Among the multiple announcements Nintendo made as part of their latest Indie World Showcase, one standout title was the upcoming Blue Fire. Developed by an indie studio in Argentina, Blue Fire is an action/adventure title that takes place in a world of caves and tunnels on a floating island.
I caught up with Gabriel Rosa, the studio lead and CEO of Robi Studios, via e-mail to talk about all things Blue Fire: where the idea came from, about the gameplay, what it was like being part of the Indie World Showcase, and about the Argentinian game development scene.
Blue Fire is set for release in Summer 2020 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Operation Rainfall: Could you please introduce yourself?
Gabriel Rosa: Hi, I’m Gabriel Rosa, studio leader and CEO at Robi Studios. I was born in Córdoba, Argentina. From a very young age I’ve been fascinated by video games, especially 3D worlds. I was introduced to games with the N64 and I remember being completely blown away by OOT [OR Note: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time] and SM64 [OR Note: Super Mario 64]. I think those two games had a really big impact on me. I was obsessed with the idea of creating worlds so I picked up gamemaker when I was around 8 years old, and I was absorbed with making games. I’ve been in the industry now for around 6 years. About two years ago I teamed up with my brother, Santiago, to build Robi Studios, a bootstrap outsourcing 2-person team working from our bedrooms, making props and environments. Our goal was to make our own games and from early on we were already working [on] prototypes and pitching ideas. A year later we rented an office and slowly started expanding the team to what is now.
“Our game is about exploring and immersing yourself in a fantasy world, and having the liberty to explore that world as you like and at your own pace.“
OR: What is Blue Fire about?
GR: Blue Fire is a 3D, third-person action adventure game set in a perished land called Penumbra with a big focus on platforming and exploration. But I think Blue Fire is much more than that. It’s about getting lost in a fascinating fantasy world with incredible regions, characters, and so much to explore and discover, all at your own pace and order. And to top it off, Blue Fire brings a unique gameplay to the table – the movement capabilities in this game with full air and momentum control allow very tight air movement. In my opinion, the abilities, equipment, platforming challenges and difficulty you will find in the world are completely unique and unseen to the 3D platformer genre.
OR: Blue Fire was announced to the world as part of the March 17, 2020 Nintendo Switch – Indie World Showcase. What was it personally like for Robi Studios to debut this game on such a big digital stage, and how did your studio get selected to appear in this Indie World Showcase?
GR: I can’t imagine a better way to have announced the game! Honestly, we are infinitely grateful for this opportunity. Both me and my brother have always been huge Nintendo fans, and the fact that our first game is coming out as a timed console exclusive for the Switch along with announcing our game as part of the Nintendo Indie World is a dream come true. The announcement was amazing and we’re so happy with the feedback we’ve received. I’ve read every comment I could find so far!
OR: Why did you choose to make Blue Fire exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, instead of for PC and other console platforms?
GR: Our game is about exploring and immersing yourself in a fantasy world, and having the liberty to explore that world as you like and at your own pace. I think the Switch is the perfect console for a game like this, because in my opinion the Nintendo audience are clamoring for games such as Blue Fire.
Besides that, I think that the handheld possibility also allows more people to actually play. Having the ability to take the Switch everywhere allows for flexibility. I think that’s going to let players, and especially adult players with less time to find time, to play Blue Fire.
OR: Why did you decide to make Blue Fire an action adventure game? Where did the idea for the game come from?
GR: I think that has to do a lot with taste. We’re fascinated by adventures, stories, warriors, dangers and tales of great conflicts, so it just came natural. I think most artists can produce better and more emotionally rich results when they express themselves with no restrictions, and luckily since this was our game we were allowed to [do] that!
We set out to make a 3D platformer a while back. We made a prototype for that game and an artistic proof of concept. The game looked pretty good, and the controls felt incredible. That game had no combat and was not exactly what we would have done if it was up to us, but we were trying to be realistic and build something that we were capable to produce. When we showed it to peers and publishers, we didn’t get bad feedback, but it wasn’t the feedback that we wanted. The graphic style we had gone for did not appeal to our target audience, and the lack of combat was also a red flag. We looked at several options and ultimately concluded to scratch that game concept completely. After a while we went back to the drawing board with a new approach and after learning from what had gone wrong with our previous game idea we felt we had a good recipe, and that recipe slowly polished into what is now Blue Fire.
