Ninja Theory’s Dominic Matthews tell us everything he can about the upcoming PS4 timed exclusive, Hellblade.
Ninja Theory is an underrated studio. The UK based studio has been behind several sleeper hits such as Heavenly Sword, Enslaved and DmC: Devil May Cry but unfortunately they are sometimes not given the credit they deserve. Regardless, that hasn’t stopped them from working on new projects such as the upcoming PlayStation 4 timed exclusive, Hellblade.
At first glance, one cannot ignore the uncanny resemblance of Hellblade to Heavenly Sword but no, they are different titles, Ninja Theory’s Dominic Matthews tells us. There is a lot we don’t know about Hellblade and fortunately, Dominic wasn’t backward about coming forward on matters that are important to Ninja Theory and most importantly the fans.
So sit back and go through the interview below. We believe it’s something special.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so as far as Ninja Theory goes, I love your character based action games- you’ve had Enslaved, you’ve had Heavenly Blade, and I just really find your games awesome, and I’ve always found them a bit underrated, so I just wanted to start out by telling you your games are awesome and thank you for them.
Dominic Matthews: Thank you very much.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so let’s jump into Hellblade, which is a timed PlayStation 4 exclusive. So, would you like to let us know how this exclusivity came about? I mean, especially these days, it’s a big deal for a third party game to end up exclusive, timed or otherwise.
Dominic Matthews: Uh, well what we’re saying at the moment is that the game is coming to consoles first on the PlayStation, and we’ve got a relationship with Sony there that we think allows us to do that. They’re very supporting, and we have to be careful that we don’t try to focus on too many platforms at a time, and so we’re focusing on PlayStation 4. And you know, for me there’s just something nice about the partnership between Ninja Theory and Sony, it goes back to Heavenly Sword.
"Okay, so what you saw was running on Unreal 4, which is the engine we will be using for this game. It’s not real time, it’s pre-rendered, but, that trailer was made in about ten weeks, with our team of about 12 people. So it’s certainly set a benchmark for the kind of quality that we hope to get, and it certainly sets the tone for Hellblade as a whole."
Pramath Parijat: Oh yeah, definitely, I mean, I know there are many who still think Heavenly Sword was a full Sony first party title. So, I mean, I’m sure I already know the answer to this, but is there any way you could tell us just how long the exclusivity period is? Like, a year? Six months?
Dominic Matthews: All we’re saying is that we’re coming to consoles first on PlayStation. That’s all we’re saying.
Pramath Parijat: But eventually, we will see this game on other systems, such as, I mean, I don’t know about consoles, but maybe PC?
Dominic Matthews: Well, at the moment our focus is just on PlayStation.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, that’s fair. However, as I said right at the beginning, it appears that third party exclusivity, timed or otherwise, is back in a big way this generation, and it’s actually surprising that it is- I mean, we have Tomb Raider for Xbox, Bayonetta 2 for Wii U, and now Hellblade for PlayStation. So, as a developer, do you think exclusivity will play a big role this generation?
Dominic Matthews: You know, I don’t know whether it’s gonna play a big role, I mean, it’s something that’s happening now in the market, but I don’t think the players really notice all that much, the players just wanna play games, on their new gen consoles or their PC, and I don’t think they really care where the game may be. And I think there are far bigger topics in gaming currently than any exclusivity or anything.
Pramath Parijat: Yes, but on the other hand, because third party exclusives are so rare these days, that when you do get one, you get co-branding deals, bundles, and marketing arrangements, and all that. I mean, Sony just did it recently for Destiny for example, I know that it’s also on Xbox, but Sony said that they were treating it as an in house game for all purposes. So, if you think about it, I guess it makes sense for third parties in that they don’t have to take as much risk with their IP- they don’t have to worry about marketing or visibility, or even financial backing in some cases. So would you say that that is a factor at all as far as third party exclusivity deals go?
Dominic Matthews: Well, of course, for us it allows us great things, for instance, for us, we were able to announce our game at Sony’s conference, in front of thousands of journalists. And we’re a small team, that’s something we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do by ourselves, I mean, we wouldn’t be able to get a thousand journalists in a room just to see what Ninja Theory is working on. So, to have the chance to have our game highlighted by Sony alongside the other great games coming to their platform, it’s the kind of thing where it’s great for us to have that kind of opportunity.
