We talked to Bradley Smith, of Miracle Tea Studios, about the inspiration behind Ruya, and the importance of the themes embedded within it.
So, what was it that set you on the path towards game development?
“I had a kind of unconventional bohemian hippie upbringing where creativity and a DIY punk mentality was encouraged. There was a lot of freedom. Some might argue too much. Both of my parents are self-employed and run businesses which I think is a reason why I’ve ended up doing that too. A family friend from Ipswich who carved his way into the games industry from the working class world was definitely an influence, he ended up with the first indie game on Steam.
The combination of seeing that growing up, while being immersed in skateboard and alternative subcultures, naturally gave a pull towards the independent game scene. There’s a lot of commonalities in the indie scene that resonated with the type of person I am and the way I was raised. I love the DIY attitude and the genuine need to express something poignant that some developers omit. Making games quickly became an outlet in my adolescence, especially at university. It’s always been very personal for me. It’s typically how I’ve worked through certain neurosis or insecurities. I guess it’s a form of self-therapy at this point as I’m often trying to understand or turn negative thoughts in my psyche into something positive – a philosophy I learnt from straight edge music. Tom and I formed Miracle Tea shortly after graduating in 2016, we’ve been making small intimate games ever since.”
Tell us about the main objectives of Ruya and how the game is structured.
“Ruya is a meditative puzzle game with emphasis on simple pattern recognition, it leads players down a somewhat solipsistic path. In Ruya, you’re solving puzzles in her own personal dreamscapes where your goal is to eventually wake up. It’s presented in such a way where Ruya is giving little pieces of herself away in order for her children to flourish by spawning flowers. Those flowers temporarily mask her antlers, which are figuratively and literally the depressive weight upon her shoulders. At the end of each level, these get washed away to reflect a temporary fix.
Ruya is ultimately about mothers that put everything into their children to deal with their own depressions, while being a game that mothers are likely to play. By gradually solving the solutions to puzzles in Ruya’s psyche you come to access her lost memories. Those memories are based on real observations from my own mother during times of grief. A lot of the nuances and meaning in the game most people wouldn’t ever fully register, but it’s the kind of thing we designed to be felt in a subtle way.”
What is the theme of the game, and the inspiration behind it?
I grew up very close to my two sisters and mother. When we were setting out to make Ruya, we had the intention to make a game for all the important women that have been in our life. The inspiration for Ruya will vary depending on who you ask in the team as each team member embedded different parts of themselves. Aside from this, one of our intentions was to design a game that aids sleep. In turn this was a theme that carried through into Ruya’s design. I’ve had an ongoing battle with insomnia that was particularly difficult throughout my early 20s and it was something I was keen to explore and understand more. There’s a handful of spiritual themes in the game too which is perhaps reflective of an existential time in our teams lives. We were consuming a lot of Alan Watts and Ram Dass during development and that naturally bled into the design.
What are the inspirations behind the visuals of the game?
I really like the artist Philippa Rice – she’s a big inspiration for sure. Just before Ruya was created, I lost my Nan, who was an influential and strong figure in our family dynamic growing up. She was also a very spiritual woman, which perhaps lends to some of the ambiguous themes in the game. I think the impact of her life was what led to a lot of the visuals and tone of the game. It was only until my partner at the time pointed out to me during development “do you think the visuals are about your Nan?” where it really registered that maybe something deeper was going on in my subconscious. It wasn’t something I was aware of, but the big wave of creative output at the time probably should’ve been a sign.
Alula is currently in the works, will these games link in terms of mental health?
Yes, for sure! In all of Miracle Tea’s games we try to embed a deeper societal issue to comment on. Alula explores the idea of loneliness and how an individual might learn to overcome that. Alula attempts to evoke feelings of what it means to be alone and how small or big that can make you feel depending on your point of view. One issue we’re exploring is the idea of people being more connected now than anytime in history, yet loneliness seems to be a rising epidemic. We are trying to make a game that illustrates to players the concept that people can do great things as individuals, but when moments are shared with others it can make for a more authentic human experience. In Alula you find yourself alone on an island receiving notes in bottles asking you to fulfil certain obligations. Slowly overtime you will come to know who’s sending the bottles and why. All of Miracle Tea’s games are set in the same universe meaning Alula comes from a similar place to Ruya.
As a game developer, what would be your main take home for players of your games?
If our games offer you some time to reflect, lower blood pressure, chill you out or make you think inwardly, then I’m happy. Beyond that, it sounds idealistic and pretentious, but if a game we made changed how someone viewed or interpreted the world for the better I’d be deeply content with what that means. That’s something that Miracle Tea is trying to carve out in video game history that I feel we’re yet to achieve. If that never happens, I’m okay with that, it’s fun trying!