Rabbit and Steel PAX West 2023: a co-op roguelike with MMORPG raid boss fights and loving rabbit girls
There's been a small game that I've been keeping my eye on for awhile. It's not necessarily a RPG from top to bottom, but it hyperfocuses on a unique subgenre in the RPG space. I was able to meet with Maiden and Spell developer mino_dev to chat extensively about their new project, Rabbit and Steel. Just like Maiden and Spell, Rabbit and Steel is also a project that's solo developed by mino_dev himself with some outsourced help on the audio front; we get into that later in our chat with him.
Rabbit and Steel is a co-op action roguelike, but all of its battles play out like a MMORPG raid. It supports up to 4 players and there's a large emphasis on team coordination, pattern recognition, and character upgrades for the title's various different character classes. Both local and online co-op is available in Rabbit and Steel when it launches some time in 2024 on Steam.
Watch the trailer below if you're unfamiliar with the title before reading the long chat I had with mino_dev. It'll provide a basic breakdown on how the game looks and works.
RPG Site: How did you conceptualize this game in its early stages?
mino_dev: It’s kinda of an idea I had; my first game, Maiden and Spell, was a bullet hell game and I didn’t want to do another one. I was playing a lot of Final Fantasy XIV and I came up with the idea of “ok what if its dungeons were sorta really simplified?” and it felt like something I could do. My previous game was a bullet hell online fighting game, so you were sending bullet patterns over the internet.
My thought was “I could do that, but for raid mechanics. That would be a fun game. That’s not something I see a lot.” Part of what makes MMOs special is that you can do all of those things in one game and a lot of the parts of MMOs over the years have kinda gotten chipped away by other games. Y’know, there used to be a big PvP scene and now there’s League of Legends, so not too many people PvP in MMOs. There used to be a lot of social interaction, but now there are survival games like Minecraft or Roblox and people go to those for the social interaction.
One thing about MMOs that I haven’t seen a standalone game of is the MMO raiding experience. It’s this teamwork boss fight that’s a very unique experience to MMOs and that’s usually because it’s very complicated. I feel like FFXIV found ways to simplify that thing and I found some ways to simplify it even further, so it's more of a pick up and play experience.
RPG Site: Yeah, MMO raids are more than just dishing out as much damage as you can. It’s a lot of pattern recognition, recognizing enemy behavior, and dealing with cycles, especially when it comes to enrage timers as well. Trying to explain that to someone is difficult because a lot of the time, the expectation is to put so many hours into a MMO to see it.
mino_dev: And then understandably there’s a lot of people that don’t want to skip that stuff. Recently, FFXIV had that growth where a lot of people came in from World of Warcraft. A lot of the high level raiders just wanted to see the raids, so they got the level boost potion. It shows that there is a crowd of people that solely want to play that sort of game - the high level, coordinated teamwork game.
RPG Site: When designing this game and you were putting it together over time, what were some unexpected things that you thought weren’t going to be difficult, but turned out to be more difficult than you expected?
mino_dev: Just the upgrade system, honestly. It’s so simple now - how it works now is the faster you kill the enemy, the more levels you get which improves your DPS. I knew I wanted some sort of thing to say “ok, you need to do damage quickly and you need to be pressing buttons”, but I wasn’t sure how to translate that into player power. The first six months of development was just “ok this is the system… no, I’m going to change it this way.”
After every battle, you used to have a menu that popped up and you’d upgrade your abilities. Then, the treasure screen wasn’t something you could freely control; it was like its own menu of “What do you wanna do with this treasure chest? Are you going to open it?, etc.” and all that sort of stuff. The building characters part was difficult. I knew the battles as they look now was what I wanted for the actual game, but everything surrounding it was quite a challenge to get simplified enough to be obvious and fun.
RPG Site: Right, so as you’re going through the stages, it seems very seamless. How do upgrades work when little-to-no screens are popping up throughout them? What does the current build of the game look like now in that regard?
mino_dev: You get more levels the faster you kill enemies, which increases your DPS so you want to kill enemies fast. There are treasure chests along the way that will heal you and give you a loot item, which usually has some drastic effects on your gameplay. The loot items are especially big things. Then at the beginning of each stage, there is also a shop that you can spend gold. Gold also drops from enemies and more of it drops if you kill it faster. That can be used to change the four moves of your character, which changes how you’re playing the game. There are also potions that are temporary boons that get you through a stage; they’re very powerful, but they’re also temporary buffs.
