Rain World is hard to explain but can be best described as a cross between a survival horror game and a platformer, under development by Joar Jakobsson and James primate. It had a successful Kickstarter campaign raising more than double its initial goal. Over the last few months, the game has expanded significantly moving to Unity to allow for better visuals and improved functions. James agreed to answer a few questions about the game and its development.
In the interview he talks about some of the influences behind the Rain World, what they are hoping to achieve and what players can expect from the harsh world that your character lives in.
You have been developing Rain World for over three years now. What have been the main challenges and obstacles that you have had to overcome in that time?
Haha, oh man, well if you really want to know, the devlog is like 120+ pages long… Outside of technical stuff, you know, more vague things like “overcoming self-doubt” and “keeping it all together” are probably the most prominent. Nothing too huge, but when a project goes for so long, sometimes it hard to see exactly where you are.
Rain World appears to shun some of the gameplay elements that you would traditionally associate with platformers, such as collecting a number of items to progress. Was that the plan from the outset?
Honestly, “planned” might be too strong of a word. Rain World sort of just grew organically. Initially, Joar was only intending to make some little fun game to play with his cousin with no thought of making it into something anyone else would see. But there was an essential mechanic in the game that was very interesting and implied all sorts of cool things: this element of the scarcity of food, the challenge of predators hunting you as food, and cycles of rain and hibernation to push those things around. From there, a whole world and ecosystem was extrapolated.
Therefore, as it was never intended as “a platformer” it is probably not surprising that it does its own thing. As I put it in a TIGSource thread a while back, Rain World is more like a terrarium; kind of an experiment in creating and navigating an interesting ecosystem, putting these creatures together and seeing what happens.
I think this leads to some uncommon game design choices that we can make, as you mentioned, and hopefully that creates a unique experience for the player. Basically, we are just doing things that are interesting to us!
From past interviews and other information, you have released so far there doesn’t seem to be a conventional story. Does the narrative evolve from the player exploring the environment, discovering new areas and coming to their own conclusions?
I would say it’s that exactly. Ideally, we’d like the “story” of Rain World to be suggested to the player through the game mechanics and circumstances of the environment, rather than as some tacked on “a long time ago…” text that shoehorns you into a story from a certain linear perspective. You touch on it a bit more in a later question, but one of the reasons for this is that we’d like people to be able to play the game in a bunch of different ways and have them each be equally rewarding.
As a lot of the game is procedural, any way you can find to satisfy the game mechanics (“survive”) will be the right way. But there will also be the option of exploration and discovering what the world has to offer. We’re hoping to achieve something that acts like a game but looks like a sandbox. Or maybe the other way around!
Considering the lack of conventional storytelling methods, how important is the music and sound design in establishing the mood and setting the atmosphere?
Very! And it’s even trickier for the reasons I just mentioned: we don’t want to be too literal with anything because situations need to be somewhat open (or at least varied) in how they unfold. No cut-scenes or “this is the bad guy, fight him!” music. Yet we still want to shape some sort of narrative experience with it. So the intention is setting a tone that is both somewhat ambiguous, yet emotionally evocative enough to imply some sort of “story”.
The music will go hand-in-hand with the art in this regard. The mood of the locations you explore will have a great significance in understanding the mysteries of Rain World, and the music and sound will be an integral part of interpreting that. As a composer, it has been great fun thinking of how to make this happen.
Have you made the game in such a way that it will allow players with different styles to approach problems in their own unique ways?
Yes! That’s been a big goal. I don’t want to say too much more about that other than what I already have, but basically if you can find ways within the framework to survive, then you will be rewarded.
What is the overall aim for the player in Rain World then – to survive?
Think of Rain World as a miniature ecosystem. At the very basic level the goal is always to survive, but hopefully you will be going places, doing things and surviving in an interesting way. The basic game mechanic by itself is really fun to play, so we wanted to make sure that in expanding from that we didn’t trample on what made it good in the first place. You can play to just survive, arcade-style, and that’s totally cool and “canon”, or the option will be there to go far beyond that as well.
Your Kickstarter campaign was hugely successful, achieving its initial goal in just three days. How has that success, and the financial backing that came with it, affected development?
It really has. The game we posted for the kickstarter was a relatively small thing, and at the time we were basically just looking to get enough funding to hopefully polish it up nicely and send it off on its way, but fate had other plans! Now we have the opportunity to do some really cool things that we had always sort of talked about with stars in our eyes. To be honest, it’s much much harder now really! Joar is in the process of completely rebuilding the game engine from the ground up to expand the depth of what we can do with this world and we’re both pushing our skills to new limits, because… why the heck not? Let’s make something really interesting!
