Rivals of Aether: 2020 Developer Recap — 2021 Developer Preview

Dan Fornace
12 min readJan 8, 2021

Hi Everyone! It has been two years since our last recap and preview. With the crazy year that was 2020, I wanted to come back and write up another one. We accomplished a lot in 2020 and there is even more coming in 2021 so let’s dive in!

Developer Recap 2020

Genesis 7

The year started off with a bang in Oakland, California at Genesis 7. The lead tournament organizer, Sheridan, invited Rivals of Aether back for its fourth Genesis. Two years after Genesis 5 put competitive Rivals onto the map for a lot of people, we were back on Finals Sunday with our Top 6.

And the Genesis 7 action did not disappoint. One surprise of the bracket was relative newcomer Xaro making it to Winner’s Final with his impeccable Orcane play. Our top 6 started off with a high flying Wrastor mirror match between Windows and Blue that Windows clutched out in game 5. CakeAssault then went on a loser’s run gauntlet defeating MSB, Windows and Xaro before earning a Grand Finals matchup against Penguin. Fittingly the Rivals Championship Series ended with the top two players of the season duking it out on the grand stage.

And just like in 2018, CakeAssault walked away the champion after a bracket reset and an intense second Grand Finals set. CakeAssault joined FullStream as the only two players with two RCS Finals victories and the only two players to ever win an RCS Finals period.

The local competitive scene was off to a great start at the end of January that continued at Frostbite 2020 in February. But little did we know that was all about to change.

Rivals Direct 2

A week before the lockdowns began in the United States, your favorite YouTuber Adam Carra was in Seattle. Why you might ask? He was at my house directing and filming Rivals Direct 2.

Rivals Direct 2 was a sequel to our first Rivals Direct that premiered in 2018 on April Fools Day. Back then we created a couple fake reveals for a Twitch stream and then revealed a real new character at the very end.

But in 2020, we wanted to go bigger. The joke this year was that the humor would be back but all the reveals would be real. Not just one reveal like in 2018 but multiple new reveals and new content for both Rivals and the extended universe. Rivals Direct 2 was easily the largest video production Rivals has seen. We were very lucky to fly Adam and Stefan up to Seattle before the pandemic threw a wrench into travel and gatherings.

At the very end of the direct, we showed off an Expanding Aether Montage that featured the growth of our indie game’s world and teased our plans to grow the franchise beyond Rivals of Aether. You can read more about the upcoming stuff in the 2021 preview below.

Rivals Definitive Edition

All 14 Characters in one Definitive Package. Art by Marc Knelsen.

The biggest news of 2020 for our development was the release of the Definitive Edition of Rivals of Aether. This version launched on Steam and Switch on September 24, 2020.

The Definitive Edition introduced a boat load of new features to Rivals of Aether. One of the biggest upgrades was that we updated our online support from two players max to four players max. This allows you to play both 2v2 and Free-for-All matches either in casual matchmaking or with friends.

Another new feature that we revealed in a skit during Rivals Direct 2 was a new Tetherball mode. This mode is playable both offline and online and we are even hosting a Tetherball 2v2 tournament bracket during our RCS Finals later this month.

Additionally we added the Milestone System to the Definitive Edition. These allow players to unlock unique cosmetics through playing each character. These acted as a replacement for achievements on Switch. We also introduced Infamous Skins for the Steam version of the game that were awarded to all players who owned the DLC characters before Definitive Edition launched. These are no longer obtainable and allow players to show off their support.

Rivals on Switch

Our biggest accomplishment of the year was a very long time in the making — we released Rivals of Aether on the Nintendo Switch. This was a massive undertaking for our team and we ran into a lot of obstacles along the way. I wrote an article on medium a couple months ago about the process. Getting Rivals of Aether on Switch had been a goal for us for years and it was surreal finally getting to see it on the console.

A few months after launch, we announced that we were working with Limited Run Games on a Physical Edition of Rivals of Aether. As of the release of this article, preorders are still available for only a couple more days for both the Standard Edition and Collector’s Edition. The Collector’s Edition comes with a Kragg Figurine, Sunny and Sylvling mini-plushes, the soundtrack on CD and more!

