Lone Ruin Interview: Cuddle Monster Games Continuing to Innovate … – GameRant

Lone Ruin developer Hannes Rahm speaks with Game Rant about designing the action-roguelike, including its inspirations and post-launch feedback.
Swedish indie studio Cuddle Monster Games hit the scene in 2019 with Hell is Other Demons, a 2D platformer with bullet hell elements and a retro, arcade-y sensibility. Except for music and sound design, Hell is Other Demons was made by just one man: Hannes Rahm. Rahm is also the chief developer behind this year's Lone Ruin, an action-roguelike indie game kept more in the family with its music composed by Rahm's brother.
Game Rant spoke to Rahm about how Lone Ruin came to be, capturing "juiciness" in game design, and what plans are in the works following its lukewarm reception at launch. The following Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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Q: Congratulations on releasing Lone Ruin! How are you feeling?
A: Thank you! It's been a roller coaster. I've been getting a lot of love and constructive feedback on socials like Twitter and our Discord. At the same time, fair criticism over in the Steam reviews. I care a lot about how the players feel, and seeing unsatisfied players breaks my heart. That said, we've already put out a few changes that seem to resonate with people.
Q: Are there any particular pieces of feedback you've received that really struck you or were maybe ideas from players you hadn't considered?
A: So far I think the main feedback has been that the game is too short. I always intended the game to be a sort of jump-in, have some fun, short play-session experience without persistent progression. Your first run has the same potential as your last, and no content is locked away behind some grindable in-game currency. Compared to, for example, Vampire Survivors there is a huge difference in the underlying philosophy. I can see how coming from that would make you feel like the game is over if it doesn't reward you with anything tangible.
I don't really have any intention to try to retrofit any such meta-progression system into Lone Ruin, but we are in the planning and prototyping stages of figuring out ways to add in-game encouragement to keep playing. One of the ideas we are looking at is an Ascension (Slay the Spire) or Heat (Hades)-style system where clearing the game unlocks more and more modifiers that make it harder and hopefully more varied to play.
Another much simpler thing could be to add a little check mark next to the starting spells you have completed the game with. We'll see how it pans out!
Q: Well let's talk about the game's early development. What were some of the titles that inspired you when coming up with Lone Ruin?
A: Lone Ruin started out under the name "Robes" two summers ago. I had a vacation planned and was itching to try something new before that. I set myself a challenge to create a game in that last work week. I mostly succeeded, with the caveat that there was no sound. We added sound and a few other things in the next week.
As inspiration from different games, gems like Nuclear Throne, Downwell, and SNKRX come to mind.
Q: There's a reference to Zelda early on with the classic "it's dangerous to go alone" line. How much of an influence did Zelda have on you?
A: Growing up in the 1980s and 90s, I have a special fondness of the earlier Legend of Zelda titles. As for the gameplay, it's not particularly inspired.
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Q: Did Hades play a part in your inspirations? Something about the design strikes me as similar with a sort of Vaporwave color scheme. That may just be because the sequel just got announced, though.
A: It's hard to escape comparisons to Hades when making an action-roguelike. Its inspiration on Lone Ruin probably came in a bit later, with us moving from a Slay the Spire-style map to Hades-style "pick your exit" pathing.
Can't say I remember taking much direct visual inspiration from Hades, but I am a huge fan of Jen Zee and her art on Hades as well as other Supergiant titles. I'd be surprised if nothing seeped in. I think Hyper Light Drifter is a game that left a huge mark on me in many ways, one of them being its use of strong colors.
Q: Speaking of the colors, how'd you come up with the neon, vibrant, purple-and-pink aesthetic in particular?
A: Cyans, pinks, and purples are definitely recurring colors in my work. They usually stand out in a crowd of desaturated thumbnails. I generally want my games to lift you up, rather than bring you down. Color is a good start there.
Q: Jumping to the music and sound, you worked with your brother Alfred, right? What was it like working with your brother on this project?
