Duncan "Hopoo" Drummond and Paul "PaulTheGoat" Morse started development on hit 2D roguelike Risk of Rain in their sophomore year at the University of Washington. It took them a year to finish Risk of Rain while going to school full-time. They've long since graduated and doubled down on their studio, Hopoo Games, but even so, Risk of Rain 2, already a year in development, is nowhere near done. It was announced as a 3D shooter earlier this year, but Hopoo has been tight-lipped ever since. So, when I got in touch with Drummond and Morse to get a much-needed status report, I had plenty of questions.
Responses edited for clarity and length.
It seems like Risk of Rain 2 was announced pretty quietly.
Paul Morse: We waited a long time to announce anything. If we were doing a traditional sequel in 2D, it would have been much easier. Since we were switching to 3D it was kind of scary, never having done a 3D game and it being such a dramatic shift. We didn't want to give this half-assed "we're doing 3D, it might work." We wanted to make sure it was a solid idea before showing anything, and it took quite a while to get to the point where we were even comfortable showing a screenshot or any assets.
Duncan Drummond: Our team is really small. We don't have the luxury of having someone dedicated to keeping the hype going. We're working with a development blog because it's easiest for us. Hopefully as we get closer to launch, we'll start putting out trailers, putting out press kits. This is more of an announcement to the fans, "we're working on this game, we didn't stop making games."
And it is coming into some form now?
PM: We've got it to a point where it's not super scary for us. We've gotten to a rhythm of creating characters, creating items.
DD: I would say we've definitely hit a stride at this point where we're less about "what direction are we going?" and more "what kind of content can we create?"
PM: Getting everything to that point took quite a while, but I think now that we're there we feel a little more comfortable showing things off.
Why the shift to 3D?
DD: Risk of Rain 2 didn't start off in 3D. We had a 2D prototype. The twist for that one was you played as the monsters in the previous game. We didn't want to make Risk of Rain but again. Something I personally really wanted was to be able to display items on your body. This was a key part of a lot of fan art that I saw, and also the cover art. Doing that in 2D was actually fairly difficult. It's just sprites. So we went from 2D to 2.5D just for the sake of being able to place these items on your body more easily. And by the time we were at 2.5D, we were like "we're almost at 3D at this point, should we just give it a shot?"
PM: We had this 2D prototype for quite a while. But once we started talking about showing items and moving to 2.5D and then to 3D, it was pretty rapid.
DD: Less than a month, I want to say.
PM: Yeah, one week it was 2D, the next it was 2.5, and the next week it was 3D. And we were pretty much making the assets in 3D and showing them as a 2D thing, so it was kind of a waste. Once we transitioned to 3D, it was like, "OK, we can actually do this if we want to." That's where it took off.
DD: I would also say we hit our stride purely from experience. We just are not familiar with Unity. I've never modelled before this project, I purely used Paint for the previous game. It was a big jump for me to learn all the rules and how to actually do it. It was a mix of a lot of technical details along with skill level.
PM: Our 2D games were our first 2D games, and with this transition to 3D, we've never worked in Unity or things like that. We've got to relearn everything before we start making games again. It's a pretty strange place to be but it's definitely paying off.
What features were hardest to translate from 2D to 3D?
PM: I would say the level design. In 2D it's pretty simple to go from a prototype of a level to making the tiles and putting them together and creating assets. But in 3D, it feels like you have one shot once you get into designing the level. And then prototyping in 3D is much more difficult. Do you use Lego? Do you use clay? Do you use other programs like SketchUp? Do you fully make this world in detail and then just make it again? That's been one of our harder points than a 2D version.
DD: The cost of time per asset has gone up a lot. With our previous projects, we did a lot of our design via iteration. We would do a very rapid prototype and then refine it. But in 3D it doesn't work that way. A lot of times, if you want to change step two, you ruin every step afterward. You have to start over from scratch. You can't refine and iterate in the same way.
I've seen some familiar enemies in your blog posts, but also new abilities.
DD: We can't translate anything directly from 2D to 3D in terms of actual gameplay because it's so different. We've been reworking every monster that we've brought back. We found out melee monsters are actually much easier to beat in 3D because you have an entire dimension to kite them. So the golem, which was entirely melee, now has a laser attack. And the lemurian can now shoot fireballs. We also want to explore flying monsters. Now the wisps are actually flying. While they're still the same characters, they behave entirely differently.
PM: Another reason we did this is because, early on, we wanted to make sure 3D is something viable and fun to play. That's always our main focus: is this going to be fun to play? We had the commando, the lemurian, the golem, these assets that were easy to create. We wanted to make sure that if this was Risk of Rain using those same assets, would it still be fun? And those base monsters were super important to solidifying the whole idea for us.
DD: We were nervous about announcing the 3D project. We wanted to show players this is still Risk of Rain. Our first four monsters were from the original game because we wanted it to be recognizable. Since then, we've made some new ones, and I would say about half the current items are entirely new.