We are still updating Rivals of Aether on Switch and released patch in December which introduced balance changes and a lot of bugfixes. We plan to keep improving the experience on Switch as we make updates to Rivals of Aether in 2021.

Creatures of Aether

Creatures splash art by Justin Chan

One of the biggest surprises of 2020 from us was Creatures of Aether. This mobile card battler was developed by Tako Boy Studios and me with RESO FORCE handling music and sound. It was both revealed and launched in 2020.

Elementimals from 2011

Creatures of Aether is a spiritual successor to the game that inspired the world of Rivals of Aether. Back in 2011, I created a web-based game called Elementimals for a college class. The gameplay was inspired by the card game Triple Triad from Final Fantasy VIII but leaned on elemental creatures to fill the world and battles. These four elements then went on to inspire the world of Rivals of Aether so now we have come full circle by creating a card game set in Aether.

Etalus using his powerful Freeze Ability to lock cards permanently for his side.

For Creatures of Aether, we brought back the core gameplay of Elementimals and Triple Triad but cranked everything up to 11. The game features insanely powerful Rival cards that feature characters from Rivals of Aether. There are also over 100 creatures designed by Phil and implemented by Tom and Bruno from Tako Boy Studios.

Swiftwing flies across the board taking as many cards as he can while airborne.

Since the release in September, we haven’t been slacking. We released Clairen, Etalus, Wrastor and Sylvanos as new Rivals and even more crazy abilities on non-Rival cards. In a massive December update, we released 4 new epic cards as well as a new Dungeon mode. Creatures of Aether caught the eye of both players and gaming outlets, earning a spot on PocketTactics’ Best Mobile Card Games and on whatoplay’s Best Android Games of 2020. We also just earned the prestigious Apple Game of the Day this month! We have even more Rivals, cards and modes planned for 2021, so now is the best time to check out Creatures of Aether on iOS and Android!

RCS Online Events

As I mentioned earlier, the year started out with a bang at Genesis 7 and then Frostbite 2020 with CakeAssault and then Penguin taking the first two local majors of the year.

But then a global pandemic brought our local tournaments to a screeching halt. We continued the year with a temporary plan to run some online events in the summer while we waited for the world to get back to normal. Run by our esports manager, SBS, and our community manager, George, we booted up the Rivals Online Championship Series which lasted from April until July and had a point system that players earned across multiple online events. We ran this in three regions and in the end Penguin won the North American ROCS, Fireicey won the European ROCS and Jet won the Australian ROCS.

After the July ROCS finals wrapped up, we realized that the pandemic wasn’t soon coming to a close, so we made the call to launch the fifth season of the RCS with all online events. There would be four elemental themed Online Majors in the fall wrapping up with an online RCS Finals in January.

The first online major was the Fire Major in September where Xaro won NA, Transco won EU and Fel won AU. The next was the Air Major in October where Blue won NA, Transco repeated and won EU and SNC won AU. The next event was the Earth Major in November where Xaro won NA, Fireicey won EU and Jet won AU. Finally the last event of the year was the Water Major in December where Seggo won NA, Japal won EU and Jet won AU.

All these events are leading up to the RCS Finals later this month. We’ll be hosting a Workshop event featuring original custom characters. We’ll also host a 2v2 Tetherball event as well as standard 1v1 and 2v2 brackets. You can still sign up for these events for free on Smash.gg! All these events feature massive prize pools that were raised by fans purchasing skins and merchandise from our RCS Season 5 Compendium.

Developer Preview 2021

Rivals of Aether

The Definitive Edition launched in September so that means we’re officially done with Rivals of Aether right?

Unfortunately for us and fortunately for you, we’re not done just yet! We still have plans to improve Rivals of Aether and make it the best fighting game that we can offer.

Good luck guys!

We’ve hired a new programmer, Zach Reedy, who is starting this month with YellowAfterlife to pick back up the boulder of rollback netcode. They’ll be working together on optimizing our game state to see if we can get it to save and load within the time limit we need for rollback to function.

