After picking up a win at the 2018 Game Awards in multiple categories, the developers from Matt Makes Games were originally working on a new game following up on the success of Celeste, but it doesn't look like that game is coming to fruition, since the developers had to cancel it.
There was Medium post made by the developers at the tail end of 2018 heading into the new year by Noel Berry. The post goes through the explanation of what Skytorn was and why it eventually ended up getting cancelled, and an apology to the community for not being able to release the game...
I'm really sorry for those of you who were excited about this game. We were too. We poured a lot of time, energy, and heart into the project and we're definitely sad it's never going to see the commercial release we were hoping for.
Skytorn was a pixelated Metroidvania, designed with a similar art-style to games like Starbound and Edge of Space. The gameplay, however, was much closer to the likes of Super Metroid or Mega Man X, where players would scale through a techno-forest environment, platforming and battling their way through the open-ended levels.
Anyone familiar with the standard Metroidvania design has an idea of what they could expect from the title, especially given that there were the typical access puzzles to complete, long corridors to trek through, and bosses to fight.
There's actually a trailer for the game that gives you an idea of what Matt Makes Games was working on when the plug was pulled on the project.
So, what happened?
The answer is probably a lot more anti-climatic than what you would have hoped for, but the general gist of it was that the procedural Metroidvania didn't have a core direction.
The game had weapons, some levels, cool art, and some boss fights, but the team couldn't figure out where to take it or what it actually was.
A lot of the problems came from the clash between the procedural level generation and trying to craft a cohesive, linear story around that. What ended up happening was that the team had to keep going back and modifying the gameplay and layouts to become more and more linear. It's a problem that Gearbox ran into with Borderlands and its supposed procedural elements that were eventually whittled down to a more constricted and linear experience than what it was originally supposed to be.
Berry explains that at this point it's best to just part ways with Skytorn instead of trying to salvage what works because there's a lot that the team would have to get rid of, writing...
If we were to finish Skytorn I believe it would require us to throw away a lot of the code & gameplay design. A lot of aspects could be kept?---?our story, the art, the sounds & music, the general theme?---?but the gameplay would need to go. And at this point, we've all learned a lot. As much as we all love Skytorn and how much it's meant to us over the last several years, we're excited for new things and new projects.
The game was originally in development long before Celeste; it began back in 2012 and was being worked on ever since. However, the team's confidence was shaken when Nintendo released Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which did a lot of the things that they had planned to implement into Skytorn. There was a philosophical conundrum over pushing forward with the creative ingenuity of the procedural elements or pursuing a more cohesive and engaging story.
After releasing Celeste, the team decided it was best to just take what was learned from Skytorn and apply some of that to a new project without being tied down to making the game one way or another. It might be a ton of work, but technically the team could always release two versions of the game: the linear, finely sculpted game with a tight narrative and character development, and a second procedural game with permadeath and all the trappings of a rogue-like Metroidvania. For now, though, Skytorn is being shelved and the team is already hard at work on a new project.