There was a time when action racers were plentiful, but the genre and its colourful ruminations on future sports dissipated at about the same time the new millennium made its stamp on time. So it was a pleasant surprise—a blast from the past, you might say—when happening across The Next Penelope.
This is a futuristic action racer loosely based on the France-Japan ‘80s anime Ulysses 31. It has speed, it has vibrant colors, and plenty of action; from the tight grinds between racers around bends, to huge robotic bosses that cover the track in lasers behind you.
Siliconera was able to talk to The Next Penelope’s sole developer Aurelien Regard, who is the founder of the now disbanded Arkedo, and previously the designer of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit.
Regard talks about how he revisited Ulysses 31 and found it wasn’t as he remembered, triggering him to focus the game and its story around Penelope, how he can’t help but use bright colors, what’s currently happening with Arkedo, and how The Next Penelope encourages you to play it risky.
What was it that inspired you to create a futuristic action racer specifically (we don’t see many of them these days)? Perhaps this is a game you’ve wanted to make for a while?
Aurelien Regard, Designer: Yes, I always liked racing games with mini-cars and item boxes on the track. I wanted to try creating a one that was a little different for a long time now, something with special moments in it.
Most of the time in these games you don’t even know why you’re racing, you just guess you have to win a generic tournament, or something. The solo mode is only fun at the start and then your interest slowly fades away.
Now: story, characters, bosses and action-oriented levels could bring something different. That’s what I’m trying to do with this game set in a futuristic Odyssey.
Could you explain how the energy system in The Next Penelope works—especially how it encourages risk-reward play?
Penelope is meant to be very challenging game. You’ll be powerful but very close to death at the same time because of this energy system. You’ll gain special permanent abilities on each planet (boost, harpoon, teleporter, bullet canceller, mines, laser, etc) which you can mix and use at any time. No need to pick up bonuses on the road.
BUT, everything is linked to your life bar. So, if you shoot, you lose energy. If you boost, teleport, anything; you lose energy. Picture it as the F-Zero GX boost mechanic, but applied to every single element of the game.
This system can really play with your nerves: dropping a vampire mine costs a bit of energy, but if an opponent explode on it, you’ll suck even more energy from them. Will you dare take the risk or hope for a refill zone? Some tracks don’t have any…
You’ve mentioned that you can travel to the different planets in any order. Does this mean that players can try tougher levels early on if they wish, or are the planets not divided so much by difficulty?
Yes, you can land on the planets in any order. Each world has a short description that divulges which weapon you could get, and hints towards its difficulty.
You’re free to try the hardest ones at first, yes, and if you’re really good you could get esteemed abilities, changing the way you’ll play the other planets. But the most powerful weapons are the most energy demanding, too, so it won’t be that much easier, just different.
What are the different sights, challenges, and opponents we can expect to find across the planets, and how many are there?
The game features 8 planets, with 3 levels on each. And some final surprises I don’t want to spoil. Each planet is usually made of one level that focuses on your new ability, then a race, and finally a boss.
The rules of the events can be very different, though. I like to be surprised by the games I play, so I’m trying hard to do the same thing here!
How did you come up with the main character, Penelope?
Well, at the very first, the game was built around Ulysses, not Penelope. Then I read the Odyssey again, and to be honest, I found that the Ulysses character was far from my childhood memories.
You can definitely see how this fantastic adventure has been written by men, for men… So, I quickly switched to Penelope in order to keep what I love about it, but dramatically change everything else to introduce Penelope as a true, strong heroine.
One of the most outstanding parts of The Next Penelope is the use of color. How did you discover the art style that the game currently has?
Hey, thanks! Actually, I’m not really thinking about it. I’m just very inspired by the colors from the classic gaming era, I guess. I spent hours and hours on arcade cabinets and consoles in the ’90s, and sometimes I miss their powerful and flashy colors.
Fun fact: a few weeks ago, my wife and I were trying to define the name of colors in the house. It seems I don’t see the colors if they’re not strong enough… that could explain a lot of my work!
You’ve mentioned that The Next Penolope should be coming to Wii U, as well as PC. Any other platforms you’d like to bring it to, and any that seem quite possible right now?
Yes, the game is coming to Windows, Mac, Linux and Wii U for now. Two other studios are helping me for additional ports, but that’s quite a challenge due to the tools I’m using to make the game.
It seems they’re making good progress, so I really hope I’ll be able to bring Penelope to every single console and handheld on Earth… fingers crossed!
What happens after you release The Next Penelope? Are you hoping to continue creating games at Arkedo if it’s viable?
Penelope is the first game I’m making without a publisher, so I’m really focused on polishing and updating it even after the release so I can be proud of it. After the first release, I will add the new modes people are asking me, like a local multiplayer one, score-based events, and then only I will start the next one.
As I’m making the game alone, I cost nearly nothing, so I don’t need to sell much. Hopefully, the sales, even without a great success, should allow me to work on a new project.
On the Arkedo side, it would be difficult to start a real, big project. Teams of adults with wives and kids cost real money, and this make things way more difficult to produce the niche games we love. The Arkedo boss is now only focused on his restaurant, while the lead developer and the producer work in Amplitude Studios or Ubisoft.
But, from time to time, we’re very happy to reunite and make things together again. “Poöf versus the Cursed Kitty”, a small but fast paced arcade game we made, even if Arkedo has been officially disbanded, was selected for PAX 10 a few weeks ago. We’re thinking about adding new stuff and see if the game could come to consoles with the help of Neko Entertainment.