RPG Site: For the characters in this game, is there some sort of class system? Is there a designated tank or is everyone just kind of DPS?
mino_dev: Everyone is kind of DPS. The health system and targeting is much closer to a roguelike than it is a MMO. If you get hit, you get hit; health is hard to recover. There’s no healing class or anything. It’s like The Binding of Isaac in that way - health is a precious resource, don’t lose it. The enemies just do attacks. There’s no targeting or auto-attacks, so there’s no need for a tank either. Everyone is trying to do damage, coordinate, and not get hit.
RPG Site: Is there an overall progression system aside from the roguelike experience, such as a persistent upgrade system?
mino_dev: You do unlock items that appear in future runs. There’s also cosmetic items and some of them are quite difficult to get; they require you to do pretty hard challenges. And they’re shiny, just like the MMO experience. There’s nothing particularly like upgrades in this aspect because one thing I wanted for the game is that I wanted it to be an experience where you literally can just join a lobby and play the game. I didn’t want it to be like “oh you don’t have the +1 Wing’s Cap so you’re not allowed to play with us because you aren’t strong enough.” That’s why there’s no power upgrades.
RPG Site: That’s smart. How much content is going to be at the game on release and do you plan on supporting it over time with further content updates?
mino_dev: Content-wise, there’s going to be more stages obviously and more character classes. There are some extra things I want to add as free DLC. Maybe I’ll just get them into the game when it releases - I’m not quite sure yet; I’ll have to look at the release timings. There are certain things I want to achieve with the game and whether I get it done before the game releases or whether that’s post-release DLC, I’m not quite sure. The game has a story. Whether that story gets fully told within the first release of the game or if there’s a little bit of DLC that finishes it is yet to be decided.
RPG Site: How’d you settle on the characters being bunnies?
mino_dev: Ok, so previously they were generic fantasy characters… well, I wouldn’t say completely generic, but there was a crow character who was a wizard and then there was a wolf character that was a rogue. You know, I was just drawing things and at some point, I feel like I could just draw rabbit characters forever. I can just continue making new rabbit characters and I thought that sounded interesting. “Oh it’s a roguelike and it has some fantasy characters”, so you’re just like “eh, whatever”, but if all the characters were rabbit girls, then instead you immediately go “what’s going on with that?” I just love rabbit girls, I guess.
RPG Site: Was there a lot of fine-tuning when you were developing the visual cues of incoming attacks?
mino_dev: Oh, yes. In fact, I’m probably still tuning them to this day. At the very beginning of development, I wanted to add a lot of the things that you see in MMOs. One thing in a MMO is a soak marker, where one player has to stand in something or otherwise it will explode and hurt the party. That’s something I tried to put in and I tried all sorts of visual cues, but even myself playing it back - I could tell that no one is going to see that and no one could tell what that is.
One of the first things I came across is that there’s this sort of spinning circle from my previous game; a character had a move that made a spinning circle like that and it fired bullets outside of that spinning circle and if you were inside that circle, you wouldn’t get hit. So I co-opted that back into the game and it works pretty well as a soak marker.
Later, when I added certain elements of soak markers, such as another mechanic where you match colors like where two players would get green and two players would get purple and then they would have to stand together, or maybe there’ll be a purple field in the area and then the purple players would have to stand in that - that’s kinda how I did it, but the visual indicator looks very similar to the stack marker which you learn early.
One particular thing that I’ve been having a lot of trouble with, and I probably still need to adjust some visual effects, is the AoEs and some lasers. Sometimes, people don’t see it and just run into it. There’s also some lasers that go across the screen and some people will say they can’t tell them apart from the backgrounds. That’s still a work in progress.
RPG Site: That’s definitely one of the biggest hurdles in MMO-type raids I imagine, when you think about how do you get people to intuitively define what they’re seeing on the screen.
mino_dev: It’s kinda backwards because the things I was worried about - people seem to get, but it’s the things that are obvious, like “Fire bad — that is fire — fire bad so don’t stand in that”, but they don’t see it because everything is a circle and the fire is also circular. Then people are confused about which circles are bad and they don’t know. I want to tell them “the circle with the fire is bad, I don’t know how else to tell you this.” So yea, still a work in progress.
