Yesterday we published the first part of our interview with Hypersloth, the developers of upcoming PC game Dream. In the first part, we spoke mainly about Dream itself, their past and future and the design process.
In this second part we speak a lot about up-and-coming VR headset, the Oculus Rift; next-gen consoles; and the games industry in general.
It’s your first game obviously and you’ve already been getting quite a lot of attention from the specialist press, players and you’ve managed to get yourself a publisher and funding. How are you finding your time in the industry so far? A lot of indie developers have shared quite a few horror stories over the years about how difficult the industry can be, in terms of getting your stuff out there and noticed.
Yeah, I think [Steam] Greenlight helped us a lot. Obviously everyone has their own story when it comes to Greenlight; we were very lucky when it came to timing and that definitely helped us get noticed. And then coming off that, we decided to go to Eurogamer last year, which really helped a lot. We didn’t only meet our voice artist there, Jonathan Keith; we also met our publisher there. Over the past year I think we’ve talked to good hundred or so publishers across the world. We really branched out to absolutely everyone, and for whatever reason things didn’t work. But when it came to Mastertronic, we were probably in talks with them for about six months before we got it signed, but that really helped.
Over the last year, I’ve just been going to every single networking event I can go to. The community are so close and so helpful, especially when it comes to Indies and I’ve had a really good time of it. But I understand that [a lot of that is down to] quite a bit of luck and timing.
I think a lot of people underestimate the sheer amount of time and work that has to be spent networking and meeting people, talking to people, and things like that. I obviously can’t speak on the development side, but from the side of writing about games, putting your stuff out there, speaking to editors, publishers, other journalists and getting your work out there and noticed and making contacts often outweighs the amount of time you spend working on actual content. I imagine it’s not too different for you guys!
Yeah, definitely! [Laughs] And it’s also the fact as well that I try to go to so many [events] because it just snowballs. So at one event I’ll meet someone from Sony for example, then at the next event I’ll meet someone else and say “oh, I met that guy” and they’re like “oh that’s great” and introduce me to more people, and it just gets bigger and bigger.
You can’t over-estimate the value of good name-drops!
[Laughter] Yeah! And also when it comes to people sometimes, you’ll pretend you know something you actually don’t know and they just spill their beans! Then you do know and you can go and name-drop it to someone else! [more laughter]
How long has Dream been in active development for?
I think about half a year [since starting to code the game]. We went to the Eurogamer Expo last year and at that point we’d only been working on the [design of the] game for around 3-4 months. We’ll probably release it at some point next year and by that point we’ll be looking at about 2 years in development, from start to finish.
The game already works well with a gamepad in hand. Are you considering supporting any of the consoles? Both Sony and Microsoft seem rather keen on wooing indie developers at the moment.
I started off as a console gamer, so it was a big thing for me to get the gamepad [control] feeling nice. Obviously, we also have keyboard support for PC and Mac. And now it’s come to virtual reality stuff obviously we’re supporting the Occulus Rift, we support the Hydra and we’re going to support the Omni Treadmill. We’ve tried to support as much stuff as we can for the PC. When it comes to console, then really it depends on our publisher. They want us to be on every platform and that’s great, so hopefully we’ll get there.
Microsoft obviously have their ID@Xbox program as well.
Yeah we’ve signed up to that. And Sony are pushing [indie development] as well. Obviously we’d like to get some dev kits!
Have you managed to try either of the new machines? What do you think?
I didn’t actually get to try them, but I managed to mess around with their controllers. The main thing for me is that they’re both going to be a media centre which I probably won’t use and just throw games in. I think [for me] the selling point will probably be those controllers.
The Xbox controller I thought was absolutely superb – I loved it to bits. The new Playstation controller was nice, but I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest.
Oh? Any reason for that in particular?
Well, the [Dualshock 4] layout is nice, even though I still think the thumbsticks are in the wrong place.
[Back when 3D console gaming took off] the N64 controller did 2D and 3D. So you had the joystick for 3D games, and then you changed [the way you hold the controller] to use the D-Pad for 2D.
Then Sony obviously needed to have 3rd party games, so they just decided to throw in another joystick and it was obviously the best place to put them down at the bottom [of the original PS1 controller]. It almost [seems] like they think people just play 2D games because they’ve just left their D-pad in the default position when they should have just swapped it over a while ago.
I think I read on Polygon [gaming site] recently that Sony had said both developers and focus testers requested asymmetrical thumbsticks, but out of tradition they kept them where they were for the Dualshock 4.
Yeah. I think it’s a branding thing as well. People have had the same controllers for over 15 years [so it’s become synonymous with the Playstation brand].
You've been on Early Access with Steam for a while now. How's the reception been, now that players have a chance to get their hands on an early version?
