Kyle Gaddo takes some time to pick the brain of Martijn Reuvers, co-founder of Two Tribes.
Kyle: Let's start with the basics—what were the inspirations for RIVE and how do you feel they shine through?
Martijn: When we started with RIVE, it was about 2005, so a long time ago. Its original name was “Rewind” and it was meant to be a small game reusing the level designs and artwork that we had. You would shoot a couple of enemies, rewind back in time, and then go to a point slightly before where you started. This way we can just reuse assets and every time you rewind, you're replaying the same content, but it's become a little more difficult. So, that was the original inspiration for RIVE. We actually started with the concept, but when we were play-testing it, we found out that it really sucked, so we dropped it. The energy orbs that drop in RIVE were meant to allow you to travel back in time with Rewind, but we don't know what to do with them anymore, because the whole rewinding system is out of there. We still have a warp system in there, but it has nothing to do with time travel. It's a very iterative process. We start with something, decide it doesn't work, and move on from there.
In addition to RIVE being built from the remnants of Rewind, we played a lot of Gradius and Metal Slug back in the 90s, especially in arcades. Collin and I played a lot of those, and we always wanted to make a game like Gradius. So, when the company went bankrupt two years ago (2013), we had been making a lot of puzzle games and we wanted to make something with shooting and explosions. We said to ourselves, “Why not go back to that original design from 2005 and do something with that?” The real inspiration for this game is our passion for those types of games.
Kyle: In what ways do you feel you are pushing the boundaries for a side-scrolling platformer?
Martijn: I dunno if we're actually pushing the boundaries! We're still using the Toki Tori 2 engine, and since we're a small company, we can't really make any big changes to it. If you think about a game like Gradius, the way you remember it, it's probably very good. Until you go back and play it again, then it's nto that good.
I think what we wanted to do with RIVE is give them the same nostalgic feeling they would get with Gradius in a modern setting. Perhaps that is pushing a boundary? They couldn't add things like good graphics or huge explosions in the 90s, but we can now. We have to go overboard with enormous explosions and particle effects. Our artist is trying to push the limits of the engine. It's just a matter of giving the player an extra feeling of being in the game. I'm not sure if we're pushing any boundaries, aside from the technical ones of the engine,
Kyle: Hacking is an essential part of the game, allowing your cybernetic enemies to become temporary allies. Where did you find inspiration for this mechanic? How many would-be allies will you encounter throughout the game?
Martijn: Hacking was actually not part of the game until one year ago. When we decided to do away with the whole idea of rewinding, we decided that we needed something that was integral to this game or else it would simply end up an average shooter. A good shooter, but a shooter nonetheless. Collin came up with the idea. Since I'm scripting a lot of stuff—programming was done with C++, and the game itself, the mechanics, is usually just script—we were like, “Would it be possible to change a few lines of script so that the enemy adopts new behaviors?” It's very easy to do that—you flip a few lines of code and suddenly it changes an enemy!
At the moment I think we have eight different hacks. It's very easy to make a hack, but it should also feel “right” within the context of the game. It's just not unique if you have every enemy doing the same thing if you hack them. It has to have purpose. One of the hacks we're looking at is a turret-type enemy that will act as a second gun and a temporary upgrade instead of a permanent upgrade to your arsenal. Things like that will be in the final version.
Kyle: Breaking the fourth wall brings a clever and comedic element to the demo, especially at the end where there is a meta advertisement for the full game. Can we expect similar humor from the full title when it launches or will the game offer a more serious side?
Martijn: We love Portal and we have a dedicated writer who is working on RIVE. We wanted a similar communication between the player and the computer—kinda like GLaDOS, but in a different way, obviously. There will be a lot of humor between the computer and you, and the computer doesn't really want you to enter that ship, so it will send all these enemies at you, but will later realize that it needs your help, so there will be an alliance formed later. Our intention is to make it a funny-ish game, but we also wanted to throw in a lot of references to the old games that we used to love. For example, the demo begins with gameplay that echoes Gradius, and there will be more of these moments throughout RIVE.
Kyle: What are some of the goals, both short-term and long-term, for RIVE?
