Rack N Ruin Press Coverage

We recently did a little press announcement with a trailer and some sites put up some nice coverage.  Thought I’d post some links here.

PLUS XP – Preview


Gamers Association – Preview


The Reticule – Preview


Analog Addiciton – Preview


Bio Gamer Girl – Interview


SpawnFirst – Interview


Otakudome – Interview


Designing a Devil


I would like to take this opportunity to explore the inspiration behind a character’s design.  As I am the principle artist, this article will focus on Rack, a demonic wizard and the star of the upcoming game Rack ‘n Ruin.  The mixture pictured above is representative of some characters that I believe influenced Rack, who as a character has a little bit of each of them in him visually or in his personality.  In this article I will explore influences and how they effect the end result of a character’s design.  A quick note here, during the creation of Rack I didn’t specifically use any of these references as a starting point.  Rather, this article is an attempt to deconstruct the process of that creation after the fact.

It is my belief that any concept, idea, or work can be reduced to its individual influences on some level.  Each of these characters has influenced me in a way that I perceived as positive at some point in my life, and Rack’s overall personality, motives, desires, and visual style can be seen as an amalgam of these influences.  Now not every last detail of Rack was taken directly from these sources, instead each contributed some general idea toward the overall result.



So let’s look at Rack.  He’s a short demon wizard who stands about a 4.5 feet tall.  Like most of the references above, his power is derived from his intellect.  He’s actually quite frail, and it isn’t clear if his dark little arms are even attached to his body.   His head is ginormous compared to his body, accentuated by a large pair of horns as if he was born a bobblehead.  He has furry little goat legs, but with 2 toed demon clawed feet instead of hooves.  The influence for his attire is probably the easiest to spot, a Dracula red collared cape and nice white shirt.  In terms of the visual design, a particularly important aspect in a video game, the influences go back even further to early judo-christian symbolism of the devil (horns, goat legs, etc) and even to popular depictions of grey aliens, which could most likely be seen as an amalgam of what had come before.

His personality is largely carefree with an intense love of chaos.  Yet that chaos is not enough, he is very picky about when and where his plans unravel, as if to get the maximum amount of entertainment out of the whole experience.  He won’t just roll into town and murder all the villagers–He is perpetually upping the ante.  Sure he could just blow the planet up, but why should he have all the fun? So he sets about destroying the pillars that hold a world up, releases the captive demons, and in the end when the world spirals out of control everyone will get to join in on the fun.  After all once Ruin, his boss, has his sights set on a world nothing happy will come of that situation.  Armed with a sharp tongue, an a eye for the ironic, a dark sense of humor, a complete lack of obedience, a love of sarcasm and just a dash of nihilism he is the anchor of the apocalypse, the showman of sorrow, and the MC of misery.

Where does all this come from? Well lets take a look at each of (what I believe to be) the inspirations on Rack’s personality.  First up to bat is Zim, who was exiled to a wayward earth simply due to his incompetence.  This comparison is largely thematic where Rack suffers the same fate after a string of intentional failures.  Zim and Rack share a desire for the theatrical, and are both exceedingly over confident.  Which leads us to a glaring fault, a Joker like infatuation with the journey and no desired to ever reach the end.  Rack is entirely capable of ending the situation he has found himself in, but has no desire to take on any more responsibility and maintaining the status quo has become his primary motivation.  Black Mage is a similar character in that sense, but where he is acutely aware of his failings, Rack revels in them.

The intent of this article is to deconstruct the influences that drives the work of any artist, whether they are aware of it or not.  Perhaps at a later date a similar analysis should be performed regarding the gameplay mechanics of Rack n Ruin.




Characters as Logos.

The Mickey Mouse of video games.

One of the ideas I’ve had in mind while developing Rack N Ruin is to build a main character whose picture is as representational of the game as the actual title.  To be more specific, I want the visual image of Rack to be more synonymous with the game than the logo or title.  This method of building a character is nothing new and in fact is quite common.

I think the simplest and most popular example of this concept is Mario.  If someone says the word Mario, the vast majority of people will envision a short mustached plumber in red overalls.  Using character visuals to create brand recognition is one of the things Nintendo does better then almost any other company likely second only to Disney.  The advantages of this method are immediately apparent, with both Disney and Nintendo reaping the rewards decades later.

