“This Isn’t Just Yars, It’s A Love Letter To Atari” – How WayForward Is Breaking The Mould With ‘Yars Rising’

Yars Rising Key Art
Image: Atari

WayForward Technologies has worked on several well-known franchises over the years, including the likes of Contra, Silent Hill, The Mummy, Transformers, and even Aliens. Despite this, the reveal that the developer would collaborate with Atari on a brand new Yars entry came as a genuine shock to many, this writer included.

Not only is Yars’ Revenge one of the most beloved Atari 2600 games of the early ’80s, but the game, along with its sequels, is fundamentally an arcade shooter. So when WayForward introduced Yars Rising as a Metroidvania starring charismatic hacker Emi Kimura, you’d be forgiven for raising an eyebrow. How could such a drastic departure from the original possibly work? Would snippets of classic Yars gameplay sprinkled throughout the experience be enough to satisfy old-school fans?

Well, to answer these questions along with many more, we sat down for separate interviews with the game’s director at WayForward, James Montagna (Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp), and Atari’s CEO Wade Rosen.

First up, let’s take a deep dive into Yars Rising’s origins and gameplay mechanics with James Montagna

Nintendo Life: How did WayForward come to work with Atari on this project?

James Montagna, WayFoward: I think it was a conversation between WayForward and Atari in which Atari was asking what brands we might be interested in. On our end, we came up with the proposal to do Yars and it was so unique that Wade said, “I get a lot of proposals for Yars and this is the most interesting one I’ve seen.” From there, we just kept coming up with different ideas; it kept building to the point where we just had to make the game. And so we did!

What was it about Yars’ Revenge and the Yars franchise that got you so excited about this project?

The original Yars is a real standout in the catalogue of Atari 2600 games. Atari is one of the oldest names in gaming and has some of the most classic IPs. But of all the things that we were discussing back and forth, Yars was the one that appealed to the staff on our side because of its uniqueness.

One thing you notice right away is it’s got really interesting sound design and psychedelic colours, and the gameplay was quite ahead of its time in certain ways. Several people on the staff grew up playing that game and have fond memories of it; I played it later on in life, but it was memorable for me too.

Yars Rising 2
The original Yars’ Revenge (1982) — Image: Atari

And so when we were thinking about all the different IPs, the idea that was formulated for this one was to kind of turn it on its head with something unexpected. So that’s where the concept of this hacker girl named Emi Kimura came together.

How do you take a straightforward shooter like Yars and turn it into a Metroidvania?

Well, we always want to find a way to give something to people that they didn’t even know they wanted; something unexpected to delight and surprise people. So we could have taken it in a direction that was maybe a little more traditional, maybe some kind of shooter, but we wanted to try something that would be a little bit unconventional for what the IP is, but strong in our wheelhouse.

“We always want to find a way to give something to people that they didn’t even know they wanted”

For us, it made perfect sense for the story that we were trying to tell as we dreamt it up. And of course, there are ways that the classic style of gameplay is incorporated into the game. You’ll be playing as Emi Kimura, a hacker living in the year 2049 and she’s infiltrating this company Qotech (which is, of course, a reference to the Qotile from the original 2600 game). One of the things that you’ll have to do is hack different terminals. So we refer to the hacking challenges as different variations on the classic Atari 2600 Yars experience.

It’s pretty wild that the original Yars experience is now basically a minigame within a larger experience, right?

It’s interesting because, at first impression, a lot of people see it and think, “Oh, now it’s a minigame,” but I think a lot of people may underestimate how important this ties into the game. I would go as far as to say that the hacking challenges, as opposed to being a minigame, are almost like an alternate sub-game.

You’ll be doing them so frequently and they’re so ubiquitous and varied in the way that they show up, that it’s almost like two concurrently running game experiences with each other. It’s growing with you in a lot of ways as you progress through the game. So it’s interesting. It could be regarded as a minigame, but I also think of it as multiple concurrent running game experiences in the way that we have presented it.

Yars Rising 3
Image: Atari

Aside from the hacking, can you talk about what else Emi will be getting up to in the game?

Oh, quite a bit. So Emi finds these terminals throughout the Qotech building that allow her to alter her DNA and gain different abilities. The ability that you’ve seen in the trailer is known as the ‘Zorlon Shot’ and it’s a type of energy wave that she can shoot from the palm of her hand once her DNA is modified in the game. So that’s one of your primary weapons you’ll be using to take out various robot enemies and mutant bug alien enemies.

Another form of gameplay that you’ll experience as you’re exploring the Qotech building is what I like to refer to as ‘light stealth elements’. Some sequences are secured areas where EMI will need to sneak from point A to point B without being detected by guards. So in those cases, the player will need to do things like crawl through vents, approach at different timings, and not make too much noise. You also have to be very careful about using your Zorlon Shot because it will make a sound and it could alert the guards. Now I call it ‘light stealth’ because it’s not the sort of stealth where if you get caught it’s game over. Guards will chase you a bit and you can escape.

