I recently played through the demo for Pine Hearts, a cute little cozy puzzle platformer from Hyper Luminal Games. You play as a hiker re-exploring the trail he walked with his father as a child, solving puzzles, helping other campers and hikers, and collecting memories. It was short, sweet, and to the point while still being heartfelt and fun.
The demo is available for free on Steam, so I highly recommend getting a taste of the mechanics and vibe before the full release. This is especially true if you're a fan of games like Untitled Goose Game or Night in the Woods; while Pine Hearts is definitely lighter in tone, it's got a similar sense of humor. The art style is precious, the game has lots of great accessibility features already, and hey, you can pet multiple dogs! If that's not a good reason to download it, I don't know what is.
I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Rob Madden, the Creative Director and cofounder of Hyper Luminal Games as well as the mind behind Pine Hearts, so please enjoy hearing more about this lovely company and their adorable game.
The art style is precious, the game has lots of great accessibility features already, and hey, you can pet multiple dogs!
Rob explained to me that Hyper Luminal Games was started by him and Stuart Martin just after they left university. They met in their post-graduate studies and hit it off, enjoying working together on small projects, so much so that they went into business in 2014 and founded HLG in Dundee, Scotland. The company started out very small, but quickly took off, and almost a decade later now, has become Scotland's largest work-for-hire studio with more than 80 employees. They've worked on some impressive games including A Little to the Left, Hellboy Web of Wyrd, Planet of Lana, and many more.
With this in-house game, Rob describes how Pine Hearts came to be as a sort of happy coincidence of having an important story to tell just as the cozy games market took off explosively in 2020 and 2021. "The market suddenly had a name," he says, "and there were people that wanted [the game]."
Rob lost his father in 2019, and as a part of processing that grief, came up with the basic story of Tike, a young man hiking the last nostalgic trail in the nature park he used to frequent with his father in order to complete his hiking journal. Our job as the player is to help Tike get ready for the hike by exploring, interacting with others, and solving puzzles. Along the way, we'll explore memories that reveal Tike's backstory and his relationship to his father. The game covers themes of loss, grief, moving forward, and coming to terms with that loss in a healthy way. Rob notes that the game is intended to have a hopeful tone even as it delves into these heavier topics.
Rob lost his father in 2019, and as a part of processing that grief, came up with the basic story of Tike, a young man hiking the last nostalgic trail in the nature park he used to frequent with his father in order to complete his hiking journal.
When it came to developing the actual style of the game, Rob notes that his major influences came from game series that he already loved. He has a soft spot for his favorite series, Zelda, and especially for the cartoonish and whimsical Wind Waker, whose creative tool systems and ability uses inspired quite a lot of the puzzling aspects of Pine Hearts as well as its visual style. For level design, Rob looked, somewhat unexpectedly, to the Souls series for its cleverly looping, connected maps. "They fit together like puzzle pieces," he told me, hoping that his game would do something similar to create a cohesive nature park map that was still fun to explore.
I asked Rob how he hoped people would respond to the game, and if he'd gotten any surprising responses from players of the demo. Rob says he'd like people to take away appreciation for the time they have with their loved ones and for the way a lost person impacts the world they left long after their gone through their interactions with the people they leave behind. He said that he was surprised when, after the demo was released, many players came to him to express the hope they felt from it in the wake of their own losses. It was humbling, Rob admitted that complete strangers would open up to him about something so vulnerable and personal.
On a lighter note, I asked Rob what his favorite moment in the game was, and what he liked most about its development. He laughed and told me that he loved the interaction players have in the demo with Turtle Kid, a child with a too-heavy backpack who's struggling to stand. Players can help him by flipping him over, triggering a cute little animation of his successful standing and waving in thanks. Rob says that this early interaction went on to inspire lots of other little things players can enjoy and helped to set the vibe for the game.
Rob says that he's thoroughly excited for people to play the game and talk about it, whether directly to him and the team or on social media with each other. As an indie game studio, word-of-mouth is a powerful agent in the success of the game, so he encourages people to spread the word if they enjoy it. Practically, he also asks that people wishlist the game on Steam and follow them on social media for updates about its release.
Pine Hearts comes out tentatively in March 2024, but you can play the free demo right now on Steam.
Sign in or become a SUPERJUMP member to join the conversation.