Strange Rain video preview

Game designer Erik Loyer's Ruben & Lullaby was a finalist in the Achievement in Art category during the Independent Games Festival's 2nd annual mobile awards ceremony. His studio Opertoon's most recent iPhone and iPad release Strange Rain has just received a free update, providing further experiments in interactive storytelling.

One of the new features offered through the update is the ability to control how much rain is falling as the story unfolds, affecting the volume of the background audio. In addition, new music for the update has been contributed by composer Chris Schlarb, whose soundtrack to NightSky by Nifflas is available to stream in full on Bandcamp.

"Possibility in Amnesia" for Strange Rain (performed by Schlarb on acoustic nylon string guitar, Andrew Pompey on drums and cymbals, and Philip Glenn on violin) can be heard in the embedded player below, though this arrangement represents just one interpretation of the interactive score. The instrumental track unfolds dynamically within the context of the app, depending on how you play.

We had the chance to catch up with the designer and composer during the E3 Expo in Los Angeles to hear about these compelling additions to the experimental iOS application.

On the website for your studio Opertoon, you have expressed an interest in integrating together different disciplines, particularly game design, comics writing and music compostion. Would you describe a little further what it is you are interested in exploring in game design?

Erik Loyer: Pretty much my entire career I have been interested in combining storytelling, music and interactivity in some form. Comics have occasionally played a role as well, particularly with Ruben & Lullaby. Those are areas where I feel there is a lot of potential to explore in the context of touch and gesture-driven platforms, especially iOS.


How have you been looking to use this mobile platform for novel methods of storytelling?

For Ruben & Lullaby, the app uses touch controls to shape a story that has no words. There's also a music component that's very dynamic. Instead of thinking of the score in terms of loops and layers, the way it's typically done, it's created on the note and phrase level, which gives you a more intimate connection with the music than you would otherwise have. I think that was something that interested Chris, and at that point we started talking about doing a collaboration.

What aspects of the collaboration did you feel were furthering your objectives for the iOS application?

Listening to his music, one of the things that was really appealing to me was the emphasis on acoustic sounds. He's an expert at creating texture and ambiance. I thought that would be really unique for a touch-driven musical interface that works on the level of the phrase, given that a lot of interactive music tends to be more electronic in nature.

We talked about how that would come together and he started recording some sketches. Gradually other instrumental layers were added to build up the texture of the piece, paying attention to subtleties. For instance, the main melody is played on acoustic guitar, so if you hold your finger down long enough, when you release it you'll hear a little squeak from the strings of the guitar.

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Chris Schlarb: When Erik approached me to do a new score for the game, I knew from the beginning that I would work with a trio of instruments: guitar, violin and drums. I wrote the guitar chord progression first and sent it to him. Once he approved it, I wrote the violin parts with my friend Philip Glenn. Then I had a recording session with Andrew Pompey, who played drums on the NightSky soundtrack.

All of the music for NightSky is composed of acoustic recordings. For this iOS application, what was informing your creation of the interactive music?

What Erik is doing with Strange Rain is ambitious, but it's also very focused. It's trying to give you insight into one area of human experience. The gameplay experience itself is very unique and contemplative.

I wrote a lot of space into the piece, knowing that it would be manipulated. It wasn't a standard composition that was later turned into something else. The rhythm is open and nothing was written to a metronome. This is the first time I've done something where the user is controlling the music. I don't have a lot of experience with that and I just wanted it to be a simple, natural feeling experience. Erik and I worked closely on revisions and the final presentation has a freshness each time I play through it.

What opportunities has the medium of iOS presented for doing something out of the ordinary on Strange Rain?

Erik Loyer: The way the story unfolds, every time you touch the screen within the Story Mode of the app you get roughly a sentence of text, a thought of this character you're experiencing. As you're touching the screen the text tilts to the left or right depending on where you're touching. The text is actually orbiting around an invisible center point that's positioned as if it were inside the user's body as they hold the device. Things like that you can't do on a PC or laptop platform and give the text more of the feeling of an intimate connection.

Strange Rain is an experimental narrative form, doing a number of things that people might not be used to. What have been some of the responses you've received that you feel validate that experimentation?

There have been feedback emails saying, "The app helps me to relax," or "It's part of my wind-down routine at the end of the day." Even more than that, there's been demand for more story content. Most people probably haven't experienced this form of storytelling before, so for them to say that they want more of it feels like a validation.

Images courtesy of Opertoon. For more information on the creators, see the official websites of Erik Loyer and Chris Schlarb.