Inside the Dazzling Design of 3D Platformer Penny’s Big Breakaway

Hello everybody! Hunter Bridges here. I am one of the co-founders of Evening Star, as well as both Game Director and Technical Director for Penny’s Big Breakaway.

Penny’s Big Breakaway is our team’s first 3D game, coming soon to Xbox Series X|S, and we built it using our in-house 3D engine, Star Engine. Building a 3D game engine from the ground up is hard work, but that’s okay with us. Evening Star’s philosophy is that, by blazing our own trails with technology, our creativity will be sparked in unique ways.

Today, I want to touch on our design motivations, how that informs the camera system as well as the control scheme, and the performance we were able to unlock with the Xbox Series X|S.

Thro’ Yo’ Yo-Yo!

When we first started Evening Star, we were eager to create a fully 3D game. We wanted to come up with a game concept featuring our own characters and world, all powered by our proprietary Star Engine!

While investing time in our engine, we started generating concepts for 3D games. One person’s idea from one day would inspire someone else’s idea the next day. Our team kicked around a seed of an idea about using a yo-yo, which quickly took root.

With this concept, our game designer Esteban Fajardo drew up a series of sketches representing different “verbs” our character could perform.

We felt like we were onto something. Even in this basic form, the character and yo-yo were kinetic and exciting! Some of these actions even made it into the final game… “throw”, “sleep”, “ride” and “swing” were all present from this early stage.

The team also wanted to create a colorful cast of characters, and we wanted them to live in a fantastical environment. Combined with the Yo-Yo mechanics, this led to fluid action in a unique world.

Putting the Right “Spin” on it

Once we decided on our core concept, we attacked it from every angle. We asked ourselves: What do we like about our favorite 3D platformers? What are elements we struggle with? What are some fresh things we could bring to it?

Our team surfaced a common point of contention: the camera. In most 3D platformers, the player is often tasked with managing the camera. We’re adding new mechanics designed around yo-yo moves. We wanted the player to focus on controlling that, instead of constantly attending to the camera’s position and direction.

We decided to go with a “fixed” camera that the player doesn’t control. The player never has to think about the camera, but it will always show them what they need to see and where they need to go. This decision profoundly influenced our gameplay and level design.

Bump if You Jump

Alongside the camera, we were exploring control schemes for movement and yo-yo actions. At this time, the character designs were taking shape too. We created Penny, and turned her regular yo-yo into her faithful companion… aptly named Yo-Yo!

A key design pillar was ‘expression’. We wanted to give the player maximum opportunity to move Penny and control Yo-Yo’s abilities, and reward their skill. The ideal is anyone can create their own “style” out of Penny’s strong core moveset.

Quick access to Penny’s Yo-Yo moves, in every direction, was essential to expressive movement. Assigning the right thumb stick was the clear answer.

Since the right stick became so crucial, we also wanted the player to play without ever needing to lift their thumb from it. This lent itself to a “bumper jumper” control scheme, where the jump action is mapped to the L or R bumpers.

We tried a control scheme with just analog sticks and bumpers. Immediately, we noticed the empty set of face buttons felt unnatural. We also felt that players might not adopt an unconventional control scheme. We met in the middle and assigned the face buttons more traditionally– A button to jump, X button to throw, and B button to ride.

The result is a control scheme that feels both familiar to newcomers but provides a level of movement control and flexibility that we believe is unique!

Penny Takes the Stage on Xbox

When talking about cameras and controls, responsiveness is the name of the game. It’s crucial that the player’s moves feel snappy and satisfying.

Xbox Series X|S can blast 120 frames per second! But that means our game has to run fast enough to keep up.

Thanks to the power of this Xbox Series X|S, Penny’s Big Breakaway can run at full resolution 120 Hz! On Series X, we support 4K (3840×2160), and on Series S we support 1440p (2560×1440). Plus, by using the new GameInput API, receiving input from the gamepad happens in tight sync with the high frame rate, minimizing player input lag.

Take a bow, Penny!

When you take a new 3D platformer, give it an expressive control scheme, and run it at a buttery smooth 120 Hz, the result is a visceral action game experience like no other!

But don’t just take it from me– you’ll have to try Penny’s Big Breakaway for yourself. Penny and Yo-Yo make their debut on Xbox early this year!

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