Physics meets crafting in silly survival game Dropkick Navvy - PAX West 2023 hands-on/interview
At PAX West 2023, the Video Games Are Good team went hands-on with one of the first demos for Dropkick Navvy, a physics-based crafting game with light puzzle and platform elements announced September 1. Then, we sat down for a chat with Ocean Drive Studio's Lead Narrative Designer Brandon Carbaugh to learn more!
Give us a few twigs, rocks, and a crafting table and we're all in. The latest game in our PAX West 2023 series provides a brand-new take on the crafting survival genre, one that urges you to watch your step — because its physics-based shenanigans may see you trip on your way to the crafting bench.
Dropkick Navvy is inspired by the likes of Human: Fall Flat and Moving Out, offering a survival crafting sim that requires you to carry things with your own two hands and to tread carefully, lest you trip and drop your goods off the edge of the world... (Or, you know, embrace chaos. No one's stopping you.)
We had a chance to go hands-on with a very early build of the game at PAX called Dropkick Navvy: First Step, and it might have been some of the most fun we had on the show floor all weekend.
Hands-on impressions with Dropkick Navvy: First Step
Developer: Ocean Drive Studio
Genre: Survival, crafting, goofy physics sim
Dropkick Navvy shows its winking silliness almost immediately. You're dropped head-first into a world made up of hexagonal tiles and plopped in front of a tree with a scribbled-on face. The World Tree introduces itself and relays that it's now up to you to help the tree — and the entire cosmos by extension — survive. You must keep it watered, as its powers are the only thing keeping these land masses from falling into the abyss.
The World Tree's golden fruits are the key to expanding the land around you. Take one and toss it into one of the empty spaces around the edges and you'll unlock a new plot of land — a pond to gather water, a workshop where you can craft, and so on. Building out the world brings new resources, puzzles to solve, or even upgrades that can strengthen the World Tree's powers.
And so the core game loop reveals itself. Unlock tiles, freshen up that parched World Tree regularly within a running timer, gather resources, and craft new tools to make life easier. All sounds pretty simple and familiar, right? Well, consider that rushing around too quickly and getting stuck on anything means sending your lil' guy flying, and suddenly you might be thinking a little more carefully.
What's unique about Dropkick Navvy is that it blends the crafting game with goofy physics like you'd see in games like Overcooked or Totally Reliable Delivery Service. It encourages a sort of slapdash feel that acts as a great foil for the crafting survival genre: You're just trying to keep this world held together by a thread, but everything's a dang obstacle. Even your own hands and feet. You're punching logs and stones atop a workbench to miraculously whip up an axe. You're sprinting carelessly across the map to collect resources and take them where they need to go — or just punting them and hoping they reach their destination to save some time.
You only have your two hands to carry things around, meaning you'll need to use things like baskets to carry more. Stones and other obstacles sticking out of the ground will make you trip and send whatever you're holding flying. Jumping recklessly has a similar effect. But in the same vein, objects in the world are just as beholden to physics. Chop down a tree and the logs will roll around the fields. Break a rock and the individual pieces burst out and need to be gathered up. Sometimes, to get your stuff across the fields as quickly as possible, tripping and going flying is your best option.
It all makes for a bunch of concepts we take for granted in games like Minecraft — filling a bucket with water, for example — and reframes them in a fun way, like having to literally dip your bucket into a pond to fill it up. And the game's wacky physicality creates some puzzles that have those "will this actually work?" solutions that we loved playing around with in games like Tears of the Kingdom. In our time with the demo, for example, there was a tile I unlocked with a potion high up on some tower I couldn't quite jump to. After fruitlessly trying to make that jump for a while, I finally gave up and grabbed a log from a nearby tree. My thought was: "Maybe I could just knock it off the pillar!" Sure enough, after a few tosses, the potion was mine.
Those light puzzle elements that recontextualize how you approach a survival crafting game are so exciting and interesting that we had to learn more. After enjoying the comforts of a nice gaming chair and a solid desk at the Ocean Drive Studio booth for a bit, we sat down with the studio's Lead Narrative Designer Brandon Carbaugh to talk a bit more about Dropkick Navvy and its early development.
