There’s a moment early on in the first chapter of Rain, which I think is absolutely perfect. In a world of invisible creatures, the boy is only visible to the eye when there is rain hitting his body, forming a lonely looking outline of his figure by which he can be found – but as he passes under shelter from the rain, he can no longer be seen.
Moving into the dry, he’ll leave footprints in his wake initially, but stay under cover long enough and even those will disappear, leaving you with no way of knowing where he is. You can guess and extrapolate, that’s for sure, but this naturally gets trickier as more time is spent out of the rain.
Developed by a subset of Japan Studio
Exclusive to PS3
Has a central on/off polarity mechanic based on rain
Out later this year
So when he passes through a long and covered passage way during this first chapter, you gradually lose this sense of his position. In an atypical moment of unexplained tutorial, this area is also filled with objects.
Chairs, towers of children’s playing blocks, ladders and so on litter the area, and it’s nearly impossible not to bump into something. Except that’s where I found a particular delight, clattering into these objects and playing with being hidden from view.
It’s not a world without dangers, and this ability to hide when out of the rain acts as a fairly simple light and shadow mechanic, for when you encounter the various monsters. The four-legged beasts at the start of the game take on the form of a kind of large skeletal dog, and aren’t too difficult to avoid. When they see the boy they will soon give chase, and you will want to run to hide from the rain and the monsters in the dry.
Uncertainty and curiosity
“We want players to feel uncertain… Do you remember when you got lost as a child?” asks Noriko Umemura, Producer at Japan Studio and PlayStation C.A.M.P. for this title. “You are outside of your neighbourhood and you are scared, and you’re all alone. At the same time, you’re also curious, and want to see a little bit further, step that little bit outside. That sort of uncertainty is what we’re trying to create here.”
Initially these monsters do create that kind of uncertainty, as they’re not averse to entering or passing through the shelter from the rain. At no point are you truly safe from their attacks, but this you will soon become familiar with, and is an aspect which is used in the game’s puzzles.
Hiding away from the rain means that the monsters can’t see the boy, but they can still be lured through the various game areas, in order for you to progress. The boy can jump into puddles, creating a noise which draws them into the dry, as you sneak quietly through the area they just occupied, or in another section draw a monster through a series of dry patches as it chases fleeting glimpses of the boy as you run ahead of it.
As I finished the first chapter, designed to be fairly linear and gently introduce players to the mechanics one at a time, Noriko took control to give me a whistle-stop tour of some of what else would come.
“[At the start of the second chapter], you are chased by another monster, the monster from the beginning scene, who is smarter and physically strong.” She explains as she plays. “He can guess where the boy is, even when he is invisible, so I have to keep running, or keep myself unseen in a place he doesn’t expect.”
Your nemesis, a relentless hunter
This is the real antagonist in the game, a bipedal enemy with a stark and angular design, who will ceaselessly hunt for his prey. The real target is the similarly invisible girl, who you have been chasing after since the delightful watercolour based introduction.
It has the potential to blossom into something of a relationship similar to that of Ico and Yorda, and you will have to interact with the world to help her on her travels, selflessly putting yourself in harm’s way to let her escape this relentless monster, which is reminiscent of Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis.
When I asked Noriko about these kinds of similarities and inspirations, she replied, “Although we didn’t take direct inspiration from particular titles, we’re quite a small team, and we’re from similar generations too, so we grew up playing the same games. We have quite a lot of games in common, as our favourite games, so I think we took those games we played before as our inspirations subconsciously.”
As the areas which the boy passes through start to expand in scale, the game also begins to allow for much greater exploration, as the puzzles become more complex and you try and figure out how you want to proceed. For those replaying the game, secrets are tucked away which reveal a deeper story underneath this seemingly simplistic tale.
The further chapters also add fresh ideas for you to play with. Fresh monsters continue to be introduced, with one particular sort not being hostile towards you, or even paying you any attention in the slightest. These tower above you, but offer a spot of cover underneath them, allowing for a subtle twist on that core mechanic.
Even something as simplistic as muddy puddles are added to the blend of gameplay elements.
“This is a very small additional feature, where I stepped into the mud, and now I can be seen when I’m not in the rain. You can use this to your advantage in different scenarios. For example, if you’re in a giant space where there is no rain, and you want to be sure where the boy is, you can step in the mud on purpose, or if you want to get the monsters’ attention.”
A certain European style
A large church and a seemingly vast abandoned factory are two centrepiece locations early on, with quite a distant camera often being used to make the boy look particularly small and alone in comparison, as you explore and possibly even get lost. Images from later in the game also hint at a circus, and a giant bridge which really shows off some impressive scale. Something must be said of the art style here, which borrows heavily from European cities.
It’s excellently suited to the game, I feel, as it places you into a world which spans and is familiar to many cultures. At no point could I really pinpoint a single source, as the cobbled streets could have been inspired by any number of cities, though I’m sure that I spotted a sign written in German. There is certainly a distinct early-20th Century feel, given the electric lights, and the occasional motorcars from that period.
“We took references from many places around Europe, to create this one world, so players can find a connection or similarity to this world, and yet it’s totally different. So a feeling of nostalgia is also what we’re trying to achieve here.”
This is echoed by the Classical music, which accompanies the gameplay. The original reveal trailer was set to Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune, and this enchanting piece once more features early in the first chapter, but it’s a springboard for the original compositions in the rest of the game’s score.
“Throughout the game, because it’s always raining, we chose Classical music because it goes really well with the sound of rain. As you said, we chose Debussy as our opening music, but there will also be original music throughout the game, which is Classical but has a lot of variety.
“It’s always Classical music, but as the gameplay gets more dynamic, the music also gets more dynamic to enhance the game.”
I was certainly struck by just how well the music fitted with the game. At times it might just be a solitary piano, but as the world opens up to you the music adapts to suit, with additional instruments, from strings to classical guitars and accordions, joining to add depth and highlight particular moments in the story.
In the footsteps of giants
As Rain follows in the footsteps of a recent flurry of inventive and fresh PSN exclusive games such as Journey and The Unfinished Swan, it’s quite interesting to see the developers heading down paths which make me reminisce about those and other titles.
“Japan Studio is encouraging us to create new and innovative experiences with new game mechanics.” Noriko replied, when I asked about the expectations surrounding the game.[drop]“So with the success of Journey and Flower, those creative titles definitely encouraged us to create a different style of title. We’re quite excited at the moment, by their success in the market.”
In fact, PlayStation C.A.M.P. is already quite an unusual team, and one well suited to creating new experiences. They were behind Tokyo Jungle, for example.
“PlayStation C.A.M.P. is a section of Japan Studio, we have new talent from different backgrounds, and some of them not even from gaming backgrounds.”
“Actually, one of the key game designers working on Rain used to be a florist!”
“So it could be they’ve always been huge fans of games and always wanted to work in the game industry, and we recruited a lot of new talent from different backgrounds, and they have very flexible ideas and new ways of working, as well.”
As I walked back across a part of London yesterday, it’s as if Rain had taken hold of my subconscious on this appropriately damp day. I found myself moving from the shelter of one store front to another, dodging past the umbrella wielding monsters of the capital, and spotting the footprints of those who had sought cover before me. Maybe there was an invisible boy hiding somewhere, too.
Our thanks to Noriko Umemura for demonstrating and talking to us about Rain. You can follow the game’s development, and get a peak at some of the concept art behind it on their dual-language facebook page. Rain is set for release on PS3 via PSN this Autumn.