A discussion on video games, art, Nintendo, and more.
You probably know of Tequila Works. They’re a relatively new studio, but they’ve managed to make their mark felt on the gaming industry, due to just how visually bold and striking their games tend to be. Consider RIME, for instance- the PS4 exclusive was announced a few years ago at Gamescom, where it got everyone’s attention with its visually arresting art, and its interesting premise. The notion of a puzzle platformer, communicating with its player wordlessly, got players excited, and comparisons were immediately drawn to games like ICO or Zelda.
RIME disappeared after that, for a while, only to resurface earlier this year, with Tequila Works having reacquired the rights to the IP from Sony. Meanwhile, they also announced The Sexy Brutale, another game that they would be working on. What happened at Tequila Works during all those years? Is RIME still on track? How did The Sexy Brutale fit into the picture amidst all this? All of that, and more, are questions that we ask José Herráez, who handles PR for Tequila. Let’s get to it then.
So, to start us off, could you first please introduce yourself for our readers?
Yes, of course, my name is José Herráez, and I handle PR at Tequila Works. And I have been working at the studio for a bit over two years now.
Alright. So I wanted to jump right into it and start discussing The Sexy Brutale, which I believe is a game you have only announced just recently.
"The thing is that, of course we are still working on RIME, it’s making good progress, and we’ll offer more information on the game next year. But The Sexy Brutale, it’s a game that we announced earlier this year, in Cologne during Gamescom. And it’s a co-production between Tequila Games and Cavalier Game Studios."
I wanted to know how and when this game came about- for most people, it was probably a bit out of nowhere, given that they are probably still expecting RIME.
Yes, the story of the making of The Sexy Brutale is quite interesting in my opinion, because it’s not the usual development of video games that you are accustomed to as a video games aficionado. The thing is that, of course we are still working on RIME, it’s making good progress, and we’ll offer more information on the game next year. But The Sexy Brutale, it’s a game that we announced earlier this year, in Cologne during Gamescom. And it’s a co-production between Tequila Games and Cavalier Game Studios. Cavalier Game Studios is a new studio, formed by ex-Lionhead workers. And they have this excellent idea for a new game, involving a really eccentric mansion owned by a marquee, called the Sexy Brutale. It’s a casino mansion, because this marquee made his fortune gambling, and so he built his mansion to be reminiscent of that. He named it that because it has all the connotations that he associates with his fortune, something sexy and thrilling, but also brutal and ruthless.
So Cavalier had this great concept for a game that had this Groundhog Day mechanic, because you’re trapped in a time loop. The same day repeats every day, it’s like a curse. And you have to some how solve the mystery of the casino mansion to break the loop and figure out what’s going on. And they had an earlier build of the game, they had all the gameplay, and the game design, but they wanted to sit with the people they knew from the industry. Our studio director was one of those people, and he was really impressed with what he saw. And he said that the game is fantastic, but it lacks in art direction, it’s fun to play but lacks in visuals.
And since Tequila Works is known for creating very visually appealing works, unique visual graphics, he decided to propose a co-production, with Cavalier taking care of the gameplay and game design, and us taking care of the visuals, and also we would publish the game. So this is how this co-production came to life. It was something very common a few years ago, this kind of co-production, in the European games industry. When you wanted to make a European equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster, you’d have studios from Spain, Italy, France, and Germany pool together and make a co-production. Which is the spirit of what we wanted to do with The Sexy Brutale, and so far, we have been very encouraged by the response.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting that you bring up the spirit of European game development, because the game itself has a very British feel. It feels like the humor, characters, and setting are all really grounded in British culture, like classic Rare video games. So I did want to know that, my understanding is that the story will be at least a little serious. But obviously, if you’re going for a British feel, there’ll be some British humor as well.
Indeed. All the story is permeated by British humor, and on some occasions, rather black humor. In the end, it’s very deep, very thrilling and mysterious. All the characters have their own stories to tell, and I am sure that not only the personal resolutions, but also the narrative of the game will be something that interests the players.
"You need to progress your character with some Metroidvania mechanics. So every time you solve a mystery, as we showed at Gamescom, you gain some powers. Every guest in the mansion has a mask, that is part of the curse haunting the mansion. And every time you prevent them from being murdered, you gain their mask, and get the corresponding powers, which allows you to get certain abilities that let you progress further into the game, allowing you to solve all mysteries."
