Interview with Severed Designer David Rusack
Severed is a title that has been out for a while for iOS, Vita, Wii U, and 3DS, but the developers at Drinkbox Studios have given new gamers an opportunity to follow the tale of Sasha, the one-armed warrior out to find her family amidst a world of despair. The Gamers Lounge was fortunate enough to not only receive a review copy, but were also able to interview David Rusack, designer on Severed. Following is that interview, I tend to write questions in a paragraph format, and allow the interviewee to form answers as they see fit. Questions are in bold, with the answers immediately following. If you wish to read my review of the iOS edition of the game now, click here. Come back to The Gamers Lounge within the week to see what's different in the Switch edition.
We saw Severed go through iOS and Vita, then hit as a BOGO deal for the Wii U and 3DS. Now, Severed is hitting the Switch. What are some of the hurdles of moving this title to the Switch? Anything different about working with Switch hardware, or Nintendo in general? What caused you to decide that the port should be done? Is it a straight port or are there any new features or polish you did for the next generation Nintendo console? I do see the "achievement" list is still in the game, allowing Nintendo gamers to chase an elusive list much like an Xbox or PlayStation owner.
Porting our in-house engine to any new platform always makes for an initial hurdle to jump over, but I’m happy to say that this was perhaps our studio’s smoothest port and release yet. There were no really sticky technical issues as we went through developing it, and on the publishing side Nintendo have also done some terrific streamlining and updating of the process for getting a game onto their store.
Features-wise, this version is similar to the WiiU or 3DS versions, but I can say from testing it out that it’s a treat getting to play with a joystick and on the pleasantly responsive Switch screen with no need for a stylus. Also splitting off the JoyCons is pretty cool.
When discussing platform preferences, screen size and device heft are things that don't usually get talked about. For Severed, it really makes a difference whether you're playing on an iPhone, a Vita, a 3DS, or the Switch. A heavy system can change your grip style, and a bigger screen requires longer motions for attacks, yet also allows more appreciation of the graphics. What system do you feel is the ideal home for Severed? I'm currently doing the review for the Switch edition, and I can say I personally enjoy having an analog stick to move over the iOS tap'n'go gameplay.
I think this really comes down to a matter of personal preference, whether you care the most about screen size or ease of portability. I obviously find it gratifying to get to see the game art at its largest and crispest. Porting the game to feel good on all these platforms has been a lot of work -- for example, we tweaked values under the hood to try to compensate for the larger iPad requiring longer motions than iPhone to do a ‘long slash’ -- and I would have worried initially that getting iOS with purely onscreen controls would come out feeling too much with a compromise, but ultimately I think the end product really does feel like a natural fit in all the versions we’ve done.
The game inherently needs touchscreen controls for the combat, but did you consider any modifications to allow docked play?
There was some discussion of trying to support motion controls early in development, but we really weren’t happy with the results of early tests. The whole game has been designed around having immediate tactile control of exactly where you’re slashing, and even playing on PC with the fine control of a mouse + cursor feels relatively like a drag to us. It’s been a touch game from the ground up, so I don’t think we ever strongly considered docked play on the Switch an option, as nice as it would be to support. We really don't want players to have a sub-par experience because of clumsy controls.
Talking about Severed directly: It really surprised me. When I first reviewed the iOS edition, I was floored by the amount of depth in the title. Where did you draw your inspiration from? What inspired the combat styles? Where did the story originate? Severed holds a lot of graphical similarities to Guacamelee, and I feel they both have a bit of a timeless aesthetic that will still look beautiful generations from now. Can you tell me a little bit more about how you developed the characters and art style? Is there anything you wanted to put in the game but were unable to due to budgets/time constraints/etc?
Gameplay-wise, two big touchstones were Punch Out! -- a really kind of compelling, character-expressing style of combat that we haven’t seen too many throwbacks to -- and Infinity Blade-style touch combat, another pretty cool formula that really doesn’t seem to have been explored very much in other games. We also drew inspiration from classic dungeon crawlers (e.g. Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Master) for the game's exploration.
As for the story’s origin, our concept lead Augusto proposed the game initially. He wanted to capture feelings of separation from home and family. The desire was to paint a portrait of Sasha’s feelings around her family, involve the player in that emotional struggle, and tailor the whole feeling of the game and the world around this. It was a huge turnaround from the utterly flippant tone of Guacamelee, which was a fun challenge for the team.
There’s always a million ideas that don't make it into the final game. We really wanted to show a bit more of Sasha’s memories of her family, but this kind of thing is always very tough to fit in when it doesn’t impact on the gameplay directly. There was also a ton of cool backstory built around the other denizens of this nightmare place whom you see evidence of in all the ruins and old towns you’re going through -- what little civilizations have cropped up and collapsed among the people trapped in this limbo, and what they were like.
As I said before, your other games have a lot of quality as well. Is there any chance we'll see other ports? I'd personally love to pull a four-player Guacamelee game out of my bag during one of those Switch Commercial Situations (that oddly, I've actually found myself in!) How about future plans? Is there another game on the horizon? Do you feel that any of your titles give way for sequels, or do you like to work on original concepts each time?
Nothing would make me happier than to enable a group of handsome young friends to have a wild four-player co-op fest in an empty parking garage or a scenic rooftop or etc.! But we don’t have any active plans to bring Guac to the Switch. As for future titles: now that we have brought our engine over to the platform, it’s not too hard to do something new there… but there’s nothing we can announce just yet!
I do think the general feeling is that Severed doesn’t cry out for a sequel, though. Sasha’s story wraps up kind of just how we’d want it to, and it’s hard to imagine a way that makes thematic sense for her to drag out her ordeal further after that ending.
Thank you so much again for offering me the chance to speak with you and learn some of the inspiration behind such a great title.
Severed is out now for Switch for $14.99, and is available in the previous releases on iOS, Vita, 3DS, and Wii U.