We’re really happy with how it’s gone and how people are enjoying it. I’ve been really surprised by just how much [feedback] we’ve received, with people getting back to us and wanting to help us. On our forums we always get people showing us stuff like frame-rate data and those kinds of things; which to an indie is just so helpful to see just generally what hardware people have and what people are using. So yeah, it’s all been great.
Is there anything in particular in the design that you've changed based on feedback? Either stuff already in the game, or things you had planned?
[The feedback] has definitely influenced it. We’ve tried not to make any big strides away from our original design. But [it’s affected] the usability of different things, like the computer and what you can log on to and use in the game and things like that, that’s definitely changed. Also, some of the control schemes; we have a zoom and I think we originally had it [mapped to] the left trigger, but people wanted it on the right trigger or the other way around; general controls, which we hadn’t thought about but some people like them set up in a certain way.
As a PC gamer, and being left-handed, I noticed that there isn’t currently the ability to remap controls when playing with keyboard and mouse. As a leftie, I use the mouse with my left hand and control movement on the keyboard with my right; traditional WASD controls aren’t very comfortable as using the Space bar to jump, I have to sort of twist my right hand to reach the button which isn’t very comfortable – I use the arrow keys for movement and like to remap jumping to NumPad 0.
Yeah, remapping isn’t in there at the moment but it will be. It’s something that people have asked for and we are going to look into it. We’re not planning on doing it soon, but we have a year left in development so I’m sure it’s something that will come up again. It’s on our radar.
How much time do you spend looking at what’s coming out from your peers? Do you pay attention or are you too focused right now on Dream, or perhaps too worried that their decisions will influence your design?
I don’t think we really worry about it influencing the design. We’ve picked where we are and where we’re heading, and obviously we’re going to stick to that path and we’re happy with it. But when it comes to other contemporaries, I definitely look at a lot more of the indie, out-there stuff. Then Lewis and Ash have it covered for pretty much everything else – they play a lot more games than I do, so they know a lot more about that kind of thing.
Do you spend much time (if at all) speaking to other developers and sharing ideas and thoughts? In the indie scene particularly, certain developers seem to be very close – there’s the whole “BlowFish” thing, for example.
I try to as much as possible; it’s one of the reasons I go to so many networking events because I like to see the same faces again and again. I think it’s strange and I don’t really know why, but me and a few people have talked about how exploration games and things in this genre in particular are really big in the UK, so it’s nice to be able to talk to people about that.
It also seems that the Rift is big in the UK as well, so a lot of people like Routine and Undercurrent are using the [headset] as well, and I know that the guys down at The Chinese Room keep talking about integrating into it into Dear Esther officially.
With the Rift headset particularly, I’ve seen a lot of people saying that for them it’s the next big thing, and that they’re more excited about it than they are for, say, next-gen consoles.
I agree. I think it’s got its limits, because a lot of people are trying to incorporate it into things like horror; we have some horror in our game and we’re using the Rift so we fall under that category, but I see that it could be used for a lot of other things as well. I think actually what I haven’t seen enough of is for it to be used in racing games; I think that would be really interesting.
Definitely. A lot of people like cockpit views, feeling like they’re inside the car. With a decently-rendered interior I think it could be quite amusing looking around the inside of the car while you’re driving at 200mph around a race track.
One thing I keep seeing is people saying “Can you imagine if Skyrim had Rift support?”
Yeah, it’s one of those things as well that’s really interesting with stuff like Skyrim is that you can put Rift support in yourself, but if the developers were to officially support it then it could be such a massive deal. At this point, no-one commercially has a Rift. But if they did, I can imagine that not a lot of people would be willing to trawl and find those files and put them in the right place. So I think it’s more that [developers] need to make use of it when it comes out, because it’s what a lot of people want.
I guess it’s a case of ensuring the Publishers are willing to fund that support as well. So many publishers these days just seem to release a game on PC and then don’t support it very well with patches and updates.
I think that’s more an issue with just how things with PC games have gone. Obviously with things like Steam, as an indie game now you sort of have to be on things like that, otherwise it’s just not going to sell. But then you live or die depending on their sales. So you might sell between 1 and 5 games on a normal day, but in a sale you might sell hundreds.
It seems these days that barely a day goes by where there isn’t some sort of Sale going on. Sometimes I wonder how developers ever even manage to make any money, and obviously the distribution platforms take their own cut of the money from every sale…
[Laughs]Yeah, they do!
And that's it for the second part of the interview! Check back tomorrow for the third and final part, where we discuss a bit more about Oculus Rift, Indie games, as well as Sam's thoughts on other games, the MOBA genre, rogue-likes and survival horror.