Riding Penny Arcade 4’s Demon Train With Zeboyd Games: An Interview

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Zeboyd Games resurrected the Rain-Slick series last year with Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3, and the team, Designer/Programmer/Writer Robert Boyd and Artist Bill Stiernberg, couldn’t be happier about the response they received. With the release of Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 4 just a few days away, we sit down with the developers to chat about where they’ve come from, where they’re going, and what it’s like to punch a demon train in the face.

John Scalzo, Warp Zoned Editor-In-Chief: What we’ve seen of the fourth game so far, it has a big graphical jump from the third game, did you decide to do that based on fan feedback or just trying to stretch yourselves to see what you could do?

Bill Stiernberg: It wasn’t so much a choice with Rain-Slick 3 as to, “Oh, should we make this look like a late generation SNES game or an early one,” it was that we had an engine that allowed me to do certain things with the tiles and the artwork and I just made the best looking game I could at the time. But what I actually realized somewhere after Rain-Slick 3 was done and starting Rain-Slick 4 was that the way the map system worked actually gave me a lot more control over map assets and detail. Especially the shadows and lighting, which you’ll see later on in the game, and once I realized that, I just went kind of crazy with it. I can draw a lot of things directly into the map and give it this variety and detail I didn’t realize I could in Rain-Slick 3. So that’s the reason it looks better. I just realized the engine could do more things… I could do more things with it and decided, “Alright, let’s make it look cool.” As best as I can with the time that I have.

And I’m glad that it’s showing through, because it’s been a lot of work too.

WZ – John: Yeah, it looks really cool. The Secret of Mana/Chrono Trigger inspiration… you can see it. Was there ever any talk of re-releasing the first and second one in this retro style?

Robert Boyd: We’ve been asked about it a few times, but there hasn’t been any talk on Penny Arcade’s side of re-doing the first two. If we were going to re-do something, it would probably be our own games.

Stiernberg: It’s funny because we really shouldn’t re-do our games. We have a lot of ideas and we want to see how far we can push ourselves in new directions and with new ideas. But we go back and look at our first two games, Breath of Death and Cthulhu Saves the World, and, speaking for myself, I want to draw it again. I want to do it again. I can do so much better now. But it’s more worth our while to do a new one.

Boyd: It’s embarassing to look at our old stuff because we know we can do so much better now.

WZ – John: Don’t “George Lucas” it up!

Boyd: Exactly, don’t “Lucas” it up! Maybe 10… 15 years from now we’ll do Cthulhu Saves the World HD.

WZ – John: How big is the monster training mode going to be in the game? Are we ever going to get to play as the regular characters [from Rain-Slick 3] or is it all monster training all the time?

Boyd: “Monster Train” or “Monster Training”?

WZ – John: Training.

Boyd: All the monsters are basically regular characters in your party. They level up. They gain new abilities. You can also, instead of the Class system from before, you can assign human trainers to each monster which affects their stat growth and unlocks trainer abilities for that monster. So it’s going to be a big, big part of the game.

Stiernberg: A lot of people are concerned, “Oh, it’s going to feel like I’m playing as these monsters the whole time.” I think once you see how the game is setup, it won’t feel that way. All through the game, you’re playing as Gabe, Dr. Blood, Jim, Moira, etc. and it’s during the battles that the monsters come out. And it doesn’t feel like you don’t see the main characters. They’re there, the story is in there. It feels pretty good.

Boyd: It’s like Ni No Kuni, if you’ve played that, where you feel like you’re Oliver even though most of the time you’re throwing monsters down and smacking them.

Stiernberg: Also the Monster Train is very large and you get to kill it.

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Nicole Kline, Warp Zoned Senior Editor: OK, what is the Monster Train?

Stiernberg: It’s actually in the PAX demo, there’s a map that you get to where you board a train and it’s horrifying. It’s got tendrils and eyeballs and teeth and stuff. And when you start it up it actually starts speaking to you because it’s alive and it’s a demon monster self-aware train that wants to kill you.

Boyd: It doesn’t want to kill you so much as keep you around because the train gets fulfillment from moving people around. But most passengers don’t want to stay on this train.

WZ – Nicole: So have you guys read the Dark Tower series?

Boyd: Not really. I read the first book,

WZ – Nicole: Because there’s a train that does that [in The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands]. Literally, “I’m going to keep you guys on me. But I’ll let you go if you tell me a good riddle.” Or something like that.

