Shall We Preview This Game? Hell Yeah!

“So, that’s a bit… crazy.” I say as I sit opposite Camille Guermonprez, the head of Arkedo Studio. I’ve just seen a demo of their game Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit and the game is, to be honest, absolutely bonkers. Imagine a rabbit fighting through hell, armed with a variety of weapons and riding a giant spinning saw blade attached to a jet pack and you’re starting to get there.

“It’s a videogame, you should be allowed to do such things once in a while.” He responds, chuckling as he talks. He’s right of course, not everything has to try to create a super serious look at the human condition, some things can just be pure fun. Nervously I ask him why it seems almost no-one is doing anything similar at the moment.

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“That’s a good question,” he says, sounding a little philosophical, something that will continue for much of the interview. “Maybe we have gotten too serious. We’re a small studio, we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. We want to make video games the way we learned them when we were kids.

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[drop2]“You know, you go to a jungle and of course there’s a volcano because it’s red and it’s cool, and then you go in an ice zone and you’re having fun! We wanted to do that and make it a more adult vision of the game we played as kids.”

The concept seems central to what Arkedo have pulled off with Hell Yeah! The game may be gory, over the top, and ridiculous in the best possible way but you get an almost instant feeling of slick platformers from a misspent youth. It’s everything from the way game handles to the vibrant colour scheme to the fact that your characters only talk in subtitles, sounding almost like the Swedish chef in the audio (a touch that had everyone in the room chuckling, particularly when Camille dubbed it due to a missing MP3).

Humour is something that’s thrust in your face throughout the game, and it’s something that’s very important to Camille, as he explains “We wanted to add different levels of joke. You know the Pixar movies? What’s awesome about the Pixar movies is that when you have kids and you see a Pixar movie with them, the scene you’re laughing at, your kids are laughing at too but not for the same reason.

“We’ve tried to do that. This game is absolutely outrageous if you get the very bad jokes, but the thing is if you understand the jokes then it’s your problem, not mine. It’s been written to always have two levels of understanding, in order to be really gross. The grossest joke won’t be gotten by lots of people, maybe none of them.”

When we shift from discussing the game’s humour to talking about the gameplay, I note that the game has mixed together platforming and shoot ‘em up elements almost effortlessly. Again Camille speaks enthusiastically about how things work at Arkedo, and the kind of games they want to make.

“We always try to mix different gameplay [styles] together, and we don’t have the pretention to say ‘We’re inventing radically new gameplay’. We’re standing on the shoulders of giants and have been playing the hell out of other people’s games for thirty years now.

“I’m the least talented guy in the studio, that’s why I’m the boss,” he says with another chuckle, “but all the other guys are quite amazing. These are the kind of guys who make full ROM sets once in a while for a specific platform. They’re really breathing and feeling games. Not just old games, but a mix of everything.”

That mixture of everything is clearly very important, and it shines through in Hell Yeah! There are clear nods to platformers of old (and a specific reference to Sonic that had everyone laughing), but they’ve put a very modern fresh spin on things. It’s not just the concept of armaments either, everything about the game somehow feels completely up to date and yet simultaneously retro.

Camille is happy to admit that they didn’t just want to go and make a platformer from twenty or so years ago.

“Sometimes when you play a game from your childhood it’s not as good as you remember, because you’re looking at it now with the different filters of what you’ve learned and how gameplay has evolved.

[drop]“I mean I played the hell out of Return to Dark Castle on Apple II back in the day, and it’s a great, great game. But I replayed it recently and you can see what twenty years of game design has done to gaming. It’s not just easier, it’s more smooth and I think it’s better. We’ve had twenty years of polishing how we’re telling stories and making games.

“We’re trying to take a bit of both, of old and new, and make a fresh thing. We’re a small studio and we just want to have fun. We had no adult supervision for a year and a half, so let’s do it.”

