Interview: Ole Ivar Rudi (Rain Games) – World to the West

Rain Games most recent release was Teslagrad, a fun little game that had you manipulating magnets and magnetic fields to solve puzzles and fight bosses.  Their next release is called World to the West. It takes place in the same universe as that previous game, but it’s very different in feel from its predecessor.

Ole Ivar Rudi, the Art Director for Rain Games took a few minutes to sit down and talk to us about Teslagrad, World to the West and everything going on with Rain Games right now.

Thanks for joining us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and Rain Games for people who may not be familiar with you?

My pleasure! I’m Ole(twitter:@oleivarrudi), the art director for Rain, a small game development company on the west coast of Norway. Our previous game,Teslagrad, is a visual fairytale about magnet superpowers in the form of a hand painted exploration platformer, told entirely without dialogue.

We’re currently making its followup, World to The West- a sprawling top down action adventure with for unique playable characters, set in and around the ruins of an ancient civilization. It takes place in the same world as Teslagrad, but on another continent, and a few faces and story details will be recognizable to those that played the previous game.

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0000.pngYour most recent game was Teslagrad. It’s been released on a number of different platforms at this point. What was the overall reaction to the game and did you see a lot of variance in how it was released on those different platforms?

Overall we’re very happy with Teslagrad‘s performance, the vast majority of reviews were very positive and the audience reception has been great.

It’s sold about 1.6 million copies in total, enough to keep the studio running comfortably through the development of World to the West,. The Playstation platforms have shifted the most copies, much in part to it being featured as a PS+ game along the way.

The Wii U version has sold surprisingly well considering the smaller install base, though! We’ve also recently launched on Xbox One, where it’s doing respectably. The PC version has been out for a while so we mainly see sales peaks during sales and events on that nowadays, but we’re pleased with the overall sales numbers and it still contributes a decent amount to our budget.

We also released physical editions, first as a very limited edition for PC with Indiebox, then a wider PC and console release with the aid of publisher Soedesco. we initially considered it a gamble, but the reception has been overwhelming, so we have no doubts that we’ll do boxed copies of World to the West as well.

Was there anything that you learned during the process of working on Teslagrad that’s now helping out with the creation of World to the West?

Absolutely! We handled the porting of Teslagrad to consoles in-house, so we were able to start development on WttW with a much better grasp of how to optimize assets and project structure for several platforms. We also know how to navigate the bureaucratic mazes involved in rating processes, QA approval with the console manifacturers and asset submissions for the various storefronts.

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0001.pngOn a non-technical level, setting the game in the same world as Teslagrad has been very useful, as we already have a good grasp on how things works in that universe- there’s quite a bit of world building lurking just outside of view in Teslagrad!

Speaking of World to the West, what is that game exactly? Tell us a little bit about it.

It’s a top down action adventure (think old school Zelda or the Mana Series) with the distinction that you control four unique characters with their own abilities and upgrades, rather than playing as a single character with endless item menu switching. They all have their unique paths, strenghts and weaknesses, and you’ll need to utilize all of their skills to see all there is to see across the map.

It’s a bit more action filled than our last game. Teslagrad was mostly traversal puzzle focused, so you very seldom fought stuff outside of the boss rooms. World to the West has plenty of fanciful monsters roaming around!

The name” World to The West” references a newly discovered continent housing the abandoned ruins of an ancient civilization. The countries of the old world are taking baby steps exploring it, but they’re mostly comfortable lounging on the outskirts of the wilderness. However, our four main characters are about to discover a plot to reawaken whatever it was that ended this world, long ago.

The game takes place in the same universe as Teslagrad, but everything we’ve seen has a slightly more happy feel than before. How is this game going to continue exploring that world and expand on it?

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0002.pngThe team dynamic of the characters lends itself to lighter, more adventurous mood than the solitary journey in Teslagrad- The city of Teslagrad is pretty much the darkest and dreariest place in our universe, with its constant dark rain clouds, oppressive government and ever-present electrical crackling. There are some sequences in World to the West that take place there, and a few familiar faces pop up in the story, but mostly we move on to other, more exotic locales.

It’s not all sunny and nice in the new world, though- we’ve mostly shown images from the earlier areas in the game so far, but there’s some deep and dusty locales that feel quite a bit more menacing down the line.

There are multiple different characters to play as. How are they going to be different from each other and how will players use them to solve the different puzzles that they’re presented with?

Teri is an adventurer for hire. She’s got the ability to mind control animals, using them to fetch rare items for the highest bidder. It’s a pretty useful skill when you’re adventuring, too!

Lumina is a member of the mystical teslamancer order. She’s lost in the wilderness after a teleportation accident, but armed with arcane technology that gives her a lot of agility and attack power.

Lord Clonington is a brutish, naive giant of a man who happens to come from a long line of filthy rich aristocratic gentlemen, travelling the world at his leisure looking for things to fight for sport. He’s very useful when something big needs to be lifted, thrown, smashed or pummeled.

Finally, Knaus is a young boy who’s been exiled from a mismanaged mining colony run by unsupervised children(labor laws are pretty lax at the moment in the new world). He’s a bit of a pipsqueak, so he has to rely on his speed and cleverness to avoid or trick monsters rather than fighting them outright.

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0004.pngWill there be any sort of co-op in the game or will players, once again, be taking on this game alone?

Co-op was a bit of a dream feature for us during the planning stage, but this is a far bigger game than Teslagrad and it would be very hard to playtest it at our current team size and budget. The problem with co-op/multiplayer is that you need 2- 4 times as many people playtesting it at any one time, and when those people are also doing the art and programming it becomes a major time sink very quickly. So we’re focusing our efforts into making the solo campaign as good as it can possibly be instead!