PM: We wanted to make sure the fan base was comfortable after such a drastic change. We had to carefully mix in this familiar content while showing it's completely different.
How were new and returning heroes affected by the jump to 3D?
DD: A lot of abilities are suddenly useless or much more powerful because of range. You could only shoot within the screen in the original, but now that you can see off into the distance, a lot of abilities are a lot stronger because you can target different monsters, where before you were stuck shooting the front guy. Some abilities are also naturally more interesting in 3D. The Commando's FMJ, which shot in a straight line, would always hit everything in the line in 2D. But now you have to orient yourself in a line along the monsters to do that kind of damage.
PM: In the first one it was kind of a free ability that would hit everything on the screen. In this one, it can be amazing if you line it up and use it right.
DD: On the flip side, AoE abilities aren't as good in 3D because monsters can't occupy the same space. We found AoE has to have a large radius, or the AoE portion has to be about doing damage even if you miss rather than hitting multiple enemies at once.
PM: We want to make sure this isn't a super precision-based game. The ability to just shoot and get all these items going is important. We aren't making the player focus on headshots 24/7.
DD: We've also found a lot of movement abilities are more interesting with more freedom of movement. We have Huntress in a working state, and her blink is a lot more fun than in 3D because you can blink up ledges. You couldn't really aim that in 2D.
PM: It creates a whole new kind of—
PM: Dimension! With the Huntress being able to blink up and use abilities in the air. It's very dynamic based on where the enemies are, what attacks they're using.
Is it still about fighting enemies, collecting items and finding the portal to the next level?
DD: That loop is definitely the same. In the previous game we had permutations of the same stages. We're not sure how we're going to do that in 3D, or if it's even needed with the scale we have. One thing we've been focusing on is positional relevance. We're hoping we can make the random purchasable things more interesting based on where they spawn.
PM: We have one fully complete map. It's big, it's a good scale. You can explore and go on for a while. If you're just looking for the teleporter, you can do that, but in 3D you can make the environment so much grander that it doesn't exactly need these permutations. If it starts to feel stale, we can add permutations. We have some ideas for that, we just aren't sure it's 100 percent necessary.
One of the biggest hurdles with Risk of Rain was the multiplayer. You've said you're making improvements there, including Steam peer-to-peer.
DD: We have it where you hit this matchmaking button and it will match you with four people. You can do private games as well. We don't know exactly how much more we're going to expand because this is new territory for us. We do have reconnecting working, but maybe there's some weird conflict down the line. The only feature I can say for sure is going to be there is Steam peer-to-peer.
PM: You don't have to port forward. Anyone can be a host now. Risk of Rain definitely didn't make it easy to get online with your friends. Being a small team in college of two people, we wanted the online portion to be there, but it was the best we could technically do at that point. Now we've got more knowledge of the idea, what we want, what people want. This is one of the features we really want to focus on with this one. Hit play and join with people, hit play and join your friends. Super simple and streamlined. We also have the private games where you can invite friends from your Steam friends list. And these are all working internally, but…
DD: [laughs] We also have split-screen working online as well, so you can have two people on one PC quickplay to another person on another PC. We have to make sure there's no issues with that, like two people on split-screen join three people on split-screen and now you're at five out of four in a match. Internally it works. We want to keep split-screen because we know a lot of players liked the couch co-op. Getting the multiplayer to "one button and you can play with your friend" was our focus from the beginning, before even moving to 3D.
PM: It was the number-one thing we can fix.
DD: Yeah, we had to improve the multiplayer if we were going to make a sequel.
Are artifacts returning?
DD: We're planning on launching with artifacts. Artifacts became a lot more important to the community than we expected. We always considered them as fun options. Once you've played the game a lot, you can extend the lifetime. But a lot of people used them as the only way they play Risk of Rain. So we're keeping the concept of artifacts and bringing that back.
A lot of the storytelling in Risk of Rain was hidden in item and monster logs. Are we going to see that same writing style again?
DD: We have a better idea of the story that's going to be present throughout the game, but I'd still say it's not a narrative-driven game. We'll definitely still do the item log, monster log thing. I want another outlet of presenting more of a direct reference to what's going on the world. We talked about character logs for the characters you play.
PM: That's kind of what we did with the first one. We wanted to focus on gameplay, then if you cared about the story, you could read through the logs. We want that same experience. We don't want to interrupt your run with a cutscene where you're smashing space like "get this out of here." That's how we like to build games.
DD: Gameplay first.
You said you hope to launch in 2018. Does that still look feasible?
DD: I have no idea, to be honest.
PM: We hope we do! It's just…
DD: We've never made a 3D game.
PM: It's a much bigger, fleshed out game. Risk of Rain was pretty barebones. It was very fun, but it wasn't as fleshed out as we would have liked. With this one, we want to make sure we've got language support, controller support, everything that makes a proper game. 2018 would be awesome. We don't know what we're going to do with testing or beta, but something in 2018. Maybe not the final release, but something.