Interview / Hello Games’ Sean Murray

Tiny UK development outfit Hello Games couldn’t of wished for a better introduction to the world. They’ve just finished showing their debut game to packed crowds at the Eurogamer Expo and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

It’s easy to see why. Just watching Joe Danger in action is enough to put a smile on your face. A gorgeously colorful racer-cum-platformer that just bursts with character, it’s a throwback to happier times. Oh and it’s fun too. Should have said that before.

We’ll have a proper preview of the game coming up for you soon, but in the meantime here’s our chat with  Sean Murray, Hello Games’ Managing Director and one of the men that brought Joe Danger to life.

That VideoGame Blog (TVGB): First of all, your blog is outstanding, some of the best writing about games we’ve read in a while.

Sean Murray (SM): Oh thanks! I think we were probably too honest in it, about the mistakes we have made and stuff. But people seem to like it.

TVGB: It’s like the Show and Yell event last night (read about it here). It was a bit chaotic and mental, not even approaching slick, but really, really fun. It had character and you could tell that everyone was really in love with what they were doing.

SM: You’ve just summed up indie games, haven’t you? Pretty rough around the edges but fun.

TVGB: …So when people read what you’ve written on the blog, I think they find it quite refreshing.

SM: We get a lot of good feedback, y’know. We get lots of people saying they want to work with us, we get loads of CVs… people are obviously mad! There’s only 4 of us. We’ve all kinda worked together before, in various guises. Two of the guys went to school together and made Doom levels when they were kids.

TVGB: You all moved away from bigger studios to form Hello Games right?

SM: Yeah, Greg used to work at Sumo, Dave used to work at Climax and Double Six and me and Ryan used to work at EA and Criterion. I worked on Burnout – a whole bunch of them – and Black. Ryan has worked on most of the Burnouts too.

TVGB: So did the idea for the game come and that inspired you to leave, or did you leave and think, ‘Ok, what do we do now?’

SM: [Laughs] Foolishly, the latter. We always wanted to do this, it’s something we’ve talked about for ages. It’s what I got into the industry to do in the first place. I was inspired by people like id [Software]. People that made games with their personality in there.

So what that meant was that we left, then sat down and thought ‘Right, what game do we want to make?’ I think we knew implicitly what that would be, because we know what we’re into and we’re all into the same type of thing.

TVGB: Which is?

SM: It’s that period during our childhood when we were playing everything that Sega did and everything that Nintendo did. All the games that were on there, they were bright, they were vibrant, they were colorful; but they were also really great fun. Y’know they weren’t casual. These days when something like that comes out people start trying to lazily call it casual. Our game is anything but, but it is accessible.

But we’re inspired by stuff like Crazi Taxi, something that is really accessible, but actually is really hardcore when you get into it. The first hour or two when you’re playing that game it feels really welcoming, you never feel frustrated by the game, you just feel that you want to get better at it and that’s what we’re going for.

It would be very different to something like Trials HD, in terms of gameplay style. We’re very different from Trials HD. We’re not going for those levels of frustration, quite the opposite. So things like Excitebike would be a key word for us. Or Super Monkey Ball – again I think that’s accessible, but incredibly difficult.

TVGB: You said last night that the core gameplay of Joe Danger was in place really early…

SM: Yeah, I mean, we started with a wheel, which is still the front wheel that’s on the bike in the finished game. It’s the exact same size it was and everything like that, and the jumps are the exact same height and everything. We basically started off with white bumps, we had no artist. And we started building them almost like a Lego set and that set was measured perfectly. I mean, we played with that set for a long, long time before any art assets got put in there.

TVGB: The art style you decided on; aside from being colorful, it’s just got so much character, something you don’t seem to get any more with the big titles. Why do you think that is?

SM: When you have a small team, you have a lot of the personality of the people that made the game. When I played games by id, I knew that they were into metal, you know what I mean? I knew they drove Hot Rods, I knew that they had that kind of mindset. I knew before I saw a picture of them that they’d have long hair.

You get that kind of thing with LittleBigPlanet, but with Indie games you get that a lot. If you take Time Gentlemen Please, by Dan Marshall — I played that game and I felt like I knew him when I met him, and I knew it would be someone I would get along with. If you play our game I think you get a lot of feeling for the kinds of games we like and the kind of cheesy music that we like and the things we were into when we were kids.

TVGB: So this is the first time you’ve shown Joe Danger to the public?

SM: Yeah, and the response has been very good. We’ve had loads of people say that it was their game of the show, which is ridiculous given the games that are downstairs. We were incredibly nervous before showing it. We’ve worked really, really hard on it. It’s hard to describe just how much of an emotional thing it is to show your game for the first time.

We’ve been in development for a year without anyone really seeing it bar some close friends and some people in the industry, so you never know how they will respond.

TVGB: Don’t forget Rob from Tesco…

SM: Ah, yeah Rob from Tesco. He delivers the groceries to our office and has kind of become our unofficial playtester. He’s famous now.

TVGB: So what platforms is the game coming out on?

SM: Well, were a small little indie. We’d love to control that kind of thing, but we don’t have full control over that. We would like to be on lots of platforms, but we’re aiming for one of PS3 or XBLA in spring next year.

TVGB: Who makes that decision?

SM: We work together with Sony and Microsoft to get our game on there, basically.

TVGB: We’ve heard that the authorization process can be a bit of a nightmare..

SM: It’s a minefield to walk through, you know? And a lot of indie games fail to do that, but I would like to think that we are talking to the right people and making the right moves to do that.

TVGB: I’ve spoken to other indies who’ve told me horror stories about having games rejected because the shade of gray wasn’t quite right. Ever come across anything like that?

SM: [Laughs] Probably there wasn’t enough gray, that’s the thing they seem to like in games these days.

TVGB: Too true. Any chance of Joe Danger on PC?

SM: We would love to do that. We don’t know what the market for that is. We’ve met loads of people today who play PC games who’ve said they love to play it. The thing about the PC market is that it’s so diverse, from the hardest of hardcore games, to the casual-est of casual games that you never know, really, if people want your game. It’s a lot of effort to get the game on any platform, but I think we would – especially after the first few days get it out there on Steam, hopefully.

TVGB: Sean, thank you very much for your time and best of luck with the game.

SM: Thanks!