Alexander Bruce kicked some serious butt recently by taking out the overall 5th place in the worldwide Unreal modding competition, Make Something Unreal. We caught up with the Victorian indy developer about the experience and the ideas behind the project most simply described as a 'Philosophical First Person Single Player Exploration Puzzle Art Game'. See? Simple.
It's best you take a look at the freaky trailer for Hazard before we dive into the interview. Then you'll have some idea of just how out there Alex's ideas go...
UPDATE: Alex just sent us through his latest trailer that helps explain the game.
How would you describe your idea? It seems silly, but the genre description I gave of the game on my website really is one of the most accurate ways of explaining it quickly. Hazard is a "Philosophical First Person Single Player Exploration Puzzle Art Game". I'm looking to make a trailer soon that explains what that actually means, because although it does sum up all of the parts to Hazard, there's so much that needs to be explained in depth for people to fully understand what they actually do in the game.
How did it evolve as you made it into a game? Because I've worked on this game as a single person, everything about the development just had to flow. It was always a spare time project up until this year, where I have now moved into working on it full time until it's commercial release, so I really had to keep finding ways to make sure that the game got finished, and didn't end up in perpetual development. If there was something that I could change that made developing the game easier, I would change it, and if there was something else that I could change that would help me further the development, I would add it in. Philosophy is one of those things that worked back and forth like this. For some puzzles, I would come up with a piece of philosophy to express, and then build a puzzle around it. For other puzzles, I would think of a puzzle that displayed mechanics really well, and then try to work out how it would relate to life.
How long did you have to work on it? The actual development for Hazard technically started off at the end of 2006, with my dynamic geometry system: http://demruth.com/dynamicGeometry.htm. I had made this system that allowed me to construct completely mutable worlds, but I had to work out the right way to sell the concept. It started off as an arena combat game, but then I ran into technical issues with trying to make the system work seamlessly over a network, so I put it on hold for a long time whilst developing other concepts. The development of Hazard:The Journey Of Life as the game that you see today really only kicked off at the beginning of 2009, where I had plenty of time to finish it and get it right whilst I was completing the last year of my degree.
Are you planning to do more work on the project? Hazard is being released commercially in 2010. I already have the game standalone using the UDK, and have already made significant changes to how the game feels. It's optimised, it's got way more artwork everywhere, I've done a whole lot more playtesting, more content is being added. There's actually a standalone demo of the game coming out very soon that I currently have a few people playtesting. The final release will be significantly bigger than Hazard already is, and it's already a 5 - 8 hour game for most people. 10 hours of rock solid geometric and spatial fun is not out of the question!
How pleased were you by the success? Surprised? Got a taste for more? I think anyone would be pleased with the kind of success I've seen with my game so far. I presented it at the Tokyo Game Show and at Game Connect Asia Pacific, I was the Best Unsigned Game for the Game Developers Association of Australia awards in 2009, and recently I was one of the Grand Prize Winners in Make Something Unreal. I even secured a 1st place for Best Level in Phase 4, which was surprising given the caliber of architecture I was going up against from the other contestants. Needless to say, for an epic art game about philosophy and life, I'd say my game is doing pretty spectacularly.
What are some of your favourite games? Of all time, my favourite games are Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid. These days, I'm always playing Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 as the games that keep me sane whilst I work on this idea. But I don't make the same kinds of games that I enjoy playing. I create very experimental ideas because I have the abilities to do so and no one else will create them if I don't. They're not the kinds of games that you would really see studios putting money into, because nothing about them has been proven as financially viable and marketable products.
What games influence your work? A lot of people compare Hazard to Braid and Portal, and say that it looks like Echochrome, but I actually started the game long before I'd ever heard anything about those games. Dynamic Geometry and Recursive Space (http://demruth.com/recursiveSpace.htm) were the main concepts that I wanted to put into Hazard. Putting them into a puzzle game just happened to be the same solution that Portal and Braid went with. There's no surprise to this though. It's easier to sell these concepts in mind bending puzzles than it is in an action game. Try playing mods that include the Portal Gun. They're not fun at all, yet Portal as a game is spectacular.
The only thing that really influenced my ideas was how I live my life. As I said, philosophy came about as a design solution, not as a gimmick. The visual style came around because it needed to work with abstract space and geometry. The abstract space and geometry came about because I was trying to open up the possibilities of how game space could be represented to people.
Ideas have to start somewhere.