Interview with Lumo creator Gareth Noyce!

Having worked for over a decade in the industry, including at studios such as Climax Group and Ruffian Games, Gareth Noyce is a man who knows a thing or two about video games. Now he’s an independent developer in the midst of releasing his first solo game, a modern revival of the isometric genre, Lumo. Below you’ll find our interview with him, covering inspiration for the game, D.J.ing, and why the name of his studio – Triple Eh? – is called just that.

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Xbox One UK: 8-bit isometric games have become something of a niche genre. What is it about them that appeals to you?

Gareth Noyce: I’m not actually aware of anyone making a new one for seven or eight years, which is a shame. I think the original template is quite close to something like an early Zelda game, and the presentation was unique, so
this is a fun genre to work in. I like the fact that each room allows you to do something different but remains self contained. There’s a lot of room to express yourself as a developer. Plus, I grew up on the Spectrum and CPC, many of my fav early games were Isometric.

XOUK: Have you used any of the levels the 11 year old you created for original 8-bit game Head Over Heels as inspiration for any of Lumo’s, or even recreated them in the game?250px-Head_over_heels_amstrad_1

GN: No, unfortunately not. They’re long lost to the mists of time. The premise I had back then was to use time travel, so you’d go back in time to affect the room you were in. That could be something as simple as just changing the room layout so you could progress when you returned to the future, but none of that felt right for Lumo so I didn’t explore it.

XOUK: And with over 400 rooms in Lumo, what process – if any – did you go through to keep each relatively fresh?

GN: The simple answer was to limit re-use. There are lots of ideas in Lumo that are used once, although a few – like the block puzzles and rolling balls – I do expand upon. I also tried to theme the mechanics in each zone so you would have a different set of activities.

XOUK: 8-bit isometric games were as such because of the technical limitations of the time. With today’s technology, are there any specific aspects of the genre you wished to alter in some way for Lumo?

Lumo_Zone2_CSec4_ZoneDropRoom3_318.0501editGN: The biggest problem with the genre is that the isometric view makes it difficult to do some types of jumps or to ‘read’ the room, but if I were to fix that – by providing a free roam camera – it’d no longer be an isometric game of the type I wanted to make. Instead, I’ve gone the opposite way and completely embraced the template of the original games. There are some difficult rooms, and there are some places where players will die quite often, but Lumo is a game that’s meant to be played through more than once. You will learn new skills as you play it, and you’ll master them more quickly than you expect! Stick with it 🙂

XOUK: You’ve said that the 1980’s and 1990’s games scene is one that gets you excited about developing. What is it about this period that’s different to the present day and inspires you so?

GN: Its more to do with age. In the 80s, as a child, new technology and the people that had mastered it – the developers that were making the games I loved – seemed like magicians. Magazines were the fountain of information and readers felt like part of a little club. It inspired me, so I look back on it fondly.

Today technology is utterly mind blowing. Imagine being 10 years old and experiencing VR for the first time. Wow. And we have more developers and bigger games, so I’m sure young developers 15 years from now will be looking back at this time just as fondly as I look back on the mid 80s.

XOUK: Speaking of inspiration, one of your many talents is as a DJ. Does the creative trigger for composing and game development come from a similar source?

GN: I would say yes. I like making things. I want to fall off the planet having left behind more than I consumed. DJing is something I take just as seriously as making games, but it’s been a hobby for a long time. I very rarely play out.Lumo_Zone2_CauldronHub_4.365778edit

That being said, there’s something immensely satisfying about taking people on a musical journey and it’s a very similar buzz to watching someone enjoy a game I’ve worked on. When I was running the RK2 podcast (now closed) I used to get a lot of feedback, someone actually used my mixes for their wedding party and emailed me photos. It’s amazing to think you can touch people you’re never going to meet.

XOUK: Before Lumo, you co-founded Ruffian, perhaps best known to many as the studio behind Crackdown 2. Prior to that you also worked on titles like Fable II and Project Gotham Racing 3. Would you have thought then that in almost a decade’s time you’d be developing practically solo?

GN: No, absolutely not, but I’ve learned that life throws up twists and turns and you need to be open to where it takes you. I miss the Ruffian guys, but we shared a great adventure.

XOUK: And when you left Ruffian in the second half of 2013 were you confident about the future, or did it feel more of a risk, but one worth taking?

GN: It felt like an almighty risk that was very likely to fail. And one I still don’t know is going to work out. On the plus side, the critical reception for the game has been a bit more positive than I hoped for, so right now, it feels like it was all worth it.

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XOUK: After leaving you formed your current studio, Triple Eh?. Where did that name come from?

GN: It’s a bad joke, basically. And I tend to laugh at my own jokes. Instead of working on AAA games, I’m now working for Triple Eh? 🙂

XOUK: Working mostly by yourself, what has been or is the biggest challenge with Lumo?

GN: Time and money. Lumo is a much bigger game than I originally set out to make, but when it was clear there was a path to releasing the game on consoles (and not just PC) I wanted to put in as many ideas as possible and offer something that was good value for money. That stretched what resources I had to the limit, but with some excellent partners and help from collaborators, it got there.

XOUK: Finally, though we may never know what lies in store for us within the mists of time, have you made any plans for after Lumo is released, a sequel or a new direction entirely?

GN: Yes there are plans, but as you say, we never know what the future holds. I’m going to support Lumo for the next few weeks and then go on holiday. After that, well, I have a couple of ideas I’m pretty excited about. 🙂

XOUK: Gareth, many thanks!

Lumo will release on Xbox One June 2016, already receiving positive reviews on other platforms. You can find out more about the game at its official website, and keep up-to-date with Gareth via Twitter.

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