Thursday, November 2

Interview with Niels ’t Hooft of Two Tribes on RIVE

The intense twin-stick shooting action and platforming (yes, there’s a bit of both together, wrap your brain around that!) of RIVE is finally bound for the Switch! In anticipation of its arrival I got to grab a little bit of the time of RIVE’s writer, Niels ’t Hooft, to ask him some questions about the game and about the fate of its development studio, Two Tribes.

Gotta start with the standard opener: You're announcing the debut of RIVE at a big show full of rabid gamers. They pass you the mic and want you to share a condensed version of what the game is like to amp up the crowd. GO!

Niels: We have a few different ways of describing RIVE:
  1. It’s a metal wrecking, robot hacking shooter
  2. It’s a hard, fast & hilarious action game with insanely spectacular battles
  3. It’s a modern ode to classic shooters
And with the Ultimate Edition, it’s better than ever, only on Nintendo Switch!

If you haven’t seen the announcement, here’s a quick rundown of what we changed or added:
  • Copilot Mode, a new addition that lets you play the game with a friend, controlling the spider tank with two Joy-Cons
  • HD Rumble support, letting you truly feel the action;
  • In-game achievements on Switch, with some new ones added in: 48 and counting;
  • We went back into the game to tweak it, both tech and content wise. So it loads faster & plays smoother. It’s polished to perfection!
We’re obviously super happy that we’re finally able to bring RIVE to a Nintendo console, especially in such an awesome version. The best version of RIVE yet!

Right out of the gate the thing that is hard to miss is the RIVE's pacing. Enemies move quickly, you move quickly, your gun fires and adjusts aim quickly. I saw a comment that you were ensuring the game would run at 60 FPS on the Switch and having played it I could see where this is vital. What are your thoughts on the break-neck speed everything is happening at in the game?

Niels: As you say, the speed is an essential part of the game, and so the frame rate becomes super important. If RIVE ran at 30 fps it’d almost be twice as hard to anticipate some of the fastest incoming enemies. I personally love that when you get good at the game, you get this super-aware state of being… where you’re always ready for whatever is thrown at you. It reminds me of the idea of a 'mind like water’.

Through the first few hours playing the game (on PC) I haven't really been given the opportunity to relax and rest on my laurels almost at all. The moment it feels like I've got everything down and understand how to kick some ass you seem to throw something new into the mix to stomp all over those presumptions. Is it too much to ask that you let me feel in control for a few moments before crushing my spirit or is breaking people while making them want more just one of the game's stated goals?

Niels: If you don’t feel in control yet, I think you have to keep going, or maybe replay a few missions, or take on some battle arena action or challenges. Get some practice on the side of the main game. Then, pretty soon, you’ll be doing the dance of destruction with your enemies!

RIVE is definitely not about breaking players, it’s about really challenging them so that when they finally do achieve victory and full control, it’s a truly rewarding feeling.

One of the points of interest in RIVE is the fact that I don't think you expect anyone to make it through any level the first time without dying. You set up a lot of situations where some element of trial and error may be necessary to figure out what needs to be done, needs to be triggered, or where you may need to move too quickly. This creates some variance in play and can make for some mild puzzle-solving or platforming elements to break up all of the intense shooting. I take it this was an core goal in the design?

Niels: We discovered during development that it can be a lot of fun to die in this game. It helps that respawning is almost instant, and there are a ton of checkpoints. Which is why we spent a lot of time on the various game over messages, that change dynamically depending on how you die. Just to name one thing.

It's definitely a game designed for replayability as well, going back into these missions to set high scores, speedrun times and single-credit records.

I think the element of the game that continues to take me by surprise is how much I need to use jump not just functionally to move through the level but during intense combat situations as well. I'll find myself moving left while trying to keep firing on something moving right and periodically I'll have something going on beneath me requiring me to precision jump over it all at the same time. While this type of challenge is fair and makes sense it makes me reflect on the fact that first I don't play a lot of twin-stick shooters where I jump at all but second that even for the ones I do play jumping is usually reserved for traversal or is at least not requiring me to be very accurate in the midst of combat. Was this a function of you trying to force people to really work to get through things?

Niels: There aren’t a lot of twin-stick shooters where you also jump in the first place, right? This probably has to do with the relative complexity of the controls. You have to get used to it.

We get a lot of people asking about an option to jump with the A button, which wouldn’t work because you need your right thumb on the aiming stick. With ‘jump on A' you wouldn’t be able to jump over a flock of enemies while shooting at them! So yeah, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but when you master these controls, nirvana awaits!

On the Two Tribes website there's a pretty long post tied to the statement that RIVE will be your last game. I take it that at this point this still stands and that you're just trying to make the most of your investment by getting it out on the Switch or has anything progressed differently in terms of your direction?

Niels: We stand by what we wrote back then! Martijn and Collin, the Two Tribes founders, have been at this game for nearly two decades, and they don't feel like starting another long-winding, risky project. Yet at the same time, they still love the projects they’ve done before, and they love the fans of our games.

That last part is a huge reason why we’re making the Switch version: Nintendo gamers have been waiting for RIVE since the Wii U and we finally want to deliver it to them, in the best version possible.

Just to be clear, the financials are obviously a part of any business, but we wouldn’t make a Switch version of RIVE if we didn’t love the game, didn’t love the gamers, didn’t love the prospect of making this game even better for a wonderful new platform!

As someone who used to run some sites a few decades ago and having returned I can sympathize with your statement that you feel old and that the games industry changed quickly while you were stuck in place doing you thing. Is there any more specific wisdom you'd like to share with your fellow indie devs or even gamers to help paint additional perspective on how much the industry has changed in the past decade plus?

Niels: Well, I think that since announcing our retirement, Two Tribes has found a little more perspective on how lucky it's been. From getting to publish a Game Boy Color game as a tiny studio back when this really wasn’t possible back in 2001, to riding the wave of self-publishing starting with XBLA, Steam and the Wii a decade ago, we were lucky to do some incredible things.

The market is fragmented now though, and it’s harder for a medium-sized studio to be reliably profitable. Developers can still find a niche I think, but perhaps we feel a little too old and jaded to go through the whole process again. Personally, I’m happy to have been a part of Two Tribes’ run and to have been able to incorporate some of the studio’s struggle into RIVE’s storyline!

I wanted to thank Niels for taking the time to answer my questions and share his thoughts! RIVE: Ultimate Edition will be storming onto the Switch eShop on November 17th! For more information on the game be sure to check out the official announcement!