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Interview: Chris Rippy, Robot Entertainment

To the tune of: Kraftwerk – The Robots

Here’s the transcript of an interview for Rock, Paper, Shotgun I did with Chris Rippy, Producer, Robot Entertainment (formely Ensemble, creators of Age of Empires) about their new game Orcs Must Die; the original preview is here:


Why a tower defence game, not another RTS?
Good question. In the history of our older company, we’ve wanted to do a bunch of different things, but it hasn’t come out in the past. There were a bunch of us playing horde mode and defence games, and we prototyped this out of merging those. From there, we started talking about the art, the rest of the studio got excited, and here we are today.

The art style is orcs & goblins, World of Warcrafty, with a Gamebryo lightness and brightness. Did you think your genre was new, so you went for something safe, to appeal to a more mainstream demographic?
It’s more that we had our heads in a dungeon space, in sense of location; we talked fantasy stuff for a time but we just thought it was funny to kill orcs. They give us the opportunity to do a lot of things with them. Classical fantasy gives us a grounding; people know what how these creatures behave; they know that a little runner goes really quickly through the world, and you should respond accordingly. We can make them funny, slice them up and that makes us happy.

It seems like a very traditional tower defense but from a third person; however, there’s no levelling up; are there more toys to play with?
There are actually a lot of different ways that we’re planning on upgrading or changing the way you play. We have a system that comes on about halfway through that lets you customise how you want to play the game. If I’m enjoying the strategy side more than the action side, I can say let’s put these bonuses towards these traps – or if I’m an action guy, let’s be more melee. There’s an entire tech tree and, not to overstate, but it really does give you a chance to make the game how you want it, because there are people who want to get in there hand-to-hand and there are people who want to stand up on a balcony and watch the mousetrap work. It’s exciting, but one of the bigger challenges has been balancing that out.

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We reward you for making more complicated combos. The combination of the traps, the way the enemies respond to you, and the physics introduced into the world by the flip trap, and the way you’re down in the action. You can imagine later levels that have more than one rift, more than one door, with units that can bypass the traps. Imagine if something was in the air.

You’re a musician; how come you’re outsourcing the music?

I’m a musician for fun. In the past, my brothers did music for us, and this time we’ve run into some great guys who’ve done the music for the game – Gleek, Matt Piersal’s company – working on Age of Empires online and a ton of games. You can tell when you listen to it that it’s not very period piece – heavy metal that riffs when you do a headshot.

You obviously don’t think the tower defence genre is saturated then.
We’ve had a lot of people who’ve played through the game and never made the tower defence link. We won’t be talking about that as much as we’re talking about the game as a whole, and the choices that you make when you want to mix it up.

Why is it singleplayer? Why no level editor?
We wanted it to be tight, first. We’re a really small team; there are a couple of guys who’ve been working on this for a short time. Our approach on that and every aspect of the game, if we can’t do it really, really well, let’s not do it at all. When people look at this, they’ll see a lot of depth and polish, especially for a downloadable game. It’s small, tight, rich game.

The thing is with this kind of game, you can put it out and take back the feedback, and change things depending on what the community like. This is a complete experience.

Ensemble – how will the community respond to something non-militaristic and fun?
They’ll be surprised at first, but they’ll really dig it once they get into the game. The Age of Empires fan likes a level of strategy and depth that this game provides awesomely.

Do you feel happy trading complexity for speed, and getting lots of titles out there?
Yeah, today I do. Today I definitely feel that. Looking at Halo Wars, that was a four or five year project, a hundred something people, and now even our company’s not that big, and we’re a subset of that company. It feels really good to wake up one morning and you’re talking design and hey you’re ready to roll. We’ve got you guys in town and it feels like we only started with this last week; it’s a really, really good feeling.

I’m told you’re prototyping two more projects for when this ships. Can you talk about them?
All the games are on different schedules and all of them are “hey we’ve tried this and we’ve tried that” so we’re very focussed right now on finishing up Age and OMD. But man, it’s cool to be in the studio when that stuff is going on; it’s such an exciting place to work right now. The passion from the team working on the game is so high, it just raises the bar.

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