How ReCore Evolved From Its Anime-Style Roots
Joule's design has been through multiple changes.
Action-platforming game ReCore has gone through multiple changes since its inception with Comcept and Armature Studios. The Xbox One and PC-exclusive stars the character Joule Adams, a volunteer who wakes up alone on a failed colony nearly a decade after it has fallen apart. The game takes several inspirations from the past works of its lead developers: Keiji Inafune (Mega Man) from Comcept and Mark Pacini, Jack Matthews, and Todd Keller (Metroid Prime) from Armature Studios, with gameplay centering around elements of puzzle solving and platforming.
With the game launching worldwide today, GameSpot spoke to Microsoft senior creative director/writer Joseph Staten about the challenges of developing a game with multiple studios across the world, how ReCore has evolved from its heavy Japanese influences, and why the game is described as "semi-open world."
GameSpot: From my understanding, the game is being made across two different studios at different locations. Could you please explain the logistics of how that works, and how that arrangement came about?
Staten: It's actually even a little bit more complicated or exciting than the two studios. The project came to us initially from Comcept, Keiji Inafune's team in Japan, and the team at Armature Studios down in Austin, Texas.
Microsoft got the pitch from them sort of end of 2013, early 2014. As it progressed and became something really special Microsoft decided to invest more in the title, at which point they brought on not just additional funding for Comcept and Armature but brought in some outside help just to supplement those two studios, which are relatively small production houses. So we brought in Asobo Studio, a team in France, to help with some of the world design and enemy characters. We also brought in Goldtooth, a cinematic house in Vancouver who did the performance capture cinematics.
In the end, ReCore became an even more multi-team, international game. But the heart and soul of it is absolutely the team of Comcept and the team at Armature.
What sort of cultural differences did you encounter? Especially with the Japanese game industry being quite different to that of the industry in the West.
When Inafune originally pitched the game to us along with Mark Pacini, it wasn't called Recore at the time. But what became ReCore was much more influenced by manga and anime in its artstyle. Joule herself was very stylised in that anime way. When we started to look at it and talk to people about it and do some focus testing with the game, it became clear that if we wanted to broaden ReCore's appeal then we needed to take that same great anime and manga influence and tweak it. Just so that it was a little more accessible to people who weren't anime fans.
And although Joule's representation in the game changed over time, there are some things about her that remained consistent throughout the whole development process. Her colour palette, her trademark scarf and hat and goggles, all these things remain very much the same. But just the way she was drawn and the style in the game was different.
Her robot companions--the CoreBots--still retain a lot of that same original charm. Just the way that they're shaped, from outsized proportions to some of the details on their bodies.
I would say that was probably the biggest thing that we worked through throughout the process. How do we take a game with an initial vision that was very heavily shaped by Japanese influences and turn that into something which could appeal more broadly around the world? But everyone on the team was really on board with that; we wanted ReCore to appeal as broadly as possible. So those were happy challenges to work through.
Speaking of those robot companions that travel with Joule, are they characters who players will form relationships with and have stories of their own? Or will they serve more as tools to the action?
The characters are absolutely vital to gameplay. They are really the tools that Joule uses not just to fight in the world… but also to explore the world as well. So taking Mack, the name of the blue core, if you put Mack or any of the cores into a dog frame, it will have a certain number of attacks in combat that are different according to the core. If Mack is in the dog frame it is able to do stunning, electrical attacks. Which is the personality of Mack; he's very cheerful and sparky. Whereas if you put the red core named Duncan into the dog frame, he can do fiery flame attacks. Because Duncan is very angry and stubborn.
At the same time, the dog frame has important out of combat functions too. First and foremost is his ability to track and dig up items that are hidden under the ground. Indeed all the frames have combat abilities and out-of-combat abilities.
But they're not just guns that Joule puts in her hand. Each of them has their own personality, their charming behaviours, their animation set. We really wanted to make these tools full of charm and personality.
Joule starts off the story with just one CoreBot. Right away, they have a very close bond and the initial story is about a little adventure between Joule and Mack. As she meets these other CoreBots over time she's introduced to these personalities. They have their own backstories in the world. Joule's alone except for these CoreBots. They become a little group of adventurers, like a little family. Long story short, I would say that they're critical to combat. A lot of the crafting, upgrading, and player progression happens with the CoreBots. You spend more of your time upgrading them than Joule. But these CoreBots really are characters that drive the story forward as well.
Do they talk?
I don't know if you're familiar with the TV show Lassie with the dog.
Yes, I am.
So Lassie would run up to someone and bark and the little boy would say, "What's that Lassie, is someone trapped down a well?" And he would be able to intuit what Lassie was trying to tell him. The same is true with Joule. She's able to understand the CoreBots' language, which we call Digimote. Sounds a little bit like R2-D2 from Star Wars--bleeps and boops.
Joule can understand it. She's able to communicate with them and they speak back to her. If you were to turn on subtitles in the game, you would see that all the CoreBots lines are subtitled. But just to make it fun for players, the subtitles are actually in the Digimote language with a special character set. They look like little glyphs or symbols. We hope players will enjoy translating those.
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Will there be Metroid-style progression gateways? E.g. Encountering areas which you can't unlock until later using a new CoreBot.
Yes, absolutely. It's an element of the game which we haven't talked about too much until now. We really like to call ReCore a semi-open world game. What we mean by that is that it's not an open-world game like Skyrim or Red Dead Redemption. But the game world is broken up into smaller semi-open world hub areas. As you move through those areas, the first time through you'll see things that you don't have the tools to reach yet. Or should I say, the CoreBots to reach yet. The [CoreBots'] abilities allow you to come back and reach these spaces once you've acquired them.
Sometimes these environments will contain useful power-ups or a treasure chest filled with some blueprints for some frame upgrades for your CoreBots. But the most interesting contents are entrances to dungeons that you weren't able to reach before. Every one of these semi open-world areas is built around a central story dungeon… but they're also filled with a handful of these challenge dungeons as well. Just like in Metroid, and there's a little bit of this in Mega Man as well; we're always teasing you about places you could go, adventures you could have, if you just come back to this area later.
What's the incentive for players to return to these extra areas and clear every single one of these extra dungeons?
Two things: to finish the game story, the player will need to go back to a limited number of these places where they've been before, to find objects to help unlock the final levels of the game. In some of the trailers that we've shown, Joule is holding a rainbow-coloured Core. It turns out that these rainbow-coloured Cores--called Prismatic Cores--are keys to certain things in the world. These rainbow Cores are hidden throughout, and hidden in some of these challenge dungeons.
Some of the other big cool things that you'll find in these dungeons are upgrades for your CoreBots and armour pieces that you can craft. These armour pieces not only raise their statistics, but change the way that CoreBots look and the way that they behave in combat. For players who not only want to finish the game but really maximise their CoreBots, there definitely are those rewards hidden away in the dungeons as well.
There are also time challenges for these dungeons. And we think ReCore really lends itself to speedruns and replay. These are just a small handful of reasons why we're hopeful that people will go back to these places. The harder, high-skill platforming sequences occur within them.
This story has been updated.
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