Who knows, though. If WttW is a big success we might do multi-player content in the future. We certainly see the appeal of the idea!

Is there going to be anything about the different releases that will be specific to those platforms? Anything like additional support for the Wii U Game Pad, for example?

At the moment it’s being designed as a platform-agnostic game- we have ideas for unique features on every system, but we’re working on finishing up the main campaign and ensuring that it will run well on every target platform first and foremost.

I ended up playing through Teslagrad a number of times on different platforms, four different at last count. Each time I did I found new things hidden throughout the world that I hadn’t seen before. How many little hints about World to the West were hidden inside that game? I saw a few that I could think of, but how much is really hidden there?

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0006.pngThere’s quite a bit of stuff hinting to the world beyond the main story in Teslagrad- both for World to the West and the in-game universe in general. We have sort of an unofficial encyclopedia of the Rain Games universe locked away in the office. It’s not a leathery tome or anything, but there are a lot of notes about the cultures of the neighboring countries that we draw on and expand as needed.

There’s a lot of unmentioned history and events that exist in that game that are never explicitly mentioned, but the fact that we know about them means that they subtly influence other details, making the world feel more lived in.

You and I talk on Twitter a lot and one of the things I like talking to you about is game design, especially visually. You post a lot of handrawn, retro or de-made versions of your games. Any chance we’ll see some of those drawings come to life in a future game?

I’d love to do that at some point- It’ll likely be something short and small, but it’d be fun to have some of that stuff in playable form. The main problem is that I’m fully aware of the amount of work needed to make even a tiny little game!

Unity’s Andy Touch has been showing off some pretty rad upcoming tools for working with tile based graphics lately, maybe I’ll give it a shot when those are released as a learning exercise. Teslagrad was made way before Unity had any native 2D tools, so we had to develop our own tools for a lot of the stuff that comes included as part of the base package today. We pretty much had to rely on those custom tools for all of the ports to keep things consistent, and since World to The West is 3D, that means i’m not that familiar with the current native 2d tools at all!

I love the visual style of both Teslagrad and World to the West. What do you think is the most important thing to convey about a game visually?

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0007.pngReadability, first and foremost. A very frequent mistake done in game development is getting too used to how the game looks when sitting next to the computer, where UI elements, font sizes and background details are still pretty legible at tiny sizes.

A multi-platform game needs to cater to a lot of different screen sizes and viewing distances though- someone may be sitting 8 feet from a 22″ TV attempting to play the game! Even CD Project Red messed this up when they launched the Witcher 3 for consoles. The in-game text was basically too small to read on even large screen TVs at launch! They were very quick to release a patch though.

There’s a little trick I use a lot to playtest readability, which is to turn down the display resolution to 240p and see if everything on-screen is still identifiable (480p when it comes to choosing text sizes) it’s not pretty, but it really helps to identify whether something works visually or not.

Lighting plays a huge role too- not necessarily realistic, physical lighting, but contrast, color temperatures and mood. We cheat a whole lot with our lighting, approaching it from more of a stylized, emotional angle rather than a scientific angle.

Having a clear idea of you are trying to convey through the use of light and shadow in every scene can help make things a lot more memorable. The eye is drawn towards light, and this can be used to subtly direct players towards areas of interest and keep the game from feeling meandering and directionless. Naughty Dog are masters of this!

How much do the visual concepts of your games go through in the planning process. How much of your original designs usually end up in the final product?

Our design process is generally very fluid. Most of the important stuff in the game is tweaked and iterated upon constantly,we don’t really think of the initial sketches as blueprints!

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0008.pngWhile we have a very defined visual style, form generally follows function and we try to keep gameplay mechanics in mind first and foremost when blocking out the shapes of objects. The top down camera angle sometimes means that details need to be tweaked for readability after the fact, so I and the other guys on the art team often go back and do design changes once we have a rough implementation of something to make it work better in the context of the game.

Since we are constantly evolving the designs and are equally invested at every step, the sketch process bleeds over into the implementation, and it’s hard not to think of whatever ends up being the final asset as “the original design”.

How many iterations something receives often depends on how crucial the design is to the game. We try to spend time on the things players see a lot rather than generic single use background stuff, for instance.

When are you looking to target a release for World to the West and what platforms might people be able to expect to see it on?

We’re definitely aiming for a multi-platform release and it will definitely be released in the future- We’re keeping a bit mum on the subject of which platforms it will launch on first- there’s some new hardware coming up, too, so that’s exciting. who knows, maybe it’ll even release on that (sly look)

Is there anything else you might want to tell our audience about World to the West before we finish?

We’re hiding away a lot of little weird details in there. People are amazingly observant, so we’re really looking forward to seeing folks discover all of them!

Thank you again for joining us. How can people find out more about the game and interact with you and the rest of the team if they would like?

WorldToTheWest_Screenshots_0009.pngFirst and foremost, check out Teslagrad! It’s on the digital storefronts of all the major consoles (PS4, PS3, Vita, XBox One and Wii U), plus on steam (http://store.steampowered.com/app/249590/) and GOG (https://www.gog.com/game/teslagrad)!

We sometimes live stream our game development via https://www.twitch.tv/aslakrain so that’s probably the best way to peer into our process in an unfiltered way.

Also,a lot of us are on Twitter – I’m the most active on there as @oleivarrudi, but it’s definitely worth following our main accounts @rain_games and @WorldToTheWest.

plus other team members

@PeterMeldahl
@
StrideWideMan
@
AslakHelgesen
@
petteramland
@
Scullywen

official sites:

http://rain-games.com/
http://www.worldtothewest.com/
https://www.facebook.com/RainGames/
http://teslagrad.com/

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