We also hired Giik last year who is leading the charge on Rivals Workshop development. We plan to keep supporting Steam Workshop with new features later this year. We’re also looking closely at the amazing original characters that creators have added to Steam Workshop. Stay tuned for more news!

Creatures of Aether

Creatures of Aether is continuing development full steam ahead as we enter 2021. We’re very excited about how the competitive aspects of the game are progressing and we just announced a new tournament series for Creatures of Aether called the Creatures Tournament League! By entering these tournaments, you’ll be able to earn exclusive champion skins for your Rival cards and earn other cool prizes like in-game currency.

Shifter is a new ability launching later in January!

We’re also adding new abilities to Creatures of Aether. Later this month, we’re introducing four new cards with a new ability called Shifter. When this card is played on an Elemental Slot, it shifts its element to that slot and gains the benefit of the slot. This card will be critical to Avatar decks as it allows you to decide which element you need to control the set.

Next we’re working on a new set of Rivals cards that also release each month. Sylvanos just launched at the start of January and uprooted the meta. The next two Rivals that we will be launching are Forsburn and Kragg. Both of these Rivals have powerful abilities that will be sure to shake up the competitive scene.

Rivals of Aether Comics

For those who watched the Rivals Direct, you might have seen the clip of a comic book teased for 2021. I’m happy to announce that we are indeed developing a Rivals of Aether Comic!

This comic series is written by Ian Flynn with pencils and inks by Jack Lawrence, colors by Matt Herms, lettering by Jack Morelli and characters designed by Marc Knelsen. This is truly an all-star team that is creating a series of four comic book issues that give us the backstory of one of Aether’s most beloved characters. But who could it be?

You can look forward to reading the first issue later this year but you’ll have to wait to find out more!

Dungeons of Aether

Dungeons of Aether is a brand new game that was teased in our direct for 2022. This game’s development is being led by Ampersandbear and Ellian with concepts by Andy Ayala and Marc Knelsen and music and sounds by RESO FORCE.

Dungeons of Aether takes places in an expansive set of caverns outside of the city of Julesvale. The caves are host to powerful minerals and there’s a gold rush in Julesvale as adventurers from all over Aether have arrived. You’ll play as one of four new protagonists each with their own reasons for exploring the caves.

The first protagonist that you’ll meet is Fleet. She is a lifelong Julesvale citizen who stands up for the downtrodden and views herself as Aether’s very own Robin Hood. There’s only one problem. She’s not very good at it. When she tries to help, she tends to only makes things worse. It doesn’t help that there’s another adventurer who already fills that role, and unlike Fleet, she is well-loved. It’s especially frustrating when Fleet runs into this adventurer in the caves with the same goal of finding treasure to give to the poor. Will the caves offer Fleet her chance to finally succeed and help the town that she loves?

Dungeons of Aether is in development now and will release in 2022. You’ll have to stay tuned for more updates later this year.

Was that a 3D Model?

For those of you who watched the Direct, you might be like Adam Carra and interested in those 3D models.

Are you sure you saw 3D models? I’m not so sure you did. Maybe you imagined it. I think the montage actually ended at 2022.

But we have a small team comprised of Trevor, Cory and Mafubash who have been working on something and they sent me this screenshot. I don’t really know what it means. You’ll have to wait to find out more.

Wrapping Up

Sunny has made it into both Rivals and Creatures. Will she make it into Dungeons?

As you can see 2020 was a pretty massive year in terms of development for our small teams. We launched both the Definitive Edition of Rivals of Aether and the mobile game Creatures of Aether within 4 days of each other! We also released a game on a Nintendo console for the first time.

2021 is looking to be an even bigger year as we put the finishing touches on Rivals of Aether and expand the franchise into more games and products. If there is anything that you are excited about in the Aether universe, then let me know on Twitter. I look forward to sharing more information with you all later this year. I would probably mark your calendars for April…



Dan Fornace

Game Director and Designer. Creator of Rivals of Aether. Worked on Killer Instinct (2013) and other games at Microsoft Studios.