Some players may prefer to just rush it and see if they can get through. That’s a valid approach to the gameplay and we wanted to embrace that. We wanted to create an experience where if you are into stealth and you want to pace it out carefully and take a very cautious approach, it supports that. And if you just want an action experience, well, good luck. It’ll be a little harder for you, but we embrace that as well.

There are a couple more gameplay elements mixed in there, but I don’t know how much I can talk about just yet.

Has WayFoward been consulting or getting feedback from Howard Scott Warshaw (creator of Yars’ Revenge) on Yars Rising?

We have not been coordinating with Howard directly. I had an interaction with him at one point where I just was asking some details and the sentiment was basically, “Howard, you’re an inspiration and your pioneering spirit inspires us and motivates a new generation of game developers.” That was kind of the extent of it. He’s not deeply involved or anything.

But I will say this, I hang on Howard’s every word. I’ve read his interviews, listened to the podcasts and YouTube appearances he made and his book (Once Upon Atari: How I Made History By Killing An Industry) is now available on audiobook. So we’re approaching Yars Rising with a great amount of reverence to what he’s created; it’s not us just completely reinventing it or doing away with what he’s created, we’re inspired by and building off of it and treating it with great respect.

We noticed a cool little neon ‘NOLAN’ (referencing Atari’s co-founder Nolan Bushnell) sign in the initial trailer. Can we expect more Easter Eggs relating to Atari’s history?

Nice, you saw that? Yeah, it wouldn’t be a Yars game if there were no Easter Eggs. I don’t think I’ve told anyone and no one’s covered this yet, but this game isn’t just Yars, it’s a love letter to Atari. So other Atari IPs and brands will appear throughout the game in very significant places. You’ll have to look forward to what those are, but it’s just full of Atari love, details, Easter Eggs, and the sort of thing that you mentioned.

Are there any details you can share about the Switch version of the game specifically?

I’m not sure what I can share details-wise on that yet, but I’m excited about the Switch version because we paid special attention to the HD rumble in the Joy-Con. That was the sort of thing where we wanted to make sure to get that feeling just right, so we did a really deep dive and R&D on just getting the most out of the Joy-Con. So I think that’s going to be a really special experience for Switch players who enjoy the immersion of that feedback.

What can you tell us about the voice acting and music for Yars Rising?

I can’t share today who will be doing the voice for Emi, but I will say that the game is fully voice-acted throughout. Emi never really shuts up, in a very charming way. So as you play through the game, she’ll be commenting and making commentary on stuff as she goes along, and it’s very endearing. But we have a star-studded cast, and they’re all just accomplished voice talent in the industry who have amazing portfolios of things that they worked on in the past. So we’re delighted for the entire cast, including the main actress for Emi.

I’m particularly proud of the music, too. It’s an international collaboration with over 20 different music artists involved. It’s maybe one of the most ambitious WayForward soundtracks to date in that regard. Some are in North America, some are in Australia, many of them are in Japan, and there are several vocal tracks as well in both Japanese and English.

“It’s maybe one of the most ambitious WayForward soundtracks to date”

One of the ways that I think it’s different from other games is the way it’s presented. There’s a playlist for each area that you go through in the game. So it’s almost like a DJ set. One special thing I can share with you is there is an item that you can equip called Emmy’s Earbuds. If you equip that item, it’ll give you the track name and artist info in the upper right-hand corner of the screen so you can know who created the song as you’re playing through the game.

Now that we’ve heard from the game’s director, let’s catch up with Atari’s CEO, Wade Rosen, and find out how the company intends to allure both WayForward and Atari fans, how they balance referencing the brand’s history without being obnoxious, and what original Yars’ Revenge creator Howard Scott Warshaw might be up to at the moment…

Nintendo Life: James mentioned that Atari had approached WayForward to work on a potential project. Can you talk about how this started and how you landed on Yars?

Wade Rosen, Atari CEO: I had already worked with WayForward during my time at Ziggurat Interactive, so when I came to Atari, that was one of a handful of teams that I already had in mind to collaborate with.

It was very similar to how we worked with Digital Eclipse on Atari 50. We approached the team and asked how they would interpret the 50th anniversary and that’s what they came up with. With WayForward, we gave them free rein to play around with different Atari IPs; I think we looked at Haunted House, Sword Quest, and a couple of others, but they were just the most passionate about Yars. And that’s great, because Yars is a particular favourite in the office, too.

So it worked well, and I think it was Adam Tierney at WayForward who said that the Yars’ Revenge gameplay kind of feels like a hacking game. So we took that classic gameplay and made it a key component in Yars Rising.

