More often than not, your typical video game is inspired by movies, manga, or other video games. PS3 exclusive Rain is different. Typical, it's not.
"Initially, we were thinking about what would surprise everyone," Rain game designer Yuki Ikeda recently told me at Sony Computer Entertainment's Tokyo headquarters. "And we thought we hit on something when we came up with the idea of being seen and not being seen." The idea of using rain followed, providing a way to explore the gameplay mechanic and create a unique experience.
In the game, players are a 10 year-old boy who enters the world of Rain, where he becomes visible when he walks in the downpour. However, if he walks through doorways or under awnings and thus leaves the rain, he becomes invisible.
For Rain, Ikeda and the team at Sony's Japan Studio weren't inspired by manga or anime, but rather found inspiration in children's books. With manga, Ikeda notes, the story is told from the point of view of the protagonist. Children's books have slightly more of a distancing effect — like, you are listening to a story or watching it unfold before your very eyes.
That doesn't mean the gameplay is removed or indirect. Rain is described as a "stealth action game," but it has elements of platformers and puzzle games.
"Regarding Japanese children books, we were inspired by Komako Sakai. And from America... Do you know Goodnight Moon?"
Of course. Goodnight Moon was a childhood favourite, and it's a book my own children adore.
The look and feel of Rain is closer to Sakai's children's books; the influence of Goodnight Moon might not feel as readily apparent at first.
"I really like how it's about a child going to sleep, and the way it's told, bit by bit, was a big influence," says Ikeda. The way that the story unfolds does feel reminiscent of Margaret Wise Brown's story-telling style.
The world of Rain is a fantasy, but one that is grounded in reality — much like the best children's books. There is an element of truth.
"This is a stealth action game," says Ikeda. "And usually in stealth action games, if you are discovered, you can kill your way out."
In Rain, there are monsters that populate the world, and the young boy must avoid being detected by them. "You can't kill your way out in Rain," Ikeda adds, "and if you are discovered, it's really over — you die."
According to Ikeda, giving the young boy a weapon would make players naturally think they should go kill the monsters. The young boy in the rain, however, isn't given a weapon, which was an important design choice. "But if you don't let them have a weapon, then players begin to think that their only choice is to escape," says Ikeda. "They start to realise that the character is really just a little boy."
Even though Rain isn't realistic per se (invisible children don't appear in the rain), that doesn't mean the game isn't filled with realism. Ikeda wanted the game grounded in reality, and this melancholy fantasy has elements of realism — just like a good children's book.
"In Japanese games and games from other countries, you can see kids fighting in battles," says Ikeda. "But for me, I don't think a kid would fight if monsters appeared. The kid would run away." As Ikeda points out, if you think like this, then it would make sense that the child would naturally run away. Ikeda adds, "This made game design hard."
In-game combat can be a way game designers can pad playtime. Need another 30 minutes or another hour of play, add some more fighting. "If you make battle scenes, then you can easily fill your game — just add more battle scenes," says Ikeda. "If we did that, then Rain would just be your typical game." And like I said, typical, this isn't.