Rune II is the long-awaited sequel to the action/adventure/RPG Human Head Studios released almost nineteen years ago for PC.
First announced two years ago as Rune: Ragnarok, Rune II is now approaching its debut time since it's scheduled to launch this Summer on the Epic Games Store. Earlier this week we hopped on a conference call with Human Head Co-Founder and Project Lead Chris Rhinehart for a veritable deep dive that begun with the business decision to accept Epic's deal but went much further, detailing almost every aspect of the game itself. We also learned that Human Head is currently experimenting with ray tracing, so there is a chance it'll be added to Rune II later on.
Without further ado, here's the full transcript. Brace yourself.
Of course, the big elephant in the room is your decision to make Rune II an Epic Games Store exclusive at launch. I know some folks are not that excited about Rune II anymore because of that decision. At the same time, perhaps you might want to explain how this opportunity came to be for Human Head and what kind of benefits you're getting.
As we were working on the game, we originally planned to have the game out a little bit sooner, but we did a number of Closed Beta deathmatch tests before that. They originally started as testing out combat, to get a sense of how it worked in multiplayer and so forth. So we wrote a kind of simple form of deathmatch at that point and we were testing it. As we were going through that, we, collectively, us and our funding partner up to this point (ESDF), decided that the game needed just a little bit more time to cook. We were getting a lot of great feedback from our fans and from the people in the deathmatch test and we just needed more time. And frankly, we needed more funding, so we went out and did a lot of meetings with different publishers and different potential partners, just trying to figure out who would be the best people to partner with on this. One of them was Epic and it was a pretty good deal they offered us. It's not Ferrari money or anything like that, as all the money we got, we're putting into the development of the project.
I don't know if a lot of people know this, but Human Head and Epic have got a really good relationship that goes way back to our first game, or actually when we were working on a different game. We were using the Unreal Engine at that point, the original Unreal Engine. That game ended up going away, but we really liked the engine a lot and we liked working with Epic, so we talked to them asking if we could keep using their engine and they said 'Sure!' In fact, we showed them the game that we were working on, Rune. And they were like, that's great actually, we want to publish that. Epic was for a while, until Gathering of Developers came into the picture, the original publisher of Rune, though it was called Ragnar at the time. So we've stayed friends with Epic, we've stayed good business partners with Epic. It just kind of made sense. There was kind of this poetic aspect to it as the original Rune started with Epic, and then Rune II is also going with Epic as well.
You're going to be exclusive on the Epic Games Store for about a year, correct?
Yeah. We will be on other PC platforms next year.
I know that you also had a generous program for those who had previously pre-ordered the game, you gave out extra keys for friends, right?
We gave out extra keys, indeed. We understand that some people, they just don't want to be on the Epic Games Store. They don't want a game that's on the Epic Games Store. We respect that. We offered refunds to those people, a number of them took us up on that offer but for the most part, a lot of them thought that was great, appreciated it and they're sticking with the game. And then a number of people are just, you know, they're not going to get Rune II on the Epic Games Store, they're going to wait until it's out on other platforms.
Epic Games Store will be a good thing for us as developers, it'll be a good thing for the gaming public as well. But you know, we totally understand and respect that people might not want to get a game on that store. They can wait or just decide what they want to do.
Can you divulge when you started talking with Epic about joining their store as an exclusive?
End of last year. That's around the time we started talking to other publishers as well, just kind of looking around and seeing what our options were.
With this extra funding, you were able to improve the game, I take it.
Not only that, but also we originally had plans to have the game come out and then we were going to put Deathmatch PvP out a little bit later, you know, maybe a month or two after, maybe a little longer. But because we got this additional funding, we're able to move that up. Now we're launching with single player, co-op in the campaign and Deathmatch PvP.
I was wondering if you can tell me roughly how many developers you have right now at Human Head Studios.
Ok. You're also working on some other projects, I think. At least the press releases say as much.