A chat about goofy physics, keeping development scope in check, and delivering what players want
VGG: Dropkick Navvy implements a really interesting physics-based engine that makes tasks like planting seeds or bringing stones to a building so much harder than you’d expect. What action do you think is the most changed in this game compared to a traditional crafting survival sim?
Carbaugh: I think the biggest thing is, with something like Minecraft, if you make a hundred arrows or whatever, they go right into your inventory. In this game, you have two hands and that is your inventory. And you have to run everything back and forth, which gives you a chance to engage with the physics system. Because you want to throw things and kick things and sprint around... and then you're tripping and dropping things and getting into that silly Octodad-like side of things, tripping over a rock and dropping your basket full of stones.
VGG: And with the timer that ticks down constantly, keeping you on your toes as you try to keep the World Tree watered...
Carbaugh: Exactly. It's a game that kind of wants you in that headspace of somebody who has 50 things to do and is running around like "AHH! AHH!"
VGG: The player's goal is to physically expand the world map in this game. Is there a certain endpoint it's building to? That's not something we commonly see in the genre.
Carbaugh: Yeah, so the goal of the game is you are looking for something called the Eternal Waterfall that will endlessly provide water to the World Tree. Without that, you have to water him yourself.
The full game, we're imagining, will take five or six hours to beat. The goal is to keep building the world out until you find that waterfall. But along the way, you'll build a ring of tiles, and then you'll notice you can't build anymore.
You have to make potions to make the World Tree a little stronger. And you'll find little puzzles as you progress that sort of gate your progress. For example, one of the things you'll find later in the game is a little wheel that you have to repair to fix the day-night cycle in the game. You can turn a crank and then the sun and moon turn.
VGG: Is it a lot of that kind of meta-humor and fun little challenges all throughout?
Carbaugh: Yeah! I would say the game is half-and-half between crafting and then the cute little platforming challenges and puzzles and things like that that go with the story of you being a fairy trying to repair the world.
VGG: As we played the demo, you mentioned multiplayer is a possibility?
Carbaugh: There's no hard plans for that, but it is on the list of features they are strongly considering adding. That's right at the top.
VGG: Similar games, like one of Dropkick Navvy's inspirations Human: Fall Flat, thrive with the support of user-created content. Do you think there's a possibility of mod support for Dropkick Navvy?
Carbaugh: At this point, I have not heard anything about that. I mean for one, the team for this game is just two people, but I will say that... Those kinds of things are what the culture of Ocean Drive Studio wants. Our studio is made up of a lot of mobile developers who came from large Korean mobile companies and really wanted to make artsy, independent stuff and hardcore tactics games and things like that.
So those features that players really want are on the top of the wishlist for us. It's just a matter of what's actually achievable.
VGG: What's the best way people can support the game and the development team right now?
Carbaugh: Right now, people can find the Steam page for this and they can wishlist it. And we'll have a free Early Access build coming out sometime in September. The full release will be sometime a year after that. So the best way people can support this is to download that free build and play it — and then we want to hear people's feedback.
We have a very active Discord, and we really invite community feedback. A lot of developers say "we want to hear your feedback" but don't really do much with it. For us, it really, actually affects design decisions in our games. If players say: "I find it annoying that I can't do X," that goes right to the top of the list. And this game is really early on, so we're looking for that kind of feedback.
We came away from our time with Dropkick Navvy impressed with its purposefully contained scope, its cheeky gameplay and intuitive design, and Ocean Drive's dedication to working with its community to make their games the best they can be.
If you want to support Dropkick Navvy, don't forget to wishlist it on Steam and keep an eye out for that free Early Access version coming very soon! While no official announcement has been made, Steam lists the Early Access release date as September 21. You can keep up with Ocean Drive in general, and for future Dropkick Navvy updates, on their website, Discord, and Twitter.