Over the past weekend, I was able to go to EGX, the UK’s largest gaming convention. So naturally I hung around the Nintendo area most of the time, and there was quite a couple of Nindie titles being showcased there, and Runbow, arguably the hottest title right now on the eShop, was present of course. I was very fortunate to have met Tom McCall, who happens to be the Creative Director and Producer for 13AM Games. What’s more is that I was able to interview the guy about Runbow, its lore, as well as the sassiness behind the death screen.
Matthew Gibson: So, for our readers, can you introduce yourself and your role for Runbow?
Tom McCall: Yeah! My name’s Tom McCall. I’m the lead designer at 13AM Games, and we’re responsible for Runbow I guess!
MG: One of Runbow’s defining features is the ablity to play up to nine players locally. Was this the main idea with the game, or was it the whole colour mechanic?
TM: Uh, it was kind of half and half to be honest. We originally made the first prototype during a Game Jam, where we came up with the two ideas. One of us was like, “Well why don’t we make it really big and multiplayer?”, because when you’re at a Game Jam you want a bunch of people to see what you’re doing, so that’s a really good way of getting people round the thing. And then somebody else was like, “Well why don’t we make it so that where the background does stuff with the platforms?”, and originally it was going to do stuff with players as well, but it was too much! So, from those two points, and from that 48 hour prototype, we’ve just slowly iterated and changed a whole bunch of stuff, but [those two things have] always stayed true.
MG: The visual style and soundtrack are both quite unique. Can you talk a bit about this?
TM: Well, because our game is so colour oriented, as in we have big, bold, bright colours, it really interacts with the environment, so we kind of have to make it clean, ’cause you don’t want too much going on, and it gets really confusing. So we had to go with a more simpler art style, but we still wanted it to look unique. So with our artist and a bunch of researchers, we found out a guy called Saul Bass, who’s a famous artist. He does really abstract kind of things with a bunch of different work at different angles, and he has big, bold colours, and big contrasts, so we kind of just took it from there, and that’s what kind of inspired us. And we also took a heavy inspiration from 60’s movies-styled posters, like the old movie posters. So with those two kind of things, we planned that art style together. It also influenced the music as well. We had a guy, Dan Rodrigues, and he made all our music. We met him at the Jam actually. He’s a wonderfully talented man, and we just kind of looked at our game, looked at how frantic it is, and how it’s big, bright and colourful. And the really pumping music to go with how well the game goes.
MG: Classic movies seem to be a big inspiration, seeing as there are references throughout the game, even on the start-up screen. So where did this come from?
TM: It came from the same place. Saul Bass also did posters, or influence posters, and when we were looking for inspiration, we noticed that these look really great, and it all works out. And so we built a narrative around it. Like, these guys exist in a world of print and posters, and it’s all about colour and things, so one thing influenced the other and it’s been a very iterative process, and so it was like a ‘the chicken or the egg’ kind of thing.
MG: So the main lore is that these characters are in movie posters?
TM: Yeah! They’re all fighting to be the next star of the movies. So if you’ve watched the adventure intro cinematic, they’re all posing for the camera. And then the boss, kind of villain of the series, is Satura. She’s jealous because she was born without colour, and so she has outcasted herself, and so from there it kind of builds a narrative.
MG: Where the idea of the Bowhemoth come from?
TM: So the story behind that is that, well, we’re all pretty fresh, like it’s a new company, and this is our first game, so we were all kind of great, and so used that as a sort of learning curve. Back when we were making levels, we had a tendency to make them really hard, because that’s what you want to do! But we learned that wasn’t the right way to do it, and that there’s a better way to do it and make more people involved. But we still wanted to do something for the people who really want a challenge. When you’re making a nine player game, the levels themselves can’t be overly complicated, or overly chaotic, as it is already enough that you have nine people! So we wanted to give a space for the people that really wanted a challenge, as well as a space to show off the colour mechanic and all the unique things you can do with it. Then we looked at games like Guacamelee, they have the Tree Tops, which is this really hard segment, and people love it and they stream it and whatever. So we took pieces from all of this, and we said “You know what, let’s just do it!”, and so that’s where it came from. And we thought it would be funny if we could track their deaths and their time and whatnot!
