Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts was one of the more original and exciting Microsoft-published games on the Xbox 360. Developer Rare, which started the series on the Nintendo 64, had expanded on the franchise’s platformer roots with a vehicle-building mechanic. Even though many people consider Nuts & Bolts a classic, Microsoft and Rare have left Banjo-Kazooie in the past. That has enabled startup developer Flashbulb Games to release a spiritual successor to Nuts & Bolts called Trailmakers that fills in the gap.
Trailmakers launched into Steam’s Early Access program for unfinished games on April 1 for $20. Flashbulb has it up and running with a sandbox mode, multiplayer, and more. The idea is for the studio to give players a variety of worlds to explore and plenty of tools to build their own, unique vehicles in the process. The studio is also promising new updates every three weeks, which could help it build a loyal audience that keeps coming back to see what’s new.
“We mostly want to optimize the game so it can run on lower-end machines, so people don’t have crash problems,” Flashbulb marketing boss Emil Stidsholt told GamesBeat. “But we also need to set aside time to make content for players for whom it works perfectly, who just want more of the game.”
Balancing between performance and new content is one of the most challenging things for the Trailmakers team. The company dealt with a slew of negative user reviews early on, and most of those had to do with performance across a variety of machines. But after putting out those fires, Flashbulb knows that it still has to get to work on new stuff for everyone.
As for now, Trailmakers has an expedition mode with a basic tutorial and then a number of challenges that act more like an advanced tutorial. Players spend these early hours learning the physics and unlocking new parts like wings, which they can then take into the sandbox mode to build a plane or helicopter. The sandbox is where Flashbulb expects most people to spend their time. But no matter what, the studio is trying to build worlds where people can explore with their friends and express their creativity by overcoming certain obstacles.
“That’s one of the things we wanted to do from the beginning, this thing where we pose a challenge to the player. It’s up to them how they want to solve it,” said Stidsholt. “There are multiple solutions. In the campaign, it’s sort of just a big open world full of environmental obstacles. There’s a clear goal in the distance, but there are multiple ways to get there. It’s up to you how you want to solve that. We don’t tell you what to do. But we do give you the tools you need to do it.”
So this is not exactly like a 3D Banjo-Kazooie-style platformer, but you should still expect similar design elements.
“When you get to the wind zone, you need to build something that’s aerodynamic, and that’s also where you unlock the aerodynamic parts,” said Stidsholt. “When you get to the lava zone, that’s when you get the hover parts. You know you can’t use your wheels anymore, because the rubber melts, so you have to build a hovercraft.”
Like with the hovercraft or airplane in Trailmakers, the pieces of the game’s success are all here. Flashbulb must put them together in a way that compels people to keep coming back through Early Access and beyond.