Slime Rancher 2 was a bit of an unexpected announcement this E3, albeit a very welcome one. I'm always up for being pleasantly surprised by adorable slimes. The sequel to the slime-corralling sim is set to release in early access next year, and it'll feature a vibrant new world to explore, and some excellent bat slimes. Naturally, I needed to find out more about these good squishy orbs, so I caught up with Nick Popovich, Slime Rancher game director and CEO of developer Monomi Park. We talked about the game's art direction, the pressure of making a follow-up to a much-loved indie, and how the sequel has the potential to be a hell of a lot bigger than the original.
Popovich starts by telling me that, for Slime Rancher 2, the studio have completely rebuilt everything from the ground up. So, for fans of the original Slime Rancher, good news! The sequel will effectively be more of the same. But like, a whole lot more, because the world will be much larger and more dense than what you're used to.
"One of the reasons we had to move on from the first game is that we were literally, and I mean literally, reaching the bounds of the world," Popovich says. "Everything in the original Slime Rancher is basically happening in the same scene to have that seamless movement between zones, and we were coming up to the physical limits of this virtual space."
For the game's last few updates, the team had to be strategic about what they added. Unless they completely rebuilt Slime Rancher, they were completely out of room. And so, Slime Rancher 2 was born. Monomi Park have constructed a new world that they can add as much as they want to (as far as they know). It's a shame the first game ended up being so limiting, but Popovich seems pretty excited at the prospect of moving on. It means he and the team get to work on something entirely new, exciting existing players and hopefully bringing in some new ones too.
"With a sequel, everyone gets to interpret this new art that we've made all at once, the conversation happens all at once. There isn't this distance between veteran players and new players," he says.
While he can't give me an exact size, Popovich is reasonably sure that when Slime Rancher 2 launches in early access next year, it will be roughly as big as the first game up through the ruins. It doesn't sound like this is a case of "bigger is better", however. Popovich says they're using the space a little bit differently this time, too.
"In the original Slime Rancher, when you moved into a new zone, we would introduce you to a new slime, a new resource, or something a little deeper," he says. "Now, we have a bunch of that classic stuff, as well as new stuff, and we have a new way that resources are being distributed to players."
Similar to the original Slime Rancher, exploring Rainbow Island will require some light puzzle-solving and finding different tools to get you around. From the conservatory, which is essentially your new ranch, you'll be able to see mountains and areas you can explore - after a little bit of adventuring, of course.
"My favorite thing in games is finding secrets, especially after I've thoroughly explored a space over a long period of time, and then discover that one thing that's been hiding right under my nose. It's the greatest feeling in the world," Popovich tells me. "Slime Rancher 2's world is definitely more interconnected than the original, there's a lot more stuff like, as you peer over a cliff, you can see there's a ledge down there, and then there's a little reward."
While Slime Rancher 2 will play pretty similarly to its predecessor, the game's setting will look considerably different. The original game is very much inspired by old west cattle ranches, as is evident from the dusty starting area, The Dry Reef. But early in the first game's development, what we now know as The Slime Sea was actually going to be The Sand Sea until one of the devs added water and realised how inviting it was. From there, they made the first game as varied and colourful as possible - you still have your dusty home ranch, but the world around it contains different biomes. Monomi Park are doubling down on the colourful aspects even more in the sequel though - your first clue is that your new home is named Rainbow Island.
"Every part of the visuals for Slime Rancher 2 we've constructed to make it feel more in line with what we were trying to do with the original," he says. "We're like, let's do pastels, let's show them something that they've never seen before."
"Black is the absence of colour, and there are no black pixels in Slime Rancher 2"
And it certainly shows. Even from just the handful of screenshots and a minute and half-long trailer, it's clear the devs are aiming for a world that's even more vibrant than the first. It's been one of Popovich's personal missions to make sure his games are as colourful as possible, and he has a pretty unique way of achieving that.
"Something that's always stuck with me from my old high school painting class is we were required to buy this acrylic paint set that had all the colors of the rainbow on it, including black and white," he says. "And our painting instructor, as I'm sure a lot of painting instructors have done, said: 'Great, get out your brushes. Now I want everyone to take their black paints, and walk it over to the garbage can and throw it out.'
"The reason is, you can get those dark values by just combining other colors. Black is just the absence of colour. So, just like in the original game, there are no black pixels in Slime Rancher 2."
Now, this wouldn't have been a very good Slime Rancher interview if I didn't ask about the slimes. So, I'm pleased to inform you that if you breed the bat slimes with other types of slimes, they'll end with teeny tiny bat wings. That's about all I got on that front though; the devs don't want to spoil too much about the new little round friends we'll get to meet.
"We think resources are well spent if there's a good joke," Popovich tells me. "Like the chicken cloner from the first game. And so there is... one slime that does something that I cannot wait for people to see. It's my current favorite slime, but I can't talk about it."
As a fan of the first game, I'm looking forward to seeing what Monomi Park have in store for the second. More of the same but bigger sounds great to me - don't fix what isn't broken, right? But I'm curious, given the success of Slime Rancher (which had sold over three million copies as of last year), what sort of pressure are the team feeling now the sequel has been announced?
"It's hard to talk about this without seeming like we're bragging, but we have like a 90% positive review score on Steam, and you look at that you're like, no way you can do that again. How do you do that again? But we're definitely going to try," Popovich tells me.
"Slime Rancher players still rack up millions of hours of game time per month, so that's a clear signal to us that they want to keep playing that right now. The sequel will naturally expand the world in a way that isn't going to upset how you've been playing the game previously," he adds. "We're hoping that using that approach, everyone's going to be cool with it. But you never know."