Piotr Iwanicki of the SUPERHOT Team talks the simplicity and style of the upcoming Xbox One game.
When the trailer for Superhot debuted at Gamescom in 2014, announcing its exclusive release on the Xbox One as part of ID@Xbox, a fair share of heads were turned. That being said, many of us were left wondering what in the world we had just seen. Was Superhot a movement-based first person shooter? Did the manipulation of time tie into that movement? Whatever it was, it looked stylish – even with the odd, odd trailer that repeated its name throughout.
As it turns out, Superhot is a little simpler than many of us thought, having started out as a prototype designed as part of the 2013 7 Day FPS Challenge before moving on to Kickstarter and acquiring funding. Piotr Iwanicki and the SUPERHOT Team have been hard at work on it since, implementing Oculus Rift support and focusing on PC development along with Xbox One. What does the future hold though and what makes Superhot a “turn based FPS” of sorts? GamingBolt speaks to Iwanicki to find out.
"At the core I don’t think of SUPERHOT as a time-manipulation game. It’s not a puzzler, it’s not Braid.
Rashid K. Sayed: One look at Superhot and it’s hard not to think about The Matrix. I mean the idea is so cool. So I know you have been asked this a lot of times before, but how did you come up with the idea of time manipulation which is tied up with the player’s movement?
Piotr Iwanicki: It’s just part of the craft when making games. I come from making tiny flash games and it was a field where you would often make a game that boiled down to one idea. You then build around this idea, but at the core it’s this pure simplicity. What worked really well for me in coming up with those unique cores for games was always trying to combine things that you’ve already seen somehow and make it into a something completely new. For SUPERHOT the starting point was “a turn-based FPS”, which quickly was boiled down to fluid turn “time moves when you move FPS”.
Rashid K. Sayed: Superhot supports Oculus Rift but it’s a shame that we don’t have a release date for it yet. How different is the experience on Oculus Rift compared to say on a TV? How are you managing lag and motion sickness?
Piotr Iwanicki: We’re focused on making an FPS for PC and consoles. That already is a field for awesome innovation. Oculus Rift is an awesome device and demo of SUPERHOT was used by the folks from Oculus as a showcase on trade shows all around the world, but transferring traditional FPS gameplay to Rift is still a huge challenge. Not all things known from FPS games transfers well to VR. For instance rotating your body using both gamepad and VR helmet is tricky and rather uncomfortable for many players. Movement speed that’s base of SUPERHOT’s tempo needs to be really low on the Rift, otherwise it makes you feel dizzy.
Rashid K. Sayed: Will Superhot have control/ability system wherein players can manipulate time in several different ways?
Piotr Iwanicki: It would be one direction for us to take but we’re not going that way. At the core I don’t think of SUPERHOT as a time-manipulation game. It’s not a puzzler, it’s not Braid. It’s an action game that scales its’ pace you your skills and lets you experience FPP [first person perspective] gunfights on a new level. Suddenly possibilities open for the genre – you can have very tight fights, you can create scenes that are insanely fast but at the same time it never happens faster than you want to play the game.
That’s most important thing in SUPERHOT. Play at your own pace. Always on the edge of your skills. If the game is too slow for you and you feel safe – play faster. The action gets too hectic – stop to think and game stops with you. You get into this pure flow – you dictate the pace.
"In SUPERHOT you are the weapon. You grab guns, shoot enemies, but it’s not the gun that kills - you do it. When you’re out of bullets you throw a gun at your enemy and that’s almost as useful a move for you.
Rashid K. Sayed: Share with us one memorable moment from Superhot that will most likely drop the player’s jaw to the floor.
Piotr Iwanicki: Grabbing weapons in the air, watching the enemy slowly (though really fast in real time) raise his weapon, see him aim at you, gently dodge his bullets. Things like that make the biggest impression on our testers. But at the same time those are not scripted sequences, it’s just procedural gameplay happening, different every time.
Best moments in SUPERHOT are moments of improvisation. In the middle of gunfight you run out of bullets. You wanted to shoot a guy and then click, no ammo. So you need to instantly come up with an alternative plan. Maybe grab the nearest vase and smash it on enemy’s face? Things like that – quickly replan and execute. Those moments are most intense, but at the same time, those moments are completely yours.
When we design levels we always rather give possibilities to inspire improvisation then require you to play exactly as we designed the level. In the end, I feel that the most jaw dropping moments will be the things that you will come up with in the heat of the moment. Those will be the most rewarding situations, because it’s you who’s in control of those situations.
Of course we do have a car smashing into a storefront and killing an enemy, sending his gun into the air so you can catch it. We have an awesome close combat in the elevator. We have a katana that lets you precisely cut incoming bullets and levels built around that. Those moments will be something to talk about.
But most intense experiences will be those moments of pure improvisation. Those are much harder to name and define, but that’s where the magic happens. Gameplay is not in those heavily scripted sequences, it’s the meat in between that matters.
Rashid K. Sayed: We know that the game will offer many weapons but will there be any customization options?
Piotr Iwanicki: We’re not going into that. In SUPERHOT you are the weapon. You grab guns, shoot enemies, but it’s not the gun that kills – you do it. When you’re out of bullets you throw a gun at your enemy and that’s almost as useful a move for you. All the items on the level – a painting hanging on a wall, a TV set, a bottle – can be used as well. Prototype version of SUPERHOT was focused purely on gunfight, now there’s much more possibilities to take down your enemies and – as I said before – more possibilities for improvisation and coming up with your own unique solutions.
