With Rivals of Aether being announced just yesterday, I caught up with lead designer, Dan Fornace to talk about the game’s design, inspirations for the game, the possibility of online multiplayer as well as much more.
SF: From the announcement trailer, we can clearly see nods to fighting games like Smash Bros, are there any other major games/TV shows etc. which inspired you to make Rivals of Aether?
DF: Other than the obvious nods to Smash Bros, we are also taking some inspiration from the last game I worked on at Microsoft Studios – Killer Instinct. I really like how Double Helix was able to capture their goal of an accessible but deep fighter. We are aiming to achieve that for competitive Smash, where it is easier to combo but still filled with a ton of depth.
Theme-wise, the game is drawing from two shows I really enjoyed – Avatar: the Last Airbender and Full-Metal Alchemist. We decided to pull from the four classical elements to make unique movesets that feel cohesive. In that sense, you could see some similarities to Avatar in the way that the world is built. The differences lie in the cultures, the characters and how the story unfolds.
SF: You’ve talked about Rivals Mode, which is your game’s equivalent to a Story Mode. What is the main story behind Rivals of Aether?
DF: We encounter Aether in a midst of yet another war, fought between four major factions – Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. These factions have been continually wrestling for dominance over the planet as far as anyone can remember, and we find our rivals caught up in the midst of it. In Rivals Mode, we’ll learn a bit about each rival’s origins and their reasons for partaking in the conflict, as well as a far greater opponent they might discover.
SF: We’ve seen two characters so far, how many do you imagine will be in the full release?
DF: We haven’t announced final roster numbers yet because that will depend on several factors in the game’s development and whether we decide to do any DLC rivals. After seeing the logo, some people were worried that the roster would only be four characters, but there will certainly be more than that! The four classical elements will of course be filled, with variations coming after that.
A diverse cast is essential to the content in any fighting game and Rivals is no different. We want to make sure we can create a well-rounded title that many people can enjoy and is realistic for a small team like us!
SF: From the trailer, you can see that the characters take influences from fighters in the Smash franchise (Zetterburn’s aerials seem similar to Wolf’s, Orcane’s up attack looks like Ivysaur’s), is that your design process for making a character? Taking an archetype from a game like Smash and seeing how you can innovate on it?
DF: So one of the awesome parts of working on this game is that the archetype or the moveset comes first before even the visuals, personality and inspiration. So in our brainstorming process, we try to come up with unique mechanics that fit the element, then design a character to fit the mechanics!
Zetterburn’s is a bit hard to see in the trailer but his unique mechanic is burning his opponents. His special moves cause a damage over time instead of dealing all their damage at once. For 2 and a half seconds your opponent is burnt and flames come off them. If you can land a Strong attack (like a Smash attack in the Smash series) on a burnt opponent, you consume the burn for extra damage and potentially lethal knockback. This mechanic was designed first. Once we realized we wanted to burn and consume, I thought that a claw based character would be a great fit, where he squeezes the burn out of his opponents. Wolf is a character who primary uses claws so we looked toward him for inspiration. Since Wolf is a spacey, we also thought he would be a great bridge character for those familiar with competitive Smash so we pushed him to be a bit more similar than other rivals will be. Zetterburn becomes like our Ryu, Jago, or Mario in that sense – our middle of the road balancing block.
Orcane’s moveset actually comes from Super Smash Land’s Vaporeon. And even back then I loved the idea of a teleporting character who uses anchor points around the stage. I was a bit inspired by the Ice Climbers and how they only have a recovery when both are around. Orcane only has an Up Special if he has a puddle already on the ground. If so, he can teleport directly to his puddle and jump out of it with an attack. After making Vaporeon in 2011, I had been designing a full moveset with him in my head for a while. Just tossing it around. Orcane is actually one main reasons I was really itching to start the game – to realize that moveset. (And of course a few others in my head that we haven’t shown yet!)
SF: Is the game designed more as a competitive fighter, or a fun party game?
DF: Rivals of Aether is being designed to be more competitive-focused while still fun for anyone to jump right into. Once again I am looking toward KI for inspiration here. I am hoping that people who play Smash for fun, can jump into Rivals, enjoy it, and grasp the competitiveness quickly. Who knows, maybe once they experience the fast, combo-heavy gameplay in Rivals, they will want to put the time into competitive Smash to get that adrenaline rush on a bigger stage!
We still want it to be a fun party game for tossing on your TV with three friends, but we aren’t relying on things like items right now. Instead, we are focused on crafting unique ways for each rival to utilize the battlefield to make fights different each time.
SF: What is the control scheme for the game? Is it a two button fighter like Super Smash Land?
DF: Nope! We’ll have more buttons than Smash Land did. We have a Normal Attack button, a Special Attack button and a Dodge Button.
Your normal attack button has multiple attacks depending on your analog stick position, just like the Smash series. We also use the right stick for quick uncharged Strong Attacks (Smash Attacks).
The Dodge button works differently in Rivals of Aether. It can be used to roll or air dodge, but not to shield. Instead, it has a new function when you are standing still – Parry. Think of it like a beefed up Spot Dodge. We are still balancing its power and use but it already fits nicely into aggressive playstyle of Rivals.
SF: With each character representing a different element, will their unique element factor into counter play at all? Will a Water character have some bonus against a Fire character or is it more aesthetic?
DF: We had thought about element strengths and weakness, and perhaps in teams that could become quite interesting. But in 1v1, it would be quite difficult to balance match-ups, so currently there are no advantages of one element over the other. We want to explore ways that elements could manipulate others–for example, air pushing or redirecting things–but we would want that to be uniform across the board rather than one element countering another.
SF: I imagine the game is designed with controllers in mind so is there a possibility of a console release or are you just considering PC at the moment?
DF: We are designing with controllers first. Everything is possible on a keyboard right now, but controllers feel natural thanks to the analog sticks. We have not announced any platforms yet but consoles would be a great fit considering it is a controller-first game.
SF: Any possibility of online play or are you just perfecting the local multiplayer for now?
DF: We want to support some kind of online play. This depends on platforms of course, but even a simple peer-to-peer multiplayer where you connect with friends would be great. Since the game is competitive focus, the online would have to function well enough that we would be comfortable shipping it.
SF: You’ve got flashy, who did the music for Super Smash Land, working on the game. What kind of soundtrack are you going for with Rivals of Aether?
DF: Flashy is pushing himself to the limits for this whole soundtrack and I am very excited for it. We are going for somewhat of a faux-16-bit style to match the art direction of the game. The first track you heard in the trailer is a sample from Zetterburn’s theme – used on the Fire Capital stage that you also see in the trailer. From this track, you can gather that the fire people are proud, powerful and militant. Every track will give you a peek into the character’s attitude as well as their originating culture, and we’re looking forward to revealing more.
SF: Will the game be Early Access/have a public alpha or beta release for general testing?
DF: Nothing official yet. I want to bring the game to summer conventions if I can get space to get it in the hands of players. I am also interested in getting pros to check out the game and getting crucial feedback from them so I am looking for playtesters over at Smashboards and I plan on looking for popular smash streamers or big tournaments to get community feedback.
Thanks for your questions and I hope everyone stays tuned for more Rivals of Aether development!
It was great to talk to Dan about Rivals of Aether and it will be interesting to see how the game develops over the coming months. If any of you are going to EVO 2014, Dan hoped to have a playable version of Rivals of Aether so look out for him at the tournament! Check out our announcement article here and check out the official Rivals of Aether website for more news and updates regarding the game.