Boyd: For ours, you just have to punch it in the face and it lets you off. [laughter]

Stiernberg: Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

WZ – John: I see. So you say the train is a huge level. How much bigger is this game than the third game?

Stiernberg: It’s a lot bigger. I built so many maps. And all the maps themselves are probably twice as large because, number one, we wanted to make them bigger so there’s more stuff to explore but then when I started feeling out this new way of doing maps and realizing how much more flexibility I have I’m also able to make them more interesting as far as the visuals and stuff you encounter. So there’s a lot more maps, they’re more interesting looking, they’re a lot bigger, and then we have this whole Overworld you can explore as well instead of confining it to one city. There’s this whole Underhell realm that you can explore too.

WZ – Nicole: How long was the third game?

Boyd: Most people took around ten hours.

WZ – Nicole: And this one is?

Boyd: We’re not going to know a definite time until we get our beta testers on it because we’re still building it as we go. But the last game, after we released all the free DLC, had about 40 maps in it. And each dungeon might be two or three maps large. And this game, we’re currently at just under 80 maps and we still aren’t quite done making the game. So yeah, there’s going to be at least twice as many maps in the new game and they’re going to be bigger in general.

Because we made the maps so much bigger, we’re also spacing the battles out more. If we had them as condensed as the previous game, it would take you hours to beat. We don’t want people to get frustrated by having to constantly fight all the time. So we spaced them out and we think this improves the general pacing of the game, making it feel a lot faster paced than it was before even though it’s a bigger, longer game.

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WZ – John: One of the things I really liked about the third game was when you go back to “8-bit land” and the game switches to random battles all of a sudden and the graphics devolved to 8-bit style… is there going to be another kind of meta moment like that in number four?

Boyd: There is one meta dungeon in the game, but we don’t want to give too many details about it and spoil the joke. But yes, we are doing something like that at one point. It’s not part of the main story, it’s one of the optional things you can do. But I think it’s pretty funny.

WZ – Nicole: Is Rain-Slick 4 based on previously written chapters like part three?

Boyd: With three we had the chapters already written, so we had to stick pretty close to that. Whereas now, with number four, what we did is we flew into Seattle and spent a couple of days at Penny Arcade and fleshed out the plot and all that. So it was really fun coming up with all the weird things that are going to be in this game.

WZ – Nicole: Were you guys big fans of Penny Arcade before?

Boyd & Stiernberg: Yes.

WZ – Nicole: That’s awesome. So is this your dream come true?

Boyd: They don’t pay us enough for it to be my dream come true.

Stiernberg: But it’s exciting. Don’t get us wrong, it’s amazing to do this. Especially to be trusted with the Rain-Slick series after it was kind of canceled. We’re glad that people like the shift in presentation in style and gameplay that we’re doing because that’s what we do. They saw this huge change in developer and style and everyone has been very supportive in how much they enjoy it.

WZ – John: Are RPGs always going to be your “thing”? Or do you have plans to do something else, like maybe a crazy platformer or first person shooter, in the future?

Boyd: I don’t think we’re planning any first person shooters. We would like to try our at other genres and sub-genres. Right now, we’re just sticking with RPGs. But we’ve talked about doing a Metroid or Castlevania style game.

Stiernberg: Maybe a Zelda style because it wouldn’t be that big of a leap from what we’re doing now to doing a top-down action RPG like Zelda.

Boyd: So if we do try something else, it’ll probably something that’s similar to RPGs like an action RPG or Zelda, that kind of thing.

WZ – Nicole: Is Rain-Slick 4 only coming to PC and Xbox [360]? No hope for PS3?

Stiernberg: Not currently. We talked to Sony and Penny Arcade talked to Sony and logistically, we couldn’t make it work. However, going forward can probably work it out with Sony. It was kinda one of those things where it was kinda late in the process and we just couldn’t get it to happen.

Boyd: Rain-Slick 4 is about to come out and Rain-Slick 3 didn’t come out on the PSN, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of financial sense to put it out now. Now that the game is old, not many people are likely to buy it.

WZ – Nicole: I’d buy it.

Boyd: If you’re willing to pay $50,000 for it, maybe we can work something out. Sony’s been talking to us… they really have a big indie push right now to get any devs on the PS4, the Vita, and they’ve been really friendly. So we’re going to see what we can do moving forward.

WZ – John: Thanks so much guys, we can’t wait to play the game.

This entry was posted in Features, Interviews, PC, Previews, Top Story, Xbox 360 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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