The Develop Award and BAFTA-winning Lumino City was crafted using paper, cardboard and lots of glue. Each level is based on a physical set crafted by the hands of its creators, State of Play, combining together to make a ten-foot high model city.
The game was built with the help of real architechts, and offers a unique world unlike any other. Except of course for State of Play’s previous title, Lume, on which the developers played around with many of the techniques that would later be used and expanded upon in Lumino City. But the developer’s history of papercraft and artistry can be drawn back to when it was founded.
“All our games had a hand drawn element,” says co-founder and producer Katherine Bidwell, though she later clarifies it’s not necessarily indicative of the way the studio’s creatives will always work.
“We set up State of Play in 2008, and in all our games even back then we’d use paper textures, or if we needed to animate a horse, we’d draw it and then scan it in and use it. So it’s a much more natural way for us. We did Lume in 2011 and that was a set as well. It was a lot, lot smaller scale though, and we did some experiments with cardboard.”
Capturing the city
To build Lumino City’s stunning scenery, the team would very precisely design a rough virtual mock-up of a scene, to ensure its ideas for puzzles would actually work.
Once this was achieved, it would build a physical set for the puzzle and scene to take place in. Each set would then come together to form the entire Lumino City. A year into development, its creators then got to work capturing each scene.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the project’s development is the use of the Talos camera rig, usually used in film. And what’s more, these are often used for one shot a day in film – State of Play needed 150 in the same timeframe.
“They haven’t done anything like that before,” says State of Play creative director Luke Whittaker. “It kind of surprised the guy when he turned up. They’re used to doing one shot a day probably for a film, but we were like, can you do 150?”
It was an experience that also made the team somewhat nervous. The impressive machinery cost £2,500 a day. The storyboard was honed meticulously, everything had to operate as was intended to make the puzzles work.There were no second chances.
“This thing weighs a tonne, so every little inch we were like: ‘watch that model’,” recalls Bidwell. “It can get within millimetres of these models without touching it.”
Though a crucial part of the process, there were still two more years of development after this, with lots of programming and animation work still to be done.
The animation was done in Flash, with the game’s lead character Lumi made up of photographs of coloured paper and her various elements. It was a process the team admits took longer than it had initially expected, but was ultimately worth it due to the pay-off.
“It’s basically a question of putting all of these different parts together,” says Whittaker. “So I’d have a run, a jump, and climb up animations.
“It’s painstaking. Especially when you’ve got a moving character and you’ve got to match the character to that. And you can see that she’s got a shadow as well. This is before, by the way, our final layer is gone onto it. [Developer] Daniel Fountain did some lovely code which actually applies film grain and blur to these characters and makes them sit in the scene.”
Though State of Play had its work cut out on Lumino City, during development the team also got to work on another game, Kami. Hardly a side-project however, the game was a success and provided the much-needed finishing funds for Lumino City. This, at a time when the studio was considering obtaining outside investment to complete the game.
“But the investor, who would have been really good, and someone to help out and finish it, played Kami and said you don’t need me, launch this and you should be fine,” says Whittaker. “And that was the best advice we ever got.”
It was the studio’s independence and sheer creative nous that ultimately led to State of Play creating exactly the game they wanted. It’s a story of what can be achieved with a small team, some from unusual backgrounds for game dev, to create a luscious looking vista in a unique but impactful way.