“Challenges have to look daunting yet doable and when players die, they must have learned something and know exactly how they can clear that segment – or what they shouldn’t do – in the next run.“
OR: What came first: the story, the aesthetics, or the gameplay mechanics? How did one aspect influence the others?
GR: I would have to say the gameplay and aesthetics, with the story coming later. Those three aspects are super intertwined, and I don’t think there’s a perfect way or order to tackle that. I feel we tried to design, block, polish and work on all three of them at the same time since they are so related, and every once in a while we would make big progress in one of those three fronts, which meant that something would have to be revised in another. The first thing we did before we even had a prototype was build a solid game design document where all three of those were in harmony and there was a lot of stuff, events, features and emotions that we knew we wanted to be in the game. But it can be a hard process with lots of discussions and brainstorming sessions and we had to be flexible, always focusing on gameplay before anything else. In the end I don’t think there’s another way, you just sort of have to let the game speak for itself and it will tell you what it needs if you listen close enough.
OR: On the official Blue Fire blog, it says that the player will “ultimately master the art of movement.” What does that mean, exactly?
GR: As I said earlier, I personally feel the movement capabilities in the game are incredible. But it’s not just about executing actions, it’s about learning to move in the environment and using it to your advantage, to react in the correct situations and to use abilities effectively along with creating builds to improve certain abilities or aspects of movement. There are very hard platforming segments I honestly believe are either very rare or have never been seen in the 3D space, and to this extent players will want to master everything they can about the abilities they perform. How much recovery time they have after a certain acrobatic, how much momentum they gain, how much they lose, should you double jump first and then dash giving you more height? Or should you dash and then double jump giving you more time for a precise landing? It’s up to this fine knowledge of movement to decide if you will be able to clear certain challenges or not.
OR: In addition to fighting and platforming through the world of Penumbra, players will get to visit “The Void”, a lost land that is filled with abstract platforming challenges. What are these abstract platforming challenges, and how do you go about designing them?
GR: The Void is a sealed realm that players can reach through rare entrances found in the world. Each void represents an abstract platforming-focused challenge with incredibly hard difficulty. Before facing voids players must make sure they’re prepared to do so. One of our team members was mostly responsible for these segments, and while designing these challenges our focus was that they should be nail biting to watch and completely absorbing to play. After we designed a void our team members would play it, and it had to be both fun and thrilling to watch, with everyone waiting for their turn to see if they could beat the segment where the last player died. That’s when we knew a void was good enough. Challenges have to look daunting yet doable and when players die, they must have learned something and know exactly how they can clear that segment – or what they shouldn’t do – in the next run.
OR: The art style shown in the trailer for this game is beautiful, unique, and visually striking. How did you decide upon this graphic style for the game, and what has the overall design process been like so far?
GR: Thanks! I’m glad to hear that our team is doing a great job in creating life breathing environments! We’ve tried to create a daunting and dark world with a small glimpse of hope still shining, that speaks its story through its environments and characters, with a soft and subtle almost painterly feel in environments using light brushes and subtle colors. However, we also contrast this with other elements, including interactive objects and lightning because it’s important that we fit the action taking place [together] with the world. Ambiance and music also help with this and I think both of those are sounding incredible and doing a great job in working as a nexus between art and gameplay.
OR: You’re a small development studio located in Córdoba, Argentina. What is the video game development scene like in Argentina, one of the largest video game markets in South America?
GR: The video game industry has grown quite a lot in Argentina during the last few years! We’re seeing a lot more developers appear and a lot more games getting featured. Public institutions have also shown more interest in promoting the industry through grants and such. The Argentina Video Game Association has done a lot for the industry too, organizing events, jams, and helping devs out however they can. It’s great to see so much progress.
OR: How long should we expect Blue Fire’s gameplay to be?
GR: This is a tough one. I think it really depends on the type of player given its nonlinear nature, how much time you have and how much you get immersed in the game.
OR: When should we expect Blue Fire to be released exclusively on the Nintendo Switch?
GR: Blue Fire will release this summer, so you won’t have to wait too long!
OR: Does Robi Studios have any other games currently in the works? If so, can you share anything about them?
GR: Right now our main and only focus is Blue Fire. We’re committed to this title and are going to do all we can to deliver the best game possible.
What do you think of Blue Fire?
Are you excited to go adventuring in Penumbra when the game is released this summer?
Let us know in the comments below!