Pramath Parijat: Alright, so let’s talk about the game itself now, rather than the business around it.
Dominic Matthews: Alright.
Pramath Parijat: So the teaser that we saw at Gamescom, how representative would you saw it of the final game? Was it running on the PlayStation 4 in real time, was it pre-rendered?
Dominic Matthews: Okay, so what you saw was running on Unreal 4, which is the engine we will be using for this game. It’s not real time, it’s pre-rendered, but, that trailer was made in about ten weeks, with our team of about 12 people. So it’s certainly set a benchmark for the kind of quality that we hope to get, and it certainly sets the tone for Hellblade as a whole. So yeah, I think, what our aim is that we will at least match the quality in the trailer with the final game.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, yeah, the trailer has me sold, I mean, for now, it certainly has me sold! So I look forward to the final game being that good visually. So, is there any reason for you to have gone with Unreal Engine 4? I mean, the so called ‘engine wars’ are heating up- we have Epic and Unreal, of course, but we have Crytek trying to send CryEngine 3, we have Unity.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: So was there any specific reason you went with Unreal? Familiarity, maybe?
Dominic Matthews: Well, we’ve got a long history with Unreal, they’ve been a great partner for us. Enslaved was built on Unreal 3, so we’ve got this sort of expertise within the studio with Unreal technology. And there’s also, I mean it just allows our team to just create the game, and not to have to worry about other things, and that’s really important to us. And Epic has also been, as I said, a great partner for us, they’re always on hand to answer our questions, and to provide us support. So, there’s lots of reasons that it was the best choice for us, and so we went with it.
"Well, it’s, Hellblade is not a spiritual successor at all, it’s a new character, it’s a new world, it’s a new story, you know, it’s a completely new game. It’s not linked to Heavenly Sword in any way. I think for us, people can look at games and see similarities, but the truth is, as a studio, there are certain things that we like in our games, and those things have been consistent through all of our games, through many of our games."
Pramath Parijat: Yes, and as you said, I mean, it just gets out of your way and lets you do your job.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: Okay. So, one thing that instantly happened, as soon as Hellblade was announced, there was all this speculation that it’s tied to Heavenly Sword in some way. I mean, the most probable explanation seems to be that it’s at least a spiritual successor, since, from what I understand, Hellblade will be your own IP and Heavenly Sword is owned by Sony. But Ninja Theory came right out and said that Hellblade isn’t, that it has nothing to do with Heavenly Sword.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: Was Heavenly Sword on your mind at all as you went into the game, as you conceptualized it? Because, I mean, it seems to call back to heavenly Sword certainly, just the name for example.
Dominic Matthews: Well, it’s, Hellblade is not a spiritual successor at all, it’s a new character, it’s a new world, it’s a new story, you know, it’s a completely new game. It’s not linked to Heavenly Sword in any way. I think for us, people can look at games and see similarities, but the truth is, as a studio, there are certain things that we like in our games, and those things have been consistent through all of our games, through many of our games. And it just so happens that Heavenly Sword had a female protagonist, and Hellblade has a female protagonist, and both games feature a sword, and you know, both are combat games.
Pramath Parijat: Yeah.
Dominic Matthews: So I really think it’s just people putting two and two together rather than there being any relation between the games. And in terms of where we came up with the concept for Hellblade, it’s more of a case of us thinking about the expertise we’ve built up with our past games, and the direction that we want to take next. And Hellblade was kind of a natural fit for that.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so as a studio, I mean, I’m sure you’re great fans of video games, that’s why you’re making them!
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: But what would you say are your inspirations for your games? I mean, you actually just mentioned a set of things that you say informs your game making process. But what would you say, as game makers, are video games that inspire your game making?
Dominic Matthews: Well, we don’t tend to think of too many games for our own games, actually. We do tend to look at a lot of movies, and art, and kind of, artistic experiments that you see online. We tend to get inspired by those kinds of things more than we do looking at what other people are doing with their own games and trying to replicate that and putting a spin on that. So for us, it’s a case of trying to get our inspiration from many, many places. So for Hellblade, for example, as we show in one of our development diaries, we went down to a Viking exhibition in the British Museum, to get inspiration for historical artifacts.