MG: So what’s your record?
TM: (laughs) Um, I though I had a really good one, but I was proven wrong by our fans in like two weeks! So my best time I think is, oh what is it? 15 minutes and 16 seconds, with like eight deaths.
MG: Well, you are the creator so I guess it makes sense!
TM: Yeah, and I did make, like the majority myself, so I’ve played those levels hundreds of times each! So I though I did really well, but no. Two weeks in and somebody was like “Oh, look at my time! 13 something”, and we were like “That’s really good!”, and then he said “Also I didn’t die!” And after that we were thinking to ourselves that there was no way that could have happened! But he has a video so we couldn’t dispute it!
MG: I just thought of this now, actually. If you die, or if everybody on the screen dies, there’s a little death thingy.
TM: Yeah, complimentary, is what we like to say about it!
MG: There’a a lot of sass about it! So where did this come from, the idea of giving a game over screen personality?
TM: I think one of our coders kind of just threw it in there as a placeholder, and from there we sort of realised that this was kind of funny! And because there’s a level of frustration, especially with the Bowhemoth since you’re doing that a lot. When you’re first learning the game, people have a tendency to, well, it is kind of tough to learn and to handle compared to other platformers, so the death screens or the victory screens are kind of nice, given that it is nice to have something that relieves that level, that frustration, that anger! So we just threw in some humour, and that’s how we are in the office as well!
MG: (laughs) So Runbow is quickly becoming the biggest Indie title, or rather Nindie title, right now. And I feel a big help was from the inclusion of many Nindie characters, for example Shovel Knight and Rusty from SteamWorld Dig. Where any other characters planned to make it in, like WayForward’s Shantae, or even Nintendo’s Mario?
TM: Well, that would be a dream! Having Nintendo’s first-party IP, that would be a huge thing! But anyway, how that all came about is that we started the ball rolling with the guys from Yacht Club, and the guys from Guacamelee, since we know the guys from Guacamelee. And from there we basically gave a wishlist to Nintendo, and whoever was on board, was on board. We didn’t decline anyone, so whoever wanted to get in got in.
MG: I see. So what’s the future for Runbow? Will we be seeing sequels or further DLC?
TM: The plan right now, well obviously there were some release issues, and we’ve been notified. So we’re putting a patch out. There should be a patch out relatively soon, and then the plan is that it will definitely be continuing to add new content, things like more levels and costumes, but we’re still planning it out right now, so I can’t give any concrete details.
MG: Just not another Bowhemoth please!
TM: (laughs) Oh, we’ll give time for people to really master the first one! Except for that one guy! So yeah, definitely keep an eye out, and we’ll definitely be keeping the content coming.
MG: Cool! So Runbow is very creative in its design. Do you have any advice for people thinking about getting into making Indie games or game design in general?
TM: Yeah! So I, myself, if you want to hear a story, I came from structural engineering, and I took that for university, graduated, whatever, and did it for a bit. But it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I went and took a course on game design, and this is where all nine of us met. We’ve been fortunate enough to do this, but if I was to give advice to people, it would be either pick up one of the hard skills for videogame development, like animation, art, and programming is a big one. Especially if you want to do design stuff, it’s really good to have a secondary talent, since you need to know how the other departments work. Like, if you can do art, and you can do design, and you can do a little bit of programming, you can talk their language. Do that, and then my other thing is to make games. Just make ’em. Spend weekends, do Game Jams, get involved with your local community if there is one. Just make games, ’cause the only way to really learn is to do. We laugh because Runbow’s our first title and we did it just out of the gate, and there are SO many lessons that we have learnt. We could keep working on Runbow forever if we wanted to, but at some point you have to finish it. So we’re hoping that with the second game it’s going to be so much easier, and we’re going to know so much now! So there’s so much involved in making games, and so many disciplines that there’s so much to learn, and making games is just the best way to do that!
I would like to say a massive thanks to Tom McCall for letting me take some of his time from the stand to let me interview him. You can buy Runbow on the Wii U eShop RIGHT NOW for just a little bit over ten pounds/dollars/whatever currency. However, in the unlikely chance you still have yet to make your mind up, I am working on a review for the title, so keep your eyes out!