Hyper Light Drifter TV series in the works from creator Alx Preston and Castlevania’s Adi Shankar

Heart Machine

Known for challenging combat, stunning pixel visuals, and a palpable, post-apocalyptic fantasy atmosphere, the world of Alx Preston’s action-RPG Hyper Light Drifter earned major praise when it arrived in 2016. Now the game’s ready to return to screens — but this time, as a television show.

Preston confirms to Polygon that he and producer Adi Shankar, whose game adaptations include Netflix’s Castlevania and upcoming series based on Devil May Cry and Assassin’s Creed, are actively in development on an animated series based on the title. Hyper Light Drifter, developed by Preston’s indie studio Heart Machine, debuted in the spring/summer of 2016 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. A Nintendo Switch version arrived in September 2018.

In conversation with Polygon, Preston said he and Shankar are actively reaching out to writers to lead the TV adaptation, and are still working on exactly how to translate Hyper Light Drifter’s gameplay experience to a non-interactive medium.

“The difference between a series and a game is vast in a lot of ways,” he says. “Hyper Light as a game was pretty atmospheric and kind of overbearing at times. For a series, the question is: how do you sustain and keep your attention on a non-interactive run? Does it get really, really dark and serious? Does it have some levity?”

At this early stage, Preston says he and Shankar are “leaning a lot more towards something that’s representative of the game on the style side,” although the visuals will likely trend toward anime-esque animation rather than a straight interpretation of the game’s pixel designs.

The films of Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli animation studio were a major influence on Hyper Light Drifter, and should be again as Preston and Shankar conceptualize the story, and storytelling, of the series. Of all the guiding light Miyazaki’s films provide, the director’s formal purity seems especially essential in these nascent moments.

“There’s still a question of how much dialogue we really have, if any,” Preston says. “Could it be a more silent series or would we have voice acting? Considering Hyper Light was wordless, there’s an idea there of how much that would carry over to to a show.”

Speaking at Polygon’s panel at the Vox Media SXSW event The Deep End, Shankar emphasized that his recent streak of adapting games is one driven by a love for the medium and a desire to translate the work of passionate creators like Preston.

“[I’m doing this in] the same way that, back in the day, a director or writer would read a book and say, ‘Oh my god, this book’s amazing,’ not, ‘Oh my god this book’s sold so many copies,’ and then they’re seeing dollar signs like a cartoon,” he said at the panel. “It’s important for me not to just all of a sudden become the AAA junkie. To just go like, ‘OK, what are the biggest franchise, I’m going to jump on all of them.’ That’s not why I’m trying to do this.”

Asked if there’s anything else fans of Hyper Light Drifter should know about his and Shankar’s series, Preston makes the biggest promise of them all: “We’re going to make it cool.”

Comments

Even though I haven’t played the game yet, I hope they bring Disasterpeace back for the soundtrack, because pretty much everything he does is awesome.

Everything he does is so amazing and unique, it was surprising to find out he did the "stock action soundtrack #250" stuff for Triple Frontier. The one, singular time I personally didn’t enjoy a soundtrack of his, in over a decade of listening to his music.

Not sure why you even need DisPeace if he cranked out something like that. You’re hiring to be unique I’d say, not that generic stuff.

I wonder if that wasn’t necessarily his choice. I have Hyper, and haven’t seen Frontier yet, but it’s just odd overall.

Very unexpected, and very awesome. I love this game and everything about it. I’ll definitely watch this.

Serious question – what did you like about it?

Personally, I’m on the fence; I’m about halfway through as I’m writing this. I like the color scheme, and the combat feels fantastic. it’s the best part. It’s fun to cruise around slashing through a nice variety of enemies.

But not too far into the game it felt more like a demo for a zelda game than a game in and of itself. Many of Drifter’s moves are copy/paste from zelda games. But there aren’t as many bosses, there aren’t any mini-games, there aren’t any real puzzles (just a "find the pixel" variety), and there’s no real story.

What were your thoughts?

I’ll def watch this show.

The game’s tough but fair combat and aesthetics really appealed to me and helped to paper over my issues with it. Like you said, there isn’t much game here once you get past the presentation and the combat is pretty simple. Each area only has a few different types of enemies and is pretty small. There isn’t much interaction with the environment and the NPC’s might as well not be there. The skill tree is linear and doesn’t allow for any type of customization. There doesn’t actually seem to be a story beyond you are sick and have to kill the big bad before you die. Alot of the stuff they talked about or showed during the kickstarter campaign (a small segment piloting a mech, more gun and grenade variety, "prestige" for weapons) got cut out. I appreciate how focused and tight the game is but it definitely feels kind of empty and unfinished.

I’d say the atmosphere is the main thing that pushes the game into being something special for me. The art, music, lack of dialogue, combat, and cutscenes all come together to convey such a sense of emotion that made the game a unique experience. That feeling of wonder mixed with isolation and despair mixed with hope, stuck with me long after I finished playing. And the way the game only hints at the story had my imagination on overdrive, which just increased my immersion. This approach to storytelling wouldn’t have worked if the overall atmosphere and mechanics didn’t work so well.

Speaking of mechanics, I also loved the combat, that when you’re in the groove you feel like a master of the battlefield, dodging attacks and striking just at the right moment, but then any little mistake can send that all crashing down.

It’s up there with Bastion for me as one of my favourite games, mainly because of how they both managed to evoke actual emotions in me (and in very different ways).

Wow. WOW. WOW.

Does it get really, really dark and serious?

Considering Shankar’s track record — "fan" shorts for the Punisher and Venom, plus grimdark Power Rangers, grimdark Mr. Rogers … I’m gonna say "yes."

I really liked the Castlevania show (as well as Dredd) but the dude has a very … predictable fingerprint.

I’m super skeptical that this could work as a show, mostly because lots of the game’s style and atmosphere came from of the choice to have zero written or spoken words in-game. You’d either have to add dialogue and change the entire feel, or have a wordless show, which I don’t see being sustainable across episodes (it could make a great short film though).

But I really love HLD and would be more happy if they proved me wrong.

I could see a Hyper Light Drifter cartoon done like the original Aeon Flux shorts… no dialogue, just sound effects, odd musical cues, and super stylish animation and interesting concepts.

I wonder if this will actually have a story or if it will just show you random pictures of cool looking neon things like the game.

A silent, Samurai Jack-style show based on one of my favorite games of all time?! This sounds wonderful! I really hope Alx can make something that feels true to his original inspiration for HLD. I’d also love to help write for this show…

[T]he visuals will likely trend toward anime-esque animation rather than a straight interpretation of the game’s pixel designs.

It wasn’t until I read this sentence that I realized how badass it would be for this series to be animated in the same pixel art style as the game!

Has there ever been a pixel-art animated series?

Oof, I don’t trust this to be good in the least. I hope they enroll Disasterpeace again for the soundtrack, then at least we’ll have more of that.

The game, for me at least, had such a slow and "landscapey" pace. It was gory at times, challenging, but the main note was "unrelentingly beautiful". If they are trying to turn it into something like the Castlevania series they will cut precisely what set HlD apart from other top-down brawlers.

It won’t spoil the game, mess my childhood or shit like that, but I highly doubt it can make the game any justice.

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