June 4, 2020

Developing Exit Limbo: The Passion Project Of A Close-Knit Team

Exit Limbo Interview

Exit Limbo is a very special project both for Giovanni Cantele and for IndieGala as well. And you can say that developing Exit Limbo was a process. Fun but, long and hard process at the same time. The team behind the Exit Limbo video game worked tirelessly for years and years to perfect it. So, the result of that effort is a neo-retro side-scrolling beat ’em up with adventure elements. Trust me, it’s awesome. It’s also fun, engaging and retro-inspired video-game with a humanoid rhino as the main character. The game will bring back so many of your childhood memories, and you won’t be able to put it down.

Developing Exit Limbo: Stay tuned for the game itself

Clear your calendars this summer, because Exit Limbo is officially being released. But of course, the release of the game was the main motive for this particular interview. The process of creating the game and everything that came with it, right until the finish line. All of that and more is in this interview. We hope you’ll like it as much as we did.

Hi Giovanni. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and congratulations on the upcoming release of the Exit Limbo. I gather that it was a long road to get to this point. Could you walk the fans through the process of creating the game?

Giovanni: Making this game was the underlying motivation when we opened a creative studio about a decade ago. Whilst working to earn our bread and butter, offering services in 3D graphics, Concept Art and Toy design, we brought the project along. It all started with an animated mock-up of the concept and gameplay to solidify our objectives.

We had little extra resources, worked excruciatingly long hours and lacked a programmer who was willing to sacrifice copious amounts of personal time to the arduous task. We really needed funding to give us space and time to develop the game properly but we felt unprepared without an attractive prototype to show what we were capable of first. Luckily in 2017 we finally found our programmer, and thanks to his efforts and sacrifices we were able to make a great-looking prototype, find funding and work on this first chapter of the final game 

There were many difficulties on a technical level, being a fully 3D game behind the scenes. We had to experiment a lot to make it work the way it does. We had to built and rebuilt our tools to fit the game-play we had in mind.

Developing Exit Limbo

The 80’s and 90’s as an inspiration

Plenty of games from the 80’s and the 90’s served as inspiration for the team. Scroll down to find out which ones were a particular favorites in developing Exit Limbo.

I love the retro arcade style of the game. It reminds me of the arcades that I grew up with as a child. What retro games served as an inspiration behind Exit Limbo? Were those some of your childhood favorites, and if so, which ones?

Giovanni: Yes, beat ’em ups of the ’80s and ’90s are a major inspiration for us. The Streets of Rage and Street Fighter series were at the top of my list. Back when we started I remember reminiscing fondly on the side-scrolling genre and wondering what it could have become if 3D action games hadn’t taken the spotlight. We wanted to elaborate on a formula: keep it recognizable yet push the envelope a bit. At the time there was nothing out there that had revamped the genre and this stimulated me to do it even more.

Can you tell me about the gameplay? Exit Limbo is a reinvention of the classic 90’s beat em up games. But some novelties give the game a more modern touch. How will these additions improve the experience and what can the players expect from them?

Giovanni: We wanted to work the fighting system so that it could be accessible on a superficial level, playing much like an old school brawler. But also give some more meaty mechanics for those who want more to chew on. To not overcomplicate the input scheme we opted for a Tech Mode. A single button input that has multiple functions.

Firstly, it locks the player on the z-axis if held, not allowing them to move up and down but instead to hop and duck. This allows for evasive moves and when timed right, deals a hefty walloping. If tapped at just the right time during an enemy attack, the player can counter, resulting in a fatality that often involves limb tearing and gives the player a health bonus. Not for the faint-hearted!

The severed appendages can also be used as clubs to batter enemy hordes. This system also allowed us to develop a set of special moves that will feel quite familiar to a Street Fighter fan. These features of the fighting system (and more) give many extra layers for beat ’em up fans to personalize their fighting style, but also allows newcomers to play with just the basics at first.

Mr. Rhino is one hell of a character

Exit Limbo describes Mr. Rhino as a humanoid rhinoceros who lives in a small flat with his cat in Modena, Italy. He has a crappy job which he does without enthusiasm. He feels alienated and being self conscious of his aspect, he avoids social situations due to the fear of rejection. He’s relatable as much as he’s exciting. Which is why developing Exit Limbo was a really fun and exciting process for the team. But I’ll let Giovanni to tell you more about it.

I also loved the characters in Exit Limbo. There are some wacky bosses and enemies, but Mr. Rhino really blends beautifully with the unique level and intricate setting. Not to mention that character sprites are hand-painted and brought to life with 2D puppet animation. How was Mr. Rhino created and what did you envision in the visual making of this character?

Developing Exit Limbo

Giovanni: We wanted our characters to look sweaty and blood-drenched, visually blending in with the macabre and moody environment. With this in mind, we really wanted to push the boundaries of what a 2D sprite puppet could look like.

The painted sprite parts have additional painted layer masks and normal maps which make the sprites react to lights in a way that creates cohesiveness between the world and the characters. We really wanted to avoid the “flat cutout on a 3d background” look which would not have given a gritty enough feeling. 

