Interview: Rain Games Tells Us About Teslagrad, Envisioning a Series and the Excitement of Working with Nintendo
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Working on Nintendo hardware "makes you feel legit"
While we're yet to quite see the promised influx of games onto the Wii U eShop, the lengthy list of projects in development is certainly exciting for download gamers. Small and independent developers could play an integral role in how attractive Nintendo's platform is to its adopters, and one particularly encouraging game that may arrive this year is Teslagrad, a stylish puzzle-platformer coming to PC, PS3 and, most importantly for us here at Nintendo Life, the Wii U.
And from what we've seen of the game, all Wii U owners should have this on their radar. We had a playthrough with the developers at the Eurogamer Expo, and in our Teslagrad first impressions we shared the view that it's "exuding quality with every cleverly structured mechanic."
So we were impressed by the gameplay, presentation and mechanics, and spoke to two members of the team to learn more about the title. We were joined by the studio's writer Marte Haugsbø and lead level designer Magnus Holm, who told us all about the concept, major plans for the franchise and the thrill of working on a Nintendo system.
Nintendo Life: First of all, can you please introduce yourselves?
Marte Haugsbø: I’m Marte Haugsbø, I am the writer of Rain Games and also of Teslagrad.
Magnus Holm: I am Magnus Holm, I am the lead level designer and QA tester.
NL: Can you tell us about Rain Games, such as how long you’ve been in business and what platforms you’ve worked on so far?
Magnus Holm: We’ve been in the industry for about three years, and we’ve worked on this product for about two.
NL: You’ve built up a decent-sized team, is it 10 people now?
Magnus Holm: Yes, we have some of these that are mostly based in our social circles, and we met others through a Norwegian game maker’s guild. The team is a ramshackle of different people put together for different things. We have 10 people now — two programmers, three artists, game testers, business people, the man who pays the bills, obviously!
NL: At two years this has been quite a long project, then?
Marte Haugsbø: Yeah. Teslagrad’s been worked on for about two years now and it’s nearing release, it’s going to be released this year. It’s our first released game and it’s coming out for PC, Mac and Linux, and also the PlayStation 3 and the Wii U, which is very cool. We were actually approached by Nintendo and they said “hey, you could put your game on the Wii U”, and after we were done screaming we said “yes, of course!”
So the process of talking to Nintendo and Sony has been really nice, they’ve been lovely to us, they really care about Indie games. We’re really happy about that and being a part of that.
So, the two years, it’s interesting because the plan was originally to get this done way sooner. But it’s very hard to let go of the game, and this way we get funding. We were willing to work for less pay over a longer time to deliver a better product.
Magnus Holm: So, the two years, it’s interesting because the plan was originally to get this done way sooner. But it’s very hard to let go of the game, and this way we get funding. We were willing to work for less pay over a longer time to deliver a better product, because we were all about this game. It is a prequel to the series we’re making as well, so we really wanted the get the story, the mechanics and everything right, and just learn and try new things on all the platforms.
So it took us quite a lot of time for our first Indie title, but we learnt a lot from it, so it was worth the long while.
NL: So you’re planning to turn this into a series?
Magnus Holm: Yes. I’ll tell you a bit more about that. This is part of the Chroma series. Chroma is like Europe, but Teslagrad is the main capital of Elektropia, which is like Norway to Russia, like the technological / electrical sciences area. England is like Angloria, which is about biomechanics and then you have other areas (like France) that are the great mechanical parts of the world.
Originally we made a game called Minute Mayhem, which was like a top-down arcade battle Olympics, where all the nations took part because it was marginally safer than war. So they’d have champions to duel instead, like a half-comedy battle game. So Teslagrad is a bit more serious to that extent, but it’s in the same universe, there are comedic aspects to the game as well, with a comic art style.
Marte Haugsbø: So Teslagrad is a small part of the universe, there are four nations and Elektropia is just one of them. So this sets the tone and introduces the Universe and we can then expand on that. We have all these four nations all worked out, so we can build on this idea. Now we’ve shown you Teslagrad so, hey, let’s show you Angloria or let’s show you Motorland, let’s build on it.
So we have this whole Universe which is one of our strengths, I think, because a lot of Indie games will release one title then do something completely different, but we have a whole Universe that we want to tell you guys about.
NL: Can you summarise the mechanics in Teslagrad?
Magnus Holm: So, at first you’re shown simple things like how to run, jump and climb. The first area of the game is all about obtaining the glove that allows you to charge things with magnets, with polarities. Opposites attract, equals are repelled, you can make things hover, fly or shoot away. And then we have boots with the ability to do short-range teleports; the way we built the levels is that you can always backtrack, because you will find several important keys and secrets throughout the game. Some of these you can’t reach right away, it’s very Metroid-inspired, so the main things are the the glove, the boots and suits that allow you to charge yourself without being influenced by other things in the tower.