Martijn: Short term would be to finish it for the PC! We'd like to be finished with that version before the end of the year. For example, with Toki Tori 2, you need to finish, take a few steps back, look at what you have, and go in again to make more improvements. It just has to mature a little bit. At that point, we'll begin porting the game to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
As far as expanding on the game, I would love to make a multiplayer version of this game, because it would be awesome. Especially with the whole hacking aspect. But it all depends on how well RIVE sells. I can plan everything about this game, a sequel, downloadable content—but none of it matters if it doesn't sell well.
Kyle: Sonic Picnic return as RIVE's collective composer after their work on Toki Tori 2. What made them the best choice for this project?
Martijn: These guys are friends of ours. We've been working with them since Garfield on the Nintendo DS, I think it was 2005. I'm sure there are other music studios out there, but with them pretty close by, it's a very easy choice to pick them again. They're friends and they deliver great work. Why change a winning team?
Kyle: How has the reception been to making your games' soundtracks available via Bandcamp? I see that Toki Tori 2 and RUSH are both on there. Are you planning to make more music available for purchase this way?
Martijn: I think people really seem to like it. The whole revenue thing, you can't do a lot with that. As a service to the community, I think it's nice to have, but it's not a source of good income. We do plan to make future soundtracks available this way, unless there is something else we find that people prefer instead of Bandcamp.
Kyle: Is it just you and Collin at Two Tribes?
Martijn: We used to be a lot bigger, but two years ago part of our company went bankrupt. Back then we had about 12 or 13 people working for us, right about when we finished Toki Tori 2. It didn't sell as well as we anticipated. There just wasn't enough money to support all those people, so now we are a team of three—our artist, myself, and Collin. Very small team.
Kyle: What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your past endeavors as a game developer (personal, collectively, or both!)?
Martijn: There are a lot of lessons we have learned. I'm not sure if we've always applied them. Our games are always delayed. There are a lot of developers who suffer from the same problem, but one of our goals for RIVE was to make a relatively short game. Development time, however, is not short at all. We wanted to make it in one year, but we're almost on two years now. That was the exact same problem we had with Toki Tori 2, but we had 13 people then and now we have three. It's more manageable this way. One of our main takeaways now is to be more conservative with what we want in the game and not end up all over the place. I have tried to say that to myself for almost 15 years now, but it's still not working, so I'm not sure if it's a lesson that I've learned.
One other thing that we learned was in going bankrupt. It's very important to get your legal stuff sorted out. Just once a year, review everything to make sure there are no problems, because if the [expletive deleted] hits the fan and there are some issues with how you handle things, then you're not happy. It costs a little bit of money, but it's good to do it every now and then.
What we also want to do now is instead of reinventing the wheel, we work with what we have. In hindsight, we should have used a development engine like Unity, but if you talk to a Unity developer, they'll tell you, “Don't use Unity. It's all bad.” The grass is always greener on the other side. That said, it's important to use what you have now. It sounds cheap, but it's important to maximize what is at your disposal.
Kyle: What ways do you feel yourselves improving as a studio?
Martijn: I think we're a little bit more relaxed now than ever. In our old setup, there was this tendency for people to say “no” if we wanted to add or change something with our game. The default was “oh, no, we can't do that.” Instead of thinking about problems, we now tend to think about how we can do something. Just saying “yes” to more ideas. Obviously, we have to keep that in check. We say “no” easier now, too, which sounds a little conflicting, but it makes sense in our work environment. We'll want to implement really big features that will take months to work on and it just feels easier to say “no” to things that will be too time-consuming with little reward in the end. “Does the game really need this? Can we do this in some other way?” These are the questions we ask. Both sides have needed tweaking.
Kyle: What does the future hold for Two Tribes? Are you looking to branch out more as you have done with RIVE?
Martijn: Of course! I mentioned a multiplayer version and we have some ideas for its successor as well. One of my dreams is to integrate Box2D or a physics engine. But, yes, a multiplayer function is ideal. And for that to be integrated, we need RIVE to be a big success, as the engine isn't built for that. Outside of that, only time and sales will tell.
Kyle: Thank you for chatting with us!
Martijn: My pleasure!
Day 24 | Two Tribes