The game’s main setting is in the city of Modena, which is now populated by Mr. Rhino’s inner demons. They manifest themselves in the form of bizarre undead creatures (like the brainless sheep army). How did they come to life? What was the inspiration behind some of your finest characters?

Giovanni: Most of them come from poking some fun at local stereotypes and subcultures. Some inspirations are from personal interrelations. A mixing pot coof personal opinions and ideas playfully rendered and elaborated to make fun and interesting characters. It’s all a manifestation of Mr. Rhino’s character after all, is a reflection of how he sees the world around him. But we had to start from something that’s rooted in reality.

Let’s talk about Mr. Rhino for a moment. What I love the most about the character development is relatability. But I feel that he’s much like any of us. He has a job that he despises, lives a solitary life and feels both self-conscious and alienated. What was the inspiration behind Mr. Rhino’s character?

Giovanni: We feel that Mr. Rhino is a well-suited character to identify with if you’ve ever felt stuck in rut in life. A cathartic kickback to frustrations of modern life and the feeling of loneliness and isolation. Despite his vulnerabilities, he rages forward and tears apart anything in his way. He’s an expression of willingness to take obstacles head-on and reflects our determination to get this game out.

Making Exit Limbo over the years

The process of developing Exit Limbo was interesting to say the least. The inspiration behind it, the obstacles that the team had to overcome and so much more. And of course what the team in Virtual Craft Studio is hoping: for Exit Limbo to be appreciated for what it is. A retro-inspired passion project of a close-knit team from Modena. Developing Exit Limbo was not an easy process, but it was done with love and much devotion from the team.

What are your expectations regarding the fans’ reaction to the game? What’s the response that you’re aiming for with Exit Limbo? Especially from the fans of not just 2D games but also the scrolling beat-em games as well?

Giovanni: I’m hoping they appreciate the vision of a game that was made by a close-knit team of 3 very hardworking people. It’s not meant to run on nostalgia alone or be just a tribute. Based on a familiar game format we built something personal on top what we would like to share. The focus was to try to innovate on a lost genre, which seems a bit of a contradiction but it gave us the freedom to experiment from a common ground that long time gamers will recognize. I hope they’ll find it a refreshing take.

I’m also hoping that we can continue to deliver and work on the following chapters to flesh out the story and introduce characters and features we have in store for the future. This is the first entry of Mr. Rhino’s treacherous adventure and we want to make more, based on feedback, for the people out there who appreciate the world we are creating.

I must say that your depiction of Modena is hilarious. I’ve been to Modena and my impression of the city was different. It was lovely although I was there for a day (It was a pit-stop on my way to Florence, but still- it counts) it was a beautiful city. But I loved how you described it as a city of mosquitoes, huge monsters, pork-based cuisine and peculiar wine. Could you please describe Modena as it is now, in mid-2020 for the fans?

Developing Exit Limbo

Giovanni: We love our city. It’s provincial, not too big, not to small with bubbly personalities and bubbly red wine called Lambrusco. Pork is a part of almost every traditional dish and in summer you sweat like a pig whilst in winter you freeze your chops off. Rich as the traditions that remind you of exactly what time of year you are in.

The decision to use Modena as the setting of the game was simply to keep it local, to work with what we know and integrate into our creation. The world you see in the game is a depiction of Mr. Rhino’s interior strife, which looks like Modena but could have been anywhere, really.

Recently bars and locales have opened up after the COVID-19 Pandemic and the city center is back to life. The great thing about Modena is that one can just walk into the center and meet up with friends, or make new ones. There’s hardly ever need to make elaborate plans because familiar faces are all around you and you always end up bumping into friends. This is how a lot of the people involved in this project got to know each other, actually.

And last but not least, I have to give a special mention to the awesome soundtrack of Exit Limbo. Made by the members of the Exit Limbo band, the soundtrack throughout the game is really atmospheric and fits the game perfectly. What’s the history behind the Exit Limbo Band and how did you envision the music part of the video-game?

Giovanni: The band formed back in 2011 when I brought together a group of musicians that could share a similar vision, despite coming from very different musical influences. The idea was to consciously avoid the trends and rather focus on being creative and malleable, exploring our own individuality as a group.

For one of our music videos, we decided to depict a limbo-like city inhabited by humanoid animals. It features a rhinoceros on his way back from work who eventually tore off his work suit and finds an exit. This was to become our mascot and the embryotic concept of the videogame.

So the video-game is an integral part of the music and vice versa and they grew alongside one another. The inclination towards a retro-style game was symbiotic to a taste in Retro Wave music, which inspired us when writing a new album that will serve as the soundtrack to Exit Limbo Opening. We are looking forward to performing the songs live as soon as possible after the pandemic is over.

Love, passion and commitment while developing Exit Limbo. All of that shines through in the game itself.

Thank you for your time Giovanni. I wish you lots of success with Exit Limbo!

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