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Hotline Miami interview: have you met the new guy?

Monday, 5 November 2012 09:08 GMT By Dave Cook

Hotline Miami is the gritty crime title from Dennaton Games. VG247′s Dave Cook spoke with creator Jonatan Söderström to discuss the game’s development and his brush with piracy.

Hotline Miami

Set in the 1980s, the game stars an amnesic hitman sent out into the Miami’s seedy, neon-lit criminal underbelly to take slaughter goons.

It’s a brutally difficult game. Line of sight, stealth and attack timing are all crucial to surviving. But it’s incredibly rewarding when you succeed.

The game’s soundtrack is worthy of note. With dirty synth stabs and an ’80s vibe, it makes for memorable listening.

Interested? Download Hotline Miami on Steam and try it out.

How do you get a job in the games industry? To the freshly graduated coder or designer, the sector may appear to be an impenetrable fortress under the command of big players like EA or Activision. But if you look closely at current trends, you’ll see that people have begun to dig under its walls and into the compound, essentially creating their own back door.

New routes to market have opened. It isn’t mandatory to serve for years on a studio’s food chain, slowly rising up the ranks to the position you think you deserve. You can create that role for yourself. Several heavyweight figures have begun weighing in on this scene, offering their own expertise to aspiring developers.

Peter Molyneux is an avid champion of self-styled developers, Valve’s Chet Faliszek has recently been giving lectures on the topic, and prominent names like ex-Infinity Ward community man Rob Bowling have broken free of the triple-a sector to set up studios on their own.

It’s inspiring, but the notion that going into business for yourself is easy is nothing more than illusion. Working independently – in any industry – is hard, risky work, and recently, no one has signified this more than Hotline Miami creator Jonatan Söderström.

Just last week, Söderström revealed that his game – the critically acclaimed 1980s ‘fuck-’em-up’ Hotline Miami – was suffering rampant piracy on The Pirate Bay. Rather than shut the download links down, he gave the community the most recent version that rang true to his desired standard of quality.

It was an admirable move, but a rather sad one at the same time. It was almost like an admission of defeat, a realisation that piracy – gaming’s largest elephant in the room – cannot be strong-armed out the door.

Should the industry just learn to live with it? Does it not counter the supposed ‘golden age’ figures like Molyneux, Faliszek and Bowling so avidly champion? Perhaps more should be done to safeguard fledgling coders and teams, because after all, you never know which one of these new developers could go on to become the next Valve, given the chance.

Don’t laugh it off, it could happen, and we should be supporting the idea, all of us. That said, not everyone suffers the same hardships when entering game development. But if it isn’t piracy, then it’s the staggering cost involved with getting indie games on XBLA or PSN, or strenuous development costs.

Or if it isn’t that, it’s the difficult odds of making your money back on iTunes or Android’s marketplace. With so many new coders and teams entering the development gold rush, submitting a game on App Store becomes a wind-pissing exercise. Things need to change.

To self-inflict insult to injury, Söderström revealed on Twitter that he had been broke for some time while developing Hotline Miami, so VG247 simply had to arrange a chat with him to find out what it feels like to be part of a small team entering an industry crawling with parasites and hidden dangers.

What has been your reaction to the critical reception of Hotline Miami so far? People really seem to have really taken to it.

Jonatan Söderström: I’m really happy about it, as we didn’t know quite what to expect when we released the game, so it was really nice to see people enjoying it.

That’s excellent. I want to also try and get a feel for where the concept of the game came from, and how you took those initial steps to get the project rolling.

It started when I made a prototype back in 2007 I think, and we were looking for something quick to do this year – back in Spring. So I showed the prototype to Dennis and he really liked it, so he took a few days and started just drawing graphics for the game.

He showed this to me, and then I started putting another prototype together, and it turned out really well so we just kept working on it. We then got in touch with Devolver Digital and things sort of got out of hand from there.