When looking at the game, and its art style in particular, you do get a sort of Rayman flavour. It’s certainly got the same kind of slickness that Origins has, and although they were in development well before the game hit, I ask if it had any effect on them and whether it gave them the confidence that a platformer could still be successful.

“Ubisoft Montpellier is basically the dream studio for us, the guys working there are amazingly good. When Rayman Origins came and the framework with it we were flabbergasted, it’s a beautiful bit of technology, the game is awesome; Michel Ancel is a genius.

“At the same time we were thinking ‘We’re on the right track, but there’s no way we’re going to get there.’ That level of perfection technically and the number of assets is just huge. But then I asked how many people for how long, and I saw what we did with eight people in a year and a half and we can be really proud of ourselves.”

I agree with him, they’re never going to get to the level of Ubisoft, but with the resources they have at their disposal they’ve done an incredible job and when Camille admits that they only have one artist I’m absolutely astonished.

“One art guy. We have a hundred unique monsters and then they’re gone, all from one art guy. I’m his biggest fan,” he says with a smile.

Ubisoft have been an influence on the game in more than one area, and when I ask him about the game running at sixty frames-per-second he refers to the publisher again.

“That’s Ubisoft’s stance to be sixty frames-per-second and they managed it. That’s our goal too because it’s very important for a platformer.”

Whilst the game may be impressive visually, it’s just as good to listen to. The sound effects are brilliant but it’s the music that really shines. Again it’s got the mix of old and new that Arkedo have worked so hard to achieve, and it sounds absolutely incredible. I ask Camille how they’ve managed to achieve it. The answer is simple, have them build the music with the game and make sure you’re cooking.

[videoyoutube]“Uberbad, who make the music, come on a Friday when I’m cooking for everyone and we’re all slightly drunk. Small studio like Arkedo can do things like this. We don’t want to make the game and then afterwards go and pick some guy to do the music and say ‘Heh you, illustrate this.’

“It can work sometimes, but I’m a chef as well and you don’t make a mayonnaise by putting it all together, you start slowly and then you add this ingredient and when it’s the right temperature you do the next thing. The same thing goes for a game, you do the prototype and then you build the first world and the music guy comes in.

“They come in on the Friday, we eat together, we have fun and then they say ‘Ok we have a good idea of level one, we’ll see you next week’ and sometimes they come back with music that is better than our concept, and we say ‘The game is not good enough for your music, so come back next week and we’re gonna show you.’ It’s very interesting, the kind of design process you can do with a small team.”

Given just how crazy Hell Yeah! is I have to get in one final question before my time in the interview is up: Is Hell Yeah! what he thought it would be when they were starting it, or has it evolved?

“No, it hasn’t evolved in the slightest. It’s amazing,” he says, sounding completely astonished by his own words, “This is the first time we’ve done it like this and this is exactly the game we wanted it to be. At the start we spent three days making a list of everything we wanted and a chart of how we wanted the player to feel at certain points. Normally, you don’t want to see the list at the end of the game, but we went back and all the ticks are there, usually you have about 20% of them.

“This game is exactly as we envisioned it from the start, it’s amazing.”

You know what Camille? It really is amazing. Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

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10 Comments

  1. Wow, a very positive article. Then again, can’t say i’m surprised cos Mr Jaffe said exactly the same thing.

    • It’s astonishingly good.

  2. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I first saw it a few months ago.

  3. I want it!!!!! Looks right up my street!

  4. I watched the trailer for this the other day and it didn’t appeal in the slightest. This article has rekindled my interest though. One to keep an eye on it seems!

  5. That looks and sounds great, never heard of it before but it’s on my watchlist now.

  6. “Imagine a rabbit fighting through hell, armed with a variety of weapons and riding a giant spinning saw blade attached to a jet pack”

    i’m sorry, i just couldn’t.
    i tried and i just couldn’t picture something like that.
    so i watched the video. ^_^

    anyway, the game certainly looks like fun.
    and who doesn’t love a bit of cartoon gore?

  7. Look like it could be a load of fun!

  8. it looks impressive

  9. Space and tab?

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