Have you heard of Teslagrad? It seems like we have been waiting an eternity for the Vita version of this beautiful platformer, but it is still coming and we spoke to the game’s Norwegian developers, Rain Games, and they explained it all to us.
Hello Rain Games, thanks for talking with us! Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?
Hi! We are a small team creating games from Bergen, Norway. Teslagrad is our first “big game”, though the team has plenty of experience on media and other sectors, and we also we have more than a game jam experiment in our pockets. Now we are preparing the PlayStation Vita release of Teslagrad, and also our second game, tentatively called World to the West.
You are busy working on Teslagrad for the Vita. What is it about?
If you pointed a teslamancer staff at me and urged to explain Teslagrad in just a few words, I’d say it is a puzzle platformer. However, I honestly think it goes beyond way that; it is an adventure game with a solid and very characteristic mood and atmosphere, and an open invitation for the player to discover a world and a story with multiple layers, which is told by purely visual means. In that sense it is very much like the classic metroidvania games that we loved to play, as it is its level of challenge. It is also a game where platforming skills are as important as the ability to solve puzzles based in electricity and magnetism, probably the other element that explains the game the best.
What games, if any, did you use as inspiration for the game?
Hundreds! We at Rain are lifelong players, and being in our late twenty and thirty-somethings now, you can guess which games have influenced us the most. We’ve grown up with the 8 and 16 bit consoles, and certainly those games are crucial to understand what Teslagrad is, and thus who we are as players and, no less important, as developers.
We’ve taken inspiration from many of the incredible NES and SNES 2D platformers, and there are two sagas that must be mentioned above all the others: the 2D Castlevanias on one side, and Metroid games on the other. Their focus on exploration could create a sense of mystery and wonder that many in the team feel was only ever rivaled by the The Leged Of Zelda series.
On the pure platforming side, games like Mega Man X shows how important it is to have a strong move set in a game, and this we have also taken with us, translated to the boy that you play. Undeniably physics-driven platformers has been really important too. Games like Limbo, Braid and Trine (two of winch are made by fellow Scandinavians) have three very different approaches which have shown what can be done with the old rules and aesthetics of platformers, combined with modern techniques and technology.
What can gamers expect to see and do in the game?
Changing polarity of different objects to solve a number of varied puzzles. Turning platforms into electromagnetic elevators. Facing and beating steampunk-ish bosses and obtaining incredible new powers. Becoming a magnetism-powered human hamster ball. Discovering the many secrets that the mysterious Tesla Tower keeps. Even finding a cat sitting on a pile of gold, or traveling through a magma pool in the head of a weird, weird robot. Lots. Of. Stuff.
You documented difficulties during development squeezing the game onto the Vita. What sort of compromises are you looking at making?
There’s a lot of small changes in the Vita version. The most notable one is that there are short loading screens at the boundaries between every 3-4 scenes. It is a small compromise that we had to make in order to make the game run smoothly after going from one scene to another. It also makes everything fit much easier into the memory.
We’re also making a ton of optimizations that doesn’t compromise the content in any way. All level geometry has been revisited, the physics engine has been upgraded and we have even written our own event triggering system which lightens the burden that we put on the physics engine. We also have revisited a ton of textures in our scenes, in order to reduce the rendering cost on the GPU side. This was mostly to reduce overdraw, which has an especially strong impact on mobile GPUs.
Did you know that Sony have apparently freed up more memory to developers for the system, and has this helped with development?
We’ve just briefly read through the documentation, but this change is too recent to have an impact on Teslagrad for PS Vita. Our levels already fit within the size of the standard memory.
There is also a set of restrictions for that extra memory, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a problem.
What made you want to bring the game to Vita? Is there any chance we would see a retail version?
As usual it is due to a number of reasons. First, we feel the platform is the perfect home for the game. I can hardly think of a platform for which indies games are as important, and it’s clear that there’s an audience for us on Vita. Secondly, Unity allowed us to deliver a port with guarantees, and working both on PS3 and PS4 versions make working on Vita kind of a natural step to follow, even if it also meant to cope with a number of expected and unexpected difficulties. And of course, for us as a company the most platforms we can be in, the better. That includes retail too! We’d love to see Teslagrad for Vita on shelves, but that doesn’t depend on us, but on the partners we are working with. They have made an awesome job distributing the physical versions of Teslagrad for other platforms worldwide (including both PS3 and PS4) and we’re sure they’ll do the same with Vita if they have the opportunity. In fact Vita was planned for retail practically at the same time as the other PlayStation versions, but unfortunately the delay on porting forced us to change the plans.
Are there any differences between the Vita version and the PS4 version, like using the Vita’s inputs?
The PS4 has the advantage of having two sets of buttons on the back of the controller, but Teslagrad actually had two spare buttons on the front that we will be using instead. Other than that, we’re proud of the two versions being very similar.
When we started the porting job for the PS Vita, we went with the assumption that “it should fit, in theory”, and now in the end we can conclude that it did, given around 6-12 months of hard work. That’s probably worth the effort, so we’re quite satisfied.
What are your favourite experiences on the Vita, and is there anything coming that you are looking forward to?
That’s OlliOlli2. I don’t want it to sound cliché but OlliOlli2 is probably that perfect game for short play sessions, meant for just having fun but also being more than hard to master in case you want to shift from that casual play session in the bus to a finger-breaking, mental skate-boarding experience. Totally nuts! As for future games, I’m personally looking forward to Volume by Mike Bithell. It looks really promising.
What’s next for Rain Games?
Fortunately there’s a more than exciting future ahead. We have recently moved from our tiny office to a brand new place in the Bergen Games Collective, and there we are exploring side projects to share with some incredibly talented developers working close to us. Also, we are expanding the universe that we first showed in Teslagrad on a new game, the aforementioned World to the West. Totally looking forward to showing it as soon as possible!
We would like to thank Rain Games for their time with this interview, and if you are interested in Teslagrad you should definitely follow the team on Twitter via @Rain_Games. We will bring you more news on the Vita version as soon as we have it!
This first appeared in the fourth issue of The Vita Lounge Magazine. Look out for more exclusive content in the magazine soon!