Just last month, Rain Games, the Norwegian team behind puzzle-platforming indie gem Teslagrad, unveiled its next project World to the West, a top-down action puzzler that takes place during a later time period and in new locations of its predecessor’s shared universe. Read along as Rain Games artist Ole Ivar Rudi tells us more about the game’s Teslagrad connections, new characters and gameplay style, design inspirations, and more!
VGBlogger: Beyond taking place in the same world as Teslagrad, are there any direct connections returning players will recognize? Or is this intended to primarily be a standalone experience?
Ole Ivar Rudi: Some familiar faces will return! Not saying just who, but the events of Teslagrad definitely play a part in the overall storyline. Let’s just say not everyone chose to stay after the king’s demise.
VGB: In terms of chronology, when does World to the West take place in relation to Teslagrad?
OIR: It takes place roughly 25-30 years later. Lumina, the young teslamancer character, is a direct descendant of the main character from Teslagrad.
We wanted to make the timeline move far enough that there was room for a new generation and genuine change in the world it takes place in, but not so far that it wasn’t feasible that people who were around in Teslagrad were still alive.
VGB: Teslagrad took a “show don’t tell” approach to telling its story, using background imagery and the environments without dialogue. In the first teaser for World to the West I noticed one part where there appeared to be some speech bubble dialogue going on. Does that mean we can expect a more direct form of storytelling this time?
OIR: Well observed! Yeah, we’re doing actual dialogue this time. This is partly due to more complicated character dynamics, and partly due to the choice of camera angle. In Teslagrad, we were working with a side-on view so we could do visual storytelling very effectively through wall art and the mechanical theatres. In WttW’s top down perspective, the walls are viewed at an angle. That means we’d mostly have to do the storytelling through the floor surfaces, which never felt quite right for the scope of the story. We’re trying to make the most of the added storytelling options, but at the same time we want to keep the script lean enough to keep localization manageable.
VGB: Based on the early media, World to the West doesn’t seem to be taking itself quite as seriously as Teslagrad? Is it fair to say the music and art are skewing more towards a cute and whimsical tone?
OIR: Yeah, Teslagrad is in the murkiest corner of this world, so showing off the surrounding countries means there’s a bit of a tonal shift, at least superficially. It’s a far bigger game than Teslagrad, so we think it’s a good idea to widen the array of moods to keep things interesting! There’s still darkness simmering below the surface though, which will become more apparent as you get deeper into the story.
VGB: Who are the four playable characters? If you could, please introduce us to the cast and elaborate a bit more on their unique personalities and gameplay abilities.
OIR: There’s Lumina, who’s the middle child of the protagonist from Teslagrad. Brought up within the rebuilt Teslamancer order, she’s a competent fighter, highly agile and capable with electricity-based gadgets, but introverted and shy when it comes to interacting with people. She’s never been outside her home country Elektropia before, and after a freak teleportation accident, she feels lost in a strange land.
Knaus is an orphan from the engineering- focused nation of Motorland, drafted into the country’s child employment programme. He’s trying to make do in a Lord of the Flies-like unsupervised children’s mining colony on the recently colonized western continent, but soon finds himself an outcast from the group. Being a small kid, he’s pretty much useless in combat, but he’s a resourceful lad and can use the environment to his advantage.
Teri is a freelance adventurer from the land of Mesmer, known for their refined culture, sweet pastries and advanced mind control techniques. She’s an independent, rogueish fast talker who can get along with anyone, but seldom trusts people completely. Using a sash laced with knock-out perfume and her artisanal hypnotic goggles, she can charm any animal into doing her bidding.
Lord Clonington is an aristocratic brawler from the very uppermost part of the Anglorian upper crust. His greatness is obvious to himself, but in the philanthropic interest of sharing the knowledge of his superiority to the less informed, he travels the world seeking worthy opponents and exotic wildlife to demonstrate his physical prowess upon. Pampered, rich and with the mind of a six year old channeling Teddy Roosevelt, he’s fully immersed in his hobby of gentlemanly brawling and never really understands that the creatures he’s beating up may not enjoy it as much as he does. He remains cheerful and on jovial terms with everyone as long as he doesn’t see them as riffraff.
VGB: How does the multi-character gameplay work exactly? Can you swap between characters at will, is it set up more as a pre-set character for different areas format, or do you choose one character at the start and play through his or her individual story?
OIR: We change it up a bit throughout the game–initially you start off with each character getting an introductory chapter, then we increase the freedom of choice along the way. after the mid-point of the game the most of the map is essentially open to all of the characters at any time.
