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Thumper interview – “Profound dread in a cosmic scale”

Thumper is Drool’s first effort – a nightmarish, pounding labyrinthine roller-coaster ride that I found utterly captivating.

You can check out Ryan Hamann’s review hereand Darren Gargette’s Quick Rinse video here – to give yourself an overview if you’re not currently familiar, but I recommend picking it up, turning the lights off and playing with headphones on and no distractions.

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Brian Gibson (above left) and Marc Flury (above right), of Drool, were kind enough to answer some questions on their inspirations, what’s going on in the Korean indie scene, developing for VR and what’s next for them.

In Thumper’s visual style, I can see elements of Jeff Minter, like a kind of nightmarish psychedelia, and there have been comparisons drawn to the tentacled horror described by Lovecraft. What were the inspirations for the visual style?

Brian: There are too many inspirations to count all mixed together. But a big one for the whole tone was 2001: A Space Odyssey. With the smooth perfect geometric forms, the sense that they are intelligent yet utterly unrelatable to.

From games, I’m a big fan of ones that use a subtractive approach to the art style. That is stripping out any visual information that is not essential to the gameplay, even at the expense of variety.

I think that minimalism can pull you deeper into a world. Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Flower and Journey, as well as many early classics like Super Mario Bros. are great examples of that.

It certainly seems that there’s been really positive response to playing the game in VR mode – deepening immersion and focus (although – full disclosure – I haven’t yet played in this mode).

Were you always planning to make the game for VR? Did you find any additional challenges developing the core game as well as developing for VR?

Did you find it at all daunting coming out as a PSVR launch game?

Marc: We started developing Thumper years ago, when reasonably good VR was still a fantasy.

We developed the core experience without thinking about VR at all. To be honest, we were lucky Thumper works so well in VR, but supporting PSVR was still a lot of work.

We had to redesign elements of the rendering, camera, and effects systems to work in VR. And we had to do a lot optimization to hit 90 frames-per-second in VR. But we didn’t change much about the gameplay or level design.

Overall, being a part of the PSVR launch lineup was a very positive thing for us and for the game. But hitting the hard deadline was brutal.

It made for a lot of stress and personal sacrifice. As a two person team, releasing a game on PC, PS4, and PSVR simultaneously was overwhelming. I don’t think we could ever do it again!

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Brian, you’re known for your music as half of Lightning Bolt. The soundtrack to Thumper is quite different, feeling inspired by horror movie soundtracks (Wendy Carlos/The Shining especially) and industrial music, would you be able to take me through some of you influences and inspirations whilst composing?

Which came first, the music or Thumper (seems like such an apt title)?

Brian: From the beginning, we were excited about the idea of building our own tools and gameplay language, and then having a unique musical form emerge from that. So the gameplay was always the first consideration, and I tried to keep an open mind about where the music might lead as the gameplay developed.

We had a clear sense from the beginning of the dark visual tone, but it took some time to find a musical style that we felt matched.

And yes, ultimately I took some cues from Wendy Carlos and some Kubrick soundtracks, to capture that feeling of profound dread in a cosmic scale.

Orchestral percussion echoing through giant caverns and swelling dissonant beds felt to me like a perfect match.

Marc, you’re involved with the indie scene out in South Korea – are there any projects or teams up and coming that you’re particularly excited by? The 27 Oct Seoul Indies meet up seems to be heavily focused on VR, have you seen much uptake in regards to indies developing for VR now that the final retail versions of the headsets are out there?

Marc: I’ve lived in Korea for over five years and it’s be a pleasure to join the independent community and see it grow. There are many Korean developers working on interesting stuff, but a few projects I think deserve more attention: Gassy Mob by Jaewoo Jeon, Replica by Somi, and Counter of Death by Curlking.

Korea is a huge games market and there is a lot of interest in VR. There seem to be VR events and conferences every month for the past few years. But big Korean game companies are still focused on traditional mobile and PC games.

I think VR is still too much of an unknown and big companies don’t know how to hyper-commercialize it yet. So Korean indies have been leading the way in VR. For example, my friend Jonghwa Kim has already created interesting VR games and is working on his next one, CRANGA!: Harbor Frenzy.

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You’re two weeks out from the launch of Thumper at the time of writing – I know you’re adding support for the Vive, but once that’s implemented what’s next for Drool?

Will we see any DLC for Thumper or will you be moving onto a new project? As both of you have a pedigree in rhythm action – would you like to applying this experience to other genres in the future or is there more you’d like to explore in rhythm games (more rhythm violence)?

Marc: In addition to PC VR support, we have some additional content on the way that should excite people who like the game. We’ll see about full-blown DLC expansions. If we feel we can do something new and interesting with Thumper DLC, we’ll probably do it.

Actually, I was far from an expert in rhythm games when we started Thumper. Most of my time at my previous job (at Harmonix) was spent programming menu systems.

The best thing about making Thumper was that it felt like an adventure and we figured out things along the way. So we definitely don’t want to do the same thing again. We’re excited to start something new.

More information can be found on Drool at their website: http://drool.ws

I can’t recommend Brian’s band Lightning Bolt enough: https://lightningbolt.bandcamp.com/

Marc can also be found reporting as a foreign correspondent on Chicago-based radio show, This Is Hell

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