LifeSpark Entertainment may not be a name that pops into your head when thinking of upcoming developers. An indie studio established in 2011, their first project is the forthcoming Rack N Ruin, a videogame that has already hit its fair share of stumbling blocks on the way to market, is now looking set to create waves when it launches in 2014. However, Tyler Hunter, founder of LifeSpark Entertainment, isn’t ashamed to admit not everything has been smooth sailing.
Rack N Ruin is a 2D, top-down adventure videogame confirmed for release on PC and mobile formats. In this question and answer (Q&A) session with Electronic Theatre, Hunter also reveals that a console release is on the cards as well as plenty of other details regarding his career, his ambition for LifeSpark Entertainment and the release of Rack N Ruin. The full Q&A follows below and Electronic Theatre will keep you updated with all the latest details on Rack N Ruin.
Electronic Theatre: How has the change from major studio to indie affected your working practice?
Tyler Hunter (TH): It’s become a whole lot more stressful, that’s for sure. Working at a big studio can be very comforting, especially when you’ve been there as long as I was. I think that lack of security and the knowledge that your savings are now on the line, it’s a bit of a wake up call. So you begin to do things like working on holidays, and groan when you lose an afternoon for a dentist appointment.
Electronic Theatre: As an indie developer you have to worry about all aspects of bringing the game to market and not just the one aspect you are employed to specialise in. What lessons has this dramatic change taught you?
TH: Well it’s taught me to get up to date with every single aspect of game development. Before I was an indie I really didn’t know much programming, and now I can program C#. It certainly forces you to flex all of your muscles. I’ve been editing videos, writing, making websites, doing sound design, design levels, game design, programming, art, 2D animation, and so forth. When you have 3+ man team, everyone suddenly finds themselves being forced into a jack of all trades position. Which I think is great in that it has helped me to grow as a person.
Electronic Theatre: Has it been hard to get your work noticed?
TH: Certainly. It’s pretty hard, there are now thousands of indie developers hammering down everyone’s door trying to get them to look at their game, and a good chunk of those games are really cool and worth looking at. So it’s like trying to be the shiniest diamond in a sea of diamonds. Which is cool in way because of how many great games are getting made, but its certainly difficult, so we are going to greater extents to push the marketing aspects of the game, and will do so even more the closer we get to launch.
Electronic Theatre: Has the transition to an indie developer affected your view of the videogames industry?
TH: Not much I’d say. I’ve always kept up with the games industry and its ins and outs. The games industry is pretty interesting because of its very high risk reward relationship. Most people don’t realize that most games never see the end of production. Simply finishing a game without it being cancelled, running out of money, never getting off the ground, and so forth is actually quite hard. Being part of all aspects of a production gives me a clearer picture of just why that is, so I’ve become more sympathetic to the difficulties of the games industry. When a game is finished and it doesn’t meet all the expectations of the developer, and the gaming community, I can relate to why that occurs.
Electronic Theatre: If you had the opportunity to change one aspect of your career thus far what would it be?
TH: Can’t say I can answer that question, I’m not the kind of person who lives in the past, or believes that we ever could have any other option. We also learn from our mistakes, and they shape us into who we are. Who is to say doing something different would have actually benefited me, or anyone else in the end?
Electronic Theatre: Rack N Ruin initially failed to raise enough interest to be funded through Kickstarter. Why do you think this was, and what has it taught you about
TH: Thought I’d buried that bit of bad news so no one would bring it up. Which is funny because I feel that the failed Kickstarter really hurt the game more from a press perspective then from a financial perspective. As for why the Kickstarter didn’t generate enough buzz? Two reasons would be my best guess. The first would be that Kickstarters are largely something you do when you have prior press, and a following of some type. If you are a known developer with a fan base, you already have a base to get you game going. I started the Kickstarter with literally no one on earth knowing what Rack N Ruin was on day one. The second reason would be a lack of press coverage and this was largely my fault. I didn’t spend each waking hour emailing press, and trying to get coverage from every angle possible. In the end only 4000 people actually even saw the Kickstarter page which is pretty low I’d assume, and it wasn’t until after the fact that everyone said Kickstarter isn’t a “build it and they will come” place, but instead thrives on prior press. Which taught me a good lesson in the power of PR.
Electronic Theatre: The art style of Rack N Ruin is one of its most distinguishing features. What has been your inspiration for the character and world design?
TH: Artistically, the style tries to recreate that 16-bit look but upgraded into a modern HD feel. 2D art utilizing vibrant pure colours, and high resolutions but without the use of tiling since in reality we don’t need to learn of the limiting technology of that era. I love 2D games especially hand crafted ones that take advantage of what modern engines have to offer; games like Muramasa, Bastion, and even though its 3D Ni No Kuni is one of the most richly painted games I’ve ever seen. So Rack N Ruin draws quite a bit of inspiration from games that have a heavy emphasis on hand painted art.
Stylistically the game presents two contrasting worlds. The world before Rack corrupts it is supposed to be a very pristine fantasy setting, lots of bright greens, rich flowers, butterflies, white castles, and an overall lush feeling. The dark demon world is supposed to look like a nightmare fairy tale, with a dash of the alien to give the sense that the world has really been twisted when Rack corrupts it.
Rack and the cast of supporting characters draw their influence from all over. Rack is basically an arsonist with a sharp tongue. He’s the kind of villain who really enjoys being a villain and doesn’t have an end goal in mind. He just wants to keep causing chaos and his only intent for the future is to preserve his prolonged ability to wreak havoc. Visually he’s kind of a mix between a grey alien, Dracula, and a big horned demon.
Electronic Theatre: The gameplay of Rack N Ruin will be immediately compared to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by most, as Electronic Theatre is sure you are aware. What steps are you taking to ensure that it doesn’t get dubbed a ‘Zelda clone’?
TH: Isn’t almost every game a clone of some prior franchise at that rate? Every FPS would be a Doom clone (even Doom isn’t the first FPS)? JRPGs would be Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy clones, and indie side-scrollers would be Mario/Metroid/Castlevania clones? Rack N Ruin is a top down action adventure game but I wouldn’t say it’s structurally a Zelda clone, it plays a bit more like a twin stick shooter meets Alundra. While there are certainly influences from A Link to the Past, I would say that the influences are more on the visual end than on the mechanical end. The most important thing in my opinion is that the end result is a good game. If the game is good, comparisons become less of an issue.
Electronic Theatre: Have you ever considered a console port of Rack N Ruin? Is this something you might consider for future projects?
TH: We are currently looking into console publishing options for Rack N Ruin. Publishing on consoles is certainly something we plan for all of our games.