Hookshot Inc.: Hey Jim! How the devil have you been?
Strong, like Ox.
Always with the flirting! You know how we feel about Ox. Describe Sir, You Are Being Hunted in 15 words or fewer.
A procedurally-generated, open-world action game about tea, fear, and escape from certain death.
Tea, fear, and escape from certain death sounds like my wake-up routine. So, what made you think: I have to make this game?
I sort of got into actually making games – rather than writing about them, which is my day job – by accident. I’d been messing about in Unity with a friend, James Carey, when some random game ideas I’d been blogging caught the attention of Channel 4. They wanted to know if I could actually make a game. I said yes, and we made Fallen City, an educational game available on the C4 site. Since then I’ve just seized on the chance to make the kind of games I’d like to play. I have a narrow window of opportunity to work with some talented people and to create beautiful things. Who wouldn’t do that?
As to why we’re making Sir specifically, well, it was too much fun as an idea. It exploded out of a conversation about what we should be doing, and grew from there. I want to play it. That seems like reason enough.
How long have you been working on Sir, You Are Being Hunted?
Since about April this year. Some of the tech is a bit older, from Tom’s other experiments in procedural generation.
Why did you decide to go with procedural generation to create the game world?
It wasn’t really a decision at all, even though there were moments where I doubted it was going to be possible. Tom, the lead coder, is enthusiast in procedural generation, and he’s been working on similar stuff for years. To not take advantage of that in whatever we made would have been ludicrous. The results speak for themselves, I think.
There’s something very Hitchcock-esque about the debut trailer that you launched yesterday (see below). What are you trying to achieve with the ambiance?
Kitsch, sinister Britishness. Old horror movies. 1970s synth sci-fi. I think Britons of a certain age will recognise all that stuff. For everyone it just brings a particular flavour to it.
What’s the most inventive thing about the game right now?
The British Countryside Generator. This is the code that we’ve plugged into the Unity development suite to generate islands. We can create stuff that looks like a caricature of British countryside: leafy lanes, rolling fields, hedgerows, dry stone walls, old farms, villages, cliffs and hills.
It’s a remarkable piece of technology which should allow players to generate their own archipelagos of spooky islands. It was an approach we had to take, too, because there was no way for us to design, by hand, the kinds of environments we want to play in.
What is your favourite moment in the game?
Sir doesn’t really have a single moment, because it’s a wide open sandbox. You’re dumped in and off you go. This means the “moments” arise emergently as you play. Currently the best thing that has happened to me was managing to lead hunters away from a point they were guarding by throwing empty whiskey bottles. Once they’d been led away, I was able to run along behind a wall, unseen, and pinch what they’d been guarding. Things like that – usually resulting in horrible death – make up the moments which constitute the Sir experience.
Wait, tea? How does tea feature?
The robots will sip tea when idling. Also, the player has a chance of finding a flask of lukewarm tea to keep him alive against the elements.
‘Tea-sip idling’ is an amazing name for pretty much anything except a punk band.
What has your team learned through making Big Robot’s first game that you’re carrying through into this development?
Mostly it’s lessons about how Unity works, and especially the little tricks and traps of 3D animation, 3D pathfinding, and 3D character control. Perhaps the biggest lesson, though, was to not be afraid of middleware. The impulse of many coders is to try and code everything they need from scratch, but in truth a lot of what you need can be modified from existing (and cheap) extensions to an environment like Unity. They’re occasionally a disaster, of course, but most of the time it has slashed our coding time and been a bonus to the overall project.
You say it’s a game about being hunted. Are you only able to flee? What is it about games that dis-empower the player that’s attracted you to this?
You can actually pick up a weapon and fight back, but that’s not really recommended. I think the most intense game experiences in action games come from vulnerability. It always struck me that “horror” games like Dead Space and the FEAR titles were no such thing, because you were a supernaturally tough killing machine, bristling
with weapons and even time-slowing superpowers. What’s really horrifying about that?
Thief, on the other hand, might not have been sold as horror, but the terror it induced was tremendous: if they found you, they would kill you. That sort of experience is far more valuable to me than another head-poppin’ excursion to Ramboland.
What’s the dream? Where are you headed next?
There are a few things that I have, for years and years, wanted games to do. Having worked on games for a few years now – and having seen projects like Day Z attract hundreds of thousands of people – I am also aware that they are possible, and not just the fanciful imaginings of a game fancier. I want to make those things happen.
And fuck dreaming, anyway. I am going to do it.
Tell me where to stand and I will FOLLOW YOU INTO BATTLE, JIM.