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The Art of Rime: Talking with Tequila

Raúl Rubio talks inspirations and influences.

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Good morning! First of all, can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Raúl Rubio: Hello, people of Gamereactor! My name is Raúl Rubio and I am the creative director of Tequila Works and the director of Rime.

Two Gamescoms in a row now you've surprised the world with Rime, and now you are doing it again here in Madrid Games Week show with a presentation focused on the artistic side of the game. How did you come up with the idea for this project?

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Mainly, the project was born starting with an original idea from José Luis Vaello, our artistic director, mostly known for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow or Blade[: The Edge of Darkness]. Our intention was to develop the sensations of loneliness and discovering of classical movies such as Jason and the Argonauts, and to combine it all with the childhood experience on Mediterranean shores. This feeling of being in a world where there's no awareness of danger and the curiosity of always trying to see what's beyond. And from there, you get a unique mix. Something with some action aspects and puzzles in an environment that for us is a routine, but that can be exotic for other people.

We are not talking about Caribbean shores or Nordic mythology. We want to explain something that for us is like being home. We want to picture it as using the examples of artists like Sorolla, which can be pretty typical for us, and don't get us wrong, he's a master...

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Can it be considered like going to the Prado Museum and taking in a room full of Velazquez's paintings?

Exactly. You see "The Surrender of Breda" and you think: "it's something that I see every day". But it's actually something extraordinary. And Joaquín Sorolla is also a great master, someone famous all around the world, "The Master of Light". So, that's the light we wanted for the game, the light of the Mediterranean. It's not a flashy light or a chiaroscuro light. It's a light that embraces it all with pastel colors, where black does not exist. It's a light that conveys a certain sentiment of innocence and this kind of movement. Rime is about feeling what you felt when you were eight years old.

For now, you have talked about what Rime evokes, the feelings, and the composition of the scenes. But when talking about the mechanics of the game, which ones have inspired or influenced you?

It's funny, because the references are more classical than what you think. We went for the classics, partly because José Luis was responsible for the design in Blade (for those of you who don't know it, Blade: The Edge of Darkness was like Dark Souls, but twenty years ago). Still, we wanted to take something from there: not the chopping-heads style, but the fact that every encounter counts. There is no combat in Rime, but you still get this sensation of not being an invincible hero. You want to go beyond and progress, but you're conscious that it's not going to be an easy path.

In this particular case, we thought about an open world, not Skyrim-style (it's not one of our influences) but something more restrained, contained. For example, you have to wander this world by foot. Nevertheless that's not going to mean that it will be a plain world. If you are a little kid, even though you are defenceless, as a child you're not conscious of dangers. A kid will always try to climb a wall, a tree; he will try to reach the highest rock. And if he sees a high tower calling him, he will try to get there. The tower is not the end of the game: it's actually the beginning, one of these surprises that we have prepared for the players.

Some people that have not played the game quoted, as references, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus or The Wind Waker, probably because of the aesthetics. It's true that, for the spirituality, I would mention Ico as one of our inspirations. Not only because the animation system of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is excellent, is really astounding (indeed, we have studied their animation system), but also because of the sensation of vulnerability and defencelessness. In Ico, you truly believe you're a little kid and, even though you have weapons to fight with, what truly defines you is your relationship with Yorda. When you are separated, the two of you are totally defenceless, while united you are much more powerful.

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Regarding the gameplay, we have thousands of references. For example, in the platform genre, Jax and Daxter inspired us, although Rime does not give the sensation of a pure platform game (like Mario or Jax and Daxter). We didn't want to discourage the user or make it a win-or-lose experience.

We wanted to create an experience that you could develop little by little. An experience that, in the end, leaves a good feeling. But Rime is not about being inspired in other games: its roots are more literary and pictorial.

Nevertheless, if I had to choose a game, I would pick one that no-one would understand: The Room, from Fireproof. It's not that it is a puzzle game, although it's true that, in Rime, there are puzzles in which you have to use original elements like use of the light or the perspective. But The Room is not a puzzler, it's a Lovecraftian game. A game where there are tentacles and parallel dimensions. In this sense, we could play down by saying that Rime is The Room on an island, although that would be sticking to the surface. We have talked to Barry, the creator of the game at Fireproof, and, in fact, he suggested us some things for Rime's development. And this kind of inspiration has repeated a lot.

It's a funny thing, because we have received a lot of feedback from within the industry. And it seems that people want this game to be launched as soon as possible. For us, that is the biggest flattery of all time, aside from being compared to Fumito Ueda's work.

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In today's world of downloadable games, as creators have much more freedom to do what they want, we have seen games that risk a lot more in the artistic side. Kind of what Ubisoft is doing with the UbiArt engine, or with Ori and the Blind Forest. Where do you think you are in this movement?

I think it's a matter of concerns and maturity. We should not forget that videogames are still in their childhood and that we have reached a turning point that marks the end of this childhood. And we should also not forget that after childhood comes adolescence, not adulthood. It's an age of transformations and making questions. So far, you got along with lighting firecrackers and making people laugh. And that's fine, that's necessary, but as you grow older, you start questioning your role in the world, which is what we, developers, are starting to ask to ourselves.

And now we are watching known developers going from AAA games to the intermediate step. They're not trying to amuse anymore, but to pull the thread and find the limits of the medium. Where's the frontier? For example, games like Human Resources, a project on Kickstarter where the two battling sides are Lovecraftian creatures and rebelled machines, both of them using humanity as vital resources. That would have been impossible years ago. No one would have accepted a game in which you have to sacrifice humans.

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This type of gaming has spread and we are putting some distance from the Hollywood system, which was the apocalyptic future that some feared. This flight ahead/leap in the dark is based on the feedback of the great franchises that are more and more expensive and that move in the area of comfort. This area is totally opposed to creativity. In the end, you start thinking more in the economy than in the ideas, because if you take a chance and you fail, everyone working with you will be fired.

Now we find all these people that got out of the machinery, people that want to make authored games, like Sunset, in which you are the service girl that goes to a house (to clean it) and you end up discovering an espionage conspiracy. We are our biggest critics, not the audience. Some people might enjoy a Call of Duty game, but they might enjoy something else as well.

In this industry, you can find extremely creative people: crazy and intelligent people, in the end. But when you have to cling to a budget, a production process, a team and some franchise rules that you cannot break... This [smaller teams / digital] allows you to go off on a tangent. There are people in this industry that keeps saying that Journey is not a game. Does it matter? Is it an experience that fulfils you? Yes? Then that's it.

One last question about the game. You talked a lot about the visual strengths and your inspirations, but all of them are paintings, films. Despite this, Rime is a 3D game, in which the player sets the pace of the action. How did you manage to take all the 2D inspiration into a polygonal environment?

Rime is a game that has its own storyboard, its own palette. This palette evolves as you pull through the game and there are some iconic elements, it has its own visual language that combines design and art... There is an art bible containing a huge amount of information that tells us how things work, kind of a set of rules. When the main reason of your game is art, you realise that you have to learn many more of these rules. Artists can teach us much about what a good game really is.

And, in Rime, even though the world is 3D, we have to keep in mind that, far beyond, there are elements like paintings, or whether these elements are immersive, like the audio or the atmosphere. Everything is part of an ensemble and the player is responsible for unraveling it. The few people (not from the studio) who have tried the game were nicely surprised, and we really hope it's available for everyone soon.

If you like exploration, I think you will love Rime. If you like killing monsters, don't expect that.

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