”I’m not making games to make money. I do want to make money, but it’s not my major intention with my creativity. I just like expressing myself, making cool stuff, and like, if you don’t want to pay for the game but want to play it anyway, I’m not going to stop people from doing that.”

It was only meant to be a small project from the start, but suddenly we just kept coming up with new ideas and kept wanting to make a bigger game.

And how have you responded – personally – to the overnight success and notoriety of the game?

I’m not sure I quite grasp what’s happening right now, so I’m just focusing on working on the game, making sure it works the way we intended it to, and then I guess it will sink in across the next couple weeks.

We saw last week that you were helping people who were torrenting the game on The Pirate Bay, by offering them the patched version. That must have been tough.

Yeah. I’m not making games to make money. I do want to make money, but it’s not my major intention with my creativity. I just like expressing myself, making cool stuff, and like, if you don’t want to pay for the game but want to play it anyway, I’m not going to stop people from doing that.

I prefer if they play a version of the game that isn’t bugged out, so they get a good impression of it. I don’t want people to pirate the game or anything like that, but I know it’s an issue and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m not sure I want to do anything about it, but I just want want people to enjoy the game.

Regardless of whether or now we can stop piracy, we did see you mention on Twitter that you’ve been ‘broke’ for a while. Is the plan then to recoup your investment and perhaps get the game out on other platforms?

I want to make enough money to make bigger games, and that’ probably not something I’m able to do if I have to get a job, and of course I want to be able to pay rent and buy food from what I do. So, we’re looking to make another game as soon as possible, and hopefully it will turn out as good as Hotline Miami.

I think a lot of people don’t realise just how ‘all or nothing’ game development is. Like, you can’t do a part-time job and be a seriously dedicated developer at the same time. Is it true that you can only really focus on one or the other?

I think you can still make games as a hobby, but it’s very time-consuming. The more work you put into it, the more you have to work yourself to put back into the project – because it becomes a hurdle to get into it when there are so many things going on.

It starts to become more like work after a while once it’s nearing completion, because there’s the last boring bits left to do, and it’s easy to just feel like you don’t want to do it any more. So it’s good to have some kind of motivation, such as being able to make money off it, and to see some good come out if that isn’t just letting people play it for free.

Regarding the game itself, why did you decide to set it in the 1980s – GTA: Vice City thematic parallels aside of course?

I grew up watching a lot of movies and stuff from the ’80s, a lot of ultra-violent stuff. Then when I saw Drive, it drew a lot of vibe from that era but made it feel more modern, while putting emphasis on the stylish bits of the ’80s. That was a really big inspiration.

“Part of learning the game means exposing yourself to danger a lot so you can figure out how to tackle every situation in the game. We looked at Meat Boy for that part of the game, and we thought it had a good flow, and allowed people to master it without feeling too punished..”

It felt like a really fresh take on something old,and it seems like a lot of games are nostalgic and look back at what happened during the early days of game development. I wanted to make a fresh take on that, not to just re-produce it, and we wanted to figure out a way to do the ’80s thing while feeling fresh and modern at the same time.

It has a lot in common with Super Meat Boy in terms of both difficulty, and the ease of restarting and attempting your run again in an instant.

Yeah, both me and Dennis wanted to make a challenging game that still felt like it was fair, like, you could still beat it in a reasonable amount of time, and you didn’t feel punished for failing a couple of times.

Part of learning the game means exposing yourself to danger a lot so you can figure out how to tackle every situation in the game. We looked at Meat Boy for that part of the game, and we thought it had a good flow, and allowed people to master it without feeling too punished.

If you take a game today and compare its challenge to something like – I don’t know – Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, those are two very different styles of challenge. Was Hotline Miami a comment on the coddling nature of some games today?

I guess some game developers are afraid that some people will be intimidated by a game that doesn’t hold the player’s hand too much. I think in some ways there is a good reason for that, like, if people don’t understand how to play your game then that’s a bad thing.