We do have a couple of things that the other internal teams are working on right now, yes.
How many are working on Rune II, then?
It kind of varies a little bit. It's kind of gone up and down a bit, but it averages around 15 to 20.
Got it. Last year you were supposed to launch on Steam Early access, I think it was in September. I was wondering which areas of Rune II you reckon were improved the most, you know, between the extra funding and the extra development time.
Sure, combat has been improved. That's the core of the game, it's the core of what you do. There's been a lot more polish, a lot more actions you can do with the different weapons, a lot more weapons themselves, and the overall pacing of the game has improved. Rune II is quite a difficult game, intentionally, but it's very rewarding. The narrative has been greatly improved as well in terms of just how the overall story is told and how it's presented to the player. The world has also gotten a lot larger, I believe we basically doubled the size of the world in terms of the amount of content you can explore and the number of islands. This world has been affected by Ragnarok, so there's a lot of islands throughout the world, from very tiny ones that have cool little secrets or a special recipe you might learn to much larger islands where there's a lot more area to explore and a lot more things to encounter. The other big thing that we've improved since then is we've added the Ages system. And what that is story wise....Loki freed himself from his shackles, then he's kind of taken over the entire world of Midgard. He doesn't want to die because in the Ragnarok story Loki dies at the end, but he found a way to circumvent that and he's basically resetting time. When I say that, Rune II isn't a roguelike, meaning everything isn't reset, you don't lose all of your gear, you don't lose all of your progression. But each time you try to encounter and try to kill Loki, because that's the ultimate goal, each time you try to kill him, if you fail, the world will reset and a new Age begins. These Ages have different attributes to them, both positive and negative.
The Age of poison is a really good example. Story-wise, the World Serpent has belched up a whole bunch of venom and it's floating around the world. There are poison clouds throughout the world and enemies have been corrupted by this poison, there's a lot more undead around. Everything around this Age is focused around poison, so it's more dangerous. But the positives are that there's certain weapons you can get in this Age that actually help you in other Ages. All of the different Ages are interlinked in kind of one big puzzle and the gear that you get in a given Age will help you in other Ages. So you want to be excited about being in an Age of poison, because you want to get poisoned weapons that work better in the Age of chaos, for example.
I see, interesting. How many Ages are there at launch?
There are six different core Ages.
Okay, so these Ages will basically cycle until you kill Loki, right?
Something like that.
It's a peculiar setup for a story campaign, meaning that it's probably really hard for you to say how long it will take on average, right? Because it depends on the skill of the player as well, how quickly they can kill Loki.
I mean, we're targeting 15 to 20 hours for the average player. But when it comes out, there will be speedrunners that will find ways to get around and probably do it way faster than we can even imagine. But I think that's pretty cool. I think it's really cool that people want to do that.
Right. The campaign is also co-op enabled, correct?
Absolutely, it's targeting four player co-op.
So basically, if you go with three other friends, is it just easier to kill Loki? Or do you buff his stats to make it balanced based on the player number?
Yeah, he is buffed so it is more difficult. He's got a couple of different abilities and some attacks that he does which are really challenging when you're alone, but they're actually designed for multiplayer, they're designed for co-op.
Beyond the campaign against Loki are there side quests, side stories, to be found while exploring the world in Rune II?
There are, there's like little stories you can find throughout the world in the form of lore stones, which have information about events that happened during Ragnarok or about the characters that are there. And so they're little stories you find around the world, but you know, there are some players who are really into story and want to discover and learn all the possible lore. One thing that we've done with these lore stones is that there's also typically a recipe attached to it, which means that when you read the lore stone, you'll learn how to build something or craft a certain weapon or a certain piece of equipment. So there's a reward for doing that if you're more of a completionist type of player that just wants to find the coolest loot and the coolest gear.
Speaking of loot, I think some fans from the community have been wondering how loot will be distributed in co-op.
