Interview / Hunted’s game director Maxx Kaufman

Ever wondered what would happen if you grabbed copies of Gears of War and Dragon Age: Origins and mashed them together repeatedly? The scientist in you would probably say that you’d get two broken discs but the gamer in you knows that the result is Hunted: The Demon’s Forge, a fast-paced  3rd person action game set in a fantasy world. We caught up with developer inXile Entertainment’s Maxx Kaufmann at the Eurogamer Expo this year to find out more about the title.

TVGB: Hunted‘s setting is similar to games like Dragon Age and Oblivion. What’s unique to the story here to set it apart?

Maxx Kaufmann: With the story we really wanted to touch on some big themes. These themes haven’t been touched on in a fantasy game. There’s addiction throughout the land, which is a big driving force of what’s going on and what the creatures are doing. They’re basically addicted to this liquid called Slegg you find out early on. You also have the opportunity to drink this Slegg and you realise that is gives the user great power. But with great power [pauses then laughs] I’m not going there, not the responsibility route. Anyway there are some problems associated with it which link to choices the player will have to make during the game.

Another big part of the story is sacrifice. Early on you realise the people are being sacrificed to the queen of darkness but you don’t know who that is. So right off the bat it turns into this mystery of addiction and sacrifice. We think it’s a really cool take and it’s different; it’s not overly complex in the way it’s delivered. It’s delivered as a mystery so it kind of opens up and evolves in front of you.

TVGB: What can we expect from the two main characters in the game in terms of personality and how they play together?

Maxx Kaufmann: The two characters are mercenaries through swords for hire and they’re kind of on the outskirts of this situation that starts to go on, and they kind of get mixed up into it. It’s about E’lara, a huntress; master with a bow, and Caddoc who uses a sword. The other thing about these characters that makes them more complex is the fact that they are very different to what you would expect. E’lara is the one who’s always rushing in and getting into trouble, Caddoc is the more subdued, laid back, and strategic guy. That comes across in their personalities and throughout the story.

TVGB: So with the different personalities there’s also different gameplay aspects to each character. Is this a game that’s different enough to warrant a second playthrough as the other character?

Maxx Kaufmann: Absolutely. Throughout the game you have the opportunity to switch characters at change points. During a chapter you’ll have five times to swap. If you’re playing co-op with a friend it’s cool because the characters are so different that you come across these change points and you can say “You wanna swap?” Your friend could say “No I don’t want to,” but we find in the office and from testing that people really enjoy the ability to swap and use the different characteristics of the characters.

Another thing is that if you did want to go all the way through the game as one character I think it’s very compelling to do it as the other one. The nice thing is you’re levelling up both characters as you go through the game, so it’s not just one.

TVGB: Most games make you stick to your class/character once you’ve picked it, what kind of advantages does Hunted offer with this swap?

Maxx Kaufmann: Well Hunted is unique in a lot of different ways, it’s almost like a shooter pass at fantasy. That’s one of the things that appeal to us with games from a long time ago, that was really part of my driving force. In those type of games and shooter-esque games you typically do not have two characters that have different abilities, you have different guns. So in Hunted you do have these different abilities, and that really is unique. That encourages a swap.

TVGB: Apparently early in development there was a time when Hunted was a 3 player co-op game. Is this true? If so why did you decide to get rid of it?

Maxx Kaufmann:Early, early on we had talked about three classes. Ultimately we opted for both characters to have the three classes built into them. They can both do melee, ranged, and magic, they just have specialties. E’lara has specialties in bows and Caddoc has specialties in swords, so that’s ultimately what it evolved into. It was always going to be two player co-op.

TVGB: Bethesda have a strong line-up at the moment and Hunted isn’t exactly the game they’ve pushed the most. Do you think that’s fair?

Maxx Kaufmann: Yeah I guess so. We only started doing PR and marketing on it back in March. It’s only been out there for five or six months now and it’s starting to get momentum. We’re getting the word out and talking to the people and we’re getting a good response from people who play the game. They pick it up and get a feel for what it is; the fun of fantasy with the fun of an action game or a shooter.

TVGB: You’ve said that there’s no split-screen. Is the feature still important today? Why did you take it out?

Maxx Kaufmann: Originally was the decision was for visual fidelity and depth of gameplay. We have investigated split-screen and we’re still looking at trying to do it. I don’t want to say it’s not possible at all but I think there’s been a tremendous response for split-screen and I do think it’s very much viable. It’s just in the beginning we made a decision between us and the publisher that that was the way we were gonna go. We’ve got the game to a good point and we’d love to bring it so I’m not going to say no I would say it’s not likely at this moment but we’d like to do it.

TVGB: Looking at the developer’s past, this is the first big, original console game you’ve had since about 2004. Why decide to go for a big project now after your success with smaller titles?

Maxx Kaufmann: Well we’ve always as a company been broken up into a smaller division and one working on a bigger title. We’ve always had that split to be working on a big AAA title. It’s just we’ve been dark for a while now. In my background I used to do a lot of first person shooters; I was the art director on Redneck Rampage, Kingpin, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein so for me I have a lot of experience doing the bigger games and a lot of the people on our team have a lot of experience too. It was just we had a falling out on that last project and it didn’t work out unfortunately and now we’re back and this is what we have.

TVGB: What kind of a hole do you see Hunted filling for gamers?

Maxx Kaufmann: For me it scratches that itch for people who love fast-paced action and like fantasy. It’s kind of in between those two areas and I just think there’s a tremendous audience for it. Look at the FPS genre; 25 million people buy Call of Duty right? So of those 25 million, I’m sure a lot like fantasy, I mean Lord of the Rings is a huge movie. We thought there was a bridge there, something that we could do that was a unique take on both genres and bringing them together. That’s how we’re looking to appeal to players.

TVGB: Looking at it you can say it looks like Dragon Age etc, but obviously it plays very different to those games. What kind of games would you rather draw comparisons to instead?

Maxx Kaufmann: I don’t really like to compare to other games. If I had to I’d say like BioShock, but in a fantasy setting with 3rd person and co-op and other differences. I don’t really want to compare it to other games. I think Dragon Age is a great game but it’s not the type of game we’re going for, that’s more RPG based. We’re light RPG, that’s why I compared it to BioShock and a lot of action. It’s really a game to have fun with; pick up and play right out of the box and enjoy it and invest not a huge amount of hours as an RPG would take. Hopefully it’s the kind of game you’d play along with an RPG. You’re deep into that but then you can pick this up and start playing it as well.

TVGB: You mentioned length there, how long are you aiming for Hunted to last?

Maxx Kaufmann: That’s always such a tough question. When we play it at the office and try and get through it we think it’s around 10 hours. Then there’s branches throughout the game for exploration which is very challenging. It could be some of the most challenging puzzles and exploration in this type of game. We estimate 10 – 20 hours. I don’t know if someone can go and just rush through everything and do it in 4 hours. I don’t think that’s possible because it takes us so long to get through each chapter and there’s six of them.

TVGB: Is there sequel potential with Hunted? If so what would you do with a second game that you missed out here?

Maxx Kaufmann: There’s so many ideas that come up. I think we would even more so play up the co-op abilities of the players and then combining abilities. We really hope it has sequel potential, we love it and hope that people enjoy it and buy a lot of copies and then we will make a sequel. It might not be a sequel, it could be a prequel or a story about other characters, or something set in the same universe.