But when it comes to difficulty it doesn’t have to be a bad thing that the player doesn’t immediately get what to do, or how to do it, that they have to go through a learning curve before they can play the game the way it’s meant to be played.

One thing some players have found hard to grasp is the line of sight mechanic. Was that a tricky thing to code?

Coding it wasn’t that difficult, but there are a lot of things in the game that I’m not sure are apparent – like game design choices – like people complain about the enemies being stupid and not noticing if they pass a dead body or something like that.

We had thought about all of that stuff, but we decided not to add it because it made the game more difficult. If enemies reacted to bodies and started chasing you, or like, hearing other enemies fire their guns – if they reacted to that it would have made the game harder and less fun to play.

Game design-wise it’s been a little bit difficult getting everything right in terms of how the enemies are supposed to behave, but actually coding it hasn’t been difficulty. Although we had some AI problems where the path-finding wasn’t working correctly.

Enemies would walk through walls and stuff like that, but it’s fairly simple from a coding perspective, but maybe that’s because I’m not really used to it yet.

It’s set in the ’80s, the decade that saw a huge influx of bedroom coders creating games off their own back and making money off their creations independently. Indies have so many routes to market now, and you have first-hand experience of that. Is the industry coming full circle?

I guess so, but I haven’t really thought about it to be honest. But yeah, that sounds like it’s true. I like a guy called thecatamites who made a game called Space Funeral, which is a really strange RPG game.

You can’t see any influences from it in Hotline Miami but it’s been very inspiring because you can feel the creativity and fun that was had while making the game.

I guess that’s the only parallel you can pull between this game and that. We had fun making this game, and we wanted to create an interesting world and let our imaginations run wild without conforming to any pre-defined game standards.

Indies do have more options open to them today, and given that freedom, do you think the barriers to indie console development will have to come down going forward?

I would hope they do come down a little, but I’m not sure what to expect from the future. I’m not really thinking too much about that stuff, and I just let whatever happens happen.

What are your plans for the Hotline Miami IP in the near future in that case?

We have a sort of sequel, but we’ll probably release that as DLC. We would like to start working on that and have it explain the storyline a little bit more and maybe expanding a bit on the gameplay. We’re thinking about doing a level editor as well. It would be cool to put the game out on consoles, but for technical reasons – it was made in GameMaker – it’s not very easy to port to another system.

We did see that you were pondering a PS Vita version. Is that on the cards potentially?

We’ve talked about it at least, but I’m not sure how far into talking with Sony we are. It would be cool but I’m not sure it’s going to happen at the moment.

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1 Comments

  1. YoungZer0

    “We have a sort of sequel, but we’ll probably release that as DLC. We would like to start working on that and have it explain the storyline a little bit more and maybe expanding a bit on the gameplay.”

    Yeah, i’d definitely like to see that.

    #1 2 years ago

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    Codemasters has announced its F1 franchise will make its series debut on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this June with the release of F1 2015. The game was developed using a new engine and contains improved handling and physics for all vehicles and parts attached. This includes: engine, transmission, aerodynamics, fuel tank, force feedback, suspension […]

  • Mortal Kombat X video confirms Liu Kang as playable character

    Liu Kang has been confirmed as a playable character in Mortal Kombat X in the latest video. You’ll also notice Bo’ Rai Cho in there as well. In the Shaolin trailer above you also get a look at Kung Lao and Kung Jin who is new to the series. Apparently, Raiden’s past champions of the […]

  • Short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront shows the Battle of Hoth

    A short teaser for Star Wars: Battlefront has been posted by EA on Twitter. Well, that speeder isn't going anywhere. Can someone give us a lift to @SW_Celebration http://t.co/srEVrAA0zl #SWCA https://t.co/4W4LG8myke — EAStarWars (@EAStarWars) March 25, 2015 The teaser shows vehicles which we could be using in the game, but it mainly shows the snowy landscape […]

