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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 3 years ago

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  • Kickstarter for Banjo-Kazooie spiritual successor Yooka-Laylee launches tomorrow

    Playtonic Games has announced the Kickstarter campaign for its spiritual successor to the Banjo Kazooie series, Yooka-Laylee, will launch tomorrow. The title of the game was announced today along with the Kickstarter date. Formerly known as Project Ukulele, the 3D platformer is said to be “between the size of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie,” and stars Yooka […]

  • Console version of Mistwalker’s Terra Battle is in development

    Now that Mistwalker’s Terra Battle has surpassed 2 million downloads on mobile, the developer is now working on a console version of the tactical RPG. As part of the original Download Starter campaign, the 2 million milestone means the company will begin development on Terra Battle’s console version with details to be announced at a […]

  • Prison break game The Escapists is heading to PlayStation 4 from May 29

    The Escapists, Mouldy Toof’s prison break game originally released as a timed console exclusive Xbox One, has a release date for PlayStation 4. For those unfamiliar with the title, which is also a PC release, it tasks players’ time management skills as they do a bit of digging and crafting, and other prison-type stuff as […]

  • Dead Island 2 delayed into 2016 to ensure series is “taken to the next level”

    Dead Island 2 has been delayed into 2016 by Yager in order to ensure the sequel “takes Dead Island to the next level.” According to a tweet from the developer, it set “big goal” for the game, and in order to deliver what fans expect, the team needs more time to reach development goals. “We […]

  • Project Cars: here’s a list of all available cars at launch

    Project Cars will contain many, many cars and if we are counting correctly, there will be 74 total at launch. The standard edition contains 65 total, and when factoring the free car as well as the Modified and Limited Edition cars packs, you can add an additional nine cars to the mix. Comb through the […]

  • Competitive matchmaking support is coming to Team Fortress 2

    Team Fortress 2 will soon feature support for competitive matchmaking, which Valve says is a “high priority” project for it at the moment. According to a report from TeamFortress.tv, which visited Valve headquarters recently, Valve is looking into the possibility of 6v6 or 9v9 matches 9v9, a possible quick play option and it is also […]

  • GTA 5 PC patch fixes garage, Job crashes – full notes here

    Rockstar has pushed out a 353 MB patch for GTA 5 on PC The patch fixes a number of annoying bugs related to vehicles and garages, some deathmatch issues and purchase errors. It should also fix various freezing and crashing bugs, as well as a little issue with Steam. Time will tell if the patch […]

  • Fire Emblem If will come in White Kingdom and Black Kingdom versions with amiibo support

    We’ve finally got some juicy details on the next Fire Emblem game, but the most interesting aspect is that there will be two versions of the game. According to Siliconera, who translated an interview between Intelligent Systems and 4Gamer, there will a White Kingdom and a Black Kingdom version that offer different aspects of the […]

  • Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess heads west with “Golden Toilet” pre-order bonus

    Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess will debut on western PlayStation 4 systems this summer, Koei Tecmo has announced. It is also coming to PS3 and Vita. The game was produced by Keisuke Kikuchi of Fatal Frame fame and takes up where Deception 4: Blood Ties left off allowing players to relive Laegrinna’s pursuit to free […]

  • Nintendo US eShop update: Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario demo, Paper Mario, more

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with a demo of Puzzle & Dragons Super Mario Bros. Edition, Paper Mario on Virtual Console, and amiibo Tap. The full update is below. eShop update amiibo Tap – free – Wii U Star Wars Pinball DLC – Wii U Paper Mario – Wii U […]

  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided PC port handed off to Nixxes

    The PC port of the new Deus Ex has been handed over to Netherlands based studio, Nixxes software. After the initial reveal trailer at the beginning of April, we’ve only had a few morsels in the way of additional news. The most intriguing tidbit to date has got to be the fact that you’ll be […]

  • First-ever PC Gaming Show to take place at E3 2015 in June

    PC gaming will finally have its very own E3 press conference this year, thanks to PC Gamer and AMD. The PC Gaming Show will take place on June 16 at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles and it will be livestreamed on Twitch. PC Gamer said speakers at the presentation will include representatives from Blizzard, […]

  • Majora’s Mask light available now on Club Nintendo for 6000 stars

    Club Nintendo shuts up shop on September 30 and members are being encouraged to spend accumulated stars before then. And what better to spend them on, than this adorable Majora’s Mask light? If you’re a member based in Europe you can nab it for 6000 stars. If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, it’ll only […]