RPG Site: Were there any other influences from Maiden and Spell that carried into this game? As you looked back at the previous game that you made, were there any sorts of elements that made you go “oh, I can use this sort of system in my next game as well”?
mino_dev: Two things - one is that they’re all floating and that’s something from Maiden and Spell, which is heavily inspired by Touhou so I guess there’s a little bit of Touhou in this as well. I’m not sure if that was a good decision or not because it kinda gives an impression of what kind of game this is, which may not be entirely accurate but it’s what I went with.
RPG Site: I think it gives the game its own distinct identity and I think more and more people will understand it as they keep on playing.
mino_dev: The other thing from Maiden and Spell is the four moves. In Maiden and Spell, you also had two moves that were sort of spammable, then one cooldown, and then one defensive cooldown where it would prevent you from taking damage somehow. That’s also directly lifted from Maiden and Spell. The setting is different though.
RPG Site: When it came to its audio and what sort of audio cues people should listen for, what was your approach to that in thinking about the audio design of MMO raid fights?
mino_dev: Some of the sound effects are lifted from Maiden and Spell. I also actually hired a sound designer to do a lot of the audio cues and I’ve been kind of giving him instructions back and forth because he doesn’t play many MMOs, so I’ve been like “ok this sound effect needs to be really distinct.” It’s been very back and forth with the audio designer to try to get the things that people need to hear to be heard. All the other things that are less important are given a more quiet sound effect that still indicates that you pressed a button and such. I’m not a sound person myself, so I’ve been mostly asking for hired help on that one.
RPG Site: And that’s a tough thing to do too because there’s so many overlapping sounds in the middle of a fight, so you have to make some sounds more piercing and you’re hoping that other people get it.
mino_dev: The music designer though, the person doing the music, is an avid FFXIV player. He cleared the latest Omega Raid two weeks after it was released, so he’s a serious FFXIV player.
RPG Site: So they understand the assignment.
(At this time, we were watching people play Rabbit and Spell and they were at the shop menu)
RPG Site: In this shop menu, is that basically where the bulk of your character upgrades will be? Basically, character enhancements in-between fights?
mino_dev: Yes, so two characters bought the Opal upgrade item so their attacks are going to be different. Basically, there’s a thing in the shop like the Opal or the Garnet upgrade for your secondary attack. That Opal primary attack upgrade does different things based on the character you chose. Both of those players got that item but since they’re playing different classes, it’ll do different things to their primary attack.
RPG Site: And collecting currency is based on how fast you kill a boss, if I remember that right?
mino_dev: Yes, you get anywhere from 0 to 10 gold based on how fast you kill the boss. Usually, you get 7 or 8 if you’re actually pressing buttons but if you’re not pressing buttons, you’ll probably get less than that. If you have an extremely overpowered build, you might get 9.
RPG Site: How did you settle on the 4-player limit? I assume you experimented with other numbers.
mino_dev: Nah, I pretty much just said 4 is good. That’s about what you can fit on the screen, I think.
RPG Site: While still being comprehensible.
mino_dev: Yeah and it’s also the classic video game number for players. If I limited it to 3, some 4-player group that usually plays video games together - someone will be left out. Of course, you can still have a 3-player party if you want in Rabbit and Steel.
RPG Site: Does the stats of bosses scale based on how many players there are?
mino_dev: Yes. They do get more HP, but the amount of HP per player decreases so at one player it’s at 100% HP, two players it’s at 180% HP, and at three players it’s roughly at around 240% HP - something like that. Each successive player needs to do less damage to help kill the boss. If you’re trying to kill the boss fast, having all 4 players is the most advantageous because I don’t want players to go “oh we have 3 players and having a 4th player will make it worse.” It does kinda balance out because 4 players on-screen at once is very chaotic at times, especially when they all have items and moves that are firing off.
RPG Site: Thank you so much for your time mino_dev! Thanks for chatting with us about your upcoming game, Rabbit and Steel.
If you want to learn more about Rabbit and Steel, go check out the Steam News Hub for the title that's filled with developer log updates here.