RiftStar Raiders Interview: Gunning For Glory

Lead designer Mark Manuello discusses the studio’s newest shoot ’em up.

Posted By | On 06th, Jun. 2017 Under Article, Interviews

Climax Studios is known for a number of different games, particularly the side-scrolling Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games. It also has a strong reputation for its ports, especially in the Silent Hill series. So something like RiftStar Raiders seems a bit new for the studio. It’s a 2.5D, top-down shoot ’em up involving space battles, co-op and semi-open levels with Events to conquer. With a heavy emphasis on loot-collecting, loadouts and battling alongside and competing with friends, RiftStar Raiders definitely has its work cut out for it.

GamingBolt spoke to Marc Manuello, lead designer for RiftStar Raiders at Climax, and talked about the game’s premise, how the co-op aspects work and what players could look forward to.

"No matter the type of level, players are free to go anywhere they want so it is up to them to decide which path to follow."

The last major release from Climax Studios was the side-scrolling Assassin’s Creed Chronicles. What prompted your next game Riftstar Raiders to be a top-down SHMUP?

In fact, Climax Studios has had a particularly busy and productive year, with a number of major releases going out the door since Assassin’s Creed Chronicles.

Highlights include the release of Dirt Rally VR for Oculus, Hunters Gate on Google Daydream, Combined Arms for PSVR and most recently Lola and the Giant. As a studio, we are constantly pitching and prototyping new concepts to find out what our next big thing will be. Originally Simon Gardner, Climax Studios’ CEO, challenged our prototyping team to reproduce the fun of team based raids found in MMO games mixed with the space shoot-em up genre. He wanted something that is easy to pick up, offering short sessions with a “one more go” feeling that would also offer depth via loot and progression. So that was our starting point for RiftStar Raiders.

What shoot ’em ups did you look at while envisioning Riftstar Raiders?

Shoot’em up is a dense genre that is constantly being populated with new titles, so we didn’t really look at any one title in particular for inspiration. Our spectrum was really large so we looked at everything old and new, from sub-genre like danmaku that are quite popular on the Japanese doujin scene, more indie / experimental top down shooters to bigger audience titles. Thanks to the accessibility of the genre, everyone on the dev team had some experience (mostly arcade days’ memories) with at least one shmup they had fun with.

Everyone naturally shared what they thought was cool and uncool about the genre which we used as a base to build the game upon. Thanks to this process we clearly knew what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to avoid. That is why we never needed to look around for ideas. It was more a matter of analyzing how we could reproduce that feeling of instant fun and that desperate want to put one more ‘’coin in the cabinet’’, while at the same time developing our knowledge of what is successful in today’s shmups and what isn’t.

We know that the game has 9 missions. How long is each mission and are there diverging paths, secrets, etc. to encourage replaying?

In RiftStar Raiders, for storyline reasons missions are called Events. Some happen in interior levels where you proceed along a path until you reach the end. Some other happen in exterior environments where you are being asked to go from objective to objective. And some Events are a mix of both. No matter the type of level, players are free to go anywhere they want so it is up to them to decide which path to follow.

"There are so many combinations possible that we are sure players will surprise us and craft some builds we had never thought about."

The semi-open aspect of the levels allowed us to put some shortcuts, hidden passages, and other secrets for players to discover. Then they can use their better knowledge of Events to maximise their play: better time, traversal made easier, etc.  However, the main vector pushing the player to replay Events are unlockables and loot to collect in order to improve their Raider spacecraft. If the player gets blocked by a peak of difficulty the solution always resides in upgrading your ship’s loadout. Specific Perks are only dropped by specific enemies. If you are looking for one in particular you’ll have to play the Event where you can find it.

The announcement trailer showed off a hefty number of ships. What kinds of classes and ship types can we look forward to?

Like any other online experience, we want players to customise their Raider spacecraft to their taste in order for it to feel unique thanks to different hulls, skins and banners that can be unlocked throughout the game.

RiftStar Raiders is not a character driven experience, so it was of the utmost importance for us to make sure players gets attached to their ship while offering enough visual diversity to reduce chances for ships to look the same in a 4-player session.

What kind of diversity can be expected when it comes to the weapons?

RiftStar Raiders invites players to craft their own weapons, shields and boosts based on different archetypes. Overall there are 2 Boost Drive archetypes, 3 Shields and 4 Weapons going from the Linear Coilgun, a long-range machine gun type of weapon, to the Hyper-V Lancer, a short to mid range energy beam weapon.
Each archetype comes with a different set of stats and unique behaviours making it more suited to face specific situations and enemies. For each archetype, the player can craft up to 4 builds ready to be mounted on their ship.

Archetypes are the base ingredient of any crafted build. A build is basically a linearly structured tech tree composed of 4 upgrade stages and 4 perks slots, each previous stage needs to be purchased to open up the next. Using Starbux (game currency) and Perks collected in Events, the player can purchase upgrades and attach perks to their respective tech tree. Upgrade stages offer the player a pick from 2 to 3 choices, for instance choose between increasing weapon range, fire rate or damage per projectile. Tough choice isn’t it?