The way it works right now is that it's basically social splitting, meaning it's up to you and your friends to discuss and decide who gets what.
Okay. Can you like turn on your friends and kill them for the loot?
That's actually a server setting. I mean, it defaults to no, you can't kill your friends. But if people want to set up their own server and they want to have friendly fire enabled, yeah, they can totally do that.
We're exposing a lot of server settings to the players so that they can spin up their own servers if they want to make the game easier. For example, they can dial down enemy difficulty or they can dial up XP growth, or they can change like, you know, the types of runes that spaw, that kind of thing. But they can also set friendly fire on, they can change the weather and more. We're targeting four player Co-Op, but if someone wants to spin up a server and try to do 16 player Co-Op, we're not stopping you. You know, it's limited by the machine, the server that you're running it on really, but nothing in the game prevents tweaking and everything will scale appropriately up to in terms of difficulty.
Interesting. When it comes to loot, will there be many different item rarity tiers such as Rare, Epic, Legendary, etc. in Rune II?
There are different rarity tiers for things like swords, axes, hammers, greatswords, spears, bows. There's also a mod system on top of those, meaning you could get a weapon that has a fire mod on it, or it has an interesting one like a sailing mod for a nautical helmet. When you get that helmet, maybe it's got lower durability or the damage isn't quite as good as another helmet but if you're wearing it, you can sail faster. So that might be useful to you if you're going to go explore with your boat and sail around a little bit faster to find these areas. Different gear will of course have different elemental resistances so something might work better in in frost environment versus fire environment, and that obviously fits well with the different Ages too.
Loki is clearly the main foe in Rune II given the setup, but are there other bosses, for example tied to a particular Age?
There's no specific boss of the fire Age, for instance, no. But what there is, is in any given age you're going after artifacts, mystical relics from Norse mythology. There's a story behind all of those, they are all connected to Ragnarok in a certain way. There's a mistletoe dart and that's the dart that killed Baldur, which actually was one of the starting points of Ragnarok, or it's a part of Heimdall's horn that you are trying to recover. Each of these artifacts is protected by one of these minions, there's kind of a mini-boss or a mini clan sometimes because it might be a much larger group of enemies protecting this thing. You need to recover these artifacts and take them to Heimdall in order to get the ability to go to try to take down Loki. By collecting enough these artifacts, you're tearing the veil into this alternate dimension where Loki is hiding from the other gods. But the interesting thing also with these artifacts is they've got different abilities and powers on them. For example we have one that lets you run faster, and your punch damage is way higher. So you can be this crazy punching dude while you're having this artifact.
There are downsides to artifacts as well. Some of them may have negatives, for example reducing your health. So while you're super punching guy, you might be more likely to get killed, that kind of thing. And while you have a number of the artifacts, Loki is more aware of you, which means he is going to try to kill you. Even though he's in a different dimension, he's got the ability to reach into Midgard and say drop meteors on your head.
Nice. What can you tell us about the crafting system?
Crafting is a really important part of Rune II. It's an action RPG, or rather action/adventure game with RPG elements, but there are some crafting and survival elements to it. It's not really a survival game but crafting is a really important part of Rune II. You may kill an enemy and it might not drop a given weapon, but it might drop a recipe for a weapon. The other interesting thing we have going on with the weapons too is if you find a weapon and you want to make more of this given a weapon, if you salvage it, break it down for its component pieces, you'll also learn the recipe.
Got it. Is there dynamic weather in Rune II, maybe depending on the current Age as well?
There is, yep, there's dynamic weather in Rune II, there's a day/night system too. In a friendly age, let's say where it's not poison or frost, it'll cycle through rain, it'll cycle through snow, cloudy, overcast, that kind of thing, through day and night. But in something like the Age of poison, it's going to cycle through different weather conditions where there's more poison in the air or it's a lot darker, that kind of thing. And I should mention this, in some of the Ages when it's nighttime it gets a lot darker. In the night Age it's literally just nighttime all the time. In the mythology, wolves ate the Sun, so it's night all the time and it gets really dark. So you're going to want torches, you're going to want to craft campfires, you're going to want to build longhouses in Rune II, go inside the house where you are a little safer from enemies or you can craft or repair items there.