  • Pillars of Eternity releases today – get all the review scores here

    Pillars of Eternity, which still stands as the second most-funded video game on Kickstarter, finally releases today. It’s also getting some rather positive reviews scores, which we’ve rounded up for you. The isometric, party-based RPG from Obsidian Entertainment was one of the first video game projects to take to Kickstarter, and hit its $1.1 million […]

  • Take an in-depth look at Evolve’s Behemoth monster and four new hunters

    Evolve’s fourth monster, the Behemoth, as well as the four new hunters are shown off in new gameplay video. Evolve’s latest gameplay trailer gives everyone a good look at each of the four new hunters and the massive Behemoth monster. The hunters can be bought either separately or though the hunting pass, while the monster […]

  • PS4 firmware update 2.50 causing issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall

    The suspend/resume feature in PlayStation 4′s 2.50 firmware update is causing some issues with Killzone: Shadow Fall. Killzone: Shadow Fall developer Guerrilla has said that the game is experiencing some issues in some instance where the suspend/resume feature is used. The timing of when players put the game in suspend mode does have an effect, […]

  • Bungie on Destiny matchmaking: “We believe there’s no substitute for a pre-made team”

    Crazy though this may seem, it’s possible that Destiny shipped according to plan. History points to community as a crucial component, far from the contingency that many now suspect. Paul Davies spoke to Bungie for clarity. “The community always engineers the best solutions for bringing players together. While Matchmaking is a great resource for introducing […]

  • Bloodborne works with suspend/resume, but only offline

    PlayStation 4′s newly-added suspend/resume feature works with Bloodborne as you’d expect, but only while offline. PlayStation 4 received the long-awaited suspend/resume feature today as part of firmware 2.50, and people are starting to test it out with various games. Bloodborne does work with the feature, but only if you play offline. Playing online is arguably […]

  • This is what Crossy Road looks like in first-person

    Crossy Road is fun and addictive. But in first-person, it’s mostly frightening. YouTube user Andy Front Films likes Crossy Road so much he decided to show off what it would look like in first-person. If crossing roads quickly and watching around for cars and trains, all of this as the camera chases you felt intense […]

  • Take a small behind-the-scenes peek at Mass Effect 4

    BioWare cinematic director Ken Thain has given us a very slim look behind the scenes at some motion capture work from the upcoming Mass Effect game. The upcoming Mass Effect game, whether it ends up being called Mass Effect 4 or not, will most definitely incorporate some form of motion capture work. How do we […]

  • Borderlands: The Handsome Collection – 8GB day one patch on PS4, 16GB on Xbox One

    Day one patches for Borderlands: The Handsome Collection are pretty hefty. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection require players to download lots of gigabytes to make the experience as smooth as possible. The PlayStation 4 version has an 8.31GB day one patch. The Xbox One version however has […]

  • Get a PlayStation 4 with Bloodborne and The Last of Us for $435

    If you’ve been waiting for the perfect game to get to buy a PlayStation 4, there’s no better time than the present. Amazon is offering a good PlayStation 4 bundle at the moment. For $434.99, you get a PlayStation 4 console, The Last of Us, and Bloodborne. The Last of Us is of course the […]

  • Upcoming Battlefield Hardline patch to nerf the K10, buff battle rifles

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch will focus on weapon balance and a few changes have been proposed. Battlefield Hardline lead multiplayer designer Thaddeus Sasser posted a few of the balance changes that the team is considering for the next patch. K10: reduce bullet damage to 33 Saiga and PTR: reduce recoil to bring more in line […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and a new Resident Evil game coming this year, according to research firm

    According to digital games analyst SuperData, a new Resident Evil game is due this fall and that this year’s Call of Duty is Black Ops 3. In its latest report on digital console games, research and analytics firm SuperData revealed that a new Resident Evil is coming this fall. “We anticipate this month’s downturn to […]

