Double Fine Productions might have soured quite a few fans on Broken Age but the company still maintains its panache for the extraordinary, unorthodox and downright bizarre, especially with how capable its brand of humour is. Case in point, we have Headlander, a side-scrolling Metroidvania-esque platformer taking place in a retro future where you control the last real human…except he’s a head (and not in his career choices and goals).
GamingBolt spoke to project lead Lee Petty about the tone and concept, what players can expect from the gameplay – especially the cover shooting which is new for a Double Fine game – and much more. Headlander is out on July 26th for PS4 and PC.
"I like to think of all Double Fine games as having their own approach to humor. I really like humor that falls out of absurdity, rather than joke-telling or “gags”."
What motivated you to go with the retro futuristic tone in Headlander?
Our biggest inspiration was 1970’s science fiction films. There’s something special about those movies — they are often about our conflicting love for and fear of technology, but in a naive, charming way. “Computers” and “Lasers” were pretty new concepts back then, and no-one really knew how they would impact society — so there was a lot of fun, outlandish speculation involved that lead to really unique worlds.
Also, what inspired the trippy story of playing as a detached head moving from one body to the next?
As outrageously ridiculous as 70’s science fiction films were, underneath it all many of them had a strong existentialist tone. What makes you exactly? Your body? Your actions? Your thoughts? This lead to the idea of you just being a head and joining with different robotic bodies, gaining their capabilities but also their limitations at the same time.
Given that this is a Double Fine game, everyone expects a certain level of humour. How do you go about refining this humour from one game to the next without any dangers of it coming across as “stale”?
I like to think of all Double Fine games as having their own approach to humor. I really like humor that falls out of absurdity, rather than joke-telling or “gags”. The world of Headlander doesn’t acknowledge that “it’s funny”, but attempts to be both profound and undeniably stupid at the same time.
The gameplay has been cited to have a heavy Metroidvania appeal but with the ability to attach one’s head to bodies or fly around as a detached head. Can you offer examples of some of the crazier puzzles players can expect?
Most of Headlander’s traversal and combat gameplay relates to the player switching between head and body mode, as each can do some things the other can’t. For example, only bodies can open doors, by shooting the door with the correctly colored laser, but only the head can fly, gaining access to terminals and tube-ways higher up in the environment. As the game progresses, the player can upgrade the helmet’s abilities, which both unlocks areas in a Metroidvania-style way but also grants new combat and traversal mechanics. Many of the upgrades are optional and player-driven, allowing the player to chose the style of gameplay that most interests them.
"A play through of the primary objectives will take most players 8 hours or so. There are optional objectives the player can do to earn more upgrade points."
Cover shooting plays a big part in Headlander. For a company known more for platforming and adventure, what was it like shifting to a heavier action focus in Headlander?
Headlander is a bit more action focused than our other titles of late, although games like Brutal Legend featured a lot of core action gameplay. Although the moment-to-moment Headlander gameplay is combat based, there are lots of hidden things to find, conversation trees to explore and puzzles to solve that make the game feel very much like a Double Fine Production.
What are some of the combat options players have? We know about the ability to hurl bodies at enemies but what benefits does this have?
Headlander’s basic combat premise is a combination of body-based laser weaponry and head-based abilities. There is an interesting dynamic in that when a player is docked into a body, their head is not vulnerable— making it desirable to quickly dock into a body and use its laser weaponry to take out the enemy. But bodies don’t heal by themselves — so after they take enough damage they explode and the player is ejected and must out-maneuver enemy attacks and acquire a new body. Once a body has taken critical damage, the player can still manipulate it for about 5 seconds and then it EXPLODES, dealing damage to any enemies near it. This leads to a fun tactic where the player can run a body that is about to explode at an enemy and then head-launch out of it and watch the body explode and take out additional enemies.
On the head side of things, the player gets the ability to vacuum off a nearby enemy head pretty early on in the game. This lets a player without a body get one — but it’s not without risk as enemies will attempt to smack and shoot the player out of the air as they approach them. The player can upgrade their head with a “bounce shield”, which they can use to reflect lasers by rotating a small “arc” of shield around the head as they fly. You can even bounce an enemies laser back at them and make them shoot their own head off! As the game progresses, player’s can invest “upgrade points” into ramping up their head or body abilities — and create some really interesting combat abilities that the player can cater to their play style.
How long do you expect players to spend on completing the game? Are there any optional objectives or collectibles to discover?
A play through of the primary objectives will take most players 8 hours or so. There are optional objectives the player can do to earn more upgrade points. There are also tons of secrets to find, many of which can only be accessed by using certain upgrades. There is also a lot of different characters and dialog in the game, which helps complete the back story and sets the tone of the world. Players who are interested in this can explore the hundreds of “rooms” in the game and interact with all sorts of characters.
Will there be multiple endings for the game based on one’s decisions/actions?
No, there is only one ending, although — in classic science fiction form, it is somewhat open-ended and mysterious. Players who are interested in discovering more can travel through the entire game in the “end game” and talk to folks and get more information and complete optional objectives.
"As an artist, I am always interested in having more options. The power of new technology excites me not because of higher “fidelity” but because greater GPU/CPU power gives me more room to explore new visual styles."
If Headlander is a success, can we expect to see more of it in the future?
Maybe! One of the things I enjoy most about making games is creating a “believable” world, even if it is unrealistic and absurd. To do that, lots of additional material is written and created that doesn’t make it into the game— but could be a foundation for a sequel.
I am sure you must have heard about the Xbox Scorpio and PS4 NEO. What are your thoughts on the same?
I haven’t seen them in person and don’t know much about them. But this approach could potentially change the console game business — in the same way that Apple releases new hardware with greater abilities that still run most of the same software.
Does the potential of 4K gaming excite you for the Scorpio? How much of a development change it will be if you were to work with 4K native data on the new console?
As an artist, I am always interested in having more options. The power of new technology excites me not because of higher “fidelity” but because greater GPU/CPU power gives me more room to explore new visual styles. I don’t think we’d change much about our approach in working with 4K, other than perhaps making sure our assets are built with more scalability in mind — something that we already do to some extent in order to support the large variety of PC/Mac capabilities out there.
Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?
Headlander is a fun and funny game that features both engaging combat and traversal puzzles in a stylish, crazy world. We hope players have as much fun playing the game as we did in creating it!