It’s no secret that 3D platformers aren’t all that they used to be. While indie developers have kept the 2D platformer alive and well over the years, their 3D counterparts haven’t fared nearly as well. Yet there’s a growing movement of indies and big publishers alike that aim to revitalize this once-great genre. Pumpkin Jack, an upcoming platformer created by French solo developer Nicolas Meyssonnier, is perhaps representative of this trend.
“Pumpkin Jack is a 3D action-platformer set in a spooky world suffering from a dreadful curse cast upon the very peaceful, but very boring land by the Devil,” says Meyssonnier. “You will take on the role of Jack, the Pumpkin Lord, who needs to stop a wizard who was asked by the scared humans who live there to get rid of the curse and put an end to the Devil’s fun.”
“I want people to enjoy Pumpkin Jack as much as I enjoyed living the Jak and Daxter adventure.”
From the start, Pumpkin Jack has been a modern game designed in the vein of the classics. In particular, the two greatest inspirations were easily the classic PlayStation platformers, MediEvil and Jak and Daxter.
“I spent my whole childhood playing those two games, quite literally,” Meyssonnier says. “I remember how much I loved Jak and Daxter 2 and 3, and I couldn’t tell you how many times I played them from beginning to end, again and again. The graphics were so simple yet so good, and I guess this is where I take the art style from.”
Both games inspired Pumpkin Jack in different ways. Meyssonnier expressed appreciation for the way that “In Jak and Daxter, you keep going on an adventure where your character evolves and becomes someone else through constantly changing environments,” and this gameplay loop creates what he calls “a real adventure game.”
“I want people to enjoy Pumpkin Jack as much as I enjoyed living the Jak and Daxter adventure,” Meyssonnier says, “so that is why I have decided to make an adventure game too.”
With this adventure focus in mind, Pumpkin Jack features plenty of gameplay variety, such as action combat and puzzles. Meyssonnier highlights that “there are many challenging enemies you’ll face in real-time battles, and it is important to master various combo attacks, [like] dodging and parrying.”
The game also features unique puzzle gimmicks that make use of Jack’s pumpkin-headed nature. To solve puzzles, Meyssonnier says that “Jack’s spirit can enter his pumpkin head and travel through to different areas that hold a variety of challenges.” He also made sure that players don’t go through their adventure alone, and instead, there’s other characters to help them along, such as “a snarky crow” and “a frightful owl,” that will accompany Jack on his journey.
Meanwhile, MediEvil inspired Pumpkin Jack’s haunted setting. “[MediEvil] is one of the precious few games that has this kind of spooky, scary atmosphere and I’m really into that,” Meyssonnier says. “I grew up in the countryside, in the middle of cornfields and creepy landscapes; I think this is what gave me this love for spooky settings.”
Meyssonnier’s own upbringing did play a significant role in the stylistic development of the game. “I remember enjoying the sunset over the cornfields,” he recalls. “I could imagine scarecrows and skeletons rising from the ground and dancing during the Autumn season.” These images would go on to form the setting for Pumpkin Jack – Meyssonnier’s rural upbringing is so special to him that “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to let go of it.”
Perhaps surprisingly, however, Pumpkin Jack doesn’t strive to stray too far from its classic inspirations. “Pumpkin Jack doesn’t try to set itself apart from Jak and Daxter and MediEvil,” Meyssonnier clarifies. Instead, “it’s more like a mix between the adventure side of Jak and Daxter and the atmosphere from MediEvil, in a brand-new story with new characters.”
Ultimately, the goal for this approach is to make the game accessible to players of all abilities. “The game is made to be enjoyed by people who played a lot of platformers during the PS2 era, but also accessible to people who didn’t necessarily experience that. I want newcomers to feel what I could feel when I was a child!”
“My ideal target audience would be the newcomers, actually,” Meyssonnier confirms. “I think 3D platformer fans will like the game and will feel the nostalgia I want them to feel, but nostalgia appeal means nothing to people who will discover this kind of game. So there has to be enough to appeal to new players on its own, while also having that nostalgia factor for lifelong fans.”
“I want this game to be perfect for people, not for me.”
No matter whether players grew up with the N64 and PS1 or if this is their very first platformer, Meyssonnier is taking player feedback to heart with Pumpkin Jack. At the end of the free demo on Steam, there’s a message from Meyssonnier asking players for feedback. “I am extremely reliant on feedback,” Meyssonnier says. “As I am solo-developing this game, I probably have no way to distance myself from my work emotionally, and this is why I trust all the players’ perspectives.”
The feedback certainly shows in the current build of the game. While Meyssonnier admits that he can’t take every piece of feedback because “there’s definitely some conflict of opinion,” player responses have greatly influenced the direction of Pumpkin Jack. Meyssonnier specifically highlights how the combat has changed. “The whole combat system is built on a foundation of the players’ advice, and each boss has been reworked a thousand times to make it as universally awesome as possible.”
Meyssonnier focuses on getting organic feedback from players. “Every time I see someone getting lost on one level, I don’t try to help them. I just try to understand what could be missing and how it can be fixed to make it clearer.” He clearly sums up his approach to player feedback: “I want this game to be perfect for people, not for me.”
Game development isn’t an easy ride, of course. “As I have been developing the game for 4 years now, there have been a lot of good and bad moments,” Meyssonnier admits. Major development struggles have included communication and marketing. “It’s great to make a game, but it’s better to have players playing it and in order to do that, you need to learn some basic marketing stuff…[which] is a whole other world.”
“Some people don’t know what they are missing.”
Even with the struggles, Pumpkin Jack is a dream come true for Meyssonnier. “Each new day of working on this game is the most satisfying part of the development. I enjoy every second of my work because even if I face heavy challenges, I still can feel how lucky I am to live my childhood dream.”
And hopefully, Pumpkin Jack will fulfill other players’ dreams too. 3D platformers have long been largely absent from the gaming market, and many bemoan this absence – including Meyssonnier. While he acknowledges that major companies are hesitant to create 3D platformers due to the high cost of development, he still believes that “the current market is missing so much by not investing in this particular genre.” He adds that “Some people don’t know what they are missing.”
“Reworking old games is nice, and I think some particular 3D ‘reignitions’ that came out in the past year or so might help rejuvenate the market’s interest in 3D platformers, but I think players will still want new games with new stories and new characters.”
Pumpkin Jack looks to take the iconic designs of classic 3D platformers and wrap them in a new presentation for the current market. As Meyssonnier pursues this mission with his game, it’s his hope that it will resonate with players. “I’m not necessarily going in with the expectation that Pumpkin Jack will be a huge hit, but at least, I know it will make some people very happy.”