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In the fourth edition of the Ravenbound Q&A, we welcomed CM Althalus, Jonas (Lead Animator), Trevor (Senior Sound Designer) and Simon (Lead Designer).
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If you'd like to listen to the full recording instead, check it out here.
In terms of strategy, what would you say is your favourite approach to Ravenbound?
Trevor: For me, it's anything related to the twin axes. I love the card Breath of the Inferno because it's got twin axes and it sets them on fire. I’m a very simple player when it comes to the game, I just want to hit things and see big damage numbers and I don't really complicate it much more than that.
Jonas: If I had to pick my favorite strategy it would be Focus. I like the trait called Calculating, where your surge deals 300% more damage. I did that and was quite successful with it. I'm also a fan of activating Surge just as you pull off a charged attack. It feels good, especially with a two-handed sword combined with crit. You charge it and activate it as you slide towards the enemy and then, bam! Big fat crit.
Simon: I love the Spin to Win dual sword. That was super fun, but my most favourite is anything with the Parrier trait. It feels super rewarding when you pull off successful runs with it. There's something nice about applying Curse on a perfect guard, I like getting some status effects in there for some flash and spectacle that are paired with the Parrier trait.
Trevor: Spin to Win is such a timeless gameplay tactic in any game. It's amazing.
Every enemy in Ravenbound feels different, in huge part thanks to the animations and sounds. How do you collaborate between disciplines to make the enemies feel and sound great overall?
Jonas: The animation needs to be done first, and then comes the sound. So usually, I show some prototype animations to Trevor to see if it’s achievable within his schedule. Sometimes we can reuse sounds, so we don't really need to involve the sound team as much in the case animation might have more resources available.
But in Ravenbound, we have a unique challenge where most of the enemies are melee – although there are some magical enemies, but not many. In the future, I’d like to add more magic-based enemies to provide a larger diversity of gameplay aspects. If you only have melee combat to work with, you can change the timings of those swings from one enemy to the other, like one enemy has a simple swing, whereas it's slower for the other enemy. You can also add a leap backward after the swing and that can also make it feel different, or a forward jump first, and then the swing. Since I also work with the combat design, if you tweak the threshold where the enemy gets staggered, that also has a major impact on how the enemy feels even though there are just swings. If you interrupt the enemy with a single slash, you're not going to be as intimidated by that enemy, compared to one that just ignores your hit, unless you do a big shield bash or something.
Trevor: Even though they're very different disciplines, I think audio and animation also share similarities, where it's all about timing. It's really important to figure out how to be in sync to share feedback back and forth. Things like, is this where this sound should be playing? There'll be times where Jonas will say, I think this should come in a little bit earlier. It's all because the audio has to be feedback for the gameplay moments.
It's really fun to develop a game where the combat can be quite chaotic, and there could be sounds playing all over the place and we try and figure out the really important sounds in those moments. From my perspective, I'm really lucky on this project to have this amazing looking world, and we have these really cool looking features that just provide instant inspiration when I'm trying to work on things.
So if there's a creature that comes in, it can be really easy to take inspiration from its visual design, and then Jonas has animations on top of that. It kind of adds in the movement set that can then influence how heavy or light the sound should feel. It's also really easy to draw inspiration from everyone on the team, because like we've mentioned before, we are a really small team. Even as a dev myself, pulling back and seeing the world that we've created and the content that's in there, I think it's really impressive what we've been able to put in there at this level, given how small the team is.
Jonas: When we review the game together, we might think, oh, this attack comes from behind because of the dive attack with the dual dagger. Then we realise that it needs a unique sound cue, because characters might be off screen, right? So you need that extra layer. That's definitely something we also try to emphasise with sound, and with animation.
Trevor: Yeah, exactly. And I think that's something that we'll just get better and better at doing as well. Because as we watch the community play the game, and as we get feedback about how players are finding things in combat, they might be saying, well, we didn't realise why I was getting hit, or we didn't understand where this attack was coming from. That's always feedback that we can take on and work to improve the tells on attacks or on different animations and different sounds.That's the really exciting thing about having the game out there in the world now, because we can see people playing it, and we can find ways where we can really dial in the combat experience in particular.
Are there any tools or techniques that you've used for Ravenbound that people might not expect?
Jonas: I always come back to motion capture. Other studios definitely do it as well, but not every studio will use it to the extent we use it. We use motion capture on pretty much everything in the game, and I also try to keep in shape, you know, in real life. Not that I'm super fit, but it helps when you swing a big sword or you need to jump as high as you can, it feels like an extra layer of motivation to go to the gym. Even though when I look at what I'm recording in the mocap studio, it can look absolutely ridiculous when I lie on the floor and pretend to fall, I'll be flailing my arms and legs about like I'm falling. But then you get a foundation of movement, you fix the poses to make it look like you're actually falling in in the air and not lying on the floor, and it works surprisingly well.
For this size of a team, there are a lot of animations in Ravenbound and to rely on something like keyframe, which is when you do everything by hand is like night and day. Without mocap, we could never have the amount of enemy variations with different weapons.
Trevor: The equivalent for audio would be field recording, or recording in general. With sound, you're really lucky because you could record anything. And then once you've processed it and applied all these different plugin effects, that can sound completely different to what the original recording was.
There's this big alarm that goes off every three months in Sweden, it's like an alarm system test. And that ended up being part of the sound that plays in the hatred beams. It sounds nothing like what the recording was, but it has this really cool, oppressive tone to it when you hear it and I ran that through a bunch of effect pedals and tweaked it to the point where it had that nice droning feel that the hatred lasers above the syphons have.