  • Unity support announced for HoloLens, will work with Windows universal apps

    Microsoft is partnering with game engine developers Unity in order to make HoloLens compatible with apps and games which use the cross-platform engine. The partnership was announced yesterday during its Build Developer Conference. Universal apps for Windows 10 systems will also be available on Xbox One later this year, suggesting possible HoloLens functionality with the […]

  • Splatoon Nintendo Direct airs Thursday, May 7

    A Nintendo Direct focused on Splatoon, the Wii U multiplayer title, on May 7. It will kick off at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm UK and it can be watched via the Nintendo Direct website. You can also have a look at the game through Nintendo’s Twitch channel. The last game-specific presentation took place last week and […]

  • GTA 5 PC: clean up the streets as a member of the San Andreas PD with this new mod

    Remember the awesome mods for GTA 4 and San Andreas that let you run amok online as a member of the po-po? Well, dust off your taser and load up your gun, because it’s coming to GTA 5. The new mod for GTA 5 is currently in alpha and can be downloaded at palmbeachgames.com. You […]

  • Indie shoot ‘em up Project Root comes to Xbox One, PS4 and PSVita

    Project Root is a self-proclaimed rejig of the shoot ‘em up genre that was released on PC last year, and it’s finally coming to consoles. Combining free-roaming elements with the usual business of shooting things, Project Root was released this week for Xbox One, PS4 and the PSVita.

  • You can now bet on eSports online, starting with League of Legends

    If you’re getting bored with sticking a pony on the races, you can expand your gambling horizons at Unikrn where you can watch esports streams and get a little action on the side. The new platform was set up by Rahul Sood – previously the general manager of Microsoft Ventures. At the moment, customers are […]

  • Has Watch Dogs 2 been leaked?

    Ubisoft employee, Julien Risse, may have inadvertently confirmed Watch Dogs 2, thanks to his online CV over at LinkedIn. Videogamer.com spotted the slip up, in which Risse lists Watch Dogs, the DLC Bad Blood, and Watch Dogs 2 on his profile. Creative Director Jonathan Morin has already talked about his ideas for improvements for the […]

  • GTA 5′s Trevor makes his Jackass debut, complete with leopard-print knickers

    YouTuber Abstract Mode has shared his vision of what Trevor Philips’ life might have been like, had he not been completely batshit crazy. Watch Trevor get mauled, run over, and hit by a train, before taking a majestic swan-dive into someone else’s pool at the climax. Thanks, Kotaku.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 season pass will cost you £35

    Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 isn’t released until November 6, but you can already hand over your cash for the Season Pass. The Season Pass is available for pre-purchase on Steam for £34.99, and will cover four DLC packs – although the details we have on the content are limited to ‘exciting’ at this […]

  • GTA Online’s cheating assholes are no match for this player’s vengeance

    Think you’re smart for using invisibility and infinite ammo glitches? You need to be taught a lesson, sucker. You can have all the hacks you want but if your GTA Online game is weak, you’ll still get your ass handed to you. As this fool discovered when attempting to hassle another player. There’s a fair […]

  • PS4 sales help Sony’s games division swing to profit

    Sony’s PlayStation business has made an operating profit of 48.1 billion yen ($404m / £261.5m) in the past 12 months. That’s thanks to stellar sales of the PlayStation 4 and PS Plus, even as sales of the PS3 have stalled and the company wrote off costs for the PSTV and PS Vita. The profit puts […]

  • New patch for Dirt Rally gives co-driver’s attitude a tune-up

    Dirt Rally gets a new patch three days after release on Steam. On Monday, we reported that the newest Dirt game has popped up on Steam’s Early Access and is available to pick up for £24.99, as well as giving you an eyeful of tasty screenshots. The patch – released yesterday – fixes some issues […]

  • New The Witcher 3 screenshots show combat, exploration and general carousing

    New screenshots released on the official facebook page for The Witcher 3 show Geralt annihilating a winged beast, out and about in the world exploring, and living the life of Reily amidst a bustling feast. We were already treated to some glorious screenshots a few days ago, but these new ones are in-game and give […]

  • Destiny: 14 things you might have missed during House of Wolves intel drops

    Destiny: House of Wolves does a great deal more than just slap some new content on the existing game structure. House of Wolves changes Destiny in a lot of interesting and very welcome ways. Bungie showed off many of these changes in its livestream, and let both me and Arekkz come and have a look […]