And then at last we get a staff that allows you to charge things at range and then destroy enemies. That’s pretty much the only weapon in the game and final upgrade, so the game is built around these mechanics and sometimes you have to get them to overlap. You can use one to get very, very far, but not too far.
NL: Will future entries in the Universe use the same kind of mechanics, or are you planning different approaches for different regions?
Marte Haugsbø: Essentially, not all of the countries and stories can be told in the way Teslagrad is told, without voice acting. So the next game might be like an RPG, or point and click adventure; each different nation needs to have its story told in a different way. So the next game might not have magnets at all. Crazy! So puzzle platformer is first up, for the next game, who knows? Point and click would be super fun.
Magnus Holm: Just throw words into the game!
Marte Haugsbø: From no words to all words!
Magnus Holm: We’re all big fans and grew up with games, we knew all about games like Monkey Island. It isn’t above us and we could do more, like with airships we could have a sky battle game, turn-based strategy — like an extension of a war game. We’re not opposed to using the old classic formulas, but adding our own touches. So Teslagrad is a bit like the Metroid or Castlevania games, but it isn’t either of those; it’s a little nudge to it. So, an air combat game etc we’re all for it, we have all the story available, we just have to put everything in at the right time.
NL: In this case you’ve said there’s no text or dialogue, so is it a game that leaves the player to figure things out for themselves?
Marte Haugsbø: The story is told in the game, but visually. It’s not going to be crammed down your throat — it’s subtle and it’s there if you pay attention to the environments. So in the first place you go in the demo, a church, the stained-glass windows actually tell a story and give some background, and throughout the game there’ll be sequences where you can learn more about the country and why it’s in such a state of disarray at the moment.
The basic story is that Teslagrad is ruled now by a despotic, terrible King, who’s ruling the land with iron fists, so there’s poverty. And then you get thrown into this ancient conspiracy involving the Teslamancers, which are an ancient order that disappeared from Teslagrad long ago; no-one knows where they went or what happened to them. So that’s like trying to uncover what’s happened.
Magnus Holm: It’s very hard to miss the story, but it isn’t forced on you either. It’s just there, part of the game and background. You just move through the story no matter what you do and you can choose to ignore it, though why would you!
Marte Haugsbø: We’ve tried to make it feel as natural as possible, it doesn’t interrupt your gameplay at all.
Magnus Holm: If you were just moving along in this world nobody would talk to you, so why should we?
We all love Nintendo from way back, and we always figured our games to be very Nintendo-esque in the art style and being low in dialogue, so we were very, very pleased to be approached.
NL: If we can talk about the Wii U, can you talk about when you were approached and how long you’ve been putting together the Wii U version?
Marte Haugsbø: Right before the summer, sometime in May, I think? Then we had to keep it a secret for ages! We’ve known for a while and we’ve been wanting to tell everyone.
Magnus Holm: WE’RE ON NINTENDO, GUYS!
Marte Haugsbø: We’re on the Wii U, they like us! So that was exciting, and making the announcement was really good; it makes you feel legit, you know? We’re excited to be putting it on the Wii U, the eShop is great.
Magnus Holm: It feels more like a product, now. They have an actual platform. We all love Nintendo from way back, and we always figured our games to be very Nintendo-esque in the art style and being low in dialogue, so we were very, very pleased to be approached.
NL: In terms of development, do you use a custom engine, or Unity?
NL: We hear a lot about the Unity tools on Wii U, so have they been a big help with the transition you Wii U?
Magnus Holm: Yes, it was. The Wii U build… Unity exports to pretty much anything you want it to, and there were issues but it could have been way harder without that extra overlap. Unity, I would say it was good, but is now getting better. It’s a wonderful tool, even as level designers: my lack of skill in programming doesn’t affect my ability to tweak and improve the game itself. So we love everything about the engine.
NL: Will the Wii U version be using the GamePad in any way, or will it be something relatively simple like a map?
Marte Haugsbø: We will implement off-screen play, so you can play on the pad if you like. If you have it on the big screen, the display will show a map and you can use the swipe controls to look at cards you find in the game, because there are secrets to pick up in different parts. They supplement the story in a way, and we’ll fully utilise the Wii U’s capabilities for off-screen play. Motion controls? No, I don’t think so, they don’t fit in this game.
Magnus Holm: To be honest, when we built the game we didn’t think it would ever come out on Wii U; I don’t think Wii U was even announced yet. So we had to retroactively change things for the Wii U.
NL: Are you targeting this year on all platforms, or just PC?
Marte Haugsbø: Ideally we’ll release it on all platforms at the same time. But since the release on Wii U and PS3 is out of our hands, because of quality control etc, we don’t know if they’ll be ready at the same time. But definitely this year, as long as everything goes to plan and we can get the Wii U version working properly, knowing in our hearts that there’s no horrible bugs. We cannot say for sure, because we’re really dedicated to delivering a quality product.
We'd like to thank Magnus and Marte for their time. The latest trailer for Teslagrad is below, so let us know what you think of this one so far.