When Helldivers was announced back at Gamescom 2013 it was easy to sum it up as a topdown twin stick shooter co-op take on Starship Troopers. And while that is a correct assessment on the surface, there's a lot more to the PlayStation exclusive title from the makers of Magicka.
Most notable are the strategems - abilities that each player equips their character with ahead of a mission - but rather than simple buffs or perks - these special abilities (such as having a turret drop down from orbit) require the player to input a series of commands and this makes for some superlatively intense moments in the heat of the battle as aliens swarm your position. It's a difficult game. That requires strong teamwork, great timing and for players to ease back on the trigger happiness when a teammate is in the line of fire.
Helldivers has been shown at subsequent shows after its reveal back in 2013 and we last played a build back at E3 in June, but obviously the game slipped from its initial "summer" release window, and now the autumn has also come to pass. We caught up with Arrowhead Game Studios' CEO and game director Johan Pilestedt, during a pre-Christmas crunch at the office to learn more about its status.
"Helldivers is coming along nicely, it started out as a small project and due to the traction we've had at shows and events, the project has grown to be about twice the size of the original," says Pilestedt. "Which of course is great but I guess all Helldiver fans are getting a bit worn out - but bear with us, we're almost done!"
"Helldivers is to me a pet project, it was one of the other ‘itches' I had to scratch. Like with Magicka, which was all about being able to cast any spell you'd like as a wizard, Helldivers is a game about being this futuristic soldier that's able to have any weapons or air support at your (futile) disposal; and still screwing up and not managing to get the job done. Sort of what any Storm Trooper, Mobile Infantry or Colonial Marine would feel like in those memorable combat situations."
"Also, it allowed us as developers to do our comment on dystopian surveillance societies and struggles. And also global coop, which is something that has interested me a whole lot."
(Off-screen gameplay footage from E3 2014)
One of the most ambitious plans for Helldivers is its cross-platform play between PS3, PS4 and PS Vita. When we visited the studio late last year, game designer Patrik Lasota had the following to say:
"The idea is to have seamless cross-play. If I'm playing on my Vita and I see a friend playing on his PS4 I can just join his game or he can join mine. Or if I'm playing on my PS3 at home and my friend comes over he can just drop into my game from the couch and then we can play with both my PS4 friend and the Vita player."
While Magicka was the game that "built" Arrowhead Game Studios the team certainly hasn't been idle since. In 2013 they released the somewhat overlooked duelling 2D title The Showdown Effect, and this year they released the re-imagined Gauntlet on Steam - a game that, as journalists like to put it, received mixed reviews.
"Looking back a couple of months I can see myself saying ‘We need to make the game that we want, not what anyone else imagines - because there are too many views on what Gauntlet is'," says Pilestedt of Gauntlet's reception. "And in the end, Gauntlet is what the original 1985 game meant to the Gauntlet Team. Everybody is going to have their nostalgic views on what a sequel to such a great game should be like. While we just wanted to create a ‘fresh' take on the original game, as if it were made today. Some love it, some don't. I'm just glad that many feel that we made the right choice."
But 2014 wasn't just the year that saw the release of Gauntlet and the delay and expansion of the Helldivers project, it was also the year when Arrowhead Game Studios hired an office manager.
"2014 has been an eventful year to say the least, it's not only been a challenge of simultaneously developing two games at the same time," says Pilestedt. "But also to grow to a much larger size than I originally intended. We got very close to the 30-mark on developers; everything from audio design, to level designers and dedicated concept artists. Sometimes I stop and think: what happened? We're actually a company right now, we've got an Office Manager because there was too much stuff going on, and I couldn't possibly handle all the small things around the studio while game directing. It's a bit crazy actually.
Then again, we managed to finish Gauntlet, and Helldivers is well on its way, which feels fantastic."
The first task for the larger Arrowhead Game Studios in 2015 is naturally to finish Helldivers, but Johan Pilestedt is already looking ahead (without revealing much):
"Well, with Helldivers and Gauntlet done it's time for us to do another project or two. As always with Arrowhead, there's going to be something really cool and interesting in the pipeline, something you haven't seen before!"
Our most recent video interview with Johan Pilestedt, from Gamescom (August, 2014)
For more reading check out our early impressions from back when the game was announced.
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