So we looked at movies out there that have dealt with Viking encounters and that era. And you know, of course we play games, we’re fans of games, we love games, but the way we talk about games is more like, when we want to put in something in our games, and the easiest way to do that is to point at another game that did it. So, for example, if we want to talk about how we want the camera in Hellblade, the easiest way to do that will be to say, ‘look at the camera in this game and this game and this game’ and it’s easier in that sense to describe to someone as a reference what you are talking about.
Pramath Parijat: So I mean, I actually find that really intriguing. I mean, correct me if I am wrong, but the idea here is to look at games and game making as experimentative art?
Dominic Matthews: Well, it’s more of really, we use art and art experiments that people have used, to try and make something different, we use that as inspiration and as a reference, as opposed to our game itself being an art experiment. Our game isvery much a third person action combat game! We will strive to have a uique art vision in our game, but we wouldn’t say that Hellblade is an artistic experiment, no.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, yeah. Well, my next question in that case would have been do you think the genre fits your vision, but I guess you just answered that.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah. I mean, we try, we have three unique characteristics in all our games- combat, a unique art vision, and strong characters.
"We all get used to games, and we think they can’t look any more realistic than that, while the truth is that we set new standards, and we surprise ourselves, and our games get better and better and better. So I wouldn’t say, I mean yes, it gets harder to make games look like a real step up, but we do it."
Pramath Parijat: Oh, yes. I mean, like you said, there is this definite DNA to a Ninja Theory game, and it shows, and that might certainly have been why players started to wonder if Hellblade was related to Heavenly Sword at all.
Dominic Matthews: Yes, there is certainly a consistent DNA, and DNA I think is the right word to describe it, and it’s been consistent through most of our games. So Hellblade is about taking those defining features and pushing them to the next level, pushing them as far as we possibly can.
Pramath Parijat: So that actually brings me nicely to one of the questions I have been meaning to ask, which is, the next generation, how much would you say compared to – I mean, you’ve worked on the PlayStation 3, you’ve worked on the Xbox 360, so how much would you say is the PlayStation 4 enabling your vision compared to those consoles? How much do you think does it enable your ideas for what you want your game to be?
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, I think the new gen of consoles are starting to see games that really look and feel like next gen experiences. You know, it’s fantastic technology that’s available to us. And for us, with Hellblade, it’s a question of aiming for the highest quality, with such a small team, trying to approach it in a way that we can deliver a solid amount of content. So for some of the things we have started within the team, sort of an experimentation with the environments, you know, you look at the trailer, it looks awesome, and when we finished that trailer and we rendered the final version, you know I sat back and looked at it and, to me, that really is next gen. As a fan, as a player, that right there, I see next gen.
Pramath Parijat: It’s definitely stunning, and when you told me that it was a small team of 12 who did it in just 10 weeks? I mean, that makes it even more impressive.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, I think its just the stuff like the foliage to me, I mean it might seem like a small thing to most players, but just the detail in it that we’ve achieved with Unreal 4. And I mean, if you think about it, we’re only at the very beginning of these new consoles, and the games are only going to get better and better and better and better.
Pramath Parijat: So, there’s this idea, especially if you visit any gaming board, and it’s this idea of diminishing returns on graphics- you don’t think it holds any water?
Dominic Matthews: Well, what exactly would you mean by that?
Pramath Parijat: The idea of diminishing returns is that as systems get more and more powerful, it becomes harder and harder to develop a noticeable generational leap in visuals each time.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, I think that’s true, and of course, when you move from, I mean, for me the move from the SNES and Mega Drive to PlayStation or Nintendo 64, that was a huge leap that everyone could see. But yeah, I agree, that it gets harder and harder to have leaps that impressive as you move through the generations of consoles.
We all get used to games, and we think they can’t look any more realistic than that, while the truth is that we set new standards, and we surprise ourselves, and our games get better and better and better. So I wouldn’t say, I mean yes, it gets harder to make games look like a real step up, but we do it. It’s just that we get used to it, whereas actually if you looked at games created ten years ago, and then look at games created now on these new gen consoles, then they look amazing.
"So we like to use a lot of color in our games, and we try to find something that’s very thematically strong, that we can build on and build the way around. So in Enslaved, it was this idea of nature reclaiming the earth after humans had left it. So it’s us trying to really latch onto one thing, and then pushing it further."
Pramath Parijat: Definitely. I mean, it’s a bit of a thankless job if you think about it, because if you make something that looks really incredible, people are like, ‘well, yeah, that was expected to begin with.’
