Last year, Ready at Dawn — a studio best known for creating spinoffs of series like Jak and Daxter and God of War — released its first original game, the werewolf-infested The Order: 1886. And while the game served as a beautiful showcase for the relatively new PlayStation 4, there was one constant complaint from critics and players: the game wasn’t very interactive. The Order was full of cut-scenes and quick time events, which gave it a cinematic feel at the expense of the actual gameplay. But for the studio’s next release, a colorful multiplayer game called Deformers, it’s going in a very different direction.
“The foundation of The Order was the [intellectual property], creating something that felt different in the gaming world,” says Ru Weerasuriya, founder and creative director at Read at Dawn. “That was the driving force then. Here the driving force is gameplay. The very first idea was gameplay, the very last idea will be gameplay, too. It’s only driven by that.”
Whereas The Order was a straightforward single-player experience, Deformers is the opposite: a multiplayer-only arena combat game where teams of squishy cubes battle against each other. But despite the vast differences between the two, Deformers wouldn’t exist without The Order. Deformers started life as a physics tech demo. One of the most striking elements of The Order is just how realistic everything looks, and Weerasuriya says that much of that is due to the “soft body” physics system the studio built for the game, which allowed softer materials like clothing to move in a way that looked real.
In August 2014 — when The Order was still in development — a two-person team at Ready at Dawn went to work trying to build a prototype game based on that technology. “That spawned this little idea of a game,” says Weerasuriya, “that in the beginning was really about deformation, and one blob eating another blob.” Deformers features squishy characters that can change shape to perform new abilities, like rolling, dashing, or jumping. These blobs — called “forms” — can then absorb fallen foes to get bigger and stronger. Deformers also features very flexible multiplayer; you can play both online and locally, and create teams of any size with up to eight players total. (This means that battles can be everything from four on four to one vs. seven.)
Deformers is only the studio’s second original release, and Weerasuriya says that the studio learned a lot from working on The Order. “We are being much more direct in killing our own babies,” he explains. “Sometimes when you make something it’s really hard to let go of it, and right now we have a much easier time just knowing that — even though something might be really cool — saying ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter, let’s move forward.’ We have that attitude now and less attachment to things we think should stay.”
The studio, which is best-known for its PlayStation games, is also working with a new partner, as retailer GameStop will be co-publishing Deformers as part of its new GameTrust initiative. (Deformers will be the second game released through GameTrust, following Song of the Deep from Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games.) “It’s quite different because of the stakes at hand,” Weerasuriya says of the partnership with GameStop. The studio has full creative control over what it’s making this time, and because the game isn’t a huge blockbuster meant to showcase new hardware, there are fewer middlemen to intervene in the process. “We’re now able to make decisions much faster,” he says.
No release date has been announced for Deformers, but it’s expected to launch “soon” on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Weerasuriya says that Deformers doesn’t mean that the studio, which now totals around 100 people, will be moving away from big-budget console games, but instead it’s a chance for Ready at Dawn to try something new; the studio is also trying its hand at a currently unannounced virtual reality game.
“We have, for lack of a better word, gaming ADD,” says Weerasuriya. “We shift gears where our passions take us.”