The lights are on
Santa Monica Studio is no stranger to working with talented
indie developers, having helped bring games like Sound Shapes, The Unfinished
Swan, and Journey to Sony's platforms. Its latest collaboration is Hohokum, a
colorful and creative 2D sandbox game from developer Honeyslug and
artist/designer Richard Hogg.
In Hohokum, players control a floating snakelike creature
called The Long Mover, exploring a variety of unique, hand-made environments as
they help the world's inhabitants, solve puzzles, and just have fun. Santa
Monica Studio's Nathan Gary saw an early demo of Hohokum at IndieCade back in
2011, and was so impressed that he raved about the game to the rest of his
team. After a few conversations with Honeyslug, the two companies began their
collaboration and have been working together ever since.
To learn more about Hohokum, we spoke with co-creators Ricky
Haggett and Richard Hogg about what the gameplay entails, how the collaboration
with Santa Monica Studio is going, and what they think about the current state
of the industry.
Hohokum is a
collaboration between Honeyslug and artist/designer Richard Hogg. Can you
describe what the creation process is like and what each party brings to the
Haggett: The process of making video games with
people from other disciplines is highly recommended – there are so many
subconscious assumptions about how things should work in a video game that you
find yourself in the uncomfortable position of trying to justify without really
knowing why. Collaborations with "outsiders" are a good way to force yourself
to approach things from first principles and really think about the thing you
want to make and why. Dick and I were working on Hohokum part time for several
years before the IGF build in 2011 and it went through at least four distinct
phases before we settled on what we have now (one version had a golf
mini-game!). The ethos and atmosphere have remained consistent throughout
though; we were always trying to make quite a playful, relaxed game, but it
took a while to work out what our core values (or manifesto) for the game
Hogg: Collaborations are really cool. Making things
and being creative with other people is probably my favorite thing to do in
life and I guess working on a project where two people have very different but
complementary skills is a nice solid foundation for a collaboration. The bits
which cross over, where we can work together – like the game design – are the
most important and fruitful. But the things that we rely on each other for are
the glue that keeps us working together.
Haggett: And recently we've become more relaxed about
allowing other people creative input – animators, gameplay programmers,
designers, and musicians...Getting amazing people to work with you, then giving
them a free hand and seeing the amazing stuff they come up with is one of the
best things about what we do!
How did Sony get
involved in the game? Who approached who?
Haggett: It was during Indiecade 2011; Our fairy
godmother Robin Hunicke (and producer of Journey) introduced us to Nathan Gary,
creative director of Sony Santa Monica, and he came along to check out the game
in a big neighborhood fire station in Culver City, LA. Though unfortunately he
wasn't able to actually play the game because a four-year-old
boy named Alex was hogging it. Alex was a bit of an early Hohokum megafan and
kept dragging his poor dad back to play more. Anyway, that's where we started
talking to Nathan, explaining our vision for the game, and it went from there.
What's it been like
working with Sony? How has adding SCE Santa Monica Studio affected development?
Hogg: The thing that drew us to Sony Santa Monica was
that we had a hunch that they would respect and protect our game. You look at
the games that they have published and you can see where they have worked with
artists who have a strong, uncompromising vision and they have supported and
championed that. We are unapologetic about the fact that we are auteurs; we are
passionate about our game and were unwilling to see our vision get diluted by a
publisher. So we were always limited to either self-publishing or working with
a publisher who we trust and who has artistic integrity. But actually working
with Santa Monica has been way better than us just trusting them – they are
very good at this stuff! What they have brought to the game in terms of
creativity, enthusiasm, design expertise, and moral support has been fantastic.
It is a really good collaboration.
Haggett: Yeah, there's that indie rhetoric about "the
publisher ruining your game," but our experience has been the opposite. We've
been working with incredibly experienced, thoughtful people who provide a
sounding board from the perspective of being a little bit removed from the
day-to-day development process. They are often able to see the high-level
issues more clearly and prod us in the right direction, while being respectful
of what we're trying to achieve. We've never felt that Sony Santa Monica want
to stamp their own vision onto Hohokum. Ultimately, we could never have
self-published the game we're making, and I don't think there were many other
publishers who would have supported the game so well.
Hohokum was nominated
for an IGF award for Excellence In Visual Art back in 2011. How has the game
evolved since then?
Haggett: We spent a long time in the early stages of
development thinking about places we want to be in the game, walking around
places like the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum or the National
Maritime Museum looking at all the exhibitions and talking generally about
stuff. Then we would try to make sense of the things we were interested in, and
look for ways to fit them into the game. It is isn't overt, but there is
definitely an attempt to make the game feel "well-rounded" in anthropological
or historical terms; to capture a range of experiences and places from our own
world, rather than just having, say, a lava world or an ice world.
There is much more variety, in terms of the atmosphere and
art style, but also in the gameplay, which varies between being very playful
and unfocused in some places, and a bit more "puzzley" in others.
Coming Up Next: Haggett and Hogg discuss the characters and world of Hohokum, and share their thoughts on the current state of the game industry...
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