I was asked to cover Risk of Rain 2 when it was on the tail end of its Early Access run. Indeed, I didn’t know what to expect, but I came in with an open mind. I knew that the original achieved modest success, but the sequel, even while it was still in development, blew it out of the water. Fast forward to the present and we’ve seen just how far Risk of Rain 2 has come thanks to its Anniversary Update. That led me to have a quick Q&A chat with Paul Morse, the co-founder of Hopoo Games.
Paul and I talked about the team’s design philosophy and how the studio handled major decisions, such as reintroducing the Bandit and making changes to the final level. Likewise, we talked about how the game is chock-full of secrets, including the Heretic character who can’t even be used at the start of your run. And, naturally, we discussed future plans for Risk of Rain 2 and where that success would lead Hopoo Games’ offering.
Risk of Rain 2: Q&A with Paul Morse – The present and the future of the game
PCI: The return of the Bandit was quite a surprise in Risk of Rain 2‘s Anniversary Update. How did you decide on which characters to retain from the original Risk of Rain and which ones would not be used for the sequel?
Morse: I think a lot of the reason we chose the Bandit specifically was the fact that we could see his design and kit transferring really well from 2D to 3D. The mechanics around his “Lights Out” skill resetting all his cooldowns based on if the hit killed the enemy made a ton of sense going into 3D where you can actually target and aim at specific low-health monsters.
There were other survivors from the original Risk of Rain that had unique mechanics and could translate well, but we wanted to give the Bandit a shot. One of the fun parts about developing on Risk of Rain 2 with a small team is that there is nothing set in stone. We generally work on what feels exciting to us and this was definitely the case for the Bandit. Who knows about future updates, but more of these characters could come over in the future!
PCI: Another surprise was the secret character, the Heretic, which required players to collect all Heresy items in a single run. Will we eventually see the Heretic playable from the selection screen, or will he remain playable only on a “per run” basis?
Morse: This is something that a lot of players have requested but, for us, it feels more special being a truly hidden character that players would discover naturally.
PCI: How much input was taken into consideration from longtime fans on Discord or social media? Were there moments when conceptualization got heated because “X is being demanded by players,” or times when you really felt like your vision wouldn’t be accepted?
Morse: We are always listening to the community for feedback and suggestions for what we work on next. I think there is a healthy balance between developers and the community for working on content that will get players excited. Our time in development during Early Access was immensely helpful in gathering feedback from the community and working together with players on making sure the content we were working on was up to par with what players expected from Risk of Rain 2 and the games we work on in general.
PCI: How did you conceptualize the final level on the Moon and the Mithrix boss fight? One of my main concerns was how the boss fight is easier when playing characters with high mobility, but is significantly tougher when you’re using characters with low mobility.
Morse: We wanted to make sure the final stage and the boss fight felt grand, and that it made players feel like they were truly challenged by the game. A lot of Risk of Rain 2 is about starting from nothing and turning your character into this all-powerful killing machine, and we wanted to make sure that even the best runs were still put to the test. The style of game lends well to having high mobility in general, and being able to avoid damage is going to be one of the biggest influences on how successful a run may turn out.
PCI: Another curiosity is regarding the changes to the Moon level. Previously, the Moon level was fairly empty (other than a few platforms that were hard to get to for some characters), and you just focused on reaching Mithrix. Now, there are several areas that are easier to navigate, but you also had additional objectives prior to fighting the final boss (this also means that the timer’s ticking while you’re doing these objectives). Was this a way to increase the challenge for the player, or just a means of adding more features to the final level?
Morse: The changes to the final level weren’t a means to increase the challenge or make it more difficult to actually beat the game, but to give more for the player to do and interact with on the final stage. The previous iteration of the final stage was a bit empty feeling by design, but we feel our new version of the stage gives players more interesting gameplay decisions and choices to complete the stage.
PCI: Risk of Rain was a hit in its own right (peaking at around 5.4K players). As for Risk of Rain 2, it peaked at 71K players and even its average daily players are more than that of RoR 1‘s peak player count. What do you think are the factors that contributed to its tremendous success?
Morse: We are still blown away by the numbers that Risk of Rain 2 and the community have been able to achieve over the last couple of years. We have a ton of really dedicated players who are always showing up to play our latest updates and check out what we have been working on.
We designed the updates in a way that players are encouraged to take breaks and play other games so they don’t feel pressured to constantly be checking in or waiting on the next big update. We want to make sure if they are going to choose to play Risk of Rain 2 that they are excited and there is something worthy of spending their time on. Having Gearbox as our publisher for Risk of Rain 2 has been a tremendous support system for us by allowing our small team to really focus on developing the game without having to worry about a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes into game publishing.
PCI: The Anniversary Update was a way to fully flesh out the game and add the content that didn’t make it to the 1.0 release. However, it also took a while before it was made available (the 1.0 release was in August 2020 and the Anniversary Update came out in March 2021). Was there a time when the dev team wanted to push out content in small, incremental releases, or was the team really committed to making it one big release?
Morse: I think this really goes back to the previous question about how we want players to interact with the game and the content that we are producing. We don’t feel the need to have smaller updates that won’t make a meaningful impact on the moment-to-moment gameplay for players. I think saving all of the content up for when we feel it has a positive impact works really well for us as the developers and the community as well.
PCI: We know that there will be a paid expansion later this year. Can you share any hints or details (i.e., how many new survivors, how many stages/bosses, and if we’d follow the same gameplay loop for maps)?
Morse: We are in the process of working on the overall scope and scale of this DLC now, so there isn’t anything we want to share just yet. However, we are really excited about the content we want to fit into this DLC and can’t wait to share more details as we get further into the development.