A: This has been one of my favorite parts. Being his first game soundtrack and in a genre he's not worked a lot in before, I'm amazed how smooth the process and how good the outcome was.
Q: The music seems to be kind of drum-and-base, a little lofi. When did you guys decide to go in that direction?
A: We started with the precept that we didn't want to do any of the regular orchestral fantasy stuff. Didn't feel like that suited the gameplay, setting, or visuals. Pretty early on we found the hard-and-heavy, pulsing, driving sounds of Neuropunk/Neurofunk. Artists like Gydra and Magnetude were hugely influential. Over the lifetime of the project, Alfred morphed some of that into something that fit the game like a glove.
Q: Now that it's out, what's a specific part of Lone Ruin that you're particularly proud of?
A: I think the visuals and general "juiciness" attracted a lot of eyeballs.
Q: You spoke about the uplifting color palettes, but I'd love to pick your brain more about what you mean when you imagine 'juiciness' in visuals.
A: If we are talking juiciness in the in-game sense, it's all about making sure that actions have reactions. Enemies wobble and flash when hit, the screen shakes when things explode, etc. In the pure visual sense, I like to play with contrasts: Contrast in color, detail intensity, light, etc. A part of it is also exaggerating things that the art style isn't particularly good at. For example, having excessively low-poly geometry or textures with super blocky pixels.
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Q: What was the hardest part of working on Lone Ruin?
A: Making any game is hard. Making a game as a single person – being the designer, coder, artist, 3D modeler, etc. – that's very challenging. When it comes to particular roles, the game designer role is easily the most difficult. Coding is sometimes logically challenging, but computers generally do what you tell them to. You also have the benefit of being able to look into the values and logic flows as the game runs. For a game designer, the computer is the brain. It's hard enough to introspect into your own mind, let alone others.
Q: Were there any lessons you learned from your first game, Hell is Other Demons, that you brought over for Lone Ruin?
A: Regardless of the grade of success, post-release blues is real. Having next steps planned can really help keep your spirits up.
Q: From a development standpoint, what's the appeal of embracing the roguelike genre?
A: I think a lot of devs embrace roguelike/roguelites because, like the players, you get a somewhat different thing every time you jump into a run. Playing the same static levels and items over and over and over again during development gets really grating. For me personally, having the computer do stuff for me is always exciting. I love making little generators for levels, enemy spawn waves. The most exciting part is when the system surprises you with something you didn't know could happen.
Q: Do you have any good examples of surprising system interactions that a program has cooked up? Either in Lone Ruin or some other projects?
A: It probably isn't that impressive to anyone else, but one example would be where one of my logically super simple level generators handed me this lovely two-tiered floating island, where the top side was bathed in sunlight and the lower was shrouded in shadows. It was quite poetic, actually. Or when I didn't properly bound the parameters of a gun generator, and it made a gun with way too many barrels. Sorry, this is totally a "you had to be there" kind of answer.
Q: How did you decide on a twin-stick shooter?
A: This comes from the one-week limitation I initially set for myself; I knew I could make something decent in a short amount of time. I also tend to work a lot on platformers, so it felt like a fresh perspective.
Q: What were some other ideas you guys initially started out with that didn't make the cut?
A: There's a bunch of stuff. Hopefully, we might be able to bring some of it back in the coming patches. Rerolling items in shops, a blood orbs spell that was powerful but cost health to use, several perks, etc.
Q: What’s next for you and your brother?
A: We have already started prototyping our next project, but it's way too early to start talking about it at this point. Suffice to say, we'll try to take some learnings from the last two projects and see if we can make something cool.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Just to say "thanks" to everyone!
Lone Ruin is available now on PC and Switch.
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Jason learned to read playing Pokemon Crystal on the Game Boy Color, and hasn't looked back. He received a Journalism degree at California State University, Fullerton while working on news coverage and investigative content for its paper, and came to Game Rant soon after graduating. Nintendo games are his primary wheelhouse, but he'll try most anything once.


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