In anticipation of Rune II: Decapitation Edition launching on Steam last month I had the opportunity to virtually sit down with Matt Candler and the team at Studio 369 to play some multiplayer Viking action and chat about the unholy saga that they have faced in turning the game around from its frankly disastrous and cursed initial release on the Epic Games Store last year. If you aren’t familiar with the story then you can check out our coverage here and here.
Alongside beating up vicious Draugr with their own detached limbs and avoiding talking about the US election that was taking place at the same time, we had a wide ranging and enjoyable conversation that covered everything from the Liverpool match against Atalanta that evening to the best Shakespeare quotes to accompany the onscreen action. But, mainly, of course, we talked about Rune II: Decapitation Edition.
TSA: Obviously, the whole Zenimax saga sounds like a complete nightmare. What was the sequence of events that saw Studio 369 take over RUNE II?
Matt: After Nov 13 2019 we repeatedly requested the final source code, and they repeatedly refused to return our property. During the first few weeks, we spoke to about six top Unreal Studios about the opportunity to take over RUNE II, the immediate work we wanted to tackle (Bugs, Optimizations, Localisations) and then future plans for the game. Every studio inquired about the status and quality of the codebase and assets.
Unfortunately, because we didn’t have source code and raw assets getting a work proposal and agreeing to a statement of work/schedule was impossible, because the scope could not be fully evaluated. Hiring a replacement studio would be very difficult because of this.
However, one of the teams was Symmetric Gaming. We had worked with Dan Nikolaides and Vic Lopez on other projects, and they are very, very good in using the Unreal engine. We started addressing the Core Systems that needed priority attention – Combat, Loot, Enemy Spawns, and we delivered this patch in April and May of 2020 (Lazarus Update).
Studio 369 was incorporated in March 2020 when it became clear that the team was working really well together. We were very effective being a distributed studio, we were having a lot of fun with the game, and we wanted to have a long-term plan for employees (benefits, stock) and the community.
TSA: Could you tell us a little more about the studio? What size is it, what prior experience did you bring onboard?
Matt: Most of the team has worked together on other projects at Phosphor Studios and Paramount Studios and Activision. Most of the team is in Vegas and Chicago, but also in a handful of other locations. Everyone was pretty much working from home offices at the start of the year so there was no impact [from Covid 19] to us whatsoever. We’re up to 18 people now and continuing to grow. Our prior experience is Unreal expertise: action, RPG, survival, building/crafting, online multiplayer games and operations, alongside F2P and premium monetisation.
TSA: The initial Epic Store release was a mess, although it has been improved since then; will current owners receive the Decapitation Edition or is this just a Steam release?
Matt: RUNE II: Decapitation Edition will be available on both platforms so the same version of the game will be in every Store. We initially made a custom Armor set for Steam User; but came to our senses and that Armor will be available to everyone who has previously bought the game and for a limited time after Nov 13 2020.
TSA: In some senses, the Epic exclusivity means that this will feel like a brand new release when it hits Steam. Has this given the team encouragement that they will be able to reach a new audience for their hard work?
Matt: The exclusivity expiration certainly gave us a definitive ‘target’ for us to focus on, and we had a lot users reserve RUNE II: DE on Steam Wishlist, so that made the goal very tangible as there was a clear demand for the game on Steam. We also looked at the one year anniversary with a grim reminder of what happened to us on Nov 13, 2019 and there was an intense desire to fix that. We’ve been updating the game on EGS throughout the year and this has been super helpful to receive that customer feedback and confirm that we’re on the right track. The RUNE II Community Discord has really grown and developed into a very good resource for us.
TSA: I guess the elephant in the room is the convergence of release dates with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. What does Rune II have to offer for gamers looking for an alternative to Ubisoft’s title?
Matt: Well, RUNE II: Decapitation Edition is extremely loot and level focused, we are way closer to an open world Diablo or Skyrim experience than we are to Assassin’s Creed. We’re quirky and wild; an out of control action adventure that you play with your friends and have a great time, kill a lot of shit and get a lot of loot.
A few other direct feature differences include: Our skill system focuses on the 3 Gods and the Godless (heathen). You can swap and re-spec your skills out at any time (while not in actual combat). We have Cooperative Campaign with a variety of difficulties so you can find that sweet spot of fun. We also have updated our PVP Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch modes. We don’t really see this as the ‘Elephant in the Room’ as we have been laser focused on Launching Nov 13, 2020. We don’t have any cutscenes either, our dialogue and quests are pretty hilarious and meant to just be entertaining and fun. And well, we’re going to be on Steam.
TSA: What are your hopes for RUNE II in terms of player base and reception?
Matt: We hope players say, “hey this is a fucking awesome game and I’m having a wild time,” and “holy shit, you can do WHAT in the game” and “this is a great example of not abandoning and walking away and doing what is right for the customers.” We’re already seeing a lot of positive feedback and thumbs up on our discord and other channels. The reception has been fantastic and exactly what we hoped for.
TSA: After a hard-earned break, what’s next for Studio 369 (aside from the inevitable bug fixes and patches)?
Matt: We have a patch planned for before Thanksgiving that is based on community and streamer feedback. We also have a December patch planned with a new dungeon, new loot, and new enemies.
We’ll probably be looking at a few other big ticket items that we’ve been working on and the community asked for (i.e. UI changes, dual wielding, TBD). We also have a new game design and concept that we’ve been pitching to investors/publishers and has been picked up; we will start production on in January 2020.
Rune II: Decapitated Edition is available now on Steam and Epic Games Store.