When I first signed up to playtest a 2D puzzle platformer called From Light, I didn’t know what to expect. I slouched in my seat and kept an eye on the time to make sure the playtest coordinator didn’t keep me playing longer than I had signed up for.
Instead, an hour passed by in minutes as I lost myself to the game. I intuitively solved puzzles through the freezing of time by taking a snapshot of the current game state, or by creating trails of light through long exposure photography. The only disappointment I felt was when I reached the end.
From Light captured not just moments in the game, but my heart as well. I sneaked a peek at the planned 2.5D art overhaul for the game and just looking at the art was as captivating as playing the game. Moving through the world From Light takes place on will undoubtedly charm many players once implemented. While From Light may look simple from images, the game was exhibited at PAX and already has seen success in its unfinished state.
EARLY STAGES OF FROM LIGHT
Rarely seen in the gaming industry, having two co-directors on a project typically creates more problems than solutions. In the chaotic process of designing games, two heads working to realize one vision is cumbersome, thus many games only ever have one director. However, USC students Alejandro Grossman and Steven Li go against traditional wisdom and lead the From Light team, together.
An inseparable duo since meeting freshman year, Steven and Alejandro partnered up for the Intermediate Game Development class (referred colloquially as Intermediate) and began work on what would become From Light.
“We went into Leavey [Library],” says Alejandro, “in front of a whiteboard and pitched ideas at one another every day after class, and we just kept shooting each other down.”
Amidst academic pressures, Alejandro and Steven kept their dedication to game design strong everyday after class. However, the future co-directors didn’t find their unique mechanic in the brainstorming sessions at Leavey Library. In actuality, they found the photography mechanic after Alejandro looked at a wireframe image that reminded him of long exposure photography and attempted to pitch an idea to Steven.
“When [Alejandro] described it to me,” explains Steven, “I didn’t really take it seriously or understand what he was saying — at all.” Fortunately, the duo humored the idea of mixing photography with video games and eventually prototyped the idea. With a prototype finished, Steven and Alejandro faced one last hurdle: naming the game.
“I wanted to call it Exposed,” Alejandro laughs. The co-directing duo eventually settled on the familiar name, From Light, after completing the Intermediate Game Development class.
THE ART AND STORY
What happens to a community or a world, rather, when the very thing they’ve relied on for survival disappears? The Skelk, an alien race in From Light, are living on a desolate planet that used to be a favorite tourist spot in the galaxy. However, the planet’s sun, now a white dwarf, has collapsed and reached its final stages of life. A once lush and idyllic planet has now become a grim tomb for the Skelk. Equally as impressive as the game mechanics, the art and story of From Light will engross players from start to finish.
“Neither [Alejandro or I] are really writers, we approached it from a mechanical standpoint,” says Steven Li. “So it was cool when [the writers] came back to us with [a story], because it’s an allegory to laziness and apathy.”
“When art comes in,” says Kat Gray, the art lead, “it allows players to get sucked into the world. [Art] brings games to life.”
Because of Alejandro and Steven’s inclination towards the technical side of game design, the levels were highly minimalistic. With the help of the art and narrative departments, however, the game’s next iteration looks almost unrecognizable with its 2.5D design, beautiful landscapes, 3D models, parallax scrolling, and more.
A TIGHT KNIT TEAM
Yet, as Sherveen Uduwana, co-producer of From Light, says, “It takes a village.”
From Light isn’t a project that can be finished by just two people.
When I observed the small corner that the From Light team occupied in a little known basement room meant only for AGPs — I noticed the walls were decorated with concept art and posters about the game. The team were all in happy spirits and casually conversing as they worked on the game.
So it wasn’t a surprise when I found out that the From Light team doesn’t just work together, they play together as well.
Their most recent group bonding event involved going to a cafe that has various board games to try with friends in a relaxed and laid-back environment. Before that, the team also enjoyed a frantic and thrilling Escape Room adventure in downtown Los Angeles.
“Getting to know your team is important to having a comfortable working environment,” says Katharine Yu, an art department member for From Light. “We’re trying to make a point of doing something together about once a month”
THE ADVANTAGE OF BEING AT USC GAMES
“Going to a game school is incredibly important,” says Steven, “because you build connections like these. You meet other people who want to make games.”
From Light sets a great example of what AGPs can be. Creating a game at USC is an adventure. It’s an opportunity to work with incredible people and to show off your talent to the world.
“Walking around campus and seeing people have fun, more so than other campuses I toured, really helped me cement [the] decision [to attend USC,]” says Alejandro, reminiscing.
From a wonderful team, comes From Light.