Interview: Hello Games (Joe Danger)

TheSixthAxis recently got the chance to speak to Hello Games, the guys behind upcoming download game Joe Danger, which attracted lots of positive attention at the recent Eurogamer Expo, footage of which is directly below. Sean Murray, one of the team at Hello Games, took time out of his busy schedule to tell us all about the studio and the game, the full interview for your entertainment follows the Youtube video taken at the Expo.

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Who are Hello Games and how did you come about?

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Hello Games are Sean Murray (myself), Grant Duncan, David Ream and Ryan Doyle. We are four friends who have all come from much larger games developers, and worked on games like Burnout, Geometry Wars Galaxies, Sega Superstars Tennis and Black. We started-up around the middle of last year, working on my dining room table to begin with, then cramming ourselves into a tiny office room above a bathroom tile store!

So how’s it been so far?

It has been super exciting, something we have all been longing to do since we started working in the games industry. There is always that desire to go and make your own thing, and when we met our heads were all in the same place at the same time. We didn’t even discuss it that much to begin with, it was just assumed, we’ll work together and start a new company.

Your first title is Joe Danger, who or what is Joe Danger?

Joe Danger used to be the World’s Greatest Stuntman, the undisputed Master of Disaster. He maybe took one too many knocks to the head, ate a few too many hamburgers, jumped a little too close to the sun… Your job is to take him back to those glory days and help him to regain his rightful title from his reckless rivals “Team Nasty”. Montage! It’s all about earning massive High Scores for pulling tricks and performing stunts, earning boost and racing fast to beat your rivals.

How did the concept come about and were there any influences?

It’s funny how it all came about. We know each other so well the type of game we were going to make was just implicit. We all wanted to use this opportunity to bring back some of the bright, fun, arcade magic that we grew up on, so we went for the most obvious way to get us back into that frame of mind. Grant had a box of toys he brought down from his attic, and something kind of beautiful happened when he brought those in. There was an instant power to demonstrating your latest game idea with Optimus Prime in your hands. We kept coming back to one toy, an Evel Knievil stunt cycle.

My cousin had that!

We just sat and actually played with it, building bigger and bigger ramps, launching it out of windows, down corridors. It didn’t matter that he crashed all the time. In fact that was almost the point. So we started to build this little character around who this hapless guy was: The world’s most determined stuntman. It kind of tapped into the character you imagined as you played with those toys as a kid. Designing the game from there just flowed naturally.

I assume there are multi-player capabilities?

Multiplayer is a really key feature for us. Racing against your friends is a fast, intense and silly experience. We’ve put a road rash style punch in there for those awesome moments where you are running neck and neck. We’ve also built some pretty insane levels for multiplayer.

Is it split screen, then?

Yeah, for Joe Danger, we’re concentrating on same screen two player. When you play it, it makes sense, it’s one of those games that you need to play within punching distance of your friends. It thrives on that late night gaming atmosphere and competition.

But there’s online too, right?

Of course.  For online we’re 100% focused on battling friends for Highscores and swapping levels back and forth, building intricate and elaborate challenges and laying down the gauntlet.

What unique features and qualities will the ‘Danger’ bring to players?

When people play our game, I think they are surprised at how fresh it is. It’s a racing game, but it’s secretly a platformer, and also one where you are holding a combo and constantly thinking about your score as well as exploring. You have levels where scoring combos is the focus, or timed challenge levels that can tax your twitch gaming skills to the limit. Someone recently likened it to Guitar Hero, it’s easy to pick up but as you it will take your fingers and thumbs to the limit of what they can do. There’s also a live editor built into the game that will let you refine or build a brand new stunt extravaganza at any time.

What sort of games already out there would you compare it to?

Some of the press who have spent time with it have said they don’t really know what to compare it to – but landmarks like Crazy Taxi, Excitebike, Sonic, Super Monkey Ball, LittleBigPlanet come up a lot. It’s flattering for people to make comparisons, but of course we think we’re unique. We can’t deny, there’s definitely a nostalgic flavour in there.

Speaking of LittleBigPlanet, are there any customisable features in regards to Joe or his motorbikes?

This is something we haven’t talked about to anyone yet, but customisation and in particular character customisation is going to be really important in Joe Danger. Stepping into the shoes of a stuntman offers a unique opportunity for flamboyant and adventurous costumes – dress as a Viking, wear an Ape suit or compete as a giant Banana. It helps give the game that unique sense of character and humour that we’re after, and it makes the multiplayer races even more hilarious. We’ve been working with the character and bike for a while just to see what we can do, and I can’t wait to see the reaction when we show it off.

Going back to the ability to create and share your own levels. What kind of obstacles and stunts can we expect to find in our arsenal?

Right from day one we knew that building ramps was as much fun as jumping them, so we knew we wanted an editor that was always in-game, tactile and fun. Something you can just play about with. In Joe Danger, you can be driving full-throttle lay down a ramp just before he jumps it, or put down a shark tank just before Joe lands in it.

Going back to the toy stunt cycle thing, our editor gives you the toy box as well as the motorbike. We all know that the bigger the toy box the better, so we are constantly adding crazy stunts and hazards as quickly as we can think of them. Giant mousetraps, angry exploding bombs, huge loops, massive stomping heads, totem poles. Just last week we decided what the game really needed was giant robots and happy talking flowers. All the levels in the game are built in the editor so you will never see anything that you can’t make yourself.

You’ve earmarked Spring 2010 for the release, is this still current and do you have any indication as to Joe Danger’s cost?

We are still very much focused on that release date. There’s only the four of us, which is a really small team to be making a big game. It’s a total labour of love for us and we’re pretty much working day and night on it. As a small indie team we don’t have as much control as we’d like over things like price point and how we release, but we’re working on it. As soon as we know, we’ll tell everyone, pricing is something we care about. It’s important to us to get Joe Danger out there, we think we have made a really ace game and we want the most people we can to play it.

Even though release is some months off, do you have any follow up projects that you can discuss?

Of course I have to say that we’re 100% focused on Joe Danger at the moment, but the real truth is we spend every waking moment making, playing or talking about games. We really don’t talk 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 we often lose a morning excitedly chatting about a new feature that one of us has thought up for one of the other projects. There’s some big, crazy ideas in there that we hope we get the chance to make. Things that will really surprise people.

Finally, I understand you are good friends with Media Molecule. Could this lead to some cross-over content? Seeing Sackboy doing a loop-the-loop alongside Mr. Danger would be pretty cool.

The Media Molecule team are about the nicest people you could ever meet. I think they have been a massive inspiration to us and lots of other small teams. When we first started we went over and they gave us loads of really useful advice. They have made just about the most influential game of this generation, so it’s weird that they are down the road in an office above a bathroom tile store just like us. As for Sackboy, I think every game would benefit from him showing up.

We agree, cheers Sean.

We can’t wait for Joe Danger, let’s hope we get confirmation on a release date (and platforms) soon enough.  Thanks to Sean for taking the time out to do the interview, and our very own Lewis for the questions.

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