INTERVIEW: Niels ’t Hooft of Two Tribes, Creators of RIVE
With a lot of expectation, Two Tribes released the criminally underrated RIVE last year.
The creators of Toki Tori delivered on the game’s early promise to become an addictive, challenging shooter that more people really should have played. Critical reception was warm, including a glowing review from myself, and it gave off a sense that Two Tribes had a lot more to give in the future.
Sadly, it’s their final game as a studio.
Going out on on a high, Two Tribes will now be supporting other creators in the future instead of making games themselves. It’s a shame, owing a lot to just how competitive and difficult it is to be an indie studio these days.
I managed to steal Niels ’t Hooft, RIVE’s writer, for a few quick questions about RIVE, the past, and the future.
Tell us about your involvement with RIVE and how you got started.
I’ve known Two Tribes since the year 2000. At first I wrote about their games as a journalist, until they asked me to translate Toki Tori 1 into Dutch. As they liked what I did, they recruited me to work on Toki Tori 2’s story. That was an interesting assignment, as they asked me to write a story without words! Again we liked working together, so taking on RIVE’s narrative was the logical next step.
How do you approach writing a game like this? Is there a tone set out from the start?
I was there from the very beginning, coming up with the setting, characters and tone, in unison with the rest of the development team, and with the rest of the game. We feel that a game concept has to be cohesive in all its aspects. It has to be of one piece.
One of our guiding principles was that we wanted to make something that’d feel like early 90s shooters such as Parodius, while still being a modern game. Building on that, we decided that our game world (the Galaxian Service Vessel #6) would be grounded and serious, with the characters (space pilot Roughshot and AI module Daryl-Lloyd Lancaster) would add the zany referential weirdness.
How does writing RIVE differ from other projects?
Another guiding principle was that RIVE would have an ‘optional’ story, the idea being that there are two kinds of action gamers. Those who just want to shoot, and those who want more, such as a story. So we decided that the game wouldn’t pause for its story segments: dialog and cut scenes would play out in real-time, the player never losing control. Another thing that came from this was the idea of being able to shoot the messenger. If you don’t like DLL’s yammering, just blow him to bits!
RIVE is sat on a Very Positive rating on Steam right now. Is that better than expected?
We’re super happy with how players are receiving RIVE! It seems like we met our goal of making something that would fill veteran players (such as ourselves) with nostalgia, giving them something totally new at the same time.
It’d be nice if more players would find out about the game though, so we’re still very busy supporting RIVE with updates and marketing.
We gave RIVE a strong 8 and other critical reception has mostly been warm, too. What’s been the best thing you’ve read about the game?
You know, you can’t please everyone. In fact, we believe that if you want to make something special, you need to be opinionated as a game developer (and as a game), which will always turn some people off. In our case, we’ve found that some players dislike the game’s difficulty, or its humor. Both of these seem to be ‘acquired taste’ for some. On the flip side, these very same elements make it an unforgettable experience for many others. So the best things we’ve read are (player) reviews by those for whom both the difficulty and humor touch a soft spot!
What was working with Mark Dodson like?
Mark Dodson is a veteran voice actor who appeared in movies like Return of the Jedi and Gremlins. He has decades of experience, so we assumed he’d be professional… Turned out we were wrong: he was super professional! Mark always delivered quality work, he was fast and reliable, and on top of that, a super nice guy.
It might surprise you that RIVE initially wasn’t going to have any voice-acting at all. But when our audio studio sent us a little voice test by Mark, we were immediately sold. So we coughed up the extra expenses and work, which was just one of the many ‘small’ things we ended up doing to make RIVE the absolute best it could be.
Did you notice that Mark voices both Roughshot and DLL, by the way?
No, actually! Do you ever find that VAs try to change what you’ve written, or approach it in a different way? How do you deal with that if so?
In the case of RIVE, the process was really synergetic. Sometimes Mark deviated from the script, but almost always for the better, so I’d tweak the written text based on what he did.
Speaking more broadly, his take on Roughshot helped shape the narrative, which was possible because we did the voice recordings in batches. I was finishing the writing while the voice-overs were already coming in, and because there was room for re-takes, we could adjust the writing and voices based on gameplay testing too.
It’s safe to say that Mark Dodson and Roughshot grew closer together during the development process!
RIVE is the last game from Two Tribes. Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans?
We had the unique situation of knowing that RIVE would be our last game while still making it. So besides the blog posts we wrote to address this situation (like this one), we were able to thank our players within the game. Literally, in the end credits, but also symbolically in the game narrative itself. You kind of have to look for it, but at its core it’s really about how we’ve approached making games and how we relate to our players.
Other than that, we just can’t be thankful enough for everyone who’s bought, played and enjoyed Two Tribes’ games over the years. That always was the point!
Is there any chance of a comeback?
As said, we’re still very busy supporting our existing games. However, we’re now a bare-bones version of what Two Tribes once was, with one co-founder on a world trip, and all employees having gone to other studios. In this form we simply aren’t capable of developing any new games. So I’m afraid the answer is no!
And finally, who would in a fight: Roughshot or the cast of Duck Dynasty? My money’s on the former.
It depends on who’s controlling Roughshot of course. A bunch of people have already, incredibly, made him beat the entire game without dying in the Single-Credit Mode. So anything is possible!