  • Bloodborne: you can add gestures to your messages

    As players get deeper into Bloodborne, they keep uncovering so many of its little new additions, including this one. Bloodborne, like all of the Souls games before it, allows players to leave messages for other players. These messages could be used to point players towards impending doom, treasure, or just be sarcastic and witty. What […]

  • PlayStation 4 firmware update 2.50 is now live

    PlayStation 4 firmware update version 2.50 has started rolling out. Reports are coming in saying that Yukimura, PlayStation 4′s firmware 2.50 has been made available to download. The update is clocking in at just 245mb, so get downloading. 2.50 brings with it many new additions, including the suspend/resume feature, backup and restore, accessibility options and […]

  • Harley Quinn DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight is a prequel

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s Harley Quinn pre-order DLC is set before the events of the main game, according to Amazon’s description. Today we learned a few details about the pre-order DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight, namely the Harley Quinn one. According to the description on Amazon, the DLC takes place in the lead-up to the events […]

  • Bloodborne Vicar Amelia summon mystery solved

    Bloodborne players unable to summon near Vicar Amelia: here’s your solution. Bloodborne’s secrets are unfolding by the hour as clever players piece together From Software’s cunning design. Yesterday we reported problems summoning in the Cathedral Ward, before the Vicar Amelia boss fight. It turns out this isn’t a bug – or if it is, it’s […]

  • Steven Spielberg will direct film adaption of Ready Player One

    Steven Spielberg will direct the film adaption of the sci-fi, virtual world, video game themed novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Warner Bros. bought the rights to the film in June 2010 and hired screenwriter Zak Penn to rewrite the previous draft written by Eric Eason, according to Deadline. The book takes place in […]

  • Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets shouldn’t forget about the custom audio

    Here’s a friendly reminder for Bloodborne players with PS4 headsets: be sure to download the Headset Companion App from the PlayStation store if you haven’t already. As previously reported, the game supports a custom Bloodborne audio mode which can be uploaded. It contains custom audio created by developers specifically tuned to enhance the audio. This […]

  • EA explains why FIFA Ultimate Team transfer prices are now platform specific

    EA has posted a blog entry explaining its FIFA Ultimate Team transfer market price ranges which now include platform-specific pricing in order to best the coin sellers. EA said it has implemented the changes to FUT over the last several weeks because it should be “fair and fun for every player,” ultimately coming to the […]

  • Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness now available

    In case you forgot, Game of Thrones: Episode 3 – The Sword in the Darkness was released today. It is available on Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. The third episode releases on iOS devices and Android tomorrow, March 26. The Sword in the Darkness finds Asher Forrester heading to Mereen […]

  • Bloodborne players are already documenting their crazy antics

    Bloodborne has been available for almost two days now in North America, and already players are posting interesting clips and character customization choices for the game. Below are interesting takes on creating a character and videos of a frustrating death and another full of blood coming from a very painful place – monster or not. […]

  • FIFA Ultimate Team celebrates sixth year in existence with giveaways

    FIFA Ultimate Team is celebrating its sixth year in existence with special events running from today until March 29. According to EA, every FUT fan will be handed one free pack every day, and those who play at least one match in the FUT Birthday Cup will have a chance to win rare “tradable In-Forms” […]

  • Halo Online is a F2P PC game in development exclusively for Russia – video

    Halo Online is a free-to-play game which will launch this spring in Russia, and is in development with Saber Interactive. According the reveal event attended by IGN Russia, the game was designed to run well on lower-end PCs and runs on a modified Halo 3 engine. The game is set on a secret UNSC space […]

  • SteamWorld Dig Xbox One release expected in late May

    SteamWorld Dig is coming to Xbox One, developer Image & Form has announced. A firm release date hasn’t been announced, but the studio expects the title to arrive on the system in late May. “We’re preparing quite an elaborate Easter egg for the Xbox One version – a gaming thing that we really wanted to […]

