The Long Return is a beautiful third-person puzzle adventure game, following the story of an orphaned cub. The player explores hand crafted levels as the cub retraces the steps it once took with his mother. The Long Return’s level design is familiar yet still distinct and refreshing, taking inspiration from both new and old games to create this muted low poly feel.
This gorgeous, debut project is the work of solo developer Max Nielsen. Although he is currently finalising the game ahead of its release later this year, he took the time to talk to OnlySP to reflect and tell us more.
OnlySP: What inspired you to bring The Long Return to life? Was it an idea you were sitting on for a while or did it come on quite suddenly?
Nielsen: Actually, I never planned on releasing this game, or even finishing it. I had just quit my job at Microsoft and wanted to create a quick demo for my portfolio, so that I could apply for jobs in the industry. At the time I was working on a 2D RPG mostly for fun, and I knew I would need to make something in 3D for the bigger studios to give me a chance. So I decided to make a fairly simple demo with around 10 minutes of gameplay. However, while working on it, I got offered a job as an application consultant at a great company, and they said they would let me work on my own games and run my own company on the side, so I accepted the job and since then I have been working on this game as a hobby on my free time.
OnlySP: Each zone in The Long Return has such a pleasing aesthetic, how did you go about level design in a mostly natural world?
Nielsen: I am a huge Nintendo fan, Zelda OoT is still my favorite single player game ever, and I had just played through Zelda BotW, and wanted to create a world with a similar color palette and feel. After trying out a few different things I decided to use the low poly style because that would mean I could actually model some stuff by myself. I think I’ve gone through the level design of each zone in my game at least 10 times since I started, it’s crazy how much you learn just by trial and error (although time-consuming).
OnlySP: Will the game have a stronger focus on gameplay and location or story. Is The Long Return is a mix of the two?
Nielsen: Since the start I really wanted to tell a story without any words or text, and I have kept true to that. Instead I tell the story using memories and visuals. This does set certain limits to how gripping and detailed the story can be, especially when working with animals, but I think the message comes across quite well. The game is, at its core, a puzzle/adventure game, and you spend most of your time solving different puzzles and finding your way past obstacles, accompanied by an amazing original soundtrack that I still cannot believe is for my game.
OnlySP: Being your first big project game, what have you learned during development?
Nielsen: That list is incredibly long, and hopefully I can create a post-mortem detailing most of it. But I would say the main things I will take away from this project is:
– Plan, research and test; When starting out I kind of just created features for the game by trial and error, this leads to some really messy code. Nowadays I always make sure to properly plan, take notes, research best practices and test everything in a dev-environment before putting it in my game.
– Marketing is a necessary evil, even as a hobby developer with very limited time, I still don’t do enough of it, shame!
– It’s okay to take a day off, don’t burn out, it’s supposed to be fun!
OnlySP: Overall, how long has it taken for you to develop The Long Return?
Nielsen: Roughly a year. But I’ve been working on games for 4-5 years before that as a hobby.
OnlySP: Do you have any plans after The Long Return is released?
Nielsen: Big, BIG plans, haha. While I love this game and all I’ve learned, I am so excited to start my next project. It is much more “my type of game” and I have very high hopes for it. I won’t say too much yet, but it will combine my two favorite genres of single player games; RPG and city management.
The Long Return is set to release in August 2019.