Talking RiME on Nintendo Switch with Tequila Works’ Remy Chinchilla
At EGX last month I had a chance to sit down with Remy Chinchilla from Tequila Works while I played Rime, one of Tequila Works’ biggest and most well-known titles, on a new platform, the Nintendo Switch. Sitting down in a darkened office room near the main EGX halls, Remy hands me a Nintendo Switch with Rime running - luckily he’s not offended that this is my first time playing.
Rime starts seamlessly. Stranded on a beach, the protagonist, a young boy, awakens, and the game just begins. Remy tells me; “One of the things in RiME we wanted to do was to make sure there was no tutorial. And there is no tutorial, text or dialogue and there's very limited HUD. We wanted it to be intuitive and as smooth as possible, so players could just turn on and enjoy it immediately.”
Exploring the game world on Switch’s smaller screen takes nothing away from the experience. Even though it was my first time playing, I could barely tear my attention away from it, only able to bring myself back to reality and talk to Remy in intervals. Rime is captivating and charming from the first moment, and ensuring every metre of the world was as enrapturing as the last was a big part of the art and design team’s job; “There is a lot of care, I know that the artists looked at every inch of the world and polished and they really cared about it. They would stay at work past 6pm because they wanted to make it perfect. […] We have a dynamic night cycle too, and the shadows are rendered depending on the position of the sun, so you'll be able to see plenty of unique sights in RiME, and you can get a different view of the world depending on the time of day.”
Getting lost in that world and immersing yourself in the experience was the order of the day for Tequila Works, and much of the game’s design was built around that. Early puzzles had to teach the player mechanics without a single line of text or dialogue, no unnecessary tutorials. Even the minimal HUD and UI was there for this purpose; to prevent the player from being reminded they’re in a game; “When you look at the puzzles in place, there's quite a few mechanics; presentation, perspective, push-pull, and none of these are taught with a straight tutorial halfway. Which is what we wanted. That's also why there's minimal HUD. This is the kind of game where we want you to be completely immersed into the world. Just forget it's a game, and experience it.”
Puzzles are where RiME will test your wits and will pause your exploration of the world, but of course that meant they had to be extensively tested, so Tequila Works could see how their world and puzzle design was moving players around the map, and how obvious or obtuse their puzzles were; “We did quite a bit of user testing to see what was obvious to the player, what wasn't, what was frustrating, what wasn't. Puzzles are very subjective, sometimes we have people getting stuck on easy puzzles, and others who are flying through them because they've played games before. […] Perspective is a big element in a few puzzles. Since RiME is very visual, for us it's very important. We play with it because it's something that's always used in games, perspective, and it's something we really wanted to use to change the way the player sees the world.”
But a new platform brings new challenges, and with the Switch there are new opportunities too. The Switch offers JoyCons, motion controls and HD Rumble which other platforms simply don’t offer - and Tequila Works’ position was, sensibly, to only implement what made sense; “One of the features we put in was the HD Rumble. Yeah, it's really cool. The designers put in a curve to how much they vibrate depending on what you're doing in the world. The only thing really in there is in the menus - you can touch the screen. But that's all, because we didn't want to add any other gimmicks. RiME was never planned with any gimmicks in mind, and we thought if we add them now they might not fit with the game as we intended.”
Ultimately, RiME is a game built with a certain kind of experience in mind, and they didn’t want to spoil this ideal experience they’d built by hamstringing it with half-implemented gyroscopic controls or anything like that; “We also wanted the players that only played on Switch to have the same experience that players who played on PS4 or other consoles have had. If we put in the gyroscope or something like that in puzzles, then it would've been different to the way it was played elsewhere.”
The Switch is obviously a unique console compared to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 - the handheld hybrid is less powerful, and although it’s perfectly capable of running a smooth RiME experience now, it wasn’t always that way; “There were some challenges in porting to Switch, we had to optimise a few things. It was also due to the software, Unreal. We started porting on Switch around a year ago, and at first the Unreal Engine wasn't ready straight away on Switch. We had to integrate several versions on the engine that were released. There was some middleware and software where the support wasn't there on day 1, so we had to adapt.”
Luckily, Tequila Works had support from Tantalus, a studio already experienced with Nintendo hardware after porting The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD to Wii U. The Australian studio quickly took up the task of porting RiME to Switch, and the time zone difference worked out beautifully; “The good thing about Tantalus being in Australia is that when we get home we send an email saying what we did and they pick that up immediately afterwards, and when they finish their day, we start immediately afterwards. I used to say the sun was never out on RiME because there was always someone working on it around the world. We took advantage of it when it comes to organization because if you ask for something to be checked in the evening as you leave, it'll be ready for you in the morning. It was great. Tantalus did all of the code, all of the logic, and we helped with optimising assets because we couldn't use all of the original assets, but we did our best to keep the same visual style.”
RiME is a personal project from the team at Tequila Works, they put their hearts into making a project unlike any other on the market come to fruition, and it shows with the kind of deep respect Remy talks about the game and the team with; “It's really a personal project. I've been in games for years and it's the first time that I've seen a game where the whole team is 100% passionate about it because we wanted to do something different. For me, it's the first game I've done that doesn't have blood, shooting or violence. And it still has its storytelling, and it has a deep meaning behind it. We have a lot of staff who worked at big companies, and these people came together at Tequila Works to create something different, something unique and personal.”
RiME comes to Nintendo Switch on November 17th in Europe and November 14th in America - if you haven’t played RiME yet, this might be the perfect opportunity. It's certainly a game you shouldn't miss, as pointed out by Francesco in his review.
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