As I recently realized, Song of Nunu is shaping up to be a special game that may not be just the happy and cozy adventure game it looks to be from its trailers.
We recently sat down with the Creative Director at Riot Forge, Rowan Parker. We spoke a bit about the creative design process at Riot Forge, but a majority of our interview was about their upcoming adventure game Song of Nunu. Don’t worry, Rowan was sure to keep the interview spoiler-free.
DESTRUCTOID: In case some readers aren’t familiar with Song of Nunu just yet, can you give us a quick rundown to set the story as well as what to expect gameplay-wise?
ROWAN: Song of Nunu is definitely a different pace of game, both for those who play League of Legends and those who have played previous Riot Forge games. A lot of those games were a little more combat or action-focused whereas Song of Nunu is more heartfelt and warming. A more personal human story, a very touching experience. The studio that we’re working with, Tequila Works, does a really good job of telling intimate and personal stories and narratives like Rime, The Invisible Hours, and The Sexy Brutale. They are very good at this kind of storytelling.
Song of Nunu is going to be the first time fans of League of Legends have encountered this type of story. A warm buddy adventure of a ten-year-old boy and his best friend who happens to be a yeti going on an adventure together. I’m really interested in seeing the LoL audience play Song of Nunu which is a very different tempo. Also, if they are not familiar with Tequila Works games, they are in for a surprise, because their games punch hard on story. If you have played one of their previous games like Rime, you know exactly what’s about to happen. And if you haven’t played Rime, what a delight it will be. Those players aren’t going to know what hit them when they start playing.
DESTRUCTOID: Yeah, for sure. Tequila Works certainly knows how to punch hard. As a follow-up question to that, even though what we’ve seen in the trailers for Song of Nunu has been a happy cozy adventure, I assume that’s not the full story?
ROWAN: Nothing bad could happen right? What could go wrong? They’re going to have a wonderful adventure and they’ll just be happy the whole way through. Nothing bad will happen.
DESTRUCTOID: OK, now I’m even more excited. In the trailers released so far, we’ve really seen the focus on Braum and of course Nunu. Given the setting, will we be running into some other characters from the Freljord? Are you able to share who we can expect to encounter?
ROWAN: The characters we have shown and announced so far are obviously Nunu and Willump, after all it’s their adventure. Braum took us on a tour of the Freljord. Everyone knows Lissandra is going to be in the game. I love Lissandra as a villain or antagonist because she really is a tragic villain. It’s not super clear-cut with her. She thinks she’s doing the right thing and saving the world. She’s the definition of ends justify the means. The problem is that her means are quite dark—pun intended—for how she is trying to achieve her goals. But in her eyes, she is being altruistic and noble. And in the most recent trailer, we showed that Ornn is in the game. I don’t know who else we’ve announced yet but I won’t say anymore there.
DESTRUCTOID: Fair enough, but is it safe to assume we will encounter some more characters, right?
ROWAN: Yeah. I do want to iterate though, with Riot Forge games, we tend to not kitchen sink our games and jam as many characters in as possible. I think one of the reasons players enjoy the voice performances and deep storytelling and acting with Riot Forge games is because we choose to go narrow and deep on character explorations. With that, we can really execute the characters and really flesh them out and build their personality and world. We couldn’t do that if we jammed 50 champions into every game. As with other Riot Forge games, there will be a constrained cast, but they will all be rich and interesting.
DESTRUCTOID: You’re making this too easy for me because this actually leads into the next question I had. We’ve seen Braum specifically not front and center in a couple of different Rune Forge games. Can we consider him the Riot Forge mascot at this point?
ROWAN: Two to be clear, but it is more than one, so I get it.
DESTRUCTOID: Oh hey, I’m not complaining, the voice actor for Braum, JB Blanc, absolutely nails it. There’s no better. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing at all.
ROWAN: Oh I know, and if you’ve ever met JB in person, JB basically is Braum as a human. He kind of looks like Braum a little bit but also his personality, he’s just warm and heartful. He’s the soul of the room and needs no warm-up time in the booth to become Braum. He just turns a switch on and he is Braum. JB is a delight to work with.
But yeah, I don’t know if I’d say Braum is the Riot Forge mascot. He just happens to be a champion who has shown up in two games and is the first to do so. He’s definitely a more minor role in Song of Nunu compared to Ruined King where he was one of the six main characters of the game. But I like Braum, so more Braum can’t be bad. Also, we’re in the Freljord with Poro’s, could we really NOT do Braum?
DESTRUCTOID: For sure, you can’t go wrong with more Braum. In his Hero Lessons trailer for Song of Nunu, we see what looks like sort of a snowboarding mini-game using Braum’s shield. Is this something we will be doing often? What other sort of mini-games are there gameplay-wise?
ROWAN: I don’t want to spoil the story or other stuff that’s not in the trailer, so I won’t go too deep into it. But there are a lot of different types of gameplay in the game. Song of Nunu is a story-driven adventure game, but it would be boring to just walk for the whole game. There are a lot of puzzles in the game, both logic and cognitive puzzles. And, they do get quite challenging as you get later into the game. You will have to layer up a lot of the mechanics you’ve learned and really analyze some of the deeper puzzles.
There are light combat sections as well, as you can expect from Nunu and Willump. But it’s more of a light palette cleanse and tempo change. Tequila Works does a great job of keeping the pace of the game fresh so you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing throughout. I’m not quite sure I’d call any of them mini-games, but there are sections like the one you mentioned with Braum shield-surfing.
DESTRUCTOID: Now that I think back with my time in Rime, and knowing what Tequila Works is good at, I can definitely see the blend of puzzles and other types of gameplay.
