Rivals of Aether is one of, if not, the best looking Super Smash Bros. inspired game the public has ever seen. It has a widely accepted competitive scene, and is also fun for casuals alike.
Recently, we sat down with some of the developers behind it to learn more about how Rivals of Aether became what it is today. Among our interviewees were the lead of the project, Dan Fornace, a music composer, flashygoodness, one of their spriters, Ellian, and finally the community manager, Etalus.
How was it moving from Super Smash Land to Rivals of Aether?
Super Smash Land was a smaller project in every way. But without completing it then finishing a bigger game like Rivals of Aether would have been impossible. The platformer engine that I built for Super Smash Land is also the base for Rivals of Aether. There are a ton of upgrades, but you can still see and feel some similarities with how the two play.
What led to the idea of Rivals of Aether and its design?
Rivals of Aether is pretty much a weird combination of the two personal games that I created before it - Super Smash Land and Elementimals. The first was Smash style demake while the second was a card game very similar to Triple Triad. You can find two WIP versions of Elementimals online.
I wanted to bring the element theme and lore over from Elementimals, which focused on the four elements as the core of the new design I added on top of Triple Triad. I felt that the elements would also work well in a fighting game as it could help give context to movesets and also give inspiration for how to make cohesive movesets. I also had a random design doc lying around of character designs. In them was Orcane which was basically just Vaporeon at the time but expanded out to all the attacks. Forsburn was also in that old design document but only his smoke screen and teleporting abilities. These designs already had a little bit of an elemental style to them so translating them into matching one of four elements fit.
The visual designs on the character were made to emphasize the gameplay designs. Fast characters should look fast. Strong characters should look strong. The animals and personalities were decided to match the movesets that I created.
Except for Orcane obviously being inspired by Vaporeon in Super Smash Land and the Tower of Heaven stage, was there anything else from Super Smash Land that made its way into Rivals of Aether?
Yeah there are a few things. No ledge grabbing is something that we saw in Super Smash Land that I liked, and decided to bring over to Rivals. Megaman’s recovery in Super Smash Land inspired Kragg’s pillar a bit, but instead of a platform it was actually solid ground that Kragg pulled up. Also the flat orthographic style with the stages and some of menu design resemble Super Smash Land, especially during the early days of Rivals of Aether.
Hero:What was the direction you guys took with the art of Rivals of Aether?
Readability, mostly; There's more effort put in the startup and recovery frames than the actual attacks, so that players can quickly read what attack is coming, and if possible in which direction, just by seeing the first few frames.
As far as Character Design go, the main point for me is making the silhouettes recognizable. Everyone have a pretty unique shape, and body types that are very different; with sprites this small it helps a lot having very different shapes.
Finally, colors are kept to a minimum, to keep things simple; most characters have 2, 3 main “tones”; any more would make the sprite very busy, and animations a mess for the players.
Hero:What inspired the music for Rivals of Aether?
For this project, I tried to imagine the feeling of experiencing a brand-new score in the golden era of 2D arcade gaming around two decades ago. I looked at the composition techniques and acoustic nuances which originated from composers working around hardware limitations on the SNES, Genesis/MegaDrive, and various arcade boards released between the late 80s and the early 2000s. These traits gave the music a unique kind of charm and I aimed to channel that feeling for this soundtrack.
Hero:What was the idea behind Abyss Mode?
We wanted an endless challenge mode that was varied while also giving the player something to grind and level up. I think grinding in games works if the gameplay is fun enough. For example, in Smash Bros, I enjoyed playing Endless Melee or even Cruel Melee but wasn’t motivated by only high scores. So in Rivals, we allow the player to level up each character and unlock cool customization by playing Abyss Mode. We also made sure the Abyss Mode endless challenges were fun in their own right so players could have fun both playing and progressing.
Hero:Is there any Beta content that didn't make it into the final product of Rivals of Aether?
Dan:A lot goes into a game that gets cut, upgraded or replaced. Two of our stages - Fire Capitol and Treetop Village were originally made by me but then updated by the pixel artist Johan Vinet.
Below are some clips and screenshots of early builds of Rivals of Aether.
Some attacks were removed like Maypul’s drill or Etalus’ old armor. Some things didn’t make it in but we still want to add them, like online Abyss Versus mode.
Hero:Could we expect some more content updates to Rivals of Aether? Like in the form of characters or stages?
Dan:Yes. We have a post-launch plan in place of 6 new characters. There are no definite time tables on any of them yet but we are hoping to bring the first in early Summer 2017 and it will be a guest from a different indie game.
Then in the Fall, we would like to add a pack of 4 new characters (one for each element) and a new gameplay mode of some sort. Four characters releasing at once is sure to shake up the competitive scene as well.
Finally early next year we would like to add our final addition. Another guest from another game.
After that, we aren’t sure where development will take us. I would like to complete the game with a definitive edition sometime in 2018 and maybe even update Story Mode to include some of the newer characters. But that’s a long way out and we’ll have to see how 2017 goes.
---------------------------------------------------------------Rivals of Aether is a strong example of how you can make a Super Smash Bros. inspired game, without being Smash all the way. It has a great scene for competitive players and even the casuals out there. If you're interested in seeing more work from the Rivals of Aether team, feel free to follow their Twitter!
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Creator Showcase: Rivals of Aether