Perks can be stacked. In this way, the more perks of the same type that you attach to a build’s tech tree, the more effective and enhanced it will be. Take the homing perk for instance, attaching 4 of this type will make your weapon’s projectiles take sharper turns, thus increasing the chance for them to reach their target. Add the wide variety of perks the game offers (35+) and you can imagine that there are tons of crafting possibilities. There are so many combinations possible that we are sure players will surprise us and craft some builds we had never thought about.

"RiftStar Raiders is designed to be totally playable in both single player and up to 4 player online multiplayer, and all combinations in between."

With a strong focus on loot, what are some of the cooler loadouts that players can equip? What kinds of abilities and upgrades can be equipped to further diversify loadouts?

Upgrades are mostly changing the base stats of the selected archetype. Personally, I think that the coolest upgrades are the Hyper-V Lancer’s. Its upgrades allow the player to turn the weapon from a short but wide beam sword, to a long point precise laser beam as well as an in-between mid-range thick beam. Just by purchasing upgrades, the Hyper-V Lancer can be turned into 3 different weapons, from a melee type to a sniper like weapon. Perks on the other hand can offer some more exotic behaviours like the Iceberg (chance to freeze a target’s engine), the Countermeasures (chance to spawn flares when chased by homing projectiles), the Subsonic Waves (on Boost, chance to push away nearby enemies) or the team’s favourite Black Hole (chance to spawn a black hole on projectile’s end of lifetime, affecting players and enemies alike).

The wide range of possibilities the crafting system offers allows players to create their own class. For instance, if you decide to play healer, you’ll need a boost that can get you away from danger quickly, a shield that can take quite some damage, one healing weapon and a weapon strong enough to protect yourself. Same for any other type of class being tank, damage dealer, support, etc.

What is the motivation behind the “first-come-first-served” approach which sees players competing for loot, especially when other loot-based games emphasize equal rewards for all?

From the beginning of the project we wanted the player to feel like a space smuggler / ace pilot. While we managed to deliver the good feel of piloting the ship after a few iterations, I can’t really say the same about the smuggler aspect. Stealing loot from defeated enemies rightly felt more like a reward. But one day a bug turned all the loot global, thus allowing every player to see each other’s loot but also to pick it up. Everyone in the session instantly forgot about the Event’s objective and started to race for any piece of loot. The game turned from being cooperative to competitive. We had so much fun with it that we decided to make it one of the main feature of the game, we even gave it a name: coopetition.

Fair share and equal rewards are words that don’t exist in RiftStar Raiders. Either breaking away from the group to ensure the safety of their kills’ loot, or conversely sticking near other players’ targets to snatch the loot as soon as it drops; it’s up to the player to come up with their favourite strategy. So not only does the game challenge you to cooperate with other players to successfully complete Events, but it also pushes you to compete against each other to be the best. You never see another player like a partner but more like a challenger and it might even show you how greedy your friends can be.

Is Riftstar Raiders playable solo? What are some of the benefits and gameplay changes that come with co-op play?

RiftStar Raiders is designed to be totally playable in both single player and up to 4 player online multiplayer, and all combinations in between. In single player, you can play through all the game’s Events and craft and customise your Raider spacecraft to create the optimum weapon to defeat all the enemies you’ll face. You can invite other players to play alongside you or join other player’s games. As your Raider spacecraft is persistent, any loot and perks you gain from single player and multiplayer you keep and can use. The biggest benefit in playing multiplayer is the “coopetition” feature as explained above, from the good feeling of successfully planning and executing a tactic with a squad of friends to bragging about that rare perk everyone is after that you got by stealing it from one of your mate’s kills.

"Do not be fooled by the nature of the game, making a shoot’em up online is no easy task as hundreds of objects have to constantly share their state over the network."

Players aren’t stuck on the same screen so everyone is free to either stick together, spread out or run for that loot crate hidden in a corner. Levels have been designed to also offer enough variety for 4 players, some objectives can be tackled faster by spreading out but this increases the chances of taking on enemies on your own.
Besides the main missions and co-op, what other modes and challenges can players expect? The co-op mission progression is the only mode available in the game.

Is the game going to run at 1080p and 60fps on both the PS4 and Xbox One versions?

We are aiming to achieve the best performance and image quality possible on all target platforms.

Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?

RiftStar Raiders is the result of a real team effort. While we are currently going through the last stages of development I’d like to pay homage to the incredible people who made this game. Artists did their best to take on the challenge of creating a high end universe within the constraints a 2.5D gameplay implies. Making everything as consistent and believable as possible from front end menus and in-game UI to world and mecha design. A lot of attention has been particularly given to the depth of every level in order to bring them to life. Do not be fooled by the nature of the game, making a shoot’em up online is no easy task as hundreds of objects have to constantly share their state over the network. Add optimizing and delivering the game on several platforms at launch and you’ll understand how heroic our coders have been.

The whole soundtrack of the game has been composed internally by the sole sound designer of the project. While visuals are key, sound identity is equally as important especially when looking at the history of the shmup genre. Through several iterations, we worked toward defining what makes the identity of each faction and regions that are making the world of RiftStar Raiders. The result is a unique tailor made score. I am really proud of what we achieved together as a team and we really hope you’ll like it. See you in the Rift, Raider!

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