White Rabbit’s co-creator Alex Kubodera talks to us about the indie studio’s recent Metroidvania title.
We’ve been seeing a revival of the metroidvania genre in recent months, with indie developers choosing to go back to this venerated design philosophy to create some truly wonderful game. One of the games to have gone in this direction is the recent Death’s Gambit, a great game in its own right, which combines metroidvania, non-linear progression, and beautiful, gothic pixel-art style to deliver an atmospheric and deeply enjoyable experience. Before the game launched, we sent across a few of hours questions to Alex Kubodera, art director and co-creator of developers White Rabbit, to talk about the game’s various mechanics, some of its influences, and more. Here’s how our conversation went.
"Princess Mononoke was a great source of inspiration for nature reclaiming its lands, as was Dark Souls for the scale and gothic architecture. Each area has its own inspirations based on the narrative we wanted to explore."
The game has quite a unique setting from what we’ve seen so far. What are some of the inspirations you drew from to depict this realm of the undying?
We wanted to explore what immortality would feasibly do to a kingdom. While it might enjoy prosperity and immense growth through an undying workforce, we figured people would eventually lose a sense of self and motivation. The landscapes are meant to evoke that sense of lost history. Princess Mononoke was a great source of inspiration for nature reclaiming its lands, as was Dark Souls for the scale and gothic architecture. Each area has its own inspirations based on the narrative we wanted to explore.
What can you tell us about the story of the game and about the protagonist Sorun?
Siradon is the land of immortality, subjected to a quadrennial event known as the Great Expedition. During this time, the surrounding kingdoms attempt to siege it and claim the source of undeath for themselves.
Sorun was born to a fiefdom within Vados. As part of their tribute, his father was drafted into the Great Expedition while Sorun was still a newborn. Growing up with his mother, she instilled in him the ideals to live a life worth remembering. They were her parting words before the Expedition took her as well.
Sorun would come to follow in their footsteps, taking command of a sizable company. But when faced with Death, he thinks immortality will give him the means to honor his mother’s memory, and make a name for himself. But immortality is not without its costs.
Since the character is supposed to be immortal, how exactly does the death mechanic work in the game?
Sorun is in a state of limbo between life and death. He can still be killed when squaring off against enemies, but will be resurrected at a Death shrine per his contract with Death. Knowing we would be making a difficult game, we wanted death to be a marker of progression. For one, if you die to a boss, you are rewarded experience for doing better than your previous attempt. A hiscore system of sorts. Secondly, characters will remember when you do die and return. And finally, death unlocks certain story related cutscenes and flashbacks that delve into the backstory of Sorun and the state of the world.
How important is your starting class in the game? Is it more just a place to start off with or does it define your playstyle for the rest of the game?
The game is balanced so that you can complete it with any of the classes. There are pros and cons for how you build out your character at the beginning, but there’s a lot of flexibility too, and your starting class is more about giving you different playstyles to experiment with on each playthrough. There is always room to adapt as the game goes on, with plenty of avenues for min-maxing. It’s really about making the hero you want to play.
"The pixel art style was chosen out of necessity. Between the two of us who started developing the game, there was no way I could animate fully illustrated characters or 3D models."
What can you tell us about the progression system in the game?
The game is non-linear, allowing players to explore different zones in whatever order they choose. Various skills and weapons become available through the paths you take, and equipment can be upgraded upon finding a specific NPC. Certain bosses offer new skills, vendors increase their items, etc. Defeating a boss will reward you with a talent point that can be spent on improving certain aspects of your character. However you won’t be able to fill out all of your talents in one playthrough, so strategically choose which progression path you wish to take.
What has your collaboration with Adult Swim Games been about?
Adult Swim has supported us financially as a publishing house, as well as provided marketing and venue space for conventions, and ad spaces around the web.
The game’s fantastic art style immediately arrests the viewer’s attention. What can you tell us about the inspirations and reasons that led you to use this art style?
The pixel art style was chosen out of necessity. Between the two of us who started developing the game, there was no way I could animate fully illustrated characters or 3D models. Pixel art gave us the leeway to create a demo to pitch. Beyond that, pixel art is just fun to do, and it inspires people’s creativity in a way high fidelity graphics don’t. Pixel art leaves it up to the player to imagine parts of the design. Each area has its own color palette and theme to keep it memorable.
As of now, the game has been announced only for the PC and PS4. Are there plans to bring it over to the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in the future?
Right now we are just focused on the PS4 and PC versions, continuing to update them based on feedback we’ve received since launch.
What can you tell us about the non-linear gameplay and how exactly it works?
It was important for us to give players a sense of choice in their adventure. The full game really opens up to player freedom after the initial area. There are definitely easier paths and bosses you can choose to take on early, but we try to leave that up to you to discover. Either way, players are rewarded for their exploration with valuable gear and items that may help overcome the game’s various challenges.
"We’ve seen some incredible player strategies shine through these fights, and it serves to really inspire player creativity to overcome these challenges."
How exactly does the Heroic Mode work?
Upon defeating a boss, you have the option to challenge them again. In the same way that you are immortal and can continue to face them despite your deaths, this gives the bosses a chance to do the same. Certain twists are introduced to increase the challenge of the fight, as well as buffing their overall health and damage. We’ve seen some incredible player strategies shine through these fights, and it serves to really inspire player creativity to overcome these challenges.