Having been a technical lead at Criterion (makers of Burnout and Black), Sean Murray is no stranger to arcade racers. Almost two years ago, he setup Hello Games along with Grant Duncan, Ryan Doyle and David Ream. Together they’re building the soon to be released downloadable game, Joe Danger.
Despite being the managing director of the studio, Murray is somewhat reluctant to accept his position as the public face of Hello Games – preferring to work on their game instead of driving up and down the country to promote it. Recently, Platform caught up with the programmer-turned-studio-rep to talk about the hardships of indie development, the gamers no one ever speaks of and how Hello Games “bumbled” their way into the limelight.
Is Joe Danger based on any real life stunt figures?
Sean Murray: We actually started with an Evel Knievel stunt toy you have as child. Grant [Duncan] brought in a whole box of toys into the office one day from his parents attic, from when he was a kid. We just started playing about with all those. Having these things in your hand that were tactile and have these memories for you. It’s kind of key, every idea is better with those. That’s kind of how [this] game idea came about.
We had this stunt cycle toy. You just rev him up, setup some ramps, lay down some books or something for him to jump over. That’s not something you really get in games – that feeling of actually putting something together yourself, actually ‘playing’. You start to see it a bit in LittleBigPlanet, but that’s a very complicated game and that’s not what we’re trying to make. It’s something that’s more of a toy box that you really play with.
But there is a creation editor in the game. Is a lot of the game creation-focused?
SM: No. When I play game’s that have editors it’s never as fun as the actual game. Every game seems to come with an editor now. [They] look cool [and you think] “I could do something with that,” but at the same time you also think “I never will.” Let’s admit it: it will never be as fun as the real game.
We wanted to create something where it was fun as the real game, like it was actually rewarding. That was what we were experiencing with that little stunt toy. Something that was as fun as playing with it was setting something up for it to [jump] over. But we don’t want to impose that on people. People will hopefully come and find it and enjoy it. The game is an arcade, fun title. It sits on its own. It’s actually really just helped us to make the most fun game possible, because you can build the perfect game. You can take Joe off a ramp and then lay one down exactly where [he’ll] land, and know he’ll land there every time if you take that jump right.
The four of you have come from a broad range of development experiences, in particular racing and arcade titles. Was Joe Danger a natural fit because of your backgrounds?
SM: I was really attracted to working at Criterion because they were making Burnout, because they were making Airblade and Trickstyle which are combo-based sports titles. I always loved that. I love Tony Hawk’s, I love racing games, so that’s why I worked there. It’s an evolution of that. Some people love arcade games, some people love RPGs. For me that’s always been my thing. I grow up in the arcades, I grew up with a SNES and a Genesis. Those are my kind of titles, I guess. It’s something that’s carried through for all of us, rather than being inspired.
But, definitely, [when] you play Joe Danger, we cannot help but be inspired by, say, Burnout. [In] Burnout, the crashing is as fun as the actual game. In Joe Danger we kind of wanted to get that across… there’s a boost mechanic, but you can’t get away from those kind of things. You grow up with them and you learn to understand them and tweak them.
How about, Rob, the infamous Tesco delivery guy. On your Edge column you described him as a “populist gamer.” How did his input affect the game?
SM: I wouldn’t say that he was driving the design of the game, but he represents for me the type of gamer that no one talks about. The majority of gamers, they don’t read columns and blogs, like you and I do. They don’t know how games are made. They’ve never heard the word polygon, or z-buffer or anti-alias, and they’re never going to read Edge. And it’s good thing, right, because they sit down and they understand and play games in a pure way. You’ve got to make a game that people can do that. I think people like Nintendo really understand that. They never talk about those things. I always laugh when I see games that on the back of the [box] it says “four-times anti-aliasing” and stuff like that. It’s mental.
My brother, he plays game, he loves games, he enjoys game. But he has no concept of these things. He doesn’t know what first-person shooter means. When I worked on Black and I gave him a copy, he was like “that game where you’re a gun,” that was his understanding.
So, I think for me, [Rob] represents that person who can sit and play your game – and you know instinctively whether it is good or bad. He doesn’t try and offer you advice, you know, he doesn’t have that great knowledge of games that rest of us do. If something is obscured, he will point it out straightaway because he won’t be able to get passed it. He’s been a big influence for us, that type of gamer, but he’s not our creative director or anything.