Two children bound by the ancient traditions of their village, Mokh and Tarh must venture into the unknown lands of a devastated world on a quest to win back the favor of the gods and save their tribe from extinction.
When we think of co-op in gaming, we generally think of it as an optional bonus to the single-player campaign. RITE of ILK is among a small number of games that don't simply allow for co-op play, they embrace it as the backbone of gameplay.
The characters Mokh and Tarh are quite literally bound to one another, coordinating their movements and even using the rope between them as a tool to surpass obstacles. But, while puzzles and tests of coordination are abundant, RITE of ILK is really a journey of exploration and discovery in a world rich with history and secrets.
RITE of ILK is the first project from Turtleneck Studios, and we had the opportunity to speak with Co-Founder and Creative Director Alanay Çekiç about the game and the studio's use of Unreal Engine 4.
Tell us about the origins of Turtleneck Studios.
AC: Some of us went to school together, and, like many students, we were passionate about our beliefs and ambitions and wanted to share them with the world. Over the years of interning and accumulating experience with indie and AAA game studios, we felt it was time to put those dreams into motion. Upon returning to school, we had a group project that eventually became the foundation for Turtleneck Studios after graduation.
"Exploration" is an increasingly popular term that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. What is an exploration game to you?
AC: Above all, it needs to be interesting! An exploration game not only allows its players to traverse a region for the purpose of discovery, it allows players the freedom to learn or figure things out about their surroundings, elements of gameplay, and the story. It should reward players for their findings with lore, secrets, items, character cosmetics, etc. After all, exploration needs to be fun and engaging.
Are there any differences between the two characters; Mokh and Tarh?
AC: We want each player to pick their own role during the game and not force one onto them, so both characters are capable of the same feats during gameplay. In that regard, players are no different from one another in terms of abilities.
However, the characters are both unique in their personalities. Tarh, for example, loves finding scriptures and unraveling the mysteries of the old world by use of her intelligence. Mokh has a more playful, energetic spirit, and you can often find him making music or toying with small objects. Based on their interests and moods, there are even specific objects and situations with which only Mokh or only Tarh will interact.
Whenever I get to play the game, I pick favorites and make sure to play with Mokh. Everyone in the office has their favorite character and will try to play with that character more often than not.
We understand that the concept met some resistance at the beginning. Why was this project so important to you?
AC: It’s not easy making a co-op game since they do not necessarily sell well. Regardless of whether your game is different or not, business folk need to understandably look at the numbers affiliated with a co-op game. Unfortunately, those numbers are capable of making a grown man cry.
But, we wholeheartedly believe in the project. If we didn’t feel that the project was right, we would’ve stopped a long time ago. The reason we kept going is because it’s a fun project we adore and know people will enjoy. We just had to make minor adjustments while staying true to our game’s ideology and philosophy.
After traveling back and forth with our project and improving it on the way, we feel that our game has come closer to becoming an amazing, sellable project. The closer we get to completion, the more refined it gets. We think it is a diamond in the rough.
What was the philosophy behind physically connecting the characters, and is the rope more than just a limitation?
AC: The rope is a visual and technical representation of the connection between the two characters and players. The rope forces the characters to collaborate, discuss, and co-operate in order to make progress in the game. The rope seems like a limitation at first, but throughout the game, the players will realize that the rope enables them to succeed in otherwise impossible tasks and challenges. The rope symbolizes connectivity and change as the players learn that what they can’t do alone, they can do together.
What were some of your artistic goals in creating the visual style?
AC: We want it to stand out. When people see and play RITE of ILK, we want it to stick with them. Our art needs to represent a vision -- a vision of integrity and passion, and more importantly, it needs to be memorable. The vibe, tension, and feeling of the art, everything needs to contribute to an unforgettable experience.
Because our game plays out in a lot of dense and versatile areas -- from lush jungles to snowy mountains -- we wanted to work with reduced noise and went for semi-realism. The world needs to feel vivid and appealing and fun to explore, which is why we went for harsher lighting and saturation.
To complement the ideology, we decided to go with a fantasy setting and an elaborate shape language very early on in our pre-development cycle. It needs to feel earthly enough to be recognizable, but unique enough to represent a vastly different planet.
What drew you toward Unreal Engine 4 for this project?
AC: Unreal Engine 4 is powerful, quick, and gives us plenty of options to work with, but we gravitated toward it due to its artistic possibilities and node-based systems. Since creating shaders or working with Blueprints to a certain extent is now doable by artists, prototyping gets done quickly, and there is a lot of optimization that is being done by the engine itself. It gives us a lot of freedom without making us feel helpless.
The constant updates and improvements are definitely pluses as well. We like to create high quality games and Unreal Engine helps in giving you the power to create high quality content.
Were there any tools or features of Unreal Engine 4 that proved to be particularly beneficial?
AC: There are plenty, but if we had to make a selection, then I would say that we are especially in love with the node-based features, including Blueprints. Our designer and artists can jump into it and efficiently prototype gameplay. It makes it easy to debug and create our own tools by using construction scripts.
The other node-based feature that we’re crushing hard on is the material editor. It allows our artists the freedom to experiment and create extensive materials with relative ease. It also allows for complex calculations, and storing nodes within material function keeps things organized. Material instances and the way to parent are amazing. Once you figure out the trick of instancing, it becomes something you cannot do without and makes editing your materials solid. We’ve had moments where we instanced our parent material about three times, instanced those three instances about 5-6 times, and we made some more instances out of those where applicable. It might seem like spaghetti, but it’s sure to bring the meatballs.
Have you interacted with the Unreal Engine Community during development? If so, how would you describe your experiences?
AC: Definitely! We've talked with Unreal developers across the world by using #slack, although they now use Discord. We can recommend getting into the community, they’re very supportive and some even helped us in answering some of our questions.
We’ve met with some awesome Epic folk at GDC 2016 SF and had them play our WIP game; this way, we even got to see some of the Unreal community members for the first time. We’ve also kept in touch with Sjoerd "Hourences" De Jong (Epic European Evangelist), who keeps us posted about Unreal Engine 4 developments everywhere and in the Netherlands.
Speaking of the Netherlands, which is where we’re located, we’re also very active in the national UE4 scene. We’re co-hosts of the Dutch Unreal Dev meetups and have met a wide variety of different people working with Unreal at these meetups as well. Sometimes there are presentations and talks, but most of the time, you sit back, have a beer, and talk about fun projects with people with whom you share a passion.
Turtleneck Studios is part of Dutch Game Garden and the recipient of an Unreal Dev Grant. Why do you think these types of programs are important for gaming as a whole?
AC: We’re often stuck at the office, hard at work, sweating our asses off, and eating a ridiculous amount of candy on the go. When you’re busy and years go by, it is easy to forget that what you’re making is special. Receiving grants and support from people with experience and know-how is the biggest pat on the back you can get as a developer. It’s a huge compliment. It reaffirms that what you’re doing is worth something…quite literally in the case of a grant.
Where are the best places for people to go to follow development?
We also have a pretty elaborate development blog that we keep updated. We often tease new stuff there and show work in progress.