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Human Head Studios Opens Up on Rune and Letting Players “Experience The Game the Way They Want To”

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Rune

Originally titled Rune: RagnarokRune is an ambitious Viking brawler set in a massive open world teeming with monsters and rival gamers alike.

Back in the year 2000, developer Human Head Studios created an action-packed RPG called Rune for PC and PlayStation. Now, 18 years later, Human Head is back with a re-imagining of the franchise. Thankfully, the developer was able to answer some of OnlySP’s more pressing questions regarding the new title’s ongoing development and Human Head’s openness with the community.

After Rune achieved such a successful cult following back in the early 2000s, the spawning of a sequel, though long awaited, came as little surprise for fans. When asked why the company had decided to revisit the Viking world after all this time, Human Head stated that a successor had been in the works for many years and had seen various iterations. While the current build of the game is a relatively new concept for the company, the idea of a Rune sequel was always in mind. Human Head further elaborated that now was the perfect time to start work as a full team dedicated to the project as well as a partner willing to fund it, allowing for more creative freedom.

The decision to drop the Ragnarok subtitle earlier this year was made not only to invoke the connection to the first title, but also to open up more opportunities for the project. Human Head explained that having Ragnarok in the title limited the content’s potential. Removing the subtitle meant that the developer was free to expand beyond the mythological event of Ragnarok and provide room for growth in the current build of the game and potential post-launch updates.

Human Head has never shied away from showing followers the ins and outs of the development process. Beginning with the update vlogs known as the Rune Recaps, Rune has had an open production, which continues with ongoing live streams showcasing the latest developments. Much of the game’s content and changes are directly influenced by the project’s close community.

“We received a great deal of outreach and fan letters requesting another Rune. So, it’s fitting that we’re able to work with the community to shape what that looks like. The feedback we’ve received so far on our blogs and videos has been essential for our development team, and we’re even more excited to get people into the game during Early Access.”

What feels unique about Human Head’s relationship with the player base is the honesty that comes with each update. The various uploads on social media are not only informative to players, but also take a more light-hearted approach, often featuring gifs and clips of comedic bugs found during playtests. The Human Head team admitted it finds the glitches hilarious and wanted to share that with its followers, further building on the inclusiveness with fans.

The aforementioned livestreams and preceding Rune Recaps have also been an excellent source of information about what gamers can expect from the final product, as well as why the developers made certain changes or decisions. Many of the earlier recap episodes put an emphasis on player customisation and abilities following overwhelming demand from the fan base. When questioned about the level of detail in character creation, Human Head revealed it is much more in-depth than previously thought. At the start, gamers will be able to choose gender, skin tone, hairstyles, hair colour, “and so forth.” Characters can also be outfitted in a number of ways, including the option to choose a helmet with or without horns for those who prefer a sense of either realism or fantasy.

While physical customisation is an important factor in Rune, many of the abilities and magical elements of a player will be determined by which Norse God they align with. Alignment is key when deciding what playstyle a character will specialise in. For example, choosing to worship Thor will result in greater combat skills with a hammer, whereas Hel’s followers are more attuned to axes. The exact stats for some of the gods have been made available on the website, with details coming for Freya and Loki after the Early Access phase.

With the promise of an increase in scope for the project and with the community’s wishes in mind, Human Head boasts that Rune will provide something for all gamers. Not only will Rune feature a large-scale multiplayer experience, but players will also be able to choose to play entirely locally, either solo or with friends. The option to easily group up with friends was not a feature in earlier versions, but was later added after player demand. Quests, raids, and several storylines—all playable either in either a PvP or PvE environment—can be found throughout the massive online world. Indeed, the Human Head team has put a massive emphasis on player freedom and a “play how you want” attitude:

“Setting up the game this way allows players to experience the game the way they want to. If you love crafting and building cool stuff—great, do that! If you want to roam around the world in PvP looking for other players to duel, please do. If you want to spend the next 17 years tearing limbs from your enemies and beating them to death—go for it.” – Human Head Studios.

