The Man Behind Yooka and Laylee

Steve ‘don’t call me Steven’ Mayles is one of the star names on the Playtonic call sheet.

The man behind countless iconic game characters often gets stopped and asked for photographs in restaurants, occasionally allowing the odd hug or man-smooch. But inside the studio walls he can be himself: just ‘Steve’ (but definitely not Steven) and it’s during this time, away from the plight of fame, that he creates his best work.

Over the past months we’ve observed him scribbling away at his computer crayon pad dreaming up his next great platforming heroes. They’ve changed a lot since the halcyon days of ‘Yooka the Tiger’ and ‘Laylee the European Badger’ (may have made that one up), and finally – after exchanging a modest appearance fee – Steven’s agreed to share their story here on our website.

Don’t forget you can continue to contribute to our Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter – and Steve might even be persuaded to sign something.

Mayles is easily distracted by passing wildlife, traffic or weather.

Why ‘Yooka’ and ‘Laylee’? Seems a bit convenient to me?

It was planned like this from the start. Yes, that’s right. It wasn’t just a happy coincidence that ‘Ukulele’ splits so well into two character names, honest.

Actually, someone on the team picked up a Hawaiian dictionary and apparently ‘’uku’ means ‘a small brained person’ and ‘lele’ means ‘to fly’ or, excitingly, ‘to get off of a vehicle’. That’s definitely not a coincidence either.

What came first, the gameplay ideas for Yooka and Laylee or their character designs?

We tried to have a gameplay-first approach for this game and the ideas for movement and some kinds of abilities were always subconsciously kicking around in my mind. But once the designs were settled a lot of the other moves obviously naturally grew from there.

We have so many great new moves lined up based around their natural abilities – colour changing, tongue shooting, tail whipping, sonar blasting, the list goes on! And of course we’ll chuck some platformer staples in there as well for good measure.

The Bat Cave
Soon to be arrested for public exposure.

How difficult were Yooka and Laylee to come up with compared to your previous, most famous creations?

The process was pleasingly similar actually. Being given free reign and trust to create (with only gentle prodding from Gav!) is a great thing. I steered away from brown fur and pink skin though – I’ve had enough of that. There’s no fur here.

My initial idea was a tiger as they are great-looking animals, but he never got past the sketch phase. He was deemed a bit too much of a ‘hero’ with wide shoulders, tiny waist. My past characters were rather reluctant heroes, underdogs if you like, and we’ve looked to capture something similar with Yooka and Laylee.

An early sketch of Laylee

Something we thought about for a good while was how Laylee would be attached to Yooka. The desire to add a backpack was great I must admit; what a fine solution that was! But backpacks are so 1998. In the end Yooka’s head crest was adapted slightly for carrying Laylee.

Will Laylee inherit some kind of bat-mobile during the game?

No. Layee’s feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. And when was the last time you saw a bat driving a vehicle? Who wrote these questions?

“Kirkhope would say my template for a successful character is ‘big eyes, big teeth big belly’. You can’t go wrong with those traits, surely?”

I did. Now, what can you tell us about the pair’s personalities? Was it important to create a dynamic?

Not unlike a certain bear and bird, Yooka is the more sensible of the duo, Laylee being rather highly strung and crazy. Bigger character = sensible, smaller character = a bit mad. A time-honoured tradition – it’s a winner. I don’t think the bat will be quite as insulting as the bird though!

It’s really important to create a dynamic yes. Laylee provides the comic relief, while Yooka is more of an all-round good guy who hopefully the player will be able to relate with.

A Long Day
How we felt on Friday evening.

How did you balance capturing the spirit of your previous heroes, while at the same time trying to do something new with these characters?

It wasn’t something I’d thought about until you just asked the question. The ‘spirit’ you mention comes from the whole game experience the characters go through together I think, it’s more than just a couple of characters. But of course the characters need to be appealing in the first place and have the potential for ‘spirit’.

Interaction with the other game characters is something important that adds to this; I’m really looking forward to fleshing out the world with these. Kirkhope would say my template for a successful character is ‘big eyes, big teeth big belly’. You can’t go wrong with these traits, surely?

Finally, why isn’t Yooka wearing any trousers?

Well, I tried gloves, shoes, a hoody, trousers, knee pads and even leg warmers(!) But he just looked wrong. Or maybe it was my bad art skills? Anyway, au-naturale was the way to go. Especially since he’s going to need to use those special camo powers.