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Mithical Entertainment Interviews: Runic Games & Hob

By: Mithrandiel

Despite the fact that I was unable to go to PAX West myself, Scarlette was gracious enough to share her experience with us during her weekend in Seattle. One of the standout pictures was a long line wrapping around the Runic Games booth – why all the buzz? A 20-minute demo of the action-RPG title Hob. Not familiar with the game? Check out the trailer below:

I had the pleasure of chatting with President and Project Lead for Hob, Marsh Lefler, as well as Wonder Russell, who manages Runic Games’ public relations. Check out our conversation below!

Mithrandiel: For people who might not be familiar with the game, what can you tell us about it?

Marsh Lefler: I would say it’s definitely an action-adventure game, but we put our own little twist on it. It’s a game that came about due to everyone’s love of different games and we kinda just melded it into our own game – that is Hob. There’s no dialogue, there’s nothing to tell you what to do…it has classic tropes of other games but with our own spin on them. Someone might say “Oh it’s like Zelda”, but then you play it and realize it’s not like Zelda. Someone else might say “Oh it’s more like Metroid or Castlevania…” No, it’s not that either. It’s its own little thing and we’re quite excited by it.

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Mithrandiel: You mentioned there’s not text or dialogue, why did you head in that direction? What do you think that helps to contribute to the game when there’s that lack of dialogue? Is it more about the player’s interpretation of what the world and the story is? Or do you feel like it’s an experiment and a challenge for you to try and tell the story without words?

MF: I’d say it’s more of option B. A few of the inspirations we had early on [were games] like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. They had a small story that gamers were able to follow along with, but it was the larger story that surrounded you that we were really compelled by. There’s this whole world that they built and you could tell there was such a richer story. Developers put hints and little nods all around it and we love that. We love the challenge of presenting that to the player. 

Mithrandiel: You’ve mentioned that Hob is a mixture of different styles of games – has attempting to meld these different games together proved to be a challenge? What have been some things that you’ve struggled with in the development of Hob?

MF: One of the first things that pops out in my mind is probably the combat. We’re trying to make the combat more tactile…more visceral…more –

Wonder Russell:  Strategic.

MF: Right, strategic. A lot of people were [looking for] Dark Souls, but I don’t want to say Dark Souls because everyone says Dark Souls.

Mithrandiel: Right – everyone’s like “Make it like Dark Souls!”

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MF: We don’t want to do Dark Souls, but what we did like about it was that every monster was a unique challenge and not just like “Oh I’ll just go use my sword against them.” I would say that was probably one of our biggest challenges – trying to make this world that was so alive…there’s so many moving parts to the world, literally. Putting these monsters in and adding this complexity was a bigger challenge than we were expecting. It’s coming together – we’ve got our monsters in. They’re all really different, you don’t just go up and wail on them. Another challenge was with the art. From the art standpoint – we got done with Torchlight 2 and we outsourced so much art. After that we said “Let’s keep it in. Everything we make will be made by our two environmental artist and our two animators and our character artist and that would be it.” In the meantime Hob bloomed and bloomed and became this bigger thing and for the art team it was definitely hard to make all the art internally. At the same time we’ve done that too so, we made that goal. 

Mithrandiel: One of the striking things I noticed from the trailer and gameplay that I’ve seen of Hob is the world you’ve created, the moving parts, like you were saying – it’s a very intriguing world that you’ve created. What was the inspiration for the gears and the moving parts and the islands and segments of the map coming out of the ground…where did that come from?

MF: Um…on a patio after a few beers? [laughs]

Mithrandiel: [laughs] Ah yes, where all the best ideas come from.

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MF: One of the games that we looked at initially was Castlevania – 

Mithrandiel: Like Symphony of the Night?

MF: Right, the Metroid/Castlevania type games…they’ve been done. Everybody understands “You get this item, you break this wall, you’ve gone into a new level…” –

Mithrandiel: Or you open this door, etc. etc.

MF: You get a key. It’s a key. You know, you can present it in different ways…but what we did like was that notion of being able to see something and being able to come back to it and do something. The more we thought about it – you don’t need to have an item to do that. What’s important is the feeling that you’re doing something that allows you to get there. The easiest way, of course, is by an item. We took it one step further and said “What if you had to shift the world and move it and get things working…” You are thrown into this situation and you have to figure it out. That, to us, that feels amazing. When you play the game those are some of the best parts. 

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Mithrandiel: You’re literally bringing the world to life. I definitely got that feeling when watching the trailer and the gameplay. Turning this giant steering wheel on a ship – watching the island appear in front of you…the visual impact is great. I’m really intrigued by it and I’m sure others have been as well which leads me to my next question which revolves around Hob at PAX West. What were some reactions to the game? Did you have any good learns? Discover any interesting bugs that you hadn’t seen before? What was that like?

MF: Bugs?

WR: Bugs? We don’t have bugs…

[laughter]

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WR: We love going to shows, and we especially love PAX West because it’s so convenient for us. We’re 4 blocks from the convention center so we just grab people and start carrying things up there. The public component is always really important because you’re developing things but your feedback is a closed circuit so it’s important to get outside feedback. It’s great to see other people play it and see what’s challenging for them or the things that were the most surprising. It’s not only a great boost of morale for us to see people play it “in the wild” so to speak and watching their reaction to everything as it unfolds which is always fantastic when you’re working on something and haven’t been able to show it for months and months and months. The other thing is that things do come up and you’re like “Oh that seems a bit trickier than we intended. We should go back and look at that.” That being said – show environments are a bit different than playing at home so things that we want to be more challenging for you to puzzle out for yourself in the comfort of your own home is super different than standing in an hour line to play a 20 minute demo. The feedback from the fans and the response is incredibly valuable for us. We had a long line of people that loved the game – 

MF: 2 hours?

WR: Yeah, 2 hour lines. Which is crazy for us…if you’re a big company like EA that’s kinda standard right? But it’s really amazing for more of a medium/small sized team like us to have people waiting so long to play a wordless puzzle game.

[laughter]

Mithrandiel: What’s next for Hob?  What’s the launch date, and are you going to be showcasing Hob at any upcoming conventions?

MF: We internally have a date we’re shooting for but we’re not actually, officially posting it yet. We are working extremely hard right now…I can say that. We are trying to get Hob out the door. We have the world all put together we’re polishing it all up…we have all the monsters together and we polished them all up. Not saying that makes the game ready to go – 

Mithrandiel: From the polishing to getting to the door there’s a wide and deep chasm from what I’ve understood…I get that. [laughs] Anything else you’d like to share with us?

WR: We will have more announcements pretty soon on our site: hobgame.com We’re looking at another show or two where people can come and play and we’d love to see anyone out there. We also have a newsletter sign up – if anyone wants to get an email when the release date is announced, that’s 100% the best way. 

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Thanks again to Wonder and Marsh from Runic Games for taking the time to chat with me – if you’re interested in checking out Hob make sure to visit their site (linked above).

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