With plenty of content for fans to tuck into, OnlySP asked about the types of environments players will be able to explore, as the previous title received high praise for its detailed and rich settings. The level design team decided to focus more on places in Norse mythology rather than using actual Scandinavian landmarks. As a result, Rune will feature landscapes inspired by the raging fires and bitter frost that are said to consume the Nine Realms come Ragnarok. Human Head insists the world will be an excellent spectrum of biomes, from frozen tundras to barren environments to explore, full of “creepy and weird” secrets for players to discover.

As well as featuring locations drawn from Norse mythology, the enemies and wildlife scattered throughout Midgard will be influenced by the same mythos. Players will face rival Vikings (both players and NPC), re-animated corpses, wolves, boars, giants and even dragons throughout their playthrough. Players can also take the battle to the high seas with Rune’s naval combat. Solo players can choose to create simple rafts but larger groups of gamers will be able to utilise the larger Viking longships. With long-range weaponry being limited to throwing spears or bows and arrows, boarding enemy vessels may well be the climax of many combat scenarios.

With so many exciting features on display in Rune, all gamers are sure to find something to enjoy. Human Head is eager to let fans in on the Early Access experience through regular beta key giveaways and open playtests. Rune can be pre-ordered or wishlisted on its Steam page and the latest information from the Human Head team can be found either via the  mailing list or by following OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

E3 2019

How Final Fantasy XV’s Lead Game Designer is Making a Rhythm Game — An Interview With No Straight Roads Developer Metronomik

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No Straight Roads game art 5

Wan Hazmer’s journey is an interesting one. Having worked at Square Enix on games such as Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy XV, Hazmer left the studio in 2017 to start his own development studio, Metronomik. The studio’s first game, No Straight Roads, is a music-based action-adventure game where players must fight the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) empire as an independent rock band.

OnlySP had the opportunity to speak with Hazmer about the game’s inspiration, gameplay, and art design.

OnlySP: What inspired you to make No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I am a big rhythm gamer. I used to be really good since Beatmania 1 so that’s more than 15 years of experience playing rhythm games. I used to go to the arcades every week and spend like $50 just to play music games. (Laughs) Whenever I invited my friends to play rhythm games with me, they always said “I’ll just watch you play.” It baffles me because everyone loves music; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love music. I think the problem is the way [music] participates in gameplay. Music is only used in two ways in games: soundtrack or rhythm games. I think everyone has rhythm sense. If I were to give you a guitar, and you didn’t know how to play the guitar, of course you’d admit you’d have no rhythm sense.

I feel like, when you listen to a song maybe five times, then you’ll know when the chorus is supposed to come even before it comes. I want everyone to use that musical instinct to play the game and that’s why we have the enemies follow the music. The input, the participation that you have in the game isn’t a pure action game. Other inspirations also include other rhythm games. Rhythm games’ stories are something I like as well, like Space Channel 5, Guitaroo Man and even games that put a lot of emphasis on music. I think you noticed that the outer stars remind me of Jet Set Radio. The word ‘radio’ is in Jet Set Radio despite it not being a rhythm game. [Jet Set Radio] was such an influence and I still have the soundtrack.

No Straight Roads game art 2

OnlySP: How would you say your experience on other games contributed to No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: Back when I was working on Final Fantasy XV, one of the biggest things about the game was that we had to make sure that Final Fantasy becomes relevant again. [Part of that] falls into how you travel in the world so we thought “What is one of the most current way of travelling romantically?” and we thought “road trip” and it’s the core experience in Final Fantasy XV. We spent a lot of cost and effort into making sure that that core UX does its job. We had to photograph an AI, Prompto, and that was actually very difficult to pull off. Can you imagine an AI taking a photograph of you? He’s a very bad photographer at first, but he gets better and better. The user experience is an emotional connection to the game.

I also wanted to make sure that [No Straight Roads] has a UX that everyone can adhere to and that’s something that is very relevant. With relevance, we talk about rock vs EDM. It’s a classic tale of “my taste is better than yours.” And another is “your music can change the world” is our big core UX. We have the transformation of the props into weapons. We also have three channels of music: backing, melody, and rhythm. We multiply that by that by three genres of music rock, EDM, and a boss specific genre [for the demo, it was disco]. Depending on the situation, depending on the story, depending on how you perform, we actually switch one of the channels to EDM, one channel to bass, and one channel to rock. There’s a lot of music going on in the game and we only do it if we know that it is going to sell something for the UX. That’s something I got from my Final Fantasy XV experience.

