Children of the Sun developer René Rother on developing a vibe & why The Girl is not a hero

Children of the Sun developer René Rother on developing a vibe & why The Girl is not a hero
Images via Developer Digital

Written by 

Dave McAdam


26th Apr 2024 16:22

Indie games are a great space for tackling difficult topics, which is exactly where Children of the Sun comes in. The game blends shooting and puzzle-solving with the trauma of escaping abuse, the evils of cults, and cycles of revenge.

It's certainly an interesting game and one we thought highly of in our review, so the chance to speak with the game's developer René Rother at WASD in London was a learning opportunity we couldn't miss.

Taking the shot

With such an interesting game coming largely from a single developer, we had to know more about how it came to be, where these disparate ideas of the gameplay and the story came from, and how they came together.

The Girl walking through a purple dreamscape in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

"I didn't do any planning for the game actually, there was no game design document, no mood board for how I wanted it to look." Rother explains. "I was just starting it, and doing. I didn't think too much about like, how does it work, how does it feel, it was more of a gut feeling."

You can sense this through the game, as it feels like a piece of art created on a vibe. It's passionate, aggressive, and grungy. Not the kind of work you typically get from a team of creators working to spec. Children of the Sun doesn't hold back, and it is all the better for it.

That said, while the story and the presentation can be very chaotic, the gameplay mechanics are dialled in and purposeful, as you would expect for a puzzle game. There may not be a single word of dialogue, but mechanically it speaks plain as day. We asked Rother about maintaining the precision of the gameplay from start to finish, and how it was that this delicate balance came about.

Cultists at a fuel station in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

"I didn't even plan it at first. The whole game started as just a process, it was 'Okay let's do this, then this, what happens next?' Then Devolver came in, and then suddenly it was let's make spreadsheets, let's plan."

"The whole process changed into 'How does this make sense'. It's a sequence of things, escalating the gameplay. I had so many different enemy-type ideas, so I just boiled it down to whatever I felt was solid."

You can really get the sense from how René describes his process that his main priority is building a game based on what he loves, the themes and feelings that inspire him, and then finding somewhere for those pieces to fall into place.

Don't kill my vibe

The Girl sniping cultists at the train station in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

Knowing now that the themes of the game are the starting place for Rother's work on Children of the Sun, we were curious about what inspired them. Children of the Sun goes to some dark places, so we asked what inspired those choices.

"Music is a big inspiration for me," Rother told us. "I like melancholic things, this is very attractive to me. Whenever I was making games before for game jams and so on, they were always very atmospheric and small. Less about gameplay, and more about a feeling I tried to find."

"This is the first game I made which actually has gameplay, so it was a nice combination of things I did before with gameplay and suddenly it's a game, not just a random experiment, which is nice."

The Girl inspecting her gun in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

Nowhere are these sentiments more true than within the protagonist of Children of the Sun herself, The Girl. For those of you who haven't played it, the game's central premise is her violent rampage against a deadly cult that took everything from her.

However, The Girl is not an avenging angel, she isn't bathed in the righteously spilt blood of her enemies. She isn't a hero, and this was done with intention.

"I always wanted to do a protagonist who is definitely not a hero, I find that boring, and I wanted to keep it ambiguous. Writing is hard, you can write one sentence and everything breaks, everything falls apart."

"This game is more about feelings, conveyed through the animations and the visuals, so to me, it felt very natural to do this."

The realities of indie development

Games, even short ones built mostly on feeling, take a long time to make. While Rother clearly had a distinct vision and vibe for Children of the Sun, plenty of work went into making it happen.

Cultists at The Girl's house in Children of the Sun
Click to enlarge

"I would say four years. I did it on the sides in the beginning, it was when Devolver came that it became a bigger thing. But overall, four years start to finish."

That is a long time to dedicate yourself to a project, and thankfully the work seems to be paying off. While some speculated that Children of the Sun got off to a rough start, the game's creator paints a much brighter picture of the launch.

"Video game media, they all covered it, and they had great reviews. I think the one thing that was maybe a bit lacking is visibility, like influencers. Some of our influencers didn't cover too much, which I don't mind."

"The numbers are good, we still have a lot of wishlists, and everything is going very good. I thought it was very interesting, my game was just an example for the whole discussion [around indie game visibility and success], although I felt like my game didn't really apply there. I really appreciate the idea that people think that it deserves more visibility."

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Years of hard work to bring a creative vision to life seem to have brought success to Rother, so what's next for this creator?

"I want get a bit back into more social life. I've been working on this full-time for around two years, and it's a bit isolating. So I want to get out a little bit and then, maybe there will be an update [for the game] at some point."

Hopefully, some well-deserved rest and fun are ahead for René; after spending long enough developing a dark and depressing world, he's earned some time in the sun.

Dave McAdam
About the author
Dave McAdam
Dave is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon, after several years of freelancing across the industry. He covers a wide range of games, with particular focus on shooters like Destiny 2, RPGs like Baldur's Gate 3 and Cyberpunk 2077, and fighting games like Street Fighter 6 and Tekken 8.
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