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