Rain Games' CEO Peter Wingaard Meldahl told us about the rewards and challenges of creating games independently, spoke about the origins of the Teslagrad series, and discussed Teslagrad 2's mechanics and the importance of visual storytelling.
Hi. I am Peter Wingaard Meldahl. Have run Rain Games for the last 12 years, and I have been tinkering with stories and game mechanics for as long as I can remember. I have never worked for any other company in the games industry.
I originally studied physics. After that, I worked both in IT and visual design. I ended up assisting with the running of some gaming-related NGOs here in Norway. This taught me a lot about budgeting, leadership, and project planning.
I have wanted to make games for as long as I can remember, and with virtually no Norwegian games industry to speak of at the time, I decided in 2010 to gather a group and found Rain.
Perks of Creating Games Independently
The freedom to work on the games that we want is a big deal. Of course, we still have to consider what is feasible for a team our size, as well as what people want to buy, but there is no lack of great game ideas in the studio, so we can just pick one that suits those restrictions.
I also really love to create a world that is all our own. Working independently is for sure the easiest way to be allowed to do that.
As to why I chose to do this: I have been making games and telling stories all my life. I am thrilled to be paid to do so these days.
Challenges of Indie Development
Funding is always a challenge. Especially for the first game that you make as a studio. You overcome it by working for free for 3 years while running a youth center for the commune. And then make a good game, hopefully. It gets a little easier after that, but it will always remain the hardest part.
Balancing the Creative and Business Sides of Things
Depending on your frame of mind, business can be plenty creative as well. But that said, you always, ALWAYS, have to be able to pay your team. Within that one pretty important limitation, you get to be as creative as you like.
In 2010, Olli and I were working at Rain Games, a fledgling and unfunded game development company, on a game called Minute Mayhem (may it rest in peace). We managed to secure ourselves some dirt-cheap office space in the costume workshop of a band that had some local fame (Casio Kids), but the space had the disadvantage of providing about zero insulation, which was particularly challenging during the winter in Norway.
And just to be sure, 2010 was the coldest winter in memory. I still remember the sound of the crows dropping seashells that they fished up from the last creak of open water under a bridge, cracking them on the solidly frozen seawater outside our window.
I cracked a coffee cup that winter. Because apparently, frozen coffee expands. It is also hard to type with gloves, so I had a little island of candles between me and the keyboard. I guess it kind of worked. And if you're wondering, yes, funding is still the hardest part. Everything else is just a minor inconvenience.
In that cold room, where we struggled to make progress on our game, Olli and I began to dream up a new game. Using the world we had initially created for Minute Mayhem as a foundation, we developed plans for a game that we both found much more interesting: Teslagrad.
Teslagard 2 of course follows from all that. We had this in mind right from when we finished the original, but I could feel that it would be a bad idea to do another game in the same mold right away. We had spent every one of our good ideas on the original, and we did not want to serve our fans a gathering of our sloppy seconds. So we spent some years hopping from game genre to game genre but always staying in the same world.
We kept thinking of new stories, new art, and new game design that we wanted to put into a sequel, and finally, we felt that it was time! We love the original to death, and we felt that the sequel should not be a disservice to it. As it stands now, I am really happy with how it has turned out.
The Game's Art Style
This is a better question for Olli, I feel. My assistance there was the insistence on silent storytelling in the game, and figuring out how to get every story beat across to the player. I had great fun writing tons of lore for the world, and then deliberately never telling anyone. Not in words, anyway.
But to answer you a bit more directly, Teslagrad has a lot of inspirations – French comics, early anime like Astroboy, and lots of other things.
Working with Unity
When we started out, there was really no other alternative than Unity. It has served us well over the years, and these days, for 2D games, I still think it is by far the better choice.
Teslagrad 2's Electromagnetic Mechanic
Magnets are naturally fun. I guess that is the first thing to consider. Back in the day, we got advice from everyone in the industry to not do "real" physics in a platformer, but after testing things out, I found that I had a bit of a knack for getting these fiddly mechanics just right. Perhaps my background in physics helped me out.
Of course, there are a lot of mechanics that we will keep from the original, like the magnetism and the blink. But we have expanded the list quite a bit. This time I wanted to play even more with momentum, speed, and flow. I think I will just say that rather than give you a list of mechanics. Check it out, though. And tell me what you think on the Steam page, Discord, or anywhere.
The Boss Battles
Sometimes it is hard to get a fun mechanic in a game while also ensuring that the player isn't too heavily penalized with a single hit resulting in death. However, we found a way to give the player a bit more durability in boss battles, and that helped a lot.
Visual Storytelling in Teslagrad 2
There are rules for these things. I have to make little comics or dioramas for everything, show them to people and see if they get it. There are also tons of sources to look at. Personally, I can recommend:
- The Buffy episode "Hush";
- The manga "Gon";
- The Spidergirl comic episode "Nuff Said";
- And the very fact that a lot of old games (Metroid, Mario, Megaman, Zelda) gad young me get the core of the plot while I did not understand a word of English.
A nice thing is that the style translates really well. I think it helped us a lot in doing well in very different countries. It is sort of native in every language.
Balancing Game Difficulty and Player Satisfaction
You always have to playtest. And don't be too proud to take down the difficulty if you have to.
I have also had a philosophy of making completing the game easier than the original, though spending more time creating nailbiting site content that will keep even the most avid Teslagrad player on their toes. There is a lot to explore in this world, and in the dark depths of the world, there are some truly gnarly things.
Preparing for the Steam Release
Steam is pretty easy as a release target, even though we do a PC/Mac/Linux release. We have actually set up a build server that builds the latest version of the game and deploys it straight to Steam automatically.
The consoles are a bit more work but we have done that quite a few times too now, and they are getting easier to work with for every generation as well.
How Rain Games Attracts Players
But more seriously. Getting attention on Steam these days is really hard. You can make a good game, of course. But it is hard to rise above the surface noise.
We are lucky in that sense that Teslagrad has been played by many and remembered fondly by quite a few. But of course, we still work to make the press talk about it and do our best to market the game any way we can.
Advice for Aspiring Indie Game Developers
Be sure that you want to do this. It is going to be rough, especially to begin with. Be sure that you have a passion for it, not just a desire to not do anything else.
If you are still committed enough to try, get a skill (art, programming, financing, sound, other), up to a professional level, and decide whether you want to work for someone else or start your own thing. If you are seeking employment, build something. And release it! Everyone cares way more about that than any resume you might have.
If you want to start by yourself, don't just round up some friends or classmates. Go out into the world and find those that are good at the skills you lack. The best you can find! The journey will be hard, and you will need strong companions.
And good luck!
Rain Games' Roadmap
Teslagrad 2 is coming out this spring, so that's the game that comes first.
Besides that, we are also working on Girl Genius. If you want to help out, then both games can already be wishlisted on Steam.
Girl Genius is planned for the end of summer/early fall. We are usually not late, but this is game dev, so we shall see...
And then, who knows? We have plans, of course. And something is already in the works. But it is a bit early to start talking about all that.