Right, I wanted to ask about building longhouses as well.
Yeah, you can reconstruct longhouses in the game. They were destroyed at some point during Ragnarok, you can come across these and you can rebuild them. To do that you have to chop down trees and collect wood. Again, it's not a survival game so it doesn't take forever to chop down a tree, but you can chop down a number of trees, take that wood and then use it to construct a new longhouse. Now, if you build the longhouse, that's kind of a base for you. And you can go inside, you can craft new things, there's a cooking fire where you can cook meat which will give you food to regain health. You can also build an anvil, you can build a whetstone for repairing your equipment, you can build a Runeforge so that you can craft your own runes as well. Runes give you different God powers, essentially. There's kind of the standard stuff like Runes of stamina to increase your stamina, but we have other things like a short-range teleport which is really useful for getting out of dangerous situations if you're surrounded by enemies. Or if there's a battle, you want to start that battle, you can teleport, you know, up close to the enemies and surprise them. There are Runes of Berserk from the original game, where you would use the Rune of Berserk and you'd be really powerful for a short period of time and can't be killed. Really, really useful rune if the battle is a little bit overwhelming for you. And we have other things like a time skip, which fast forwards time, so if it's the middle of the night and you want to go to daytime again, you can fast forward there.
Some fans want to know if they can turn off the damage numbers seen in the videos you've released.
Yep, and we will have that in for launch. People have been asking about that. There's also a little pop up that happens when you block that says 'Blocked', and they'll be able to turn that off.
Is it possible to parry or do you have just block?
There's just block.
Do you need to have a shield to block?
You can block with your weapon or if you don't have a weapon, you can block with your arm as well, though I wouldn't recommend blocking with your arm. But you can do that, it'll mitigate some of the damage, but you will still take a certain amount of damage and get knocked back. But it's better to do that than to do nothing. Yeah, but you can block with your weapons. Blocking with a weapon will reduce the weapon's durability. Weapons don't break when the durability is exhausted, what will happen is their effectiveness just goes down.
So you need to repair them.
Can you crouch? Is there stealth at all in the game?
It's mostly fighting, there isn't crouch in the game. We took a look at if we wanted to add that or not and we decided not to. There isn't really stealth in the game, meaning there isn't traditional stealth. Enemies certainly have perceptions to them, so if you see a bunch of enemies around the campfire, you can sneak around them and not alert them. Or you can kind of sneak up on them and throw a spear into one of their heads to initiate the battle. That's certainly an option. So but there's kind of a light form of stuff. Earlier I was playing and there was a giant that laid down and took a nap. He was sleeping and I snuck up and stole his treasure chest that was near him and he didn't wake up. There are some light elements like that, but it isn't a real stealth system. Rune II is more about killing and chopping people up.
I think the original game had quite the modding scene over time, right? Is modding something you might allow in the future for Rune II?
We definitely plan for that in the future. That's actually one of the top things that our fans have been asking for, the ability to mod and either make their own weapons or make their own levels or make their own game modes. That was a big aspect in the original, where we added a number of game modes and then people made their own variants. People have been asking for that a lot, so it is planned down the line.
You mentioned deathmatch, the PvP mode. How does that work? Is it a separate map?
It is. We investigated the idea of having an area in the open world that you could go, an Arena essentially, and fight against other people there. But it just was cleaner to have it as a separate map for standard deathmatch, where people can jump in and jump out as they wish. We will be launching with both deathmatch and Team Deathmatch.
How many players are supported in this mode?
I think it can comfortably support around 24 players, that works pretty well in our maps. That's another thing where if someone wants to spin up their own server and they want to try to crank it up to 32 players if they've got a beefy system, certainly their mileage may vary, but they can try that.
