle crash that follows the intro sequence. Here she finds herself in a mystical hotel corridor. She enters a succession of rooms, which gradually become more peculiar, until we see an atomic bomb go off in the background.

A partially lit up hotel corridor
A sequence of images of Kai walking through a changing hotel room.

And that moment was also one of the core mechanics of the prototype. The explosion was tied to Kai’s position on the screen, so the player could control its speed depending on how quick they crossed the screen from left to right. If they walked back to the left side, the explosion would play backwards… pretty cool right?

Eventually Kai would have to cross the room to the right side of the screen and end up in the ruined hotel after the explosion. That’s where the platformer part of the level started.

two images of a derelict hotel. left: a view of the outside with Kai running from left to right on a balcony. Right: the view of a devastated hotel room. Kai jumps across a chasm from one side of a corridor to the other.

The platforming experience was… mediocre, to put it mildly, and really not worth dwelling on.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this as-yet-unseen insight into the very early days of the game. Next time, I will return to talk about where the gardens and the magical musical gardening mechanics began…

Until then, do have a listen to Podcast Episode 1.

There is more to share than I could fit into a series of blogposts, so if you're interested in seeing more past sketches, concepts and discarded ideas of Mutazione's development, follow me on Twitter @NilsDeneken.

Founder of Die Gute Fabrik. Originator and Creative Director of Mutazione. Currently Art Director at Die Gute Fabrik.
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