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Know Your Developer: Ragtag Studio

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A relative newcomer to the scene, Ragtag Studio is currently a three man team formerly from Wideload Disney and are currently working hard on their upcoming game, Ray’s The Dead. If that title sounds familiar, it’s because they were part of Sony’s Indie Showcase during their E3 2013 press conference. So what has the team been up to since then?

What I find really interesting about Ray’s The Dead is that it’s extremely hard to place into a particular genre. It’s story driven while also fusing elements from other games like being able to control minions, puzzle solving, and classic beat-em-up style fights. Plus, I mean, who doesn’t like resurrecting your fallen enemies to fight for you, right? Not only that, it features a very cool visual and hand drawn style. If you like what you’re reading and want to help these guys out, make sure to visit their Kickstater page right here.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris Cobb recently who was kind enough to spare some of his time for a little impromptu Q & A session.

For those who may not be familiar with your studio, if you wouldn’t mind, please give us a run down. Who is Ragtag Studio and how were you founded?

Chris Cobb: Sure! Ragtag Studio was started by Matt Carter and me. We were both working at Wideload Disney when the idea to break off and start our own studio began forming. After 14 years making games, we did exactly that in early 2012 when we quit our jobs and started Ragtag. A few months later, our lead programmer Shawn Halwes joined us. Our goals and ambitions were in perfect alignment so we tricked him into quitting his job and joining us in this luxurious life of no pay and long hours.

Ray’s the Dead is our first game as Ragtag Studio, though between the three of us we have shipped lots of big games including Halo Wars, Stubbs the Zombie, Thief: Deadly Shadows, to name a few.

What games have inspired you and your team growing up?

CC: All three of us have been die hard gamers our whole lives. Between the three of us we like pretty much every genre, but the one thing that we all tend toward are games with a strong narrative.

Matt and I are huge fans of games like ICO, Metroid and Legend of Zelda. These games have really great atmosphere and sense of place. They also have a really compelling story, even if dialogue is minimal or non-existent. These games are big influences on Ray’s the Dead.

I have always tended toward the unusual, which usually has me playing something Japanese or Indie. Like many, I’ve grown tired of shooters and simple button mashers. It’s great to see games with unusual mechanics or settings becoming more and more appreciated.

During E3 2013 Ray’s The Dead was featured on stage along with other independent developers, which had to have been extremely exciting. What was that like for the team?

CC: Honestly, being involved with the Sony press conference was one of the highlights of my life right along with being born and marrying my wife.

When you work for the larger studios, you are just one small part of a giant team. So getting to be involved in something like the Sony press conference is not reality. Additionally, when we started Ragtag just a couple of years ago, the thought of a tiny indie studio being on stage wasn’t reality either.

So we were a bit dumbfounded that Sony was willing to put indies on stage, especially in a year when they were releasing a new console. To have them hold us up and say ‘This is an example of a game you will play on your PS4’ was the greatest complement we could possibly imagine.

For those unfamiliar with Ray’s The Dead, can you provide an overview of the game?

CC: Ray’s the Dead is an unusual game that doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, but we are calling it a story-driven action-adventure game.

In Ray’s the Dead you control a single character named Ray. You’ll spend the majority of your time as Ray the Zombie, discovering and developing your ability to convert your enemies into allies and use them to fight and puzzle solve your way through all kinds of crazy circumstances.

But Ray is not just any zombie. He is cursed with a mind that hasn’t completely forgotten its past. Frequently, Ray will come across things that remind him of his past. When this happens, you’ll flash back to points in Ray’s past and spend time playing as Ray when he was a human. This serves as a really awesome mechanic that not only moves the story forward, but also introduces new mechanics and develops character relationships.

It may sound crazy, but it all works together really well.

What was the inspiration behind Ray’s The Dead?

CC: There are a number of influences at play in Ray’s the Dead.

Inspirations for its gameplay include the games I mentioned earlier, particularly Zelda. Other games that are a big influence are minion based games like Pikmin and Overlord.

Perhaps the biggest gameplay / genre influence was a game I worked on during my time at Wideload called Stubbs the Zombie. A lot of the ideas in Ray’s the Dead popped into my head while working on that project, which I still adore.

The story is heavily influenced by Matt’s love for the 80’s and his own childhood. There are a lot of fun scenes that are inspired by 80’s movies, and a lot of the interpersonal relationships come from Matt’s own experiences.

We do know that in addition to PC, Linux, and Mac platforms, Ray’s The Dead is also releasing on the PlayStation 4. Was creating a title for the PlayStation 4 always a plan or were you approached by Sony with this opportunity?

CC: Ray’s the Dead has been in development since before we even knew the PS4 even existed. We always liked the idea of releasing the game on some kind of console, but back when we started this that wasn’t as much of a reality as it is now.

The PS4 was announced about 9 months after we started development, and about 4 months after we had begun developing a relationship with Sony. The moons all came into alignment at PAX East 2013 when we met with our Sony reps for the second time. The PS4 had just been announced, our game was coming together, Unity (the engine we are using) had JUST announced support for PS4, and E3 was right around the corner. With all of those things lining up, the barriers for releasing on a console came crashing down and we decided to go for it.

What is it like developing a game for a fairly new “next-generation” console especially considering your previous titles were developed for mobile platforms?

CC: As a 3 person studio working on a rather ambitious game, we aren’t going to be the ones to push the hardware to its limit. Developing for really powerful platforms just gives us a lot of breathing room. Having all that power allows us to spend more time worrying about making awesome and less time worrying about performance and how to work around hardware limitations. We aren’t in a position where we need to squeeze every drop of power out of the machine, and that is really comforting.

In addition to Luke Rowell, you guys have Jake Kaufman working on the soundtrack which is pretty exciting especially when you look at some of the titles he’s worked on, most recently Shovel Knight. What’s it like working with Jake and what sort of style is he aiming for with the game?

CC: We first had the idea to get in touch with Jake after hearing his Double Dragon Neon soundtrack. With Ray’s the Dead taking place in the 80’s, we thought his style was perfect. We also thought he might be a super-hotshot and wouldn’t give us the time of day, but fortunately we were totally wrong about that.

Jake is amazingly diverse. If you listen to his Shovel Knight sound track, then listen to the tracks he has done for us, you would be hard pressed to believe they came from the same person. He is so easy to work with and it’s amazing how easily he grasps what it is you are going for.

Jake and Matt refer to all kids of classic scenes from 80’s movies when talking about what kinds of feelings they want to evoke. It’s a real treat to hear them riffing off of each other.

The soundtrack is in really good hands, we have no doubt it will be excellent!

For fans of your games and your studio, what can they expect to see in the future?

CC: That is a really good question! We are so focused on Ray’s the Dead we haven’t even begun to make any plans beyond it, but naturally we have lots of ideas.

I think it’s safe to say our games will always have a strong story at the forefront, but I’d guess everything else about the game would be quite different.

I hope to see us develop a reputation as a company that makes memorable games that surprise and delight. I hope all of our games make you laugh a lot, make you cry a little, but in the end have you come away feeling like you had a really great experience.

Anything else you’d like fans and gamers to know?

CC: We are running a Kickstarter for Ray’s the Dead that starts on Monday August 18th, and runs through September 21st. As a three man team, it really slows development to take the time to run a Kickstarter, but we NEED to do it as we require additional funding to hire a couple of contractors to help us. We hope you’ll check it out and get involved! We would appreciate it so much.

Thank you for your time!


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