ROWAN: It’s an adventure, right? Tequila Works tells great wonderful human stories. And they do really well with companions too. Do you remember the fox from Rime? Willump is like a super version, one of the better companions I’ve ever seen in a game. We spent a lot of time on Willump to make sure he felt like a believable, breathing, and living best friend. We’ve all played those games where companion characters can be annoying or get in the way. We spent a lot of time making sure Willump feels really good and like he is actually helping you while having his own personality as a living creature.
DESTRUCTOID: Let’s shift a little bit. Riot is extremely lore-rich in terms of its world and characters. So far Riot Forge titles have seemingly focused on a specific character. What is the design process for this decision? Do you pick a character and build a specific gameplay around them, or come up with the gameplay goal first then find a character that fits with it?
ROWAN: So when we approach studios, or they approach us, there’s actually no template for the game ahead of time. A lot of people think we go to a studio with an idea and we ask them to make the idea…that’s not how it works at all.
When we first reached out to Raúl at Tequila Works, we had no plan of what to do. The first thing I asked was, “What kind of game do you want to make? What kind of story do you want to tell?” And then we spent time talking through the lore and IP, talking about the gameplay that we wanted to work with. Raúl actually pitched us on his first choice which was Nunu and Willump. I think when he first pitched us on Nunu and Willump he probably expected us to say no, but I think it’s a great pick for Tequila Works. They do a great job with companion stories, especially with a ten-year-old boy like Nunu as the character. It’s very relatable compared to, say, Aatrox or Aurelion Sol. It could be kind of hard to get personal with a space dragon.
Obviously, they don’t know everything about the IP and world like we do, so that’s where we come in and help them build out the story and the world together with them. But the initial idea or the aspirational target for the game actually comes from the studio.
DESTRUCTOID: That’s actually a really cool design process, I like that it’s not “Hey this is what we’re doing” ahead of time.
ROWAN: I’m of the opinion no studio wants to be told what to do. Also, the reason we’re working with them in the first place is all the studios we work with are pedigreed studios with a great legacy of games. Tequila Works has made amazing games. They don’t really need us to tell them how to make the game, so really it’s a partnership.
DESTRUCTOID: If there is a League of Legends player who has yet to check out a Riot Forge game, what would you say to them as far as why they should also give a Riot Forge game like Song of Nunu a try if they are a League of Legends fan?
ROWAN: For Song of Nunu specifically, it’s like no other game that Riot or Forge has made before. It is a very heartfelt and emotional story that will tug at heartstrings. People will cry when they play this game. It is a very different change of pace not just from LoL but other Riot Forge games as well. If you’re someone who has been playing LoL forever or even if you’re someone who never has and doesn’t know anything about our characters or world, Song of Nunu is possibly the game that people will just enjoy playing without knowing anything about the League universe.
DESTRUCTOID: I did not know Song of Nunu would be such a deep game, I’m very excited for it now.
ROWAN: A lot of people might not know what to expect with a Tequila Works game, so I’m excited for people to play their first Tequila Works game. And probably get ambushed halfway through the game by feelings.
DESTRUCTOID: What sort of threats are Nunu and Willump going to encounter that will make their journey not so pleasant?
ROWAN: We know Lissandra is the antagonist. With these story-driven games, I really don’t want to spoil any story of what’s going to happen. But for players familiar with the world, we are in the Freljord, so there’s some stuff you can encounter there as well as some champions. When you think “How much trouble could a ten-year-old get into in the Freljord?” Especially when it’s Nunu and he thinks he’s invincible while Willump frantically tries to protect him from stuff. For people familiar with the lore, there are some surprises in Song of Nunu.
DESTRUCTOID: I’m almost getting similar feelings from a narrative standpoint of the new God of War titles, where you see Atreus grow while encountering threats.
ROWAN: Oh yeah. Let me first set the expectation here, it’s not God of War. But something I have to mention, did you know we have a hug button?
DESTRUCTOID: I did not know that.
ROWAN: There is a hug button in the game. You press the button, and Willump gives you a hug. That’s it. That’s the button. I’ve had some people ask if you get experience points or any story of reward for doing that. Nope. You press the button and he gives you a hug. I think every game needs a hug button. But that’s the kind of game we’re going for with Song of Nunu. The kind of game that has a hug button.
DESTRUCTOID: Gah, see, I already know now it’s just going to hit me harder than I expected. I don’t know what’s coming but knowing that I’m scared.
ROWAN: I think you probably could guess what’s coming. The question is, what flavor is it going to be?
DESTRUCTOID: So is this a game that I can—or should, even—play with my children?
ROWAN: I would not classify Song of Nunu as a kid’s game at all. The puzzles get quite difficult later on, there’s a lot of depth to some of them. But is it a game you could play with games in the room or that they could watch along as you’re playing? Yes. It doesn’t have a high maturity rating or anything, but I don’t know if you could just hand the controller over to a child and have them successfully execute some of the later gameplay mechanics. But they can definitely sit along on the couch with you and cheer along while you play.
DESTRUCTOID: Thank you for highlighting so much about Song of Nunu to me. I’m so excited now that I know it’s not only a cozy make you feel good sort of game.
ROWAN: Well I mean, Song of Nunu is going to be cozy, and it will make you feel good. But you’ll have to earn the good feels, and there might be some tough feels on the journey along the way. In the end, it’s about the journey.
Song of Nunu is available for pre-order now on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam, Epic Games Store, and GOG.com ahead of its November 1 release. Other console releases will follow later. A warm and fuzzy Collector’s Edition is also available directly through the Riot Games Merch store for all confirmed platforms.