Light and Day: Rime developer Raúl Rubio Munárriz on gaming's coming of age
With Sony’s next gen indie hope Rime waiting in the wings, we spoke to Raúl Rubio Munárriz, creative director with developers Tequila Works, about light, art and how gaming grew up
When Spanish developers Tequila Works revealed Rime, their second game at last years’ Gamescom, it gained instant praise for its distinctive visuals and artful design. Many drew parallels with 2002’s Ico, often considered a benchmark for artistic works within videogames, whilst others noted the bright, cel-shaded graphics were reminiscent of Nintendo’s 2003 Zelda title, The Wind Waker. It was perhaps a testament to how things have moved on since both those games’ initial release, with the former languishing as a cult title for many years whilst the latter’s ‘cartoony’ visuals were outright dismissed by many onlookers at the time.
“If we said ‘no’, nobody would believe us,” laughs Raúl Rubio Munárriz, creative director at Tequila Works when asked if these games were a direct influence on Rime. “So maybe we should hint to our common inspirations like Giorgio de Chirico (a neoclassical artist whose work directly influenced Ico’s front cover). We based the action in the Mediterranean, where the light is really unique, so we were surprised when people compared both games because of the main character, the beach or the stick. Both are simple tales with a deep meaning (but) gameplay is totally different. Being compared to giants like Ico, Shadow of the Colossus or Wind Waker is both awesome and scary.”
However, Munárriz is more comfortable with his own list of influences, which includes Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla and surrealist lynchpin Salvador Dali, along with the aforementioned Chirico. “Sorolla’s Light of the Mediterranean was our main inspiration when creating Rime. Dali’s negative space and Chirico’s surrealist architecture contributed to create an eerie yet believable world.” Furthermore, Munárriz cites anime films Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, as well as 1963 classic Jason and the Argonauts as further influences the team at Tequila Works have doffed their caps to.
"Sony proved that gamers have matured, that they are open to new proposals and emotions beyond basic instincts. It's the beginning of the end of the adolescence of game” – Raúl Rubio Munárriz
It’s certainly more highbrow fare than you’d normally expect, but it’s indicative of Munárriz’s belief in the growing maturity of the gaming community as a whole and of developers in particular. “Journey is a clear example of that,” he states of Thatgamecompany’s minimalist gaming experience from 2012. “Sony was bold enough to push the ‘art game’ genre when nobody believed that a game like Ico could sell as a retail console title. They proved that gamers have matured, that they are open to new proposals and emotions beyond basic instincts. It's the beginning of the end of the adolescence of games.”
It’s a bold statement, but one that has been echoed by many others. In the meantime, Munárriz and his team are busy putting the finishing touches to Rime ahead of its upcoming, but undisclosed, PS4-exclusive release date. And though digital paintbrushes will no doubt be touching up Rime’s refined art style, Munárriz is quick to point out that there is more to the game than just surface value. “The look is not just cosmetic,” he explains. “It’s part of its soul. The world is not just a setting; physical interaction is required for everything, not only exploration or traversal. Light and sound will be a key part of that interaction. Environmental narrative drives the story but also the action.”
Which is all very intriguing, if a little cryptic. Indeed, puzzles will form a part of Rime’s makeup whilst there is the merest hint of boss-like enemies from its teaser trailer. Furthermore, as Munárriz has already touched upon, light and shadow will play a key role, much like in Deadlight, Tequila Works’ previous game. “Deadlight was about finding light in darkness, life in death, beauty in ugliness,” Munárriz agrees. “Rime is just the opposite.”
From its sun-bleached opening, to the moments of claustrophobic cave-dwelling, everything about Rime we’ve seen so far looks imbued with a certain purity, a lightness of touch whilst hinting at a darker undertone. Comparisons with Ico are perhaps inevitable, and well-founded, but Munárriz is certain Rime will bring enough of its own flavour to the table. “We aim to create an experience general enough so everyone can get it but deep enough that it touches your very own heart,” he offers. “We create with gusto, and that means all our universes are unique. We don't want players to take for granted all the traditional concepts of play that they are used to.”
With that, we try to elicit a little of Munárriz’s gaming nous and any direct influences it may have on Rime. It proves fruitless but further reveals his big-thinking ideas, and how these will hopefully have the last say on how Rime reaches its audience. “I try not to play in the middle of a production to avoid external contamination,” he states. “(However) Gone Home has shown what an interactive experience is. Of course, it started the silly debate about ‘is it a game or not?’, which is the sequel to ‘are games art?’. The moment games find their own way, without the inferiority complex of comparing themselves to other mediums, these questions will be over and the real, deeper ones will finally begin.”