Dominic Matthews: Yes. We love our job though, and that’s our job, and since we’re so intent on having our games look differently, we make things difficult for ourselves, to make our games look distinct, but we think that helps with the problem.
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s down to your unique art style and your emphasis on it, but it immediately stands out, your game immediately stands out as something different, something good looking.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, I mean one of the things that we have for our games is, you can look at a single screenshot and say, and shout out, ‘look, it’s a Ninja Theory game!’
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, I mean I can definitely do that. Especially Heavenly Sword’s style was really striking, really different from everything else, and Hellblade looks like that..
Dominic Matthews: We’ll go through our entire games, and look at screenshots through each level, and then tweak the artstyle, to try and get the game to have some kind of visual variety. I mean, if you looked at DmC, and took a screenshot of each level and then lay them down next to each other, which is something that we did, you would see that there is a real distinct theme of color for each level, and each area is different, distinct. So our games offer a lot of variety beginning to end, and that’s another way they stand out, visually speaking.
Pramath Parijat: So what would you say is this unique Ninja Theory visual style? If you had to describe it to someone, how would you?
Dominic Matthews: Well, we try to use a lot of color in our game, to avoid relying on browns and greys.
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, that’s a hallmark of modern games, unfortunately.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah. So we like to use a lot of color in our games, and we try to find something that’s very thematically strong, that we can build on and build the way around. So in Enslaved, it was this idea of nature reclaiming the earth after humans had left it. So it’s us trying to really latch onto one thing, and then pushing it further.
And in DmC, for example, it was a world filled with life and character, and that’s something we do- treat the world the game is set in as if it’s a character, so it has a personality, it feels alive, and it’s got a lot of movement. And in the case of DmC, we wanted it to feel like a very dangerous world, so even if there weren’t many enemies in a particular section, you should still felt like it’s a dangerous world. So I think the one thing we would say about our visual style is that it has character.
"We’re not making our game for the mainstream audience, we’re making this game for fans of Ninja Theory games and our supporters. It’s a small team, a smaller budget, but the idea is to essentially have an ‘independent AAA’ game, one that has all the quality and looks as good as a AAA game, but it’s created for a smaller audience, and will be sold as a lower price digital game."
Pramath Parijat: Well, honestly, when so many modern games just reduce their game worlds to just glorified corridors, I think it’s much appreciated that you put in so much effort and thought and attention into your worlds.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah. Variety, we believe, is key.
Pramath Parijat: I mean, you just talked about this game world being one of the hallmarks of a Ninja Theory game, and some of the other hallmarks, which you mentioned earlier, one of them is an interesting cast of characters, and also the combat. So, regarding Hellblade specifically, what could you tell us about these two?
Dominic Matthews: Well, the story is, we’re going to follow the personal journey of Senua, through her own hell. And we’re going to be utilizing performance capture as we’ve done on our previous games, so we have some real quality in our character performance. And it’s gonna be a melee combat game, and the combat’s going to be uncompromising and brutal, it’s going to be hardcore combat, and there will be depth to it, and we will be encouraging players to experiment with the combat. I mean, for us, for me, you should be able to get satisfaction with a combat game, where you can find your own style, your own combos, your own chains.
Pramath Parijat:So when you design your combat systems, another push in the industry is trying to keep things simple, to appeal to the largest possible base. And I’m assuming as games get more and more expensive to develop, you sort of want a larger audience for some financial safety. So do you ever have this idea yourself?
Dominic Matthews: For us, no, absolutely not. We’re not making our game for the mainstream audience, we’re making this game for fans of Ninja Theory games and our supporters. It’s a small team, a smaller budget, but the idea is to essentially have an ‘independent AAA’ game, one that has all the quality and looks as good as a AAA game, but it’s created for a smaller audience, and will be sold as a lower price digital game. So for us, I think, for a lot of retail games, there is a pressure to try and make a game for everyone, but for us, we’re very comfortable saying that ‘this is the kind of game we make’ and we can design our combat for those people who’ve always liked our games.
Pramath Parijat: So there’s no design by committee. It’s what you want to make.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, it is. We have a lot of expertise and experience from our previous games making combat systems, so yeah, absolutely, it’s a game we want to make, and that we ourselves would want to play, and also a game that every fan of Ninja Theory would be able to enjoy as well.