And speaking about the narrative, I wanted to talk about the time loop, which you brought up earlier. It’s sort of like a Groundhog Day, Majora’s Mask mechanic. And I wanted to know, how is it implemented in the gameplay, how does the time loop impact the gameplay?
It’s, well, the gameplay is all around the time loop. Let me explain this the best I can. All that happens in the game happens at the same time from the very beginning. You have one day that lasts nine minutes in real time, and everything happens at the same time during those nine minutes. So you have very little opportunity to see what is happening in the casino mansion at the very beginning. As you progress through the game, you gather information about what is happening in every room in the mansion at different times of the day, and thus you need to piece all the clues together to solve the murder that is taking place in the mansion.
So you are aware that you cannot solve everything at once, because you cannot access the places or interact with everyone and everything all at once. So you need to progress your character with some Metroidvania mechanics. So every time you solve a mystery, as we showed at Gamescom, you gain some powers. Every guest in the mansion has a mask, that is part of the curse haunting the mansion. And every time you prevent them from being murdered, you gain their mask, and get the corresponding powers, which allows you to get certain abilities that let you progress further into the game, allowing you to solve all mysteries. But you always need to remember that you only have this one day, nine minutes of gameplay.
That also means that there’s always pressure on you, but you also know that you are never that far away from something happening. For instance, you know that someone is murdered at a certain time, every day you play, you will hear that murder, even if you are not present there to prevent it. So it’s like piecing all the clues together like clockwork- everything is happening at the same time, and you need to experience it all to figure out the whole picture.
So you relive the same day over and over, get more information, and across multiple playthroughs of the same day, you have enough information to solve the mystery.
And the masks, which you brought up- what kinds of powers are we talking about, in terms of gameplay?
Well, I cannot disclose much at this moment, but for example, what we have shown so far is the main character is invited to the casino mansion, and for some reason, he is out of the time loop. He is aware of it. The rest of the guests are not, not of the time loop, and so not of the murders. So this character is precisely aware that something wrong is happening because he is wearing a mask that has been somehow anointed by another character- we don’t know who that character is, we don’t know if he is an ally or something else. But he has imprinted his bloody hand print on to the mask, and thus made its wearer impervious to the curse.
And the first case we solve is a murder of the clockmaster of the mansion, a man who is responsible for all the grandfather clocks in the mansion. And of course, the powers of his mask are related to that job somehow, I am told he controls the clocks of the mansion. And once you solve the murder case, and gain his mask, you can also use his power and control of the clocks, not just to save the game, but also, each time the game restarts, the time loop, you can choose where in the mansion you want to appear, next to what clock, and that is critical to be on time to solve the mysteries.
So the clocks are like a quick travel system as well.
Exactly, exactly. So that’s one example of how solving one mystery will open new areas of the mansion, critical to progressing through the game.
Well, it actually sounds really intriguing, it’s like a paranormal detective mystery.
So when can we expect- is there any release window announced, or platforms?
Yes, we plan on releasing in Q1 2017, and we will have more information on the game in the months to come, but for the moment, it’s Q1 2017, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
I did want to shift the direction of this interview towards RIME now. Obviously the game has seen a fair amount of delays and I am assuming development troubles in the last few years, there’s even been a change in publishers. What is the current status of the game, and have the development issues affected the team’s drive at all?
Well, contrary to what is believed, we haven’t had any development issues with the game. The only thing is that we took the IP rights from Sony Computer Entertainment back for the RIME franchise, because we felt that was a valuable property for Tequila Works to have. And then we secured a different publisher, which is Six Foot and Grey Box. They are from the United States, and that’s the end of it, really. Some people imply that we would have some troubles with development, but that was never the case, the game is progressing perfectly, and we will offer more information, and show more gameplay, and we’ll announce platform availability very early next year. So we are not far from hearing interesting news about RIME.
"Contrary to what is believed, we haven’t had any development issues with RIME."
So, I mean, under the current publishing agreement you have, you retain the IP rights for RIME.
Exactly. We are publishing the game with Six Foot and Grey Box, but the IP belongs to us.
Alright. And you did bring this up a little bit, but would you be willing to talk about what happened between Sony and Tequila Works in more detail?
It’s really not complicated. We decided that having the IP rights for one of our properties, and a game that was always conceived and planned, and dreamt of by Tequila Works, should remain in house. And that was why we reacquired the rights to the IP, and we came to this agreement with Sony, it was all on friendly terms. And of course, you know this industry has a lot of gossip and rumors, but really, that’s it. It’s not a complicated story.