Yars Rising 5
Image: Atari

Was it important to keep some of the classic Yars gameplay in there to satisfy old-school fans?

You know, a part of it’s for old-school fans but it’s also just because the original is such a good game and if you were to ask a lot of people what their favourite Atari game is, Yars is probably up there alongside games like Pitfall and Centipede.

It’s incorporated in a meaningful way and it’s changing and evolving as you progress through the game. I also think it’s a great way to expose people to the original who might have never played it before; this is very much a WayForward game, but inside of it is a classic, iconic Atari game that maybe you’ve never played. So yeah, it’s a bit of a love letter, but it’s probably more of a way to secretly introduce new players to the original.

“This is very much a WayForward game, but inside of it is a classic, iconic Atari game that maybe you’ve never played”

What we’ve found works quite well is bringing a cross-section of fans together. So with Atari 50, you might have had fans of Digital Eclipse experience it and become Atari fans, or vice versa, you have Atari fans who now love DE and have now played The Making of Karateka, Llamasoft: The Jeff Minter Story, or even Wizardry. It’s the same with Yars Rising; you have a lot of WayForward fans and a lot of Atari fans, so bringing them together in a meaningful way is key.

WayForward hadn’t communicated with Howard Warshaw on their end, but did you or anyone at Atari speak to him about this project?

I think it would be inaccurate to say that Howard was directly involved in this project, but we talk to him a lot anyway. We’re celebrating the Yars franchise, so he’s certainly aware of what we’re doing. We actually just completed a long written interview with him that’ll be available soon. Howard’s a really great storyteller; many stories have been told before, but every time we ask him about them, there’s always a little bit more story that comes out, so it’s really interesting.

I believe Howard’s also been working on his own Yars sequel over the last few years. Is Atari involved with this at all?

I don’t want to speak for Howard on that, but what I will say is that anything Howard is working on, yes, we’d be privy to that. And I believe it actually involved some other studio inside of Atari. So, yes, short answer, anything that Howard would have been working on there, yeah, we would have been involved.

Let’s touch on the main character in Yars Rising, Emi Kimura. I’m curious whether her creation is a conscious effort from Atari to introduce recognisable characters to its franchises.

That’s the big challenge, you know, the generation after the 2600 is when you start to have big characters. So, when you think of Sonic, you think of Sega, when you think of Mario, you think of Nintendo. But when you think of Atari, you think of Atari. You don’t usually think of a character. It’s certainly something that we’re aware of and that we would like to incorporate. I think having recognisable characters beyond just the brand does provide longevity for that particular brand. But it also doesn’t mean that all games are going to be character-driven, narrative-driven games.

We would never make developers implement something that’s not their strong suit. There are a lot of great Atari-style games still to be made. In the case of WayForward, that team has a history of making great characters, like Shantae and River City Girls. So that was a natural fit, but could you imagine forcing someone like Jeff Minter to create a character? So I think people can certainly expect to see more characters, but we’ll only do it where it makes sense.

We touched on the Atari-inspired Easter Eggs in the game with James. How do you balance inserting references to Atari’s past without forcing it?

I think the question we usually ask is, “If you didn’t know this, would it stand out to you as unusual?” And if the answer is ‘yes,’ then you’re probably forcing it. But if you put something in and it fits and flows naturally with what’s going on, then I think that’s when it’s value-add. And that’s sort of the line, right?

And I think that’s the case not just in a game like this, but when you’re remastering a game, or remaking a game, or anything that’s looking at Atari’s history. Does forcing the inclusion of this detract from the overall game, or does it still feel good to someone who has never encountered it?

What was great, however, is that our community went nuts over the initial trailer. They noticed a lot of stuff and it was a sort of competition to see who could spot every single little Easter Egg; little references to Atari developers, stuff like that. It was great to see and I love how WayForward knew that and knew to lean into it even in something like the trailer.

Finally, we’ve seen a physical version of the game has been confirmed. Are there any plans to release some sort of Collector’s Edition?

The first wave is going to be a standard edition only. As for a potential Collector’s Edition, there’s nothing confirmed at the moment; there would have to be a reason to do it. It’s a special IP, so it’s important that when we do anything, it’s not to make the original redundant as well. So it would have to live in its own way and have something unique about it.

Yars Rising 6
Image: Atari

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

A huge thanks to both James Montagna and Wade Rosen for taking the time to speak with us. Yars Rising will be launching both physically and digitally on the Nintendo Switch later this year.

Please note that some external links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click them and make a purchase we may receive a small percentage of the sale. Please read our FTC Disclosure for more information.


News 7F: Update the world's latest breaking news online of the day, breaking news, politics, society today, international mainstream news .Updated news 24/7: Entertainment, the World everyday world. Hot news, images, video clips that are updated quickly and reliably

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button