Pramath Parijat: That’s awesome, and it does bring me to my next question- you do have a really vocal, a really engaged fanbase, and how much would you say is your level of engagement with them? When you are developing a game, how much would you say you keep how your fans respond to things in mind?
Dominic Matthews: Well, we do have a really engaged fanbase, and we are trying to grow it, and a big part of what we are doing with Hellblade is, we’re opening up development to share the development process all the way along. So we’ve created Hellblade.com, we’re sharing development diaries and blog posts, we’re posting Q&As, and we’re trying to engage as much as possible, and to show our fans what development is really like. So I think we’ve posted four development diaries so far, and we’re working on another, and this is a very open look at how we make the game. And in the process, a lot of things will go well, but a lot of them might not, and we want to share that. So you know, we want to talk to our fans as much as possible, and later down the line, we’ll be certainly looking to players and fans to play the game and give us feedback, so ewe can tweak the game to make it a better game, a better experience for fans when it releases.
"We are trying to be as open as we possibly can, and we’re trying to share as much as we can with fans, with the press, and with other partners in the industry, we want to show as much as we possibly can. So we’re taking a different path, rather than hiding the game and the development process, and just drip feed a small amount of information to people, we are able to show the whole journey."
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, I think it helps that these days, it’s a connected age- everyone has an opinion, and a platform to broadcast their opinion.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, that’s fantastic, it’s one of the more fantastic things about the modern age, where we can talk to our fans directly on things like Twitter and Hellblade.com or our Facebook page, and that’s great. And we are trying to be as open as we possibly can, and we’re trying to share as much as we can with fans, with the press, and with other partners in the industry, we want to show as much as we possibly can. So we’re taking a different path, rather than hiding the game and the development process, and just drip feed a small amount of information to people, we are able to show the whole journey. And the hope is that people will be engaged, and that when they see what the game looks like, and when it comes out, they’ll be interested enough to download it.
Pramath Parijat: So basically if the fans are engaged, they think that it’s their game, and they become more invested in it.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, that would be fantastic. If we can achieve that, it would be great. But it’s not just about that, we really do believe in this idea of independent AAA, not just for Ninja Theory, but also for other developers that are like us. So we want to share what we are doing for other developers, so they can learn from our mistakes, and maybe learn something from our successes too.
Pramath Parijat: It’s actually really awesome and refreshing how you’ve managed to maintain this idea of the independent AAA model, especially given how the entire industry is moving towards this future where this is just a few big mega publishers, and there are all these small indie studios at the bottom, and there is nothing in the middle, no ‘mid tier,’ so to speak, and it’s awesome that you guys are there to fill that space out, that you’re upholding the traditional idea of the independent AAA.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, and that’s one of the things we are talking about a lot, and it’s not, we hope, just for us, we hope other people will try this approach as well. As a studio, we’ve got several projects in the works, Hellblade is just one of them, our other projects are traditional publisher-developer arrangements, so it’s not like we’re saying that there is anything bad about the traditional AAA retail model, it’s just that now, we’ve transitioned into digital distribution, and the openness of platforms, which gives is a great opportunity to create the game ourselves and publish it ourselves.
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, and thankfully, the modern consoles allow for that, they enable that.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, it’s great, it’s fantastic. It wasn’t that long ago that you’d have to be in a partnership to get your game on to PlayStation, but now it’s very open, and Sony is very helpful to try and do anything and everything they can to help developers like us so we can release our games ourselves.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so when you talked about Hellblade, and you were telling me its story, you said its about Sinua’s personal journey. So what I wanted to know was that revenge was sort of like this key theme in Heavenly Sword, right? I mean, you could sort of break down the plot to that being the key theme. What would you say is the key theme of Hellblade?
Dominic Matthews: Well, so though I’ve said a lot, I think I’ve said all that I can, because in terms of story, we’re being very careful about not wanting to give away anything, to spoil the story, so at the moment, we’re not talking about the story too much and I don’t want to give too much away. But I will say, I think if you watch the trailer, there’s various interpretations of it, and I think you could get a good idea of where the game is going thematically. And I quite like the idea of people working it out to try and figure out where the story is headed.
