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History of violence: the creators of Hotline Miami talk piracy, look back on their game’s prototype

History of violence: the creators of Hotline Miami talk piracy, look back on their game’s prototype

Jonathan “Cactus” Söderström has a reputation for cranking out fast, experimental, and fun games. These games are released for free, frequently defiantly uncommercial, and always interesting.  Take, for instance, a little thing called Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf.  Söderström’s latest game, Hotline Miami, was a collaboration with artist Dennis Wedin, and it was both published by Devolver Digital and sold for actual money. It is also very, very good.

The reason for this shift was simple: at some point you have to pay the bills. “I was running out of money and had to start thinking about doing a commercial project,” Söderström told the Penny Arcade Report. “Hotline Miami was originally meant to be a small arcade game that we would work on for a couple of weeks, nothing too ambitious. Somehow it just kept evolving into something we couldn’t really let go of.”

A History of Violence

Now that the game has been released, reviews have been written, and gamers have had time to really chew into the final product, I wanted to pick the brains of the game’s creators. Hotline Miami is unique in that the player is given all their powers and abilities at the beginning of the game. You can modify certain parts of the game by wearing various animal masks, but for the most part you have the same moveset through the entire game.

It’s a ballsy move, and it harkens back to classic arcade games more than modern titles that constantly reward you with new abilities as you gain levels.

“The fact that we enjoyed playing the game so much during the whole time we worked on it helped us not to question what we offered the player,” Wedin explained. “I think having so few actions at your disposal will force you to be really good at them and figure out the best ways of using them.”

It also allows the player to master the game’s mechanics early on, which leads to dynamic play in the later levels. “For example, instead of having just one action that makes the character kick down a door, kill the passed-out enemy on the other side and grab his weapon, you have to combine the movement, performing the groundkill and then manually pick his weapon up,” Wedin said. “Completing such a combo will make the player feel way cooler than just remembering which button makes all that happen automatically.”

Söderström also made headlines when he spoke to those pirating the game online, and offered advice for getting the game to work, and urged the pirates to update the torrent once the new version of the game was released.

“I don’t worry about piracy,” he said when I asked about his actions. “I expected the game to be pirated and don’t really look at it as a big problem. There’s nothing I can do about it anyway, so why dwell on it? I’d rather be happy for the money that we have earned and glad that people want to play our game at all.”

Missing the point

Hotline Miami is another game that questions its own violent nature, and the motives of a player who enjoys such games. That’s become a popular theme this year, as games like Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3 dipped their toes into the same waters. In 2012 violence in video games has turned oddly meta.

“I think the player reactions that stood out for me, not that it was surprising to seem them but the sheer amount of them, was their reaction to the violence: disgusted, disturbed, sickened, and questioning the way they look upon themselves for enjoying violent games and how these games often are structured as justifying and portraying violent acts. That made me so happy to see because we really worked hard trying to evoke those feelings,” Wedin said.

Söderström said that some gamers didn’t understand the satire. “The player reactions I’m most negatively surprised about are when people say the game has comedic violence,” he said. “I’m a little bit disappointed when I hear comments that imply we didn’t try to give the game a good storyline.” Looking back, he also wished the game had shipped with fewer bugs, and he claimed some boss battles could have been tuned to greater effect.

“But overall those are just nitpicks, I’m very happy with how things turned out,” he said.

The two men also shared a video of an early version of the game, with some thoughts about things that were cut and kept in the final release. I’ve embedded that video so you can take a look; it’s fascinating stuff. Hotline Miami was one of the more interesting games of 2012, Sophie reviewed the game for us and still has trouble deciding whether or not she liked it, and it’s great to see a game with such an interesting aesthetic and simple, but satisfying, game play make such a splash.

There is already a sequel in the works, but for now Söderström and Wedin are enjoying the game’s acclaim, and are more than a little surprised at the attention. “I think I’ve read nearly a hundred reviews of the game. The reactions I’ve seen to the game has far exceeded what my expectations,” Söderström said. “We didn’t make a game that is very easy to enjoy, so I thought there would be a lot more people who wouldn’t get the game.”