Kevin Sardà, lead designer and Raúl Rubio, CEO and creative director, Tequila Works
Rime has emerged from its prolonged, fraught development – the story of which we charted in E305 – every bit as special as early glimpses suggested it would be. Here, lead designer Kevin Sardà (right, top) and Tequila Works CEO and creative director Raúl Rubio discuss the relief of reaching the end of their journey, and the remarkable attention to detail lavished on Rime’s world. Spoilers follow. After everything you’ve been through, are you happy with the finished game? Kevin Sardà It’s a really personal project, and everybody has their own hopes and dreams for it. But Raúl is the person that is closest to it. Raúl Rubio I’m relieved we’ve finished it and I’m very happy for my team and what we have achieved together.
Do you have any regrets?
RR The only regret is the costumes; we wanted them to have extra powers – like letting you breathe underwater – but it broke the game. It wasn’t fun in the end.
With the kid’s toys, you’ve made collectables feel worthwhile. Was that your specific intention?
KS For us, adding collectables was a way of rewarding players who want to explore or try different things. We didn’t want it to be like, ‘Collect 1,000 seashells’, just so you can get an achievement. We also had a lot to explain, because there are no words at all in the game, and all of that is scattered among the collectables. We had to be creative, because we couldn’t have any upgrades whatsoever. We couldn’t have an economy system or just scatter money around the game, because players aren’t going to be able to buy weapons or a double jump. So all the different tricks that are normally used had no place in our game. In the end, we tried to use that as a strength, instead of a weakness.
RR Usually collectables are something you need by design, like Kevin says. But for us it was more like a dance between narrative and design. You will have noticed that the whole game is basically a narrative that is being played out – in the end it was something that helped us a lot to be able to create more elements for the story, but we feel really proud that the collectables are something that complement the game.
The toys lend huge power to the game’s conclusion.
RR Believe it or not, we had people crying in the studio. It’s strange – that ending works because you project yourself into the situation. So it’s different for many different people.
KS We were all crying, even when we were only watching the animatic! The way you play with geometry and navigation in Bargaining is intriguing. How did you approach that? KS It was really hard to turn all of that mystery, and the breaking of rules, into mechanics. But it was also really important we succeeded. The game starts as one thing, but slowly transforms into something else – and we had to do that gradually otherwise the player would feel cheated. With every space we had a clear theme, and there are a bunch of ideas in there – in Bargaining, the player has to help other characters if they want their help in return, but things aren’t what they look like. RR Sometimes we went too far, though. At one point in Bargaining we had Escher-inspired mechanics where you were walking on the ceiling and you could see your reflection and go to a parallel universe where everything wasn’t perfect. But it was really difficult to play. All the playtesters got lost and couldn’t navigate it at all. It turns out that your mind can understand an Escher painting, but you can’t be in an Escher world. So that’s why we decided to apply non-Euclidean level design. The way you change gameplay and environmental rules is a bold yet risky move. Did that worry you? KS Yes! Normally when you start a game, you’re told what you have to do, and you have to do that for the rest of the game. You get it straight away, and the game just keeps getting harder. It’s a good way of making a game, but it wasn’t our way. Firstly because of the nature of the story, every stage has its own theme and feeling. But also, we wanted the player to feel lost, which was the key to piquing curiosity. And that curiosity is what drives you forward, because no one is telling you that you have to save the world, or rescue a princess. It was a risky gamble, but it was our vision from the beginning. There is remarkable attention to detail in the level design. How much of a challenge was that? KS There are many things that are there for a reason, but most people are never going to find. In the Anger stage, for example, there are three windmills: the windmill of the sea, which is flooded; the windmill of the boat, which is made of pieces of broken vessels because the boat was not good enough to protect the kid; and the windmill of the kid, because he was reckless. In the centre of everything, the bird’s nest is shaped like the figure of the father. The bird represents his anger, and as you prevent the bird from flying near each windmill, that anger is redirected. Once you have nothing else left to blame, the anger can’t go anywhere else – the whole island, and the storm, turns against the father and you have to blame yourself. It’s never explained, but for us it’s important to place this information everywhere.
“We were all crying, even when we were only watching the animatic”