Twin stick-up

House­mar­que’s head of pub­lish­ing, talks about the past, present, and go­ing it alone

Games Master - - Upfront -

We chat to House­mar­que, the mas­ters of the mod­ern top-down shooter.

“we see ev­ery given playthrough ses­sion as an ex­pe­ri­ence we want to guide along in some way” Mikael Haveri,

With around 52 peo­ple work­ing for it, Fin­land-based de­vel­oper House­mar­que is a small team mak­ing big, ex­plo­sive games. With mod­ern crack­ers like Re­so­gun and Alien­ation al­ready un­der its belt, and hot on the heels of putting lat­est ti­tle Nex Machina out on PS4 and PC, it seems like a great time to catch up and find out how things are go­ing, es­pe­cially since Nex Machina is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with gam­ing leg­end Eu­gene Jarvis, one of the minds be­hind Smash TV, De­fender, and Robotron. Q What brought about the idea for House­mar­que to go it alone and self-pub­lish Nex Machina in­stead of go­ing with a big pub­lisher? A We’ve al­ways liked the thought of more in­de­pen­dence in terms of be­ing a de­vel­oper with legs to reach out and grow, and do our own thing. We were mak­ing Re­so­gun, and we met with Eu­gene and started think­ing about what a col­lab­o­ra­tion with him would be like, and when that seemed like some­thing that could go for­ward, we didn’t want to risk hav­ing to com­pro­mise in some of the terms that we wanted to have in the game. So we fig­ured we’d need to ap­proach this in a self-pub­lish­ing man­ner.

It’s also the first PC game we launched since Supreme Snow­balling which was in 1999. We did have a game on Steam called Out­land, but that was orig­i­nally pub­lished with Ubisoft for PS 3 and 360. Q A younger au­di­ence may not be overly fa­mil­iar with Eu­gene’s nearly 40-year ca­reer and ground­break­ing work, so how did the col­lab­o­ra­tion come about? A It was one of th­ese spur-of-the­mo­ment things ac­tu­ally. Our CEO and two of our other team mem­bers were in Las Ve­gas for the DICE awards in 2013 when Re­so­gun was nom­i­nated and Eu­gene re­ceived his pi­o­neer award. The story goes that it was 4am, in the lobby of Hard Rock Cafe, and they had some drinks and it kind of started off from there.

Hope­fully we can act as ed­u­ca­tional ground into what the his­tory of videogames is about, and how th­ese gen­res stem from a while back, and how they’re still rel­e­vant. Q Since it’s be­ing re­leased on PC and PS4, is there a pos­si­bil­ity of VR for Nex Machina? A We did en­ter­tain VR for a bit, and it was one of those things we post­poned. Right now we don’t know if it’s in our plans, but I think it would work re­ally well. We had some early ver­sions of it that we tested out, but it would re­quire still quite a bit of work, be­cause it would work on high-end PCs, but it would need quite a bit of work for the PlayS­ta­tion plat­forms to get it pol­ished and to that frame rate that we want. In the end we have some cool plans, some new modes, and all kinds of things we still want to add to the game, if we get that op­por­tu­nity. Q Any chance we’ll see anything House­mar­que-de­vel­oped on the Nin­tendo Switch? A I think Nex Machina would be a per­fect fit for Switch. I’m a big fan of the Switch and I’d love to have it on that. That be­ing said, re­ally it de­pends on the mar­kets and if it’s tech­no­log­i­cally vi­able. I think we could start look­ing into all th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties, but we’ll need to do the Ex­cel-sheet fi­nan­cial side of things and see where we can go with it. Q Some­thing House­mar­que does in­cred­i­bly well is dif­fi­culty. The skill ceil­ing al­ways seems to raise just enough to keep us com­ing back for more. Our ques­tion is sim­ply: how? Are you wiz­ards? A Haha! It’s tough but fair. The team is phe­nom­e­nal. The motto over here is that “game­play is king”. We want the player to feel at home, and it can never be un­fair. We haven’t done our job right if some­thing feels un­fair, and we re­ally want you to feel like if you mess up, you know what you need to do dif­fer­ently next time. Q So when the dif­fi­culty steps up a level, it’s not a pun­ish­ment, it’s a chal­lenge? A We want to make it dif­fi­cult, but we see ev­ery given ses­sion as an ex­pe­ri­ence we want to guide along in some way. We’re not as hot on nar­ra­tive or CGI that a lot of triple-A games have to spend a lot of time and money on, so we get to fo­cus on what’s essen­tial in terms of what we think should be there. Q Are you con­cerned at all that you might be­come pi­geon­holed as ‘the shooter stu­dio’? A I see that as a pos­i­tive and pos­si­bly a neg­a­tive, but mostly a pos­i­tive. We know how to do th­ese kinds of games and it re­ally fits our pro­file. I think it’s a

bless­ing that we’ve been able to get so far that we get pi­geon­holed into some­thing we’re pretty good at. If we can be the kings of the shoot-’em-up genre, is that a vi­able busi­ness model in the long term? Th­ese are the things we still think about a lot, and re­ally, Nex Machina is our way to test those wa­ters still. But it’s some­thing we wear with pride. Q What can you tell us about your next game, Mat­ter­fall? A We love an old-school game called Tur­ri­can [a Com­modore 64 shooter from 1990], so we’re think­ing about what we could do in the vein, and then it ended up with a pro­to­type that felt a bit like Tur­ri­can and a bit like Mega Man, but now it feels more like Gun­star Heroes.

Mat­ter­fall is still a game on its own mer­its, but we don’t look at it like “how much is it like Out­land?” even though it’s a side-scrolling plat­former. In­stead we look to the past for in­flu­ence. Q Mat­ter­fall is out on PS4 in Au­gust, but it’s be­ing pub­lished by Sony. How does it feel ship­ping one game your­self, and an­other with Sony? That’s a lot of dead­lines! A It’s al­ways hec­tic. I have to say that even with some Re­so­gun builds we were tak­ing to some ex­pos be­fore re­lease, lit­er­ally hours be­fore go­ing into the expo we were still fin­ish­ing builds. Q Blimey! That’s cut­ting things fine. So what’s next for House­mar­que af­ter Mat­ter­fall? A Game­play will still be king; House­mar­que is aim­ing to be around for an­other 20 years and we’re still try­ing to fig­ure out ex­actly what that means.

I think that at least we have a lot of things go­ing for us at House­mar­que: for one thing, we have a won­der­ful au­di­ence that ap­pre­ci­ates what we do and tells us quite di­rectly if they like some­thing we’ve cre­ated or if they don’t. A lot of that ground­work has al­ready been done, so I think that now it’s just for us to make some­thing even more per­fect and try to tackle some new hard is­sues. It’s com­fort­able, but never that com­fort­able.

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