OnlySP: How was it like creating the music and implementing it in the game?

Hazmer: I am very lucky to have four composers who are very talented. One of them is Falk [Au Yeong]; he’s the music director. He actually used to work with me on Final Fantasy XV where he was a mixing engineer for the music. When you travel to Hammerhead, for example, a gas station in Final Fantasy XV, when you enter a diner the music starts changing a bit. We were discussing dynamic music for a long time. We also have James Landino who is working on the EDM tracks—he [worked on] Cytus [2], Kingdom Hearts, and Final Fantasy as well. We have Pejman [Roozbeh] who is more of a funk/disco kind of guy, and Andy [Tunstall] who worked on rock.

What I love about working with these four composers is that they know the technicalities involved with implementing music in games. What we do is we come up with the concept for the boss first. We have a DJ who thinks he’s the center of the universe and he’s going to spin some planets. After that, we pass it to the musicians. They compose really great music and they pass it back to us and they understand that there are three channels and the programming involved. There are a lot of times when you make a video game, you outsource the music in the last minute. I really wanted the musicians to be involved from very early on so they are actually involved in the game design process as well.

OnlySP: In the demo, I noticed I got to play as two characters. Are there only going to be those two characters?

Hazmer: Yes. The concept seems like there could fit another person here. (Laughs) You can only control two characters, but there’ll be a bunch of bosses. You can actually play couch co-op as well, so one person can be Mayday and the other Zuke.

OnlySP: About how long would you say the game would be?

Hazmer: 10–15 hours. When you defeat a boss, although there are some RPG elements in it (like giving buffs to your weapons), but I don’t want to go with the New Game Plus route, so I’m [following] more of a Sonic or racing game [style] where once you complete a particular level, you can actually challenge the level again in a different difficulty. So there will be difficulties where you’ll have to parry almost everything in order to survive. For example, when you’re playing the game you only hear rock when you’re almost defeating a boss, you can play an entire boss fight in rock.

No Straight Roads gameplay screenshot 1

OnlySP: How did you go about selecting the genres of music for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: First of all, we came up with interesting bosses in the game. My co-founder, Daim [Dziauddin], he’s really big into storytelling and he always wonders why people play music. We didn’t want this game to be a game about a bunch of bosses, who are awesome and big and that’s about it. Every single one of these artists has a reason to play music. From there, we see what kind of genre fits them very well. For example, we came up with a DJ who is egocentric and he thinks that he’s the center of the universe and, bam, the sub theme is space. From there, we figured we can do some disco and some Flash Gordon kind of things, and that’s how the genres came about.

OnlySP: Are there any plans to add in some post launch content?

Hazmer: Definitely. This is still all in talks, so it is not confirmed at all. I would love to collaborate with other games or different artists so that we can get their branding into the game [such as a being a boss in the game]. That’s one of the dreams for this game. Once we finish the game, I really want to collaborate, organically, with many different musicians.

OnlySP: Of the genres of music that are not in the game, what would you say would be the first one you’d want to put in post launch?

Hazmer: Oh wow. That’s quite difficult. I kind of like jazz in a way so jazz would be nice. Jazz and EDM would be really cool. (Laughs) I really like jazz, so I think a jazz boss would be really cool.

No Straight Roads game art 3

OnlySP: What influenced the art style for No Straight Roads?

Hazmer: I made a lot of realistic games and wanted to run away from realism. We thought that the characters in the game [don’t] have to be a human skin color. So we were looking at a lot of American cartoons like Steven Universe. The other thing is the funky art style of games that don’t take themselves too seriously like Tim Schafer games like Psychonauts. Sometimes ugliness is beautiful and beauty is ugly. In terms of the poses for the characters, we love ourselves some Jojo. (Laughs) Poses for us are very very important.


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