Following on from yesterdays feature on Hello Games and their new game Joe Danger, we were lucky enough to grab the four friends living their dream for an interview about life, the universe and just about everything.
Q. Was it scary stepping into the unknown and walking away from established developers and going it alone?
“It’s pretty much the scariest thing you can do. Genuinely, I mean I really loved the games I worked on and the people I worked with, and that’s really hard to leave. I think most people know, trying to make a new game is one of the hardest and probably silliest things you can try to do, so it’s fair to say we were nervous and still are. It’s tempered by a fair measure of excitement too. Depending on the day we’ll wet ourselves for one of those two reasons, excitement or fear.”
Q. The success of digital distribution via areas such as Xbox Live Arcade, Indie Games and iTunes has once again made it possible for anyone to create something unique and bring it to the masses, Do you think this will continue or will it go on to become quite corporate eventually too?
“Well, we’ve come from that retail games industry, and you’re right four people just couldn’t enter that market alone. These new avenues of Digital Distribution have opened up a way where we can make a game start to finish and actually stand a chance of getting it in front of people. I agree that that door is slowing closing though in certain areas. Bigger publishers are starting to get involved and the platform holders are giving less priority to the smaller people. I think it’s successful indies like the Behemoth that are all that’s keeping those doors open, so we should celebrate them more really.”
Q. Time and time again Independent developers prove that gameplay and the fun factor is more important than striving for outstanding and realistic graphics. Is this a conscious decision?
“I think for most indies, you are extremely constrained in what you can afford to do with a small team. Those constraints force us to innovate more and try to find other ways to get people’s interest. We’re all competing to grab people’s attention and keep them entertained. Amazing graphics is one way to do that, personally though when I sit down to play a game, I’m looking at the gameplay.”
Q. What are your core philosophies as developers?
“I guess we just try to have fun with whatever we’re doing. If we’re not enjoying making the game, then people probably won’t enjoy playing it.”
Q. Have you ever ventured onto “Indie Games” on Xbox live? Have you uncovered any hidden gems?
“Absolutely, I’ve got a bunch of friends making game on there too. Have you played that game “The Impossible Game”? That game cost me about £1 and then another £25 for a new pad. Genuinely, the A button is now permanently depressed, and so am I actually having watched videos of people getting much further than me. It’s really good fun though. Friends of our made AtomHex on there and Platypus too, both of those are ace. There’s some gems out there, but they aren’t the easiest to find.”
Q. Do you prefer playing games or creating them?
“That’s an awesome question, I wonder that myself sometimes. The fact is, making a game is hard work, definitely finishing one is, but it’s really deeply rewarding when you do. Seeing someone playing your game is a buzz you can’t get from anything else. If I want to have fun though, there’s nothing like sitting round with some friends and playing something like Left for Dead 2.”
Q. Did Rob the Tesco Delivery man really bring Hello Games to its knees and if so how?
“Yeah, Rob was this kid from Tescos who delivered our groceries once and became our personal focus tester. He was exactly every stereotype of the mainstream gamer, he loves CoD, FIFA and UFC, and has pretty much played nothing else. Watching him play our game was fascinating though, it came at the perfect time and really helped us get a hold on what parts of the game people would find difficult. It caused some massive arguments, but ultimately was really useful. I guess every little helps…”
Q. Are there any other projects, ideas on the horizon from Hello Games, after the release of Joe Danger?
“We’re 100% focused on Joe Danger at the moment and I can’t even think beyond that at the moment. I just want to see people sitting down and playing our games. When you spend every waking making games you really end up not talking about anything other than games we’re playing, ideas for Joe Danger and what other things we want to make.
We still have a few ideas from when we first sat down and brainstormed in the beginning. They float around and there’s some big, crazy ideas in there that we hope we get the chance to make. If I’m honest, I can’t wait to see where we go from here.”
Q. In these times of quick soundbytes, do the very lazy comparisons of Joe Danger and Trials HD annoy you?
“We love it really, lots of people like Trials, so we’re totally cool with that comparison. Once people actually play Joe Danger, they tend to be reminded of other game’s though, games like Excitebike, Paperboy, Crazy Taxi, Sonic. Those are certainly the kind of titles we’re inspired by, old school classics.