  • Scratch that cyberpunk itch with Technobabylon on May 21 – new trailer

    Technobabylon more like Wrecked-yo-babbling with my smooth flow about how good Wadjet Eye games are. I don’t know y’all, it’s clock off time and everything feels like a reach. Wadjet Eye makes pretty good adventure games – award winning, in fact. The latest project to spring forth from the benevolent, sheltering hand of the label […]

  • Skullgirls 2nd Encore brings exclusive new features to PS4, Vita in northern summer

    Skullgirls, the little indie fighter that could, is getting another crack at it. Skullgirls 2nd Encore is the second re-release of the one-time troubled 2D versus fighter from lab Zero Games. Having survived the shut down of its developer and collapse of its publishing contrast, Skullgirls re-emerged as Skullgirls: Encore, adding in a ton of […]

  • Danganronpa series generates “impressive” sales for Vita exclusive

    Danganronpa is selling quite nicely, thank you, says NIS America. Danganronpa is a series of murder mystery visual novel puzzlers in a similar vein to games like 999. Two of these have been released for Vita in the west – Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair. Speaking to MCV, NIS America CEO and president Takuro […]

  • I have no idea what is going on in J-Stars Victory VS+ but I kind of like it

    In this J-Stars Victory VS+ trailer, we see – uhh. Well. We certainly see some things. Look y’all, I was a massive weaboo in high school, but that was back in the dark ages when we had to take out Manga Entertainment VHS tapes from dingy little specialist rental joints that were literally underground, and […]

  • Please just watch this terrific trailer for Toren

    Toren is the kind of game I dream about when I drift off to sleep at night. This indie puzzle adventure strikes a spark in my little soul in the same way as Ico and Tequila Works’ Rime do. Mysterious, almost ethereal fantasy setting – check. Chance to actually walk around in that setting – […]

  • Play classic MS-DOS games on your own tweets

    In today’s episode of “what will they think of next”, someone’s figured out how to post playable versions of classic games in tweets. For some time now, Twitter has allowed you to embed various forms of media in tweets, most noticeably YouTube videos, simply by pasting a URL into the compose field. Turns out this […]

  • VR: Unreal Engine to add HTC Vive support

    The biggest digital PC game distributor and the most popular game development engine have both backed VR. It’s going to happen. An upcoming Unreal Engine 4 update will expand the development suite’s support to the HTC Vive, Valve’s VR headset. In this glorious new future where work on one of the most important engines in […]

  • WWE 2K15 PC supports modding

    WWE 2K15 may be the series’ PC debut, but it’s already getting into the spirit of the platform. WWE 2K15 does indeed support mods on PC, 2K’s Marcus Stephenson has confirmed. @ElementGamesTV you can. Now buy. — Marcus Stephenson (@stephensonmc) April 28, 2015 As Destructoid points out, this opens the door to all sorts of […]

  • Overkill’s The Walking Dead coming to PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2016

    Overkill’s The Walking Dead is one step closer to your grasping little paws. Overkill’s The Walking Dead will be published by 505 Games, Overkill parent Starbreeze has announced. 505 also published Payday 2, Overkill’s previous title, so the two companies have established a working relationship. In a press release, the publisher said the co-op title […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 pre-orders net Advanced Warfare DLC

    Buy Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 for later, enjoy bonus Advanced Warfare content now. Blacks Ops 3 is being supported by a rather cunning pre-order incentive even more likely to get you to lay your cash down sooner than you might otherwise. Gamespot reports a Black Ops 3 pre-order will receive a couple of […]

  • Steam Game Ban system lets developers determine who to block

    Steam users can now be blocked from individual games by their developers. Steam has always supported multiplayer bans for disruptive users, but a newly-implemented system allows developers to ban users from individual games using their own anti-cheat systems. Game Bans are enforced by Valve, but are enacted at the developer’s request and discretion. This change […]

  • Far Cry 4 devs matching Red Cross donations up to $100K to aid Nepal earthquake victims

    Far Cry 4 developer Ubisoft Montreal will match any pledges made to The Red Cross up to $100,000 to aid Nepal after the 7.8 earthquake struck the area in and around Kathmandu in Nepal. According to Ubisoft: “Having spent the last few years working on Far Cry 4, a game heavily inspired by Nepal and […]

  • Tales of Zestiria retail listing notes September release date, PS4 version

    Tales of Zestiria is coming west in northern autumn, and while it’s confirmed as a PlayStation 3 release, a Dutch retailer has it listed as coming to PS4 as well. Of course, listing it for PS4 could also be a typo, not that I would personally know about that sort of thing, really. However, according […]