In my experience, Japanese developers tend to execute on this idea better than western developers.  Think about all the characters that Konami, Nintendo, Capcom, and Square Enix have built over the years vs all of Western Developed games.  Its a sea of thirty something white males with an occasionally recognizable name that is hard to put a face on.  Even if we can put a face on a these western characters it is far easier to spot their similarities than differences.  If I asked someone to draw me a picture of Commander Shepard the results would vary greatly from person to person, but if I asked for Mickey Mouse, or Ryu I would get a pretty consistent result.

One of the reasons we still love this game.

Indies are another group that don’t explore this concept very often.  Its not unheard of, but often times indie games lack a face to sell their product.  We have some stars like Super Meat Boy, Quote, Isaac (go Edmund) and then the list kind of goes cold for me.  What I do see is a lot of recognizable faces but no name to match them.  What are the names of the protagonists from Guacamelee, Bit Trip Runner, Don’t Starve, or Limbo?  I would know the game if I saw these characters but not the character’s name.  The reason is simple, designing a character to fit a specific game can limit the character to that game alone and in a way limits our emotional connection.  When you design a character not as a variable in an equation but as an whole and complete being, doors open that you never knew existed.  We can play a game like Mario Kart without having the whole thing feel out of place–Halo Kart not so much.  After all who wasn’t excited to summon Cloud in Final Fantasy Tactics?

On the other hand there are draw backs to having such an intense focus on a single character.  It can limit the scope of your story telling to just what that character represents, or what ideas that character can easily express.  Also It can take away the openness of player choice that dominates many Western RPGs.  Once you decide to make a distinguishable character the face of your game, the moods and themes that character evokes will dominate everything they appear in.  This is the reason many western developers shy away from iconic characters and instead rely on character customization, or one that closest matches their largest demographic (usually 20-30 year old white males).

This should equal Rack N Ruin more then the words.

Through that very lens let’s examine Rack: a comical sadist and the star of the upcoming game Rack n Ruin.  Every game or project surrounding Rack will both star him and include an over the top, sadistic tone.  Rack is in many ways an experiment due to the nature of his design and personality.  It can be risky to have such a polarized character as the face of your game considering how exposed he will be.  Rack’s face will be the icon, on the cover, in the trailers, the loading screens, on the steam page, and in the marketing material.  As always the success of this game will depend on how people react to Rack’s design.

In closing if you are making a game and you’d like a way to help make it stick in people’s heads, carefully consider what type of character best serves your game.  What would portal be without Glados?






Job Opening: Marketing Representative

We are currently looking to hire a marketing representative to help us with a few upcoming campaigns that will spread the word about Rack N Ruin to wide audience.  We are open to both individual marketing representatives, or working with a firm.  Email tyler@lifesparkent.com for more info.

Job Outline:

– The ability to communication effectively with numerous gaming websites and magazines.

– Work with our team to develop a comprehensive marketing strategy for our game.

– Writing press releases, and promotional material.

– Work with the communities on our own site, Twitter, Facebook, Redit, NeoGaf, and other social networking services.

Skills Required:

– Prior experience with marketing videogames.

– Strong writing skills.

– An active presence on numerous social networks.

– An education background in marketing.




After a Long Nap

Hello everyone.  We are back, after a long bout of silence.  Why the endless space of quiet?  We have been hard at work on Rack N Ruin.  Things are beginning to get going and we are going to be doing some big announcements soon.  In the meantime let’s talk about what we have been up to and how the game is progressing.

Rack N Ruin recently showed at the Indiemegabooth at PAX East.  We displayed a short demo that featured a small tutorial portion of the forest, about 2/3rds of final dungeon, and  to top it off it included a complete boss encounter.  The response was positive and it was good to see people enjoying the game.  To my surprise the demo took almost 40 minutes to complete.  That told me a few things, that the game was enjoyable enough for people to stop for 40 minutes in the middle of PAX to play it through the demo, which areas of the game needed to be shortened/simplified/improved, and it gave me an idea of how large the final game will actually be.

On the development side of things, we are in full production and are moving along at a nice pace.  Most of the base features and core design structures are implemented.   The art is getting closer to the end side of production, so it shouldn’t be long before the game enters into a pure content creation phase.  The music is coming along glowingly, it might actually be the most enchanting part of which whole production.  Ben has produced some truly fantastic pieces for this game.

Things are coming along, so look forward to hearing more from this blog as time goes on.  In the mean time, check out the new site.  The gears have been churning in the background, now it is time for the face of the clock to turn.