Since he was a kid, Alex Preston has been imagining an experience that would blend the best moments from Diablo and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past into one game. Players would take on the role of a mysterious drifter, venturing through a dark world exploring massive forests and ancient ruins. The combat would be fast and tactical, and the enemies intelligent and plentiful. An animator by trade, it wasn't until the beginning of this year that he finally started turning that dream into a reality with Hyper Light Drifter. "I needed to show as wide an audience as possible what I had been dreaming about for years," Preston explains.
"Beautiful animation and design add life to a world."
Set to launch in mid-2014, Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action game that harkens back to classics from the 8- and 16-bit eras. You run around the world fighting enemies, while collecting new weapons and gear to upgrade your abilities, and uncovering secrets that allow you to venture even further into the world. But it features a level of detail and polish that makes it stand out as something that wouldn't have been possible two decades ago. The painstakingly rendered pixel art and wonderful animation makes the world feel alive, whether it's the gigantic, lumbering golems or a serene fountain. "Miyazaki films have taught me that beautiful animation and design add life to a world," says Preston.
Despite being set in a fictional world that blends fantasy and technology, Hyper Light Drifter is also a very personal project. The game's quest involves the drifter traveling the world in search of a cure for what's described as an "insatiable disease." Preston, meanwhile, has suffered from persistent health issues that he says were "always creating roadblocks" when it came to sharing his creative work with the world. It's hard not to see some similarities between Preston and the character he's creating.
When he did finally summon the courage to show Hyper Light Drifter to the public, he did so through Kickstarter, searching for a relatively modest $27,000 to fund development. The amount pledged has since skyrocketed past the $500,000 mark with a few days remaining in the campaign. "The support of the community, the rapid response from everyone, the overwhelmingly positive feedback has all brought me back from the brink of a very difficult time in my life," says Preston.
"Now I owe everyone an amazing game."
It has also allowed the game to expand in a few different ways. Originally slated to launch on Windows, Mac, and Linux, Hyper Light Drifter will now also be coming to the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and Ouya, and potentially the Wii U. Preston has been able to hire additional team members to lighten the programming and animation loads, and plans to add new game modes, a co-operative campaign, music from Fez composer Disasterpeace, and more. These features should all help make Hyper Light Drifter a better game, but Preston has also been careful not to promise too much — something that overfunded Kickstarter projects often do. When it comes to the stretch goals, Preston says that the features "aren't ridiculously out of reach and were always in the back of my mind" anyways.
The core concept of Hyper Light Drifter hasn't changed all that much since Preston first dreamed it up when he was younger. His newfound resources may help expand the scope of that dream, but the added scrutiny and cash hasn't made him feel any extra pressure. "Now I owe everyone an amazing game," he says. "And while that's an intense task, it's one that I look forward to every minute of the day."