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The Vibrant World Of Hohokum

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 table?

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 should be. 

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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