Love grew out of inexperience.
Developing his first game ever, Fred Wood didn’t know how to program checkpoints. So he let players make their own. Now, that mechanic is central to Love‘s blend of tough platforming and dangerous exploration.
Players have 100 lives to throw away in each pixelated platform-hell level of Love. If you’re not sure what lies ahead, or not sure how the environment will react to you, it’s best to lay down a check. Don’t worry about dying. It’ll happen a lot.
It’s part Super Meat Boy, part VVVVVV — the creators of those games have expressed their admiration of the title — with an added dose of forward-thinking puzzles. Love just hit Steam Early Access for the very low price of $1.99.
Wood worked on a number of non-gaming projects before Love (including a tiny table made specifically for flipping), but this minimalist action-platformer is his first “real” game. It grew out of an affinity with punishing old school titles.
“The first game I ever played was the brutally difficult Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which as I recall didn’t have any kind of checkpoints,” he said in an email interview.
“I decided I’d make the levels based around the idea of dangerous exploration. Sometimes something might kill you when you weren’t sure if it was or not, but if you’re careful and leave a spawn point before you jump to your doom, you won’t lose much progress.”
But why the name Love? Why is such a punishing, dangerous game named to evoke feelings of care and affection? Well, Wood initially imagined Love as the world’s first dating sim platformer.
“Your performance in beating each level was graded and how well you did affected the relationship at the end of the game,” he said. “I may still do that someday, but I’m pretty sure it’s a terrible idea.”
A tri-tone unconscious
The game’s visual style, abstract though it may be, also evokes an older generation of games. SNES and Master System artists have created gorgeous art, Wood explains, despite the restrictions of the platforms. This is something that Wood found inspiring.
“I imposed a restriction on myself to only have three colors on the screen at any time under a very low resolution, and I’m happy with what came out of it,” Wood said. “Every pixel I placed mattered to the design of the level as well as the aesthetic.”
It’s hard to quite make out just what sort of world you’re exploring. One minute you’ll appear to be visiting Mayan ruins or dodging sawblades, and the next you’ll be jumping from one mechanical mushroom to another. While there’s no overarching theme, there’s definitely a clear direction.
“Each level had a different unconscious theme,” Wood said. “I’ve iterated on each stage so many times over the years that whatever theme was there initially is something very strange and wonderful that came out as the final design.”
Love‘s design is underscored by an ambient, surreal soundtrack by James Bennett. He’s an old Internet friend of Wood’s that whipped up some background music for the very first test level of Love so that he’d be able to show the game to people.
“I found initially that I liked the music more than the game, and asked him to work with me,” said Wood. “I hope that the Steam release of this game will find us a little financial success so James can stop working so much at the UK Pawn Shop he’s at and spend a little more time in front of his piano.”
While a decidedly minimalist and brief experience, Love is impressing gamers with its 12 succinct levels and speedrun modes. Wood has been working hard to fix any bugs that the community finds before moving on to expanding the game.
Still, he tells us that more levels are coming, along with a move to an image-based level builder and Steam Workshop support. He also reveals ideas for a local versus multiplayer, but admits “that’s way down the line.”
Until then, Love continues to occupy a space between unending fear and warm, calming embrace. In a recent update, Wood said he thought the game would be out of Early Access (but still in continuing development) on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, which is quite fitting.
For $1.99, it’s worth giving it a shot. Love is available on Steam or directly from Fred Wood’s website.