"I think one of the issues of the AAA experience is you’re forced into these ‘X amount of hours of gameplay’ and if your game fails to meet that level, it’s deemed to not be good enough. So at the moment, it’s one of those things that as we move through development, we don’t know how long it’s going to be, but we’re certainly not saying ‘it’s got to be this long.’"
Pramath Parijat: Oh yeah, and I am sure there’s someone online somewhere, I’m sure I could find somebody who dissected the trailer frame by frame and already has an elaborate theory of where your game will be going.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah. And it’s awesome when that happens!
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so let’s go back to the idea of ‘indie AAA.’ So, Heavenly Sword, it was actually a key retail release for the PlayStation 3 back in 2007, I think, as it was one of the first showcase titles for the PlayStation 3, it showed us what we could expect from the console in terms of things that would follow. Is that what you are striving for with Hellblade? I mean, you are using Unreal 4, you are aiming for top visual fidelity, you have your unique artstyle, so are you trying to make Hellblade a graphical showcase as well?
Dominic Matthews: That’s, I mean, it’s going to be a graphical showcase for us. We strive for the highest graphical quality, and we will always push things as far as we can. I think if wee started a project, it’s a given for us that it would be a visual showcase, or it wouldn’t be a Ninja Theory game, it wouldn’t fit with our approach if it wasn’t. So we strive to have the prettiest games that we can possibly get. So for it to be seen it as a showcase for what the console can do, it’s a high bar for us to reach, and I really hope we can get there.
Pramath Parijat: So, this is a question that I personally hate, given the almost obscene focus on it in the modern context, but I guess here goes: will your game be 1080p/60FPS?
Dominic Matthews: It’s too early for us to be able to say. At the moment, we’re only in the prototyping phase, so we’re still just exploring options, and it’s too early for us to be able to say anything more about it.
Pramath Parijat: I mean, is there any sort of target, just an informal ‘we want Hellblade to be this resolution, this framerate?’
Dominic Matthews: Well, at the moment, we’re just focusing on what the world gonna look like, what’s the combat gonna look like, what’s the camera gonna look like, all those things. And you know, we’ll be thinking about frame rates and resolution and openly talking about down the line.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, that’s fair. So, again, I guess this comes into the territory of not wanting to spoil the game or spoil the character, but how would you say is Senua different from Nariko?
Dominic Matthews: Well, she’s a- I think you can see in the trailer, she’s a warrior, she’s a Celtic warrior, and I think you will get this impression from the trailers as well, but she’s a very lowly warrior. So, I think, as you go on this journey with her, you will feel very, very close to her and her story. Because I think throughout your journey with her, you will find out a lot about her character, and why she’s so unique, not just from Nariko, but from any other character out there.
Pramath Parijat: So it’s a more personal journey than Nariko’s.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so you talked about dialog with your fanbase, you talked about how you take feedback into account, and one of the things about Heavenly Blade, one of the long standing criticisms, I guess, is how short it was. So would you say that’s something you kept in mind for Hellblade? Making it a longer game?
Dominic Matthews: No. I mean, it’s a, the game is shorter than a typical AAA game. We don’t know how long it will be at the moment, and we’re certainly not looking at Hellblade and saying we want to make it longer than ‘X, Y, or Z,’ but we’re going to focus on making it an awesome experience.
And I think one of the issues of the AAA experience is you’re forced into these ‘X amount of hours of gameplay’ and if your game fails to meet that level, it’s deemed to not be good enough. So at the moment, it’s one of those things that as we move through development, we don’t know how long it’s going to be, but we’re certainly not saying ‘it’s got to be this long.’ More important for us is to make it a consistent experience throughout the length, whatever that length is.
"I think the most exciting thing for me with the PlayStation 4 is the level of digital distribution and the opportunities that it offers. It’s really exciting for me, and hopefully that’s going to grow, so more people will be connected, and more players can download quality experiences without having to pay $60 or $70, and to enjoy a shorter experience, but one that’s exciting nonetheless."
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, you don’t wanna pad it out just to reach a certain amount of hours that you can put on the back of the box.
Dominic Matthews: Nope.
Pramath Parijat: So, I mean, I really did like everything you have told me about your development process. And correct me if I am wrong here, but you think of a main story, a concept first, is that right? Like, an idea of where you want your game to be thematically and narratively, before you settle on the game, is that right?
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, so there’ll be an idea of what the game will be, what the theme will be, what the overarching story and structure will be, who the character will be, and then it’s a case of the game materializing, and filling the details in along that framework.