I love Trials by the way, it’s one of those games that makes you love and hate in equal measure. When I’m playing, I can’t have anyone else in the room with me. When I watch people play Joe Danger they are normally grinning, and they like to play pass the pad. That’s what we’re all about, which is equally good, but a totally different experience. The games I grew up with always had that effect.”
Q. Where did the name Hello Games come from?
“You know when you are a kid, and someone dares you to ring someone’s doorbell and run away, everyone seems to have a different name for that, like some people call it “Knock Down Dollie”. Where I’m from in Ireland, we used to call that “Hello Games”, I guess that’s always sat in the back of my mind. Maybe that’s our secret plan, we’re knocking on the door of the games industry, then we’re going to run away before it opens…”
Q. Growing up what games inspired you?
“Lots… everything. I played an awful lot of games as a kid. It’s funny though, designing Joe Danger, we talked about toys and cartoons as much as we did other games. I guess it’s kind of hard to talk about games though without using comparisons, and referencing other games. We come from that generation, we grew up with the SNES and Sega Genesis, so those games are our cornerstones. I loved the fact that those early consoles had more quirky, slightly surreal and imaginative games at the top of the charts too. Games like Toejam and Earl or Earthworm Jim were diverse and charming in a way that you don’t really get now.
Unirally, Double Dragon, Mario Kart on the SNES, Road Rash, these are all games we talk about a lot.”
Q. Has art director Grant Duncan ever been mistaken for Bez from the Happy Mondays?
“Actually only when Grant dances, and then it happens a lot.”
Q. Although you are four friends that are living the dream, have there been any creative differences or tears and tantrums along the way?
“We’re actually really close. Not just the fact that we’re crammed into a tiny room, but we’re a tight little group. We tend to feed off each other, rather than argue – but it definitely happens. That’s the nice thing about being friends and knowing each other well – it’s ok to really get stuck in and insult each other sometimes.”
Q. As Digital Distribution grows, do you think we have entered the era of independent games?
“I hope so, just talking as someone who plays games, that would be nice. All of the games in retail that I’m really excited about tend to be sequels. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to see new blood coming through. The new genres and new ideas tend to come from independent studios who are just struggling to survive.”
Q. Is there a release date for Joe Danger yet?
“We’re close… so close. We want to get Joe Danger out this Spring, but there’s lot of work to do. When the team is this small, the common cold could cause us to slip. Wish us luck.”
Q. What was your favourite game of last year (all of Hello Team)
Sean: “I’m going to pick an indie game VVVVVV. I have loved that game for a long time.”
Ryan: “Well, if we’re picking indie games, my vote is for Time Gentlemen Please, funniest game of last year.”
Grant:” There are too many. I can’t pick. An indie game I have a soft spot for is Continuity Game which is really neat. It’s a flash game made by a couple of students, and it’s a gem.”
David: “Pixel Junk Shooter is lovely. Is that this year or last? I’m confused. Can you repeat the question?”
Q. If you could change one thing about the games industry, what would it be?
“Wouldn’t it be great if it was easier to make games, and actually get your game in front of people. That’s what’s been amazing with the iPhone, there are tens of thousands of games developers making games for iPhone. It’s staggering how many people want to make games, when the opportunity is there.”
Q. If you weren’t working in the games industry, what would you be doing?
“We’d probably all be sat in this room just playing games and messing about. It would be a lot easier, but we’d still be living at home.”
Q. How was Joe Danger received at the Independent Games Festival?
“Getting any nomination for the IGF was genuinely, totally unexpected. When it happened one of the others texted me in the middle of a night, and I thought it was one of their cruel pranks. We’re so incredibly excited about going to GDC and showing people the game, I can’t even describe it. For any indie like us, it’s such an incredible struggle to actually make a game, that it’s an overwhelmingly feeling to get any sort of encouragement. Getting to see people playing our game, is our motivation for everything, so being able to exhibit to folks at GDC is incredibly exciting.”
Q. Finally, who won win in a fight between an Kangeroo and a Giraffe?
“I’ve seen a video of that on youtube, and the giraffe won. That was “Zoo Rules” though, in the wild who knows.”
Entering a conversation about zoo animals with a bunch of guys is never a wise move, especially in an interview, so I thank all at Hello Games for their time and will be keeping a very close eye on the the future exploits of Joe Danger.