But I also like using voice, so when you go into a rift, there's this low droning ambience. I got the sound designer from The Angler to hum into a really high-resolution microphone. That allows us to really pitch down the sound, but still keeps the really nice detail of the recording, which you can't do with microphones that don't capture as much resolution. I ran that through a bunch of effects and put a lot of reverb on it and ran it through a synthesiser, and that’s how it turned into that otherworldly ambience that plays when you go into a rift, and then it stops once you've cleared the rift. So using voice for things, as long as you can create a tone, you can run it through a bunch of different effects and process it in ways that sound really different. Sometimes it can really work, and sometimes it can just be horrible but it's always fun experimenting.
Are there any other hidden or less obvious animations or sounds you'd like to highlight?
Jonas: There are some attacks, like the dual sword, that I couldn't do in the mocap suit. But once you understand the process of, and the beats of the motion, and you learn how to record one session at a time and then splice them together, you can get quite interesting results like the dual sword primary charge attack, for example. I did one swing in the mocap suit, and then spliced them together, increased the timing of the swing, and then added the extra swings and spins. So for me as an animator, there’s always a creative challenge. It's very fun when you combine keyframe and motion capture.
Trevor: I had the weirdest experience when I was working from home. I didn't really have any treated areas where I could record nice sounding things. So I stuck my head into a cardboard box, and recorded all these weird groaning vocal sounds, and that's what you hear on the hatred chests, as well. So it's all processed and everything, but putting my head into a box kind of gave it this weird boxy acoustic sound. That's always going to be the recording moment I remember, because my partner was just watching me like, what are you doing? But I think that's pretty general for audio people. They're quite weird.
For a more gameplay related question, do we have any plans to adjust character creation that we're able to talk about?
Simon: We've seen a lot of people's frustration with certain parts of this. We obviously want that to feel like it’s a fun screen where you get excited about upcoming runs. So we’re looking at making sure you can pick what you want on that screen. You're going to be able to randomise the appearance of your characters, it's not going to be fancy in the sense that you can select exactly how your character is going to look, but we're trying to make sure that you can pick what traits you want for your characters, and you don't have to spend your legacy randomising that.
Once we get that out, we’ll see if people miss the random aspect and if we can, somehow, make a mix of both. But to start out with, we're just looking to make sure that people can play what they want to play.
Are there any particular parts of the world that you love?
Jonas: It's a difficult question, since the enemies are dear to my heart. I'm proud of how different the Haxa feels compared to the others. There's a different dimension to fighting her, She's very good at avoiding you.There's a noticeable difference in how you play against her, and I'd like to add more of that to Ravenbound. In terms of biome, since I like to focus charge, I usually go to the fire biome to pick up Focus related cards.
Trevor: I really like the forest biomes, both the normal forest and the dark forest. It's probably because I like hiking, and I did a lot of field recording, which ended up being one of the ambiences that play in those areas. We've got a lot of really cool tools where we can have different sounds for vegetation, wind and trees, and we can have different sounds on fields of grass compared to playing fields that don't have as much grass . I always find myself in the forest biomes when I'm testing things, and I’ll move the character near a little lake. It's me taking myself on a little virtual hike while I do work.
Simon: For me it's the southern parts of Ávalt, where it's open landscapes and vistas. But like Trevor, the dark forest is probably my favourite on-ground environment, the ambience there is amazing.
Are there any enemies that you find challenging, even though you know how to beat them?
Jonas: Hulders are difficult because they have an unfortunate issue where they tend to walk out of the range of the battlefield. When that happens, it can be a run killer, especially because they have a hefty life pool. If you're unlucky, you can come across the Crown Mother, and it can take quite a while to beat it. You might also have small Hulders constantly attacking you while you try to kill the Crown Mother, and if you take just one misstep, it’s a game over. They can beat you even if you have full HP.
The reason this happens is that the Crown Mother has an attack where she jumps backwards. So when you fight her, the likelihood that she'll jump out of range is very high because she's only going backwards, and doesn’t go forward when she attacks again.
We're discussing ways to resolve it, and I'd like to remedy the situation by giving her attacks that mix up going backwards and forwards. We could at least experiment with that, but as a long-term fix, I feel like we need to have clear points of interest in the camps so that when the AI is at a certain distance from the border, it wants to move back.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the game today?
Jonas: The animation I'm most proud of is something probably almost no one is aware of. When you fly upward as the Raven and you tap the fly slow button, it works as a stop animation. The transition between those states: fly, flap and fly slow - that animation was very, very hard to make feel right because a bird would never do it.
There was so much back and forth with how the bird angles to gather itself and then flap in a different manner. It was just very hard. It’s probably an animation that players don't really see.
Trevor: It's really hard to talk about the audio in the game without talking about the music. Even though I didn't compose or write any of the music it was just such a pleasure working with both Elvira and Nicklas from Two Feathers.
Working with them has just been so special in creating that tone for the game world and all the different biomes. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences; I don't think I'll ever work with anyone in that way again because it was really special to this project.
Hopefully, at some point, we can involve them a bit more with these types of projects, which would be really cool.
And thank you to the community, for being active in the Discord server and playing Ravenbound!
Simon: It's been a lot of fun reading discussions from different players. The experience you all are having with the game and your thoughts about it influence us a lot.
We bring up a lot of your feedback in discussions, and like you’ve seen with the Hatred changes and will hopefully see when the changes to Vessel Selection come out, we definitely want to keep on improving the experience for everybody. Thank you all for being so active, everything you write is super valuable for us!
Thank you for attending and/or reading these sessions. Make sure to join the Discord server if you’d like to participate in the live sessions, and get notifications and teasers about future content!
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