Pramath Parijat: Yes, and again, I guess that’s why your stories feel so organic compared to so many other games which just tack on stories at the end as an afterthought.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, it’s a big deal for us. We want to create a game where people play the game, and finish it, and get to the end of the story, and we don’t want it to be a journey people forget, we want it to be one that stays with them. The story has to be key to the moment, the experience.
Pramath Parijat: Right. So, I mean, I know you’ve said multiple times that the game is really early in development.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: But I’m sure you’ve had the chance to, I guess, play around with the PS4, and everything that it offers. And you’ve told me already that it’s a very powerful machine that is enabling everything that you want. But I guess my question would be, what about it are you most excited about? As a developer, as a programmer, what about the PS4 excites you the most?
Dominic Matthews: I don’t think there really is any one thing with it. It’s a- well, you know, actually, I think the most exciting thing for me with the PlayStation 4 is the level of digital distribution and the opportunities that it offers. It’s really exciting for me, and hopefully that’s going to grow, so more people will be connected, and more players can download quality experiences without having to pay $60 or $70, and to enjoy a shorter experience, but one that’s exciting nonetheless. So that’s I guess one of the big things about the PS4 that excites me- the prospect of creating our game, and then publishing it ourselves, and having it be visible to so many players.
Pramath Parijat: And again, it leads to a more engaged fanbase, a more connected fanbase.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, it’s a more direct relationship.
Pramath Parijat: Okay, so, I know you’ve said so many times you don’t wanna spoil the game, and I know you’re trying your best not to, but as a gamer, what would you say are you most excited about when it comes to Hellblade?
Dominic Matthews: Well, for me… I guess the combat is really exciting for me, the way it’s come together, and the story is as well. But I love combat games where you can feel a real connection between the game and you, where you can almost play on auto pilot, where you’ve got a certain style that you know you can play, where you can pull off combos and you know what’s risky and what is not. It’s just very responsive, very rewarding, so for me the player, I am looking forward to the combination, the level of detail that all comes together in the game to lead to a great, fluid way to play with.
Pramath Parijat: So basically, a game which feels like an extension of yourself, so you don’t have to stop and think about what you are doing, you just do it.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it.
Pramath Parijat: So, when do you think can we see some gameplay footage of the game?
Dominic Matthews: So we’re prototyping at the moment, and after the prototyping phase, we’ll move to the vertical slice phase where we develop a portion of the game which will essentially be what we want to achieve with the rest of the game. So, early next year is, I think likely, but I wouldn’t wanna put any firmer date on it, because I don’t want to set up expectations and not meet them. But I think next year some time is when we’ll be able to show you something that’s more representative of the gameplay. But we’ll be showing everyone every stage of development, so you’ll be seeing a lot of the game before then, but as for something that you see and know will be like the final game, we’re thinking early next year.
Pramath Parijat: Basically, I guess some time by E3 next year we should have an idea.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, I think so, I think we should have something by then.
Pramath Parijat: And of course, like you said, you will be constantly engaging with the fanbase, and showing them what’s what and how its coming along, so it’s not like you’ll just disappear, it’s not like there’s any worry of your game becoming vaporware. Because that’s another big trend of the AAA space this year.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, it’ll all be out there, for them to see, whether it’s working or not, we’ll share it.
Pramath Parijat: That’s great. Well, we’re almost done, and this was a great chat, but I have one last question, and this one is by popular demand mostly.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: This one is, if Sony were to come up to you tomorrow and say ‘Hey, let’s do Heavenly Sword 2,’ would you go for it? Would you give it a shot?
Dominic Matthews: You know, we loved making Heavenly Sword, it was fantastic. I think the main way to know that is how we still look to that as a benchmark for what the team has achieved. That said, it would have to be the right time, the right place, the last situation… all I can say is, we love making Heavenly Sword. It’s their IP, and it would be up to them, but we loved making that game, and we’re very proud of it.
Pramath Parijat: So yeah, again, it has to be a game you want to make, one you are motivated to make, especially given your game design process.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah.
Pramath Parijat: Yeah, I get that, I understand that. Well, thank you so much, and this has been a great chat, and thank you for being so open and honest about the entire process.
Dominic Matthews: Yeah, no problem, and thanks to you for taking an interest in Hellblade.