So it was just a simple matter of you wanting to retain the rights to the IP.
Now earlier in the interview, you brought up this tidbit about Tequila being known for their excellent art style, and RIME seems to be no different- in fact, I would argue that it’s the thing that made people sit up and take notice of the game first. And, what would you say the influences for this art style were? I know people compare this to Wind Waker and ICO a lot, and then there are movies like Princess Mononoke. What would you say has influenced the game’s overall artstyle the most? And do you think the artstyle is in any way indicative of the game, and the story that it wants to tell?
Absolutely, I think that the art direction in RIME is very critical for the narrative of the game, and also the feelings that we want to transmit with it. The influences, we have always admitted that the game’s art direction has been influenced by classic Spanish painter Sorolla, who was master of capturing the sunlight on the terrain and the sea. And that’s something that is not only important for Tequila Works and the game, but most of us who have grown up in Spain, and when we were young, we spent a lot of summer time on the coasts of Spain, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. So it’s something that permeates the entirely of the game.
Of course, we have been compared to ICO or to Zelda, for example. And those are very valid influences, and we are very avid gamers, and we have always been struck by those fantastic IPs. So, it’s also really about how we are ground by inspirations or certain stories.
And how about gameplay? The original pitch for RIME was that it features puzzle platforming and a wordless narrative. How much of that survived the game’s development? Has the gameplay pitch changed over the years?
I am afraid I cannot discuss gameplay until early next year, that’s something we’re going to hold back on for the while.
"I think that the art direction in RIME is very critical for the narrative of the game, and also the feelings that we want to transmit with it."
That’s alright, I get that.
But as I said, we’ll be sharing gameplay very soon, and everything will be explained then.
How about the setting? It’s set on an island, one island, and that’s a lot like The Witness, which was released earlier this year. Or there’s Proteus. How much would you say the story for RIME is comparable to the story of those games?
I (laughs)- I need to give you the same answer, I’m sorry. I am not able to discuss anything about the game at this point.
So when in 2017 can we expect RIME? Is it still a PS4 exclusive?
We’ll announce that in the months to come!
Okay, so let’s go back to the comparisons with ICO we were discussing earlier. The makers of that game are going to be releasing their own new game, The Last Guardian, later this year. Now that’s a game with some commonalities with RIME- similar art styles, similar kinds of storytelling, and a long development cycle with multiple delays. What do you personally think of The Last Guardian? Will it be able to live up to its immense hype, do you think?
Well, it’s difficult to tell, I cannot discuss other developers’ games. I can only say that I am eager to play The Last Guardian, I’ve been following its development for quite some time, and I am sure it will be a beautiful experience to play. However, I would like to point that we cannot say that RIME is delayed, because we have never given a release date before. Now we have confirmed that the game will come out in 2017, so now that’s the first time we have committed to a release date!
I wanted to discuss the Nintendo NX now, which I’m sure you’ve also been keeping up with. What are your thoughts? Do you think Nintendo can actually make a comeback with it from where they are with the Wii U and 3DS?
Nintendo has always surprised us in a good way, even if the sales of the Wii U haven’t been that brilliant as the sales of the former Wii were. But I have every reason to be excited about what Nintendo will come out with the NX. And I am really looking forward to more information about the console.
So presuming that the NX is indeed a handheld-console hybrid are true, what are the unique development challenges that a system like that would post? Do you think a hybrid like that is actually viable?
Well, it would be a really interesting proposition. At this moment, I cannot be sure about how that would influence third party development, because we have seen literally nothing of the console. I have the very same information as you do. But it could- I’m sure that, being Nintendo, they will not only come out with a console that can do certain things, but also with a plan about how to make it work. They have always been – in my past experience working for other companies, such as Codemasters and Sega – they have always been very supportive of third party companies, and how they work with their platforms. And I expect that to be the case again.
"I’m sure that, being Nintendo, they will not only come out with a console that can do certain things, but also with a plan about how to make it work."
And is the NX something you would look into supporting? Presuming that it’s powerful enough to support said games.
It’s too early to say that, and I cannot talk about the company’s policy, I am not qualified to answer that, I’m afraid.
I understand that! Well, that’s all from me- is there anything you would like to add before we let you go?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the support they have shown Tequila Works, and we are really eager, even if it doesn’t seem so at the moment, with me pushing most discussion to 2017- we’re really eager to share news about RIME with you, and we are working very, very hard on making it the best game we possibly can.
Alright, well we’re really looking forward to it! Good luck for the release!