  • SMITE celebrating first anniversary with a sale on skins, Ultimate God Pack

    Hi-Rez Studios is celebrating the first anniversary of SMITE with a sale. From today through Friday, March 27, the Ultimate God Pack, which includes all current and future Gods, will run you $19.99. Alll individual pre-launch skins are 50% off, and all Gem Packs will award bonus gems. In addition, from March 27-29, all SMITE […]

  • Borderlands 2 has sold around 12 million copies, says Gearbox

    Speaking with Microsoft’s Major Nelson in his podcast, Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford stated Borderlands 2 has sold somewhere around the 12 million mark. As of August 2014, it was announced by Take-Two in its financial report the 2012 game had sold-in 10 million units. Pitchford noted in the podcast he learned of the figures […]

  • Broken Age releasing on PS4 and Vita same day as Act 2 on PC

    Double Fine Productions has announced it will release Broken Age on the PlayStation Store next month. Act 2 will also be released on PC. The full Broken Age adventure will release on PlayStation 4 and Vita on April 28 in North America and April 29 in Europe. It features cross-buy and cross-save. Broken Age Act […]

  • Star Citizen earned another $1 million within two weeks – total hits $76 million

    Star Citizen continues its funding streak with backers pumping another $1 million into the game’s development in the last two weeks. The total earned for the space sim has now reached $76 million ($76,015,532 to be exact) with 851,395 backers contributing to the staggering figure. Star Citizen’s latest update was version 1.1 which included two […]

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline top Media Create charts

    Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, Resident Evil Revelations 2 and Battlefield: Hardline were the big ticket debuts during the March 16-2 period in Japan, with each game claiming the top three slots on the Media Create charts, respectively. Final Fantasy Type-0 HD moved 92,094 on PlayStation 4, while Resident Evil Revelations 2 moved 73,373 units on […]

  • You can now learn English or Spanish on Xbox One with the Rosetta App

    Want to learn English or Spanish? Rosetta Stone has an App for that on Xbox One. According to the language teaching firm, Rosetta Stone’s Discover Languages, the new application teaches English and Spanish by way of immersive simulation. Users will virtually travel to learn vocabulary and grammar “necessary for real-world interactions.” Here’s how it works: […]

  • PayDay 2 and PayDay: The Heist have sold over 9 million units combined

    The PayDay franchise is a lucrative IP for Starbreeze and Overkill, as both games combined have sold over 9 million copies as of November 2014. The company has also sold over 8 million paid DLC packages since PayDay 2 was released in 2013 (via NeoGAF). In its Q2 half year report issued in February, net […]

  • Nintendo wants to “surprise” customers with NX, not expand upon existing hardware

    Nintendo president Satoru Iwata has firm wants to “surprise” players with its new NX system. Speaking in an interview with Nikkei, translated by Kotaku, Iwata wouldn’t go into details on the new system, but stated expanding on a current gaming system would be “dull.” “In the past few years, the idea of what [encompasses] a […]

  • Kojima Station show suspended

    In another episode in the the ongoing kerfuffle between Hideo Kojima and Konami, the publisher has suspended the Kojima Station web show. Recent tweets from the newly created Japanese Metal Gear Solid account confirm that Kojima Station will not be broadcast tomorrow, but would not provide a date for the next episode. The Tweets were […]

  • Watch Battle Royale for free this weekend on Xbox Live

    Square Enix is celebrating the launch of Final Fantasy Type-0 HD by offering Xbox Live members in the UK a free rental of Battle Royale. Starting Saturday, March 28 and through Sunday, March 29, Xbox Live members in the UK will be able to rent Battle Royale through the Xbox Video Store, for free. The […]

  • Bloodborne journal, part 1: managing anxiety on the path to the Cleric Beast

    Bloodborne is both like and unlike the Souls games. Brenna descends into Yharnam with reluctance and trepidation. Need help succeeding in Bloodborne? You need our Bloodborne walkthrough and boss guide. Bloodborne isn’t Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls. Let’s get that out of the way right off. I enjoyed both Dark Souls games, but it was […]