Interview: Lightyear Frontier Takes Farming And Adventure To The Next Level
Standing out in a crowded market can be tough no matter the industry. In gaming, however, it might just be the toughest. Every day there is new hype surrounding some upcoming title that’s bigger than the hype of a game before it. If you don’t believe it, just look at the 2023 AAA release schedule and the hype throughout the year.
Now, move to the indie game space, and things get exponentially tighter. To stand out, and build up that hype for your game over others, you have to be different. It’s not enough to be a game in a genre everyone loves. You have to add something that players haven’t seen before.
Launching in early 2024, Lightyear Frontier may not sound like much that hasn’t been done before. It’s an open-world farming exploration game with crafting, resource management, and base building. However, the game has a main hook that aims to make it shine brightest among the stars: you control a mech.
Those Who Have The Mechs, Have The Power
Everything you do, you do from your mech. From planting seeds by shooting them into the ground to exploring in different ways by modding your mech to even improving your farming abilities with various attachable tools. Everything involves your mech, and it’s 100% by design.
But why a farming game with mechs? How did it come to be that Lightyear Frontier was going to tackle the farming game genre from that angle? It’s such a unique concept for a title that it’s only right to question what the inspiration was. For Frame Break CEO Joakim Hedström, it’s not the reason that some may think. In fact, it might be just as unique of a reason as the game itself.
“I think mainly was something to get ourselves interested in the idea,” he said. “We kind of knew we wanted to do something in the farming space. It was, you know, a genre that we all enjoyed and was on our radar. So when we were discussing new game ideas, that was always part of it, but was also like, you can’t just say let’s do a farming game because you need obviously a direction.”
Adding a mech to the game was one of those ideas that just came up, and the team at Frame Break all got on board. Once the suggestion of adding a mech was made, Hedstrom says, every idea after just started to flow with that in mind. And those ideas just grew, no pun intended, like the plants you’ll farm in the game.
“We ended up going very big early on,” Hedström says about the game’s development, “and made like a huge list of ideas of what we could do, and then it was really like a matter of priority of like, okay, all these things we could be doing, which one should we do first?”
To make those decisions, it came down to a few factors such as what was more exciting, what would someone expect to be able to do with their mech, and more.
The Eureka Moment
With any studio, there often comes a moment during development when the lightbulb shines brightest and the entire team becomes even more excited about what’s being created. It’s the eureka moment.
With Lightyear Frontier, it came when they decided on something not to do rather than something to add.
“[E]arly on took a stance of let’s not implement an out-of-mech mode because we need to make sure the mech experience is good first,” Hedström said. “Because if we focus too much on being out of the mech, then it’s just like any other farming game, right?”
By focusing on the mech gameplay for most of the development, the studio was able to get it to a point where it made sure using the mech in all aspects of the game was necessary. The last thing the team wanted was to have it come to a point where people would play the game, see you can do things like water plants outside of the mech, and then question why mechs were needed in the first place.
It wasn’t until all of that was in a good place for the team that they even began to consider an out-of-mech mechanic. Even still, it took feedback from the community and playtesters for that to become a reality in Lightyear Frontier.
“They want to be out of the mech even though the fantasy is to be inside the mech, isn’t that what we should focus on?,” Hedström remembers talking about internally. “And that was ‘No’ because you need that out-of-mech contrast for the mech to feel powerful.”
When the decision was made, late in the game’s development process mind you, to add the ability to be outside of the mech, the development team was given a task that no developer likes to really hear, “Go back and do what we said we weren’t going to do”.
“We always need to make what makes the most sense for the game in the present,” Hedström said. “[The game] needs that foundation to stand on for you to appreciate the power of the mech.”
Farming Has A Story
While Lightyear Frontier is labeled as a “Farming Adventure” game, it’s not just about farming for players. Of course, that plays the largest role in the game’s overall loop, but there’s a greater purpose than just planet, grow, harvest, and replant.
Lightyear Frontier features a story where players will come to a new planet and find a large vault door. Without spoiling, behind the door holds a mystery of the planet that is the ultimate end goal. To get to that point, however, players will have to explore the planet, complete various tasks, and study clues found along the way.
Throughout that journey, either alone or with up to three other players, you’ll have to build a homestead, protect your plants from the elements, and even have the chance to domestic wildlife to develop your own ranch.
As you explore the world with your mech, you’ll be able to test the health of the environment which you can then work on to improve. There will be areas that are desolate where it’s up to you — and your friends — to restore and bring back to life. By restoring regions, you’ll be rewarded with new types of resources leading to new things to construct to improve your home, mech, and more.
The Difficulties Of It All
Because Lightyear Frontier is so mech-focused, getting the feel of the machine right was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, aspects of the game’s development. Getting it to that point, Hedström says, was not the easiest thing to do for various reasons.
“Everyone has a different idea of how it should control,” he said. “There is the extreme end where the mech is a machine that you’re almost actively fighting to make it move the way you want it to. And then there is the one-to-one idea that the mech is just an extension of you; It moves basically like a human.”
The answer to how it should be controlled ultimately was found in the middle. The process started by having it be on the more clunky and difficult-to-move side of things before moving down the line to be a smoother experience overall.
“It turns out, when it is too clunky, it’s very bad when you’re farming,” Hedström said.
He added that by doing iterations of the movement mechanics, a sweet spot was ultimately found to make the mechs control in a proper way while still “keeping the spirit of a mech” within the movements and animations. Still, Hedström says, the plan is to continue to iterate and improve even after the game’s release into early access.
“We want to keep finding small ways to tweak it to just make it feel that much better,” he said.
Lightyear Frontier launches in early access in early 2024. The game will be available on PC, Xbox Series X|S, and Xbox Game Pass. To stay up-to-date on the game’s development, you can join the game’s official Discord server.
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