Rashid K. Sayed: In a game which is as dynamic as this, how did you approached level and puzzle design?
Piotr Iwanicki: That’s a long topic there. A big thing. We basically iterated A LOT and made all kinds of spaces, at the same time we tweaked the AI and watched closely, played a lot. What worked best are the tight spaces where every corner of the wall counts.
We also have this philosophy of starting level from the middle. It’s not a game about walking, it’s just this pure fighting experience, so we often start a level as if from the middle of the scene. That gives the best intensity and also get’s player’s imagination running – where am I, what’s this place.
That serves as an important device for telling the story. We let the player figure out where he is by himself and hide some of back-story in the corners.
"You cannot separate gaming culture from the market and the console market is controlled by those big companies that are always competing.
Rashid K. Sayed: I am just wondering whether you gave a thought to time rewinding. Was it a conscious decision to ignore this mechanic or how it could impact game play should you decide to include it?
Piotr Iwanicki: I would love to do it, but it would need to be very tightly integrated into all parts of the game. When you consider adding a feature like that you have to think in the scale of the whole game. It’s not a case of adding time rewinding it’s a case of adding time rewinding OR adding something else or polishing everything up. It’s always a choice and in this case we sadly need to pass.
Rashid K. Sayed: Why is Superhot a timed console exclusive for the Xbox One?
Piotr Iwanicki: Microsoft guys contacted us very quickly and got really excited about the game. That was crazy, like a day after we published the prototype, I come to the office and see a mail from Microsoft. We didn’t go with a deal back then – we decided to go with a Kickstarter campaign, but we stayed in touch and that resulted in Xbox One deal later on.
Rashid K. Sayed: Staying on the topic of exclusivity I wanted to ask your thoughts on timed third exclusivity with games such as The Rise of Tomb Raider? Do you think timed exclusivity is a bad thing for the industry given that the other section of the gaming community is not able to enjoy your games soon?
Piotr Iwanicki: You cannot separate gaming culture from the market and the console market is controlled by those big companies that are always competing. From our indie perspective it’s an awesome thing – not only we can ship a game to a console but also with this kind of deal we stay totally independent. In the end that’s something that helps us make a better game and I feel that players will appreciate that.
Rashid K. Sayed: So when can expect the PS4 version? Did you guys start working on it at least?
Piotr Iwanicki: We’re focused on PC and Xbox One.
Rashid K. Sayed: So Cliff Bleszinski is designing one of the levels in the game. How has this influenced the other levels?
Piotr Iwanicki: Cliff’s level will be among the arenas for endless gameplay. You will have this main storyline and the endless arenas on the side. That’s the place where you could have any sorts of tributes and guest appearances. This way the core of the game can stay gritty and intense, but in those side elements you can have more crazy wackiness.
"A playable prototype is a huge plus on Kickstarter, especially when you are pitching an innovative game like SUPERHOT. It helps convincing people that it’s worth their money. It clearly shows that we can deliver the game.
Rashid K. Sayed: I really liked the idea of actually letting players try the game before they pledged their money to the Kickstarter campaign. I found this to be a really cool move since it instills confidence into consumer’s mind that you are not fooling them into buying a broken game. How did this idea come about?
Piotr Iwanicki: We started out as a 7 Day FPS Challenge project (visit their site here), a game jam where you make an FPS game in 7 days. After we released a prototype it became really popular and people responded really well so we decided to develop the game further.
A playable prototype is a huge plus on Kickstarter, especially when you are pitching an innovative game like SUPERHOT. It helps convincing people that it’s worth their money. It clearly shows that we can deliver the game.
So it was part of our story that we already had a successful prototype and a hyped community. We knew that whatever we would tell about the game, whatever we would show – it wouldn’t be as powerful as simply giving the working proof of concept to the players.
Rashid K. Sayed: You are using Unity Engine to render the game. I know that Unity handles most of the problems and challenges that you may have come across the Xbox One version. But given that there is so much debate over the Xbox One with many deeming it as an inferior console compared to the PS4, what are your thoughts on the console? Is it as good as the PS4 from a processing or horsepower level?
Piotr Iwanicki: Developing with Unity helped us a lot with portability. Currently we’re switching to Unity 5 and that’s a bit of a hustle, but also has the same feature set on PC and on Xbox. This aspect works like a charm. We have a game playable on the PC and run the same thing on the console.
In terms of raw horsepower, SUPERHOT is not a good benchmark. We’re not heavy on the graphics side. Game’s logic is also rather lightweight. Biggest challenge in doing the Xbox One version is the controller. I’m and old school mouse and keyboard guy when it comes to FPS’s. Playing with a gamepad never gave me the same fidelity in both small and large movements. I’m conservative here. I was a bit afraid that we would have to alter the gameplay for the console version.
Once we tested it – it turned out to be absolutely amazing. The game plays differently, but the design translates well. Finally you have fidelity on the movement, you can go very, very slowly, precisely dodging bullets as you approach the enemy – time moves exactly as fast as you want, you are in total control making tiny, tiny adjustments as you observe movements of your foe. The rotation is slower than using the mouse, gamepad offers less fidelity there. But with the our idea that the game “waits” for you so you can play in your own pace – it’s not a problem, rather different flavour of gameplay.
"1080p and 60fps are the goal and we're on a right track. Frames per second