Do you have plans for additional PvP modes post-release?
We do. I mentioned earlier that mods were one of the big things people are asking for, I think one of the biggest ones is people asking for the Arena mode from the original Rune, so that's definitely on our radar. Arena mode was essentially a structured 1v1 or XvX PvP battle that had kind of almost a King of the Hill aspect to it where if you won the battle, you would stay in the arena and then new challengers would come in to fight. It's really quite fun, you would select your gear, go in and you could watch the battle going on while in the queue. Then you get called up and you would go in to fight, it's a really good loop. That's something really high on our list.
Beyond mods and other PvP modes coming after the release, what about things like new PvE bosses, new storylines and quests?
We've got a number of ideas about additional things that we'd like to expand in the single player and co-op world in terms of additional islands or more gods that you can encounter, that kind of thing. But really, what we want to do when the game comes out is listening to the fans. If people are really wanting more Deathmatch modes or an Arena mode sooner, maybe we'll focus a little bit more on that first, but we certainly have some ideas for expansions and updates for the single player side.
Did you think about adding dungeons or raids, similar to other online RPGs, to Rune II?
There's somewhat of an aspect of that right now, when you go after the artifacts. The clan or the wielder will likely have more rare loot on them. I mean, it's not as formalized as like a dungeon or raid. That's certainly something that we could take a look at. I think another aspect that we're looking at to in terms of future expansion possibilities is, in the Norse mythology there are the Nine Realms. With Rune II we're mainly in Midgard, so there is a lot of expansion opportunity there when it comes to going into the other realms. And that's been pretty interesting to us as well.
Rune II is coming out for Windows PC, but what about Mac and Linux ports?
That's not high on our radar right now but it is something that we will take a look at. Initially we're focusing on Windows PC and actually, we're looking at consoles as well. We're not going to launch Rune II right away on consoles, but we're looking at our console options because we've had a number of people ask about console support.
Since you are working closely with Epic and the game is powered by the Unreal Engine 4, they've recently added support for ray tracing. Is that something you're looking to add to Rune II?
Yeah. Our programmers are experimenting with that pretty much right now. I think there's a number of shader tweaks that we need to do to get it fully operational. But last I heard it was getting close.
Is there anything you want to add specifically to the community?
A while back we announced the title to be Rune II to as opposed to just Rune or Rune: Ragnarok. We made that decision because we felt that it's a true sequel to the original story-wise, it was picking up years after the original ends. You know, Loki was - spoiler - trapped and loses in the original, but in this one, he's broken free. And it's kind of a natural extension of that, while you don't play the same character, there are nods to the original character, to Ragnar from the original Rune. We're really excited about how the game is shaping up. Given the additional time for polish that we got, the game is a lot more brutal. Just smacking people with their own limbs after you've cut them off is so fun. We were playing earlier and chopping someone's head off and chasing and throwing it at their friend! It's dark, but it's hilarious. The way the Ages system has shaped up is really fun and really cool, it's interesting to go into different Ages and not knowing exactly what's coming next. Though after you've played the game for a while you understand what the Age of poison really means and you're prepared to deal with it.
We spent a lot more time, I didn't talk about this before, with the actual God interaction. Aligning to a god is an important part of the game. Early in the game, you try to take on Loki and there's no way that you'll be able to succeed, so you should try to align to a God to help, such as Thor or Odin, you get certain God powers from them. That changes your character growth path as well, in terms of what abilities you'll gain over time, what sort of resistances and so forth you'll get over time. And then, of course, the story is a little bit different with each God, they each have a different reason for wanting to end Ragnarok.
Can you switch your chosen God at some point?
Once you've decided, that's it. You can choose not to align. That's more like, you know, Hard mode. If you decide to just completely ignore them and not align with another God, the game totally supports that.
Okay, I'd say we covered a lot of Rune II stuff. Thank you for your time.