Your last game was the satirical The Bards Tale, where you mocked both fantasy and the role-playing genre, and now you're suddenly serious again with Hunted: The Demon's Forge. How do you go from parody to what you made fun of?
Well... I've always made serious games like the first Bards Tale and Fallout. With the remake of Bards Tale, we wanted to punch holes in all the stereotypes and elements you always find in the genre. Before we started on the remake, I had just played this roleplaying game - I can't remember the name of it - and the very first thing you did were killing rats in a cellar. 20 years after the first roleplaying game, and we still go around and kill rats in cellars. I got the idea that it might be fun to make a game where the protagonist himself had played too many roleplaying games. It was an opportunity to vent a little creativity and bile, but now we are back where we belong.
So you don't kill rats in Hunted?
Haha no, no basements with rats in Hunted! And I'm not kidding, no rats. We are in no way trying to be funny in Hunted. There will be a few situations where we might go for a smile - the two main characters have their differences, for example.
Our basic philosophy has been to create a game where the characters act as you or I would in this situation. I've always been annoyed by how the dialogue in games is often rigid and artificial. If you see a man being thrown out of a window, and then having his heart torn out, then the characters in the game should react to that. That is how we make our two main characters in Hunted come alive - there will be (sexual) tension between them, and a little humor - because it is a very dark world they live in, and they will have to face some very unpleasant things.
The dialogue between the two main characters in Hunted reminded me of the Uncharted series, and the way Nathan Drake is talking back and forth with other people during the game. Was that an inspiration?
I will not say who came "first" but we had something of the same in Bards Tale, and how the protagonist and the game's storyteller started to argue. What you see in Hunted, is a further development of that.
We liked the dynamism between the two - for example when the narrator says that the main character went east, and then he went west instead. The narrator would then exclaim: "what is it about the concept of the east that you don't understand?"
They had a good interaction, and I thought those were some of the best moments in the game. It operated both as way we could tell a story, while at the same time putting humor into the game. The worst games are those where you as a player sit and think "did the developers even play their own game?" When we get the game to react to the player's actions - using dialogue and so on - we tell the player that we know what you're doing, and here you have our response to it. It made the game more alive, which we liked, so we thought we'd do something similar in Hunted.
I noticed that one of your first games was called Demon's Forge. Is there a connection between that and Hunted?
Haha, well spotted - you have won the prize! In a while some guy will come in and give you a stuffed animal! No, joking aside. It's a very interesting discovery you've made there. Yes, the very first game I did - while I was still in high school I think - was called Demon's Forge, and it was one of those old adventure games where you had very basic graphics, and commands typed into the game via keyboard.
When we were deciding what Hunted should be called, our publisher liked the name of that old game - it also fitted well with this one. A forge, with demons, fit well with what Hunted is.
You have not reused stuff from your old games?
No, for God's sake, it was something I did in high school - I had no idea what I was doing back then.
In the demonstration you showed there were very few icons on the screen, there was perhaps a little "b" to show that you could do something with the surroundings, but otherwise it was bare. Will it also be like that in the final game?
We went for having you as the player feeling that you're actually in that cave and exploring ancient ruins. We wanted it to be as visual as possible, and because of that we removed anything that would distract from that from the screen. When you fight, you'll even see blood spray across the screen.
The only thing on top of what is there now, is something that tells how much mana you have left - we needed to communicate that to the player in one way or another.
Speaking of what you see on the screen, in the Dungeons and Dragons you are constantly throwing die, and get to know how much damage you've done, and how much experience points you get out of it. How can it be that there are no corresponding numbers in Hunted, that tell you damage and experience points, and so on?
What you have to remember is that, back then those numbers were metaphors for things we couldn't do in reality, like beating an orc with a sword. What we can do with computers now is to hide these numbers and calculations - just put them away. At the same time, Hunted focus on action, and you as a player is in control if you hit something with your sword or not, unlike a random dice roll.
We've looked at the things we loved about Dungeons & Dragons back then. We liked finding hidden doors and treasure, we liked to encounter strange and horrible traps. We looked at what fascinated us then and thought to ourselves: we're in 2010, and the players of today expect something completely different than we did back in the 90's.
We then took the best elements from those old games, and put that into the way you make games today. It's easy to get stuck in the past, but you have to modernize.
I have been told that the relationship between Aragorn and Legolas have been a great inspiration for Hunted, and the two main characters. Any other characters you've been inspired by?
Lara Croft has been an inspiration, in the sense that she is a strong female character, acting on an equal footing with the men. You can see that in Hunted with the elven female E'lara - she's not particularly masculine, but she's the one with the power in the relationship between herself and her male partner, who is more cautious where she is impulsive.
Now you mention Lara Croft, and you have talked about how you would like to break away from the typical fantasy stereotypes like the brutal masculine warrior and the sexy feminine elf. How does that connect with the fact that the female elf in the game has very little clothes on, and is therefore a stereotyped sex-symbol in line with Lara Croft?
Lara Croft is a fun example, since she is both a sex-symbol - made by men for men - but also one of the few strong female protagonists in games. Similarly, you can look at Liv Tyler (who played Arwen) in the Lord of the Rings movies, where she is a very strong character and simultaneously oozes sex.
It follows the history of the industry a bit, both in games and fantasy. We are who we are and the industry has always liked to show off the sexy, with elven girls and over-proportioned women. These industries have their own language, a language we grew up with and I chose to pass that on, because it is just a part of what we call fantasy genre and role-play. And we like to look at the female body.