Character selection happens at set landmarks through the game, so it’s not an insta-swap thing. However, the landmarks are spaced pretty closely together, so it’s never really a hassle! The characters remain consistent in their geographical placement so it’s basically like they’re setting up camp at the landmarks-if you visit the current location of one character with another one, you can have a chat with them as an NPC. This makes it feel more like you’re controlling four characters with parallel and interlocking stories, rather than that you’re transforming into different characters.
VGB: Has the idea of cooperative play between the four characters been kicked around at all? Or is pure single player the focus?
OIR: We’ve definitely considered it! At one point it was a planned feature, and we have no doubt that it would be a lot of fun. We’re a small team though, and World to the West is a pretty huge project for us scope-wise as it is.
It would complicate the design of the game and cause some severe bottleneck issues, as it’d mean no one on the team could do testing on their own without securing a testing partner, so unless we get the opportunity to increase the budget and team size it’s looking pretty unlikely.
Maybe we could do co-op DLC if WttW is a huge hit:)
VGB: Where Teslagrad took closely after Metroidvania-like platformers, World to the West appears to be more akin to top-down action-adventures like Legend of Zelda with its mix of puzzles and combat. Is that an accurate comparison as far as how the gameplay and world are structured? What were some of the inspirations behind your design direction for this game in general?
OIR: Oh Zelda is definitely an inspiration! WttW is a bit more free form than Zelda though- we have more of a Metroidvania-style large interlocking world with tucked-away secrets, rather than an overt separation between dungeon/overworld gameplay.
The idea of having four separate characters with unique abilities and upgrade sets was actually born from annoyance with constant item swapping while replaying some of the game boy Zelda games-you’d be walking five feet, smash a rock, walk three more feet, switch items, jump over a hole, switch items just to move a few screens. So we decided early on we didn’t want to have an item menu, but rather make sure every character had different paths through the world, with increased route options through abilities gained over time.
We’re quite fond of top down action adventures in general though- it’s an interesting genre with a lot of hidden gems to sink your teeth into, like Crystalis, Soleil, Beyond Oasis, Alundra, Sylvan Tale, Neutopia, Marvelous: Another Treasure Island, Shounen Kininden Tsumuji and more recent stuff like Oceanhorn, Ittle Dew, Anodyne, Crosscode, and Hyper Light Drifter.
We take inspiration from all over the place though, not just within the genre! It’s important to us that WttW has it’s own identity.
VGB: During the final run home in Teslagrad’s true ending, there’s a point where you pass by a window and see two characters who bear resemblance to World to the West’s Mindbender and Strongman characters, both looking at a map or page together. (It caught my eye so much I immediately took a screenshot–see above.) Was that pure coincidence or an actual Easter egg teaser?
OIR: It’s completely intentional!
We only had a rough idea of what we wanted to do next at the time, but some details were in place. They’re kinda prototype versions of the characters in World to the West, but since that game takes place a generation later, let’s just say they’re close relatives.
VGB: Roughly how long of an adventure do you intend for World to the West to be on an average playthrough?
OIR: That remains to be seen, We keep stuffing more stuff into it! It’s going to be a longer game than Teslagrad for sure due to the nature of the gameplay, but we’re not afraid to tighten things to make a more compact experience if there are any sections that start to feel drawn out. We’re not a fan of padding games just to increase playtime, sometimes shorter is better if it means that every moment feels fresh and memorable.
VGB: What type of replayability elements can we expect? Collectibles, multiple endings, secret areas, or anything else of that nature?
OIR: We’re putting a lot of secret and optional stuff in there! Teslagrad had a special reward for doing 100% completion, but we feel it could have been improved by integrating it better with the main gameplay, so that’s definitely a priority. We’re still deciding on a lot of stuff in regard to how the final part of the game plays out, so multiple ending is definitely on the table at the moment.. but I’m not going to speculate too much on what actually makes it into the final game!
VGB: How far along is development and what’s the current target for release?
OIR: Most of the main features of the game have been implemented, and pretty big chunks of it are playable. Moving forward it’s all about tweaking mechanics, polish, pacing and adding fun details, and that can be very hard to predict. Some things take a lot quicker to implement than anticipated, other stuff takes a lot longer. Sometimes an idea is too good to pass up even if it adds to the development time. We do have an internal target for a release date, but it’s better to say too little than too much!
VGB: Are you able to confirm yet which platforms the game will be available on at launch? Is a simultaneous release planned or will different platform launches be staggered?
OIR: We’re not talking about the release platforms publically just yet, since there’s a lot of technical details still to be worked out. I can say it’s very likely to be multiplatform- We want as many as possible to experience the game!
VGB: Well, we’ll be looking forward to those details whenever you’re able to announce them. Thanks for telling us more about World to the West. Can’t wait to play it!