Has that success brought any additional pressure, knowing that so many people are expecting Rain World to be a great game?
You know, everybody has been so nice about that. The kickstarter backers always respond so positively when we post updates and things, the Adult Swim guys are really enthusiastic. So it feels good, like everybody is rooting for you. Yes, certainly we don’t want to disappoint them. I think kickstarter specifically is such a hype machine: you build these campaigns allowing people to imagine all the possibilities, and inevitably the game you make can only be one possibility. There is not real way to mitigate that other than to just stay true to what appealed to people in the first place, so we are thinking a lot about that.
Previously you have talked about the different multiplayer modes available, such as co-op and deathmatch. Are you planning to make these modes available online as well as locally?
Ah, that’s something we’d love to do, but the reality of having a 2 person team is that network coding is insane. So we are keeping our options open on that if it magically becomes possible of course, but most likely it will be 2 player local co-op and 4 player local multiplayer for various competitive modes. Actually, we showed a limited alpha demo of just the Vs. mode stuff at PAX and had a really great response. People thought that was the whole game! So we’re probably going to be beefing up that aspect as well, and having the single player and multiplayer sort of work off each other.
What has it been like to be part of such a small team? Hah, we’ll see in 6 months! It’s been pretty great so far, since we are both very independent. Neither of us really likes oversight and we both are quite self-motivated and hardworking, so it works out well. But if anything falls apart, there is no one else to blame! It is a pretty crazy amount of work though. I wouldn’t recommend it for sane people with lives and an interest in human interaction or sunlight.
Has it allowed you to stamp your own individual personality and characteristics into the game.
Oh man at this point I’m pretty sure my whole damn genome is in this game. Certainly even more so for Joar. It’s a really personal project for both of us.
You also recently announced that you had managed to get Rain World working in Unity. What benefits has the move from Lingo brought other than allowing you to bring the title to more platforms?
Good question. An absolute ton. Let’s just start by saying that Lingo / Director was never meant for the level of procedural insanity that Joar was able to twist out of it. Unity itself is mostly just a platform for C#, but with C# you can do almost anything.
Take levels for instance. Before we could only have a certain relatively low number of sprites onscreen at one time (I think 100 or something), but with C# that’s only limited by your processor speed, so it’s literally magnitudes greater. Each character is made up of say 10 sprites and each level asset is s sprite, etc, so whereas before you could literally only have X amount of creatures of a certain complexity on screen, now we can literally do whatever we want. That right there is a huge essential deal.
Another cool one to point too is what Joar is working on now, which is having those same creatures remain active off-screen for whole regions of the game world. Rather than just popping into existence when you get close, what if they were actively hunting you or other creatures or getting into fights or hiding or migrating or that sort of thing? Makes for a much more interesting game world if other creatures have agency, don’t you think?
Joar had done a bit of that in the Lingo build, but we’re in the process of taking that idea much further with some (I think) really exiting results. And I could seriously go on all night with all the art, design and performance benefits. Even if the game looks very similar now, it’s almost as if an entire dimension has been added.
What other games, or even works from other mediums, have influenced the development?
So, so, so, so many. As an artist you’re always afraid to tell those sort of things because you’re always worried someone will think it’s too close! You’d probably never imagine it, but one of the strong early visual influences for the slugcat character was early Mickey Mouse cartoons! Obviously that’s evolved quite a bit, but it’s funny how those things go. One influence that I do think is really key is that a good chunk of the prototype development was done while Joar was teaching English in Ghana, so perhaps the realities of survival might have seeped in a little. I do know that Lyle in Cube Sector was a big early game influence for him.
For me, Dark Souls 2 came out right when I started working on the narrative stuff and I’ve been playing it non-stop ever since, so there has been an odd back-and-forth in my head. Mostly it’s because there are so many things I don’t like about DS2 that when I play it I’m thinking “got to make sure not to do this annoying thing”
Finally, are you still hoping to release Rain World by the end of the year?
Oh geez, we’d like to have it close to that! So many factors go into that sort of thing though. It’s possible we just might, but our primary objective needs to be to make the game as freaking cool as possible. Being that we are basement-dwelling indie types, we don’t have a pile of guys in suits telling us that we need to meet some arbitrary deadlines for profit or scheduling reasons, so we might as well use that to our advantage (within reason). Our obligation is to the players and the people who believed in Rain World, so we won’t sacrifice quality just to rush it.