Hipster Whale had many suitors after Crossy Road's success, hoping to have their retro romps reinvented with modern game design. But when Bandai Namco came knocking with the idea for Pac-Man 256, studio co-founder Matt Hall couldn't refuse — and he was kind enough to share a few details with us about the upcoming endless maze.
"Pac-Man was designed to kill you straight away," says Hall. "Nowadays, games want to wait a little bit before they kill you so we had to figure out some new things for the ghosts to do, to balance that difficulty for the modern age."
On top of that, the new maze will be random, which throws the idea of using original ghost AI out the window. Sprinting through 256's maze will be improvisational, instead of memorising start patterns like one would do in Chess.
As I speculated in our trailer post, the glitch will chase you as you progress through the maze, slowing down as it gets closer to build tension before ultimately a fate awaits you similar to the eagle's swoop in Crossy Road.
But given the nature of Pac-Man 256 - being in a maze, and having to avoid enemies that actively chase you - the glitch will probably have to be a bit more forgiving. On top of the obstacles in your way, the whole affair seems a tad more complex than Crossy Road, and players will have more puzzling out to do as they make their split-second decision.
"Yeah, we're still adjusting that," says Hall. "You also go backwards a lot more in 256 than in Crossy Road. There are a few more ghosts than what was shown in the trailer as well."
His next comment was intriguing.
"There may or may not be a black ghost in the game..."
Wait, what? Doesn't the game have a black background?
Hang on... I see it! There, top centre!
There are a whole bunch of other things in the game that Hall won't be drawn on, from enemies to power-ups, and he likens the overall feeling to that of Spelunky, with multiple elements in play creating unique situations.
The more I hear about it, the more I want to play it, and I imagine the expectations must be huge after the runaway success of Crossy Road.
"Well, you would have seen all the negative stuff about it being free-to-play," he leads.
I say I hadn't actually seen any of that, to which he laughs.
"I did perhaps search some of that stuff out. People were a little skeptical of the free-to-play model, but I think we've got a bit of goodwill after Crossy Road. People are like, alright, if you're going to do it like that, it's okay. Even Neogaf is being positive about 256."
In fact, my only fault of what I considered to be a damn near perfect game was not really a fault with the game — shortly after release, hackers flooded the Crossy Road leaderboards, and it was only due to the developer's vigilance that it was regularly cleaned up. But that sort of janitorial duty isn't sustainable for a tiny team of indies.
"In Game Center there's no way to do that stuff in an automatic fashion, unfortunately," says Hall. "That's why other games make use of their own leaderboard systems, but we aren't really big enough to do stuff like that."
As handy as that capability would be, I get the feeling he doesn't really want to be that big. He's about to go to E3 to show off a free-to-play mobile game - a concept that still seems alien to me - and will probably have half a mind on Hipster Whale's next creation, whatever that may be.
But he'll cross that road when he comes to it.