I was excited to pick up Neon White when I saw its trailer, although I’ve never been good at the kind of game that requires completing objectives as quickly as possible. There’s something deeply alluring about the way the title tackles core mechanics through map-based weapons, wacky characters, and refreshing levels.
The indie game quickly became one of the best I’ve played this year and one that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. So, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Angel Matrix’s Ben Esposito, regarding the creation of Neon White, its mechanics, and the burning question of whether a multiplayer option was ever considered.
Ben Esposito talks about the inspiration, influences and development journey to bring Neon White to life
Q) To begin, could you describe Neon White for our readers?
Well: Neon White is a single-player speedrun FPS, where you can sacrifice your weapons for divine parkour moves. It’s a bit of a first-person shooter, a platformer, a time trial, and a puzzle game. All of this and an anime-inspired visual novel about dead-in-heaven assassins.
Q) Neon White resists concrete labels and categories that players can tag and sort it with. There is a combination of various mechanics, including a puzzle platformer, card-based gun system, and blistering pace. What was the inspiration and influence behind creating a title like Neon White?
Well: Neon White’s presentation is heavily influenced by 2000 era video games and anime. It’s meant to be the most “video game” video game we can make. However, it’s not really based on any particular game or genre. Some influences include Jumping Flash (the granddaddy of first-person platformers), Super Monkey Ball, Team Fortress Jump Maps, Danganronpa, and Lovely Planet.
Q) I think one of the great things about Neon White is how fun it makes replaying and grinding. Rather than being tedious, players are encouraged to do better and find a faster way, especially with the inclusion of a leaderboard. Did the team envision the game like this from the start? And, what was the thought process behind having card-based shooting?
Well: It all started with a prototype I created in 2018, a map-based FPS. I wasn’t happy with how it worked, but at the last second I tried the concept of discarding a card in order to get a special ability (the very first was the Raise card, which gives you a second jump ).
I sent the prototype to a friend, and an hour later they sent me back a list of their best times. We were hooked on competing with each other to use cards more efficiently.
The game is ultimately built from the ground up with replay levels and competition for ranking times in mind. It’s not a bonus, it’s the heart of the game itself!
Q) Tell us about the development journey behind the title, specifically the level design, soundtrack, and art style. Are there any incidents or interesting information you would like to share?
Well: We had to redo the environment art halfway through development. We always thought the game should run at a high frame rate, so it would be responsive.
When we partnered with Nintendo to launch on the Nintendo Switch, we weren’t sure it was possible to run the game at a consistent 60 frames per second. But after a big team effort, we were able to rebuild the art to look even better than before and run steadily at 60fps.
As a bonus, the game runs much better on PC!
Q) I felt that the theology-inspired narrative as well as many optional stories did not need to be completely understood and comprehended to fully experience the title. Was this an intentional move on the part of the developers?
Well: Time trial games require a high level of concentration to improve your times, which can often become exhausting over 10-20 hours. We created Neon White’s unique setting and narrative to provide respite from the medal hunt that can wear people down.
I think characters and settings add dimensions to the game, but we built the game knowing that some players prefer to focus on levels alone. It was important to us that it was possible for these players to have a good time, even if I can’t relate to them.
Q) Given the ranking system in place, did the team ever discuss a multiplayer option when developing Neon White?
Well: We are a very small development team, so to preserve our sanity, all talk of multiplayer is quickly avoided.
Q) Neon White has received an overwhelmingly positive response from critics and gamers. What was the team’s reaction to seeing such comments post-launch?
Well: We were surprised by the critical reception. At the time of writing, it has a score of 90 on Metacritic, making it the fourth highest-reviewed PC game of 2022.
When we started developing it, we thought the game was so unconventional that critics would hate it, so we made no effort to satisfy critics. It looks like it may have actually worked to our advantage.
Q) Will we see more of White, other characters and the world of Neon White in the future?
Well: We don’t have any concrete plans at the moment, but I’d love to see more!