Post Script

In­ter­view: Ricky Haggett, de­signer of Ho­hokum and CEO of Honeyslug

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Ricky Haggett co-founded Lon­don-based boutique stu­dio Honeyslug along with Natalie Marco and Mark In­man in 2008. He is per­haps best known to play­ers for Vita’s Fro­bisher Says, and to de­vel­op­ers for co-or­gan­is­ing Lon­don Indies and Wild Rum­pus events.

What in­spired the game?

It sort of came about as a cat­a­lyst for Dick [Hogg] and I to col­lab­o­rate. Dick sent me some draw­ings and said, “Hey, we should make a videogame…” And we started down this path of him draw­ing stuff and me pro­gram­ming stuff, but very much in our spare time. It was a lit­tle thing that we worked on between other things, and over that pe­riod it changed a lot – there were lots of pro­to­types. This idea of a long, snake-like char­ac­ter that peo­ple ride on the back of wasn’t our first idea; that was some­thing that was hewn out of the rock of lots of other ideas.

There seems to be a vague con­cep­tion theme go­ing on. Is that in­ten­tional?

I’m quite ret­i­cent to be very spe­cific about it. I think ev­ery­one’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of it is in­ter­est­ing and I’m not sure there is a de­fin­i­tive an­swer for that. It def­i­nitely isn’t, ‘This is the story of the strug­gle of a par­tic­u­lar be­ing…’ The el­e­ments which book­end the game, and which pro­vide a sort of very loose spine in all of the ad­ven­tures you have in the other places, are kind of open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Like it’s def­i­nitely clear that your char­ac­ter is a trav­eller from an­other place.

The im­agery of­ten toys with the grotesque. Where did that come from?

I think it comes from two sep­a­rate places. In terms of that stuff be­ing there in the first place, it’s a de­sire to make the world of Ho­hokum feel as much as pos­si­ble like a be­liev­able world. And in the real world, na­ture is kind of gross in a lot of ways. We’re re­ally in­ter­ested in the flora and fauna of the world, and some of my favourite things about Ho­hokum are, like, plants that ex­ist in two com­pletely dif­fer­ent places but that are ob­vi­ously cousins of each other – there’s this im­pli­ca­tion that they’re sub­species. So when it came to pop­u­lat­ing th­ese worlds, of course we were go­ing to fill them with this kind of stuff, be­cause we’re in­ter­ested in it and we want to make it feel like a be­liev­able place. And then in terms of vis­ually what that stuff looks like, I guess you just have to look at Dick’s sketch­books! [Laughs] We’re re­ally into things where there’s a cross­over – like, am I look­ing at a thing that’s a man-made kind of plas­tic? Or am I look­ing at a crea­ture that’s soft and fleshy? Or am I look­ing at a hard seed or nut cas­ing?

“I think when Ho­hokum works re­ally, re­ally well, peo­ple just kind of ab­sorb what’s go­ing on through os­mo­sis”

The sound­track is a big part of the at­mos­phere. How did that col­lab­o­ra­tion come about? We knew mu­sic was go­ing to be su­per-im­por­tant. Once we got to the point where Dick had done some draw­ings, we put them in the en­gine and you could fly around them, we knew that mu­sic was ab­so­lutely cru­cial to mak­ing th­ese places feel right. I think Dick burned me a CD of a bunch of stuff, and from there we started work­ing on a Spo­tify playlist, which had about 50 tracks in it by the end, in­clud­ing peo­ple like Shigeto, Ty­cho and Matthew Dear. And at this point, Alex Hack­ford, who’s Sony Santa Mon­ica’s mu­sic li­cens­ing guy, looked at our playlist and said, “Hey, do you re­alise there’s a bunch of Ghostly artists on this? Why don’t we talk to them?” And that re­ally quickly turned into the idea of some of their artists be­ing in­ter­ested in com­pos­ing new ma­te­rial for the game. And when that was sug­gested, we bit their arm off, ob­vi­ously – that’s a re­ally cool thing to hap­pen! There’s am­bi­gu­ity in ev­ery as­pect of Ho­hokum. Why was this an im­por­tant de­sign di­rec­tion for you? I think that when Ho­hokum works re­ally, re­ally well, peo­ple just kind of ab­sorb what’s go­ing on through os­mo­sis with­out re­ally think­ing too hard about it. It’s al­most like they’ve been set on a path of com­plet­ing some se­ries of tasks with­out ever be­ing told that there even are any tasks, and I think that feels mag­i­cal. An­other part of it is that we re­ally want this place to feel im­mer­sive and real. You’re fly­ing around th­ese worlds that Dick, the animators and au­dio de­sign­ers have poured lots of love into, and it seems a real shame to then layer that with telling peo­ple stuff about what’s go­ing on and what to do. Is that also a re­ac­tion to the hand-hold­ing that’s preva­lent in mod­ern game tu­to­ri­als? Yeah, al­though I think Ho­hokum is ob­vi­ously at the ex­treme end of the scale… [Laughs] We trust that the player’s go­ing to fig­ure out what they need to, and I’m com­fort­able with the idea that some peo­ple might not fig­ure stuff out. And I also think that 90 per cent of the games I play could do with telling their play­ers less. It in­fu­ri­ates me when you’re sup­posed to be ex­plor­ing an ex­cit­ing fan­tasy land that peo­ple have worked re­ally hard to make beau­ti­ful and be­liev­able, and then there’s just a ton of ex­po­si­tion… You’re un­der­min­ing all of that hard work. One of the rea­sons Dark Souls is such an amaz­ing game is be­cause it trusts its play­ers to ex­plore its world and fig­ure out what the rules are. And that’s a re­ally pow­er­ful thing. If you trust peo­ple, then they have to work to fig­ure things out for them­selves, and that’s a re­ally pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

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