Thirsty Suitors Interview
Thirsty Suitors is the debut title from Outerloop Games and combines the eclectic primary gameplay elements of turn-based combat, skateboarding, and cooking. The game follows Jala as she returns home to Timber Hills on a reconciliation tour following a(nother) bad break-up. RPGamer was given the opportunity to put some questions to Designer and Creative Director Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake as well as Co-Founder and Animator Aung Zaw Oo about the game’s ideas and creation.
Alex Fuller and Johnathan Stringer (RPGamer): Can you give a basic rundown of Thirsty Suitors and its main gameplay mechanics?
Chandana “Eka” Ekanayake (Designer and Creative Director) and Aung Zaw Oo (Co-Founder and Animator): Thirsty Suitors is a fantastical RPG about culture, relationships and family pressure with turn-based combat, skating and action cooking. All these mechanics tie back into Jala’s story and her return to Timber Hills after a big break up. She’s back in her hometown to face her exes, reconcile with her parents and to figure out things for herself.
RPGamer: Can you give some backstory on the idea of the game and how it was built upon?
Outerloop Games: We were initially thinking about a game about immigrant culture and arranged marriage. The name Thirsty Suitors came out of that. At that time it was going to be a card based game, and after some conversations we decided we didn’t have enough first hand experience with arranged marriage to properly tell stories about it for a full game. Also, card games are hard to make, so we decided to make something simpler, an RPG with three whole games worth of mechanics smashed together into one.
RPGamer: What possessed you to put interactive skateboarding and cooking gameplay into a turn-based RPG?
Outerloop Games: Cooking and passing down recipes is a big part of Asian culture, and it’s a time where your parents might be more willing to talk to you about things. Some of us grew up in families where things of importance or things like feelings weren’t talked about too much, and the only way some of our parents would open up is when they were focused on activities like cooking. We wanted to use that approach for Jala and her parents to reconnect. While the recipes are all real, we put more emphasis on the emotional growth between characters during cooking sessions while performing wild acrobatic action packed cooking moves.
We’ve always had some sort of skateboard animations in our games because our animator Azo is a skater. In Thirsty Suitors, skateboarding started out as a playable loading screen mimicking 90s skate videos where the only things the player could do was move side to side and jump on rails to grind. When the early prototype was shown to family and friends, there was an overwhelmingly positive response to the skating. So we ended up building full 3D skatable environments, and skating became the main mode of transportation for the player. We eventually added optional skate challenges to the game to leverage the full 3D skating mechanics we’ve built. These optional challenges are the hardest elements players can choose to engage in. These challenges take inspiration from Trials’ ninja levels, 3D Mario platformers and even a little bit of Super Hexagon.
RPGamer: Are there any particular aims you had in mind when creating the animations and overall visual style of Thirsty Suitors?
Outerloop Games: The battles represent a fantastical take on two characters digging up their past, having a heated discussion and reconciling their differences. Non violent, non contact combat was the goal from the beginning. The combat still needed to be visually exciting for the players, so the characters are doing very dynamic actions such as throwing holographic props and flowers at each other using various martial arts and acrobatic moves.
RPGamer: How much have the animations and gameplay grown across the game’s development?
Outerloop Games: The initial battle moves started out as dance battles that represent dramatic conversational exchanges. However, during the prototype phase, the first test attack animation is a literal dunking on someone (with a holographic ball), and that fits the flow of game play better than two characters taking turns to dance. So the dance battle idea was abandoned for the main battles. We still have a mini game version of the dance battle, but it has evolved to be more of a friendly activity rather than a representation of dramatic exchange.
RPGamer: Are there any personal inspirations that have driven parts of the game (in either the narrative or gameplay)?
Outerloop Games: Of course not! None of the stories, exes or family members are in any way referenced from any of our real life experiences at all. This game is not a way for the team to work through their trauma, experiences and fantasy. Nope. It’s all made up. Yep. Please don’t call our moms.
RPGamer: Are there any particular players Thirsty Suitors is built in mind for or you are hoping to attract to the game?
Outerloop Games: For fans of RPGs that don’t have 100s of hours to spare. We wanted to build a more focused narrative experience with engaging gameplay that you could finish the main story in a relatively short amount of time as RPGs go with enough depth for folks that want more.
RPGamer: How involved are players required to get into any of the different gameplay parts?
Outerloop Games: There are optional battles, optional skating challenges and optional cooking sessions throughout the game. For fans that like a particular part of the game, there’s more of it for them. The main story is about reconciling with each of Jala’s six exes and various family members. Past that, there are optional favors you can do for your exes to deepen that relationship.
RPGamer: What have been some of the biggest challenges in the development of Thirsty Suitors so far?
Outerloop Games: The biggest challenge and joy of this project has been making all these various gameplay systems working together mechanically and narratively and to tell stories from a particular immigrant point of view that we don’t see too often in games.
RPGamer: Has creating the different gameplay elements provided any ideas or techniques that have helped in other areas of the game?
Outerloop Games: We prototyped multiple variations of the turn-based combat that ended up influencing the turn-based cooking sessions where Jala has to win approval from her parents with each cooking step. The reason we explored the idea of turn-based combat for this game is because the dialogue options and choices are as important as the acrobatic attack or cooking moves. Jala can use various Moods or status effects against her opponents and after that follow up with a Skill attack that does extra damage once an opponent is in certain moods.
We use skating as a movement mechanic between battle and locations which lead to some good pacing moments and flow between encounters and exploration.
RPGamer: How have kept the style cohesive across the varied gameplay elements?
Outerloop Games: We have a ‘putting hat on a hat’ type approach to everything we do in the game. It can’t just be cooking, it has to be layered with acrobatic cooking with ancestral summons, parental fantasies of distant memories, fantastical Inner Worlds for each of Jala’s exes where each of them see themselves as their best superhero selves with costume changes.
RPGamer: Are there any elements that you’d particularly like players to keep an eye out for when they play the game?
Outerloop Games: There’s a lot of story built into items and environments that ties back into the story of Timber Hills and its characters. The game is chapter based, and characters and NPCs have various things to share and discuss in each chapter that’s completely optional, but for folks that want to it’s all there to experience. The choices Jala makes in dialogue with her exes and other characters will have an impact on gameplay and story throughout the game.
RPGamer would like to extend our deepest thanks to Chandana Ekanayake and Aung Zaw Oo for taking the time to answer our questions as well as to Mbinya Muthama and Talia Rotenberg from Fortyseven Communications for setting up the interview. Thirsty Suitors is in development for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch, and is being published by Annapurna Interactive. A demo is currently available to try out on Steam.