Professional Services
Order outsourcing

Postmortem: Lone Ruin Developer Talks the Game's Story & Reception

Game Developer Hannes Rahm talked about the story and development of Lone Ruin, explained what went wrong with its launch, and shared some never-before-seen early concept art.


Hi! My name is Hannes Rahm, and I'm a game developer from Sweden. I've been running my studio, Cuddle Monster, full-time since 2017. My background is in graphic design and web development. Today, Cuddle Monster is a duo comprised of me and my brother Alfred, who also worked on Lone Ruin. I am responsible for design, code, art, modeling, and business, while Alfred handles music, sound, additional design, and social media management.

At this point, Cuddle Monster has released two commercial games – Hell is Other Demons and Lone Ruin. We are currently working on Ocean Mirror, a minimalist first-person shooter where the ocean surface is a portal to a mirror dimension.

The Story of Lone Ruin

Lone Ruin began as a self-imposed palate cleanser game jam, specifically designed to be something I could finish, as I felt a bit stuck with my current project. I started the jam on the last Monday before the summer vacation (yup, it's a thing here in Sweden) and was supposed to finish it by the end of the week.

The idea was to make a small version of an unfinished game I was working on way back in the ancient times, Tiny Wizard. I was also inspired by the simplicity of games like SNKRX. Since I just wanted to finish something, I kept away from getting too out there with unique mechanics, etc.

The game jam was mostly a success, and after roughly a week, Robes was published on Itch.io for free. It was missing audio since my brother's schedule didn't quite allow him to participate that week. 
Robes turned out pretty fun for what it was!

Meanwhile, I had also been chatting with George over at Super Rare Games (SRG) about doing something together, and as it happened, they were secretly working on expanding their physical Switch games business into a fully-fledged indie publisher. The game jam happened in July 2021, and SRG signed the game in September 2021.

Fun fact: More or less the entire process of making Robes/Lone Ruin was streamed live on Twitch, with VODs saved on YouTube, warts and all.

Art Direction

Since the game started as a one-week game jam, I didn't really have time to think too much about the broader themes of the setting, characters, etc. It was just supposed to be a bit of fun employing some of the tropes common in top-down magical shooters. We had some very loose idea of a place infested by some sort of magical ooze that was the source of the conflict. However, it was never a big focus, and the very light story and cut scenes that ended up in the game were developed close to the end of the project.

One of the main design thoughts was to not bother the player with a lot of meta-progression unlocks. Instead, you would have all the spells and upgrades available at the start. As a busy grown-up myself, I have pretty limited patience with grind in games.

However, I don't think this resonated well with players as it robbed them of that sense of progression. The game didn't change over time, and players felt like they had seen everything the game had to offer after just a few runs. It might have been less of an issue in the pre-Vampire Survivors world when we started, but during the development, the whole roguelike-and-adjacent markets changed massively. 

Here's a couple of early concept art images:

Preparing the Game for Nintendo Switch

The art style is very cheap on PC but some of the intricacies of console hardware got me scratching my head quite a bit. One example is that alpha clipping has very different performance characteristics on PC and console. This was major since it's an integral part of the art style with pixel-art sprites in 3D. We also had to abandon Screen Space Ambient Occlusion for lower-end hardware.

Promoting Lone Ruin

I was streaming the development extensively, which helped a bit with reach and feedback during development. We also have a Discord server where we used to have hidden channels for community testing. I think a major mistake we made was not to test the game with wider audiences. Apart from the next-fest demo, the game was only tested by a low double-digit number of players.

I used Twitter to show off in-development features and try to drum up some buzz. We also had a demo up on Steam Next Fest, which gained us a bunch of wishlists. SRG reached out to a lot of media outlets, streamers, and YouTubers, which also gained us some attention.

The Game's Reception

I don't recall us drawing up any numbers outside of maybe how many copies would be necessary to recoup the development and marketing costs. The first few hours of the launch night were looking great, and we thought we might have a hit on our hands. When we woke up the next morning, negative reviews had started coming in, and we were booted from the Hot New Releases list on Steam.

With the game sitting at Mixed reviews on Steam, I would be lying if I said I was completely happy with the result. In many ways, I think we set the wrong expectations for players with the look of the game, the marketing, and the pricing. Making the players expect the game to be something that it wasn't. 

What Lessons Did You Learn?

  • Make sure your game attracts the audience it's made for.
  • Be very aware of how the landscape changes. One of the benefits of being a small team is agility, use it to try to get ahead without compromising the core of your game.
  • Control scope and focus on what makes your game unique. Save some for the next game.

If I were to do it again, I would have stuck with the initial minimalist design of the game and got the game out quicker. In the end, all that extra work we put in didn't really make the game better.

Advice For Developers

It's a bit cliché but focus on the journey, not the destination. Make games because you like the work. For the vast majority of us, there is no fame or monetary reward in the end. 

  • Find what makes your games unique. What are your strengths? Try to be the best in the world at that.
  • Take marketing into account from day one. Can you easily describe what makes your game in a sentence or a GIF? How would the trailer look? If your game is harder to market, take that into account when allocating resources.
  • Start testing your hooks early (day one more or less) and fail fast if it doesn't immediately grab an audience. It may well be that your idea can become sticky if you work on it enough, but consider all the ideas you could have explored in the same amount of time. Maybe one of those could have been gold?

Hannes Rahm, Game Developer/Creator of Lone Ruin

Interview conducted by Theodore McKenzie

Join discussion

Comments 0

    You might also like

    We need your consent

    We use cookies on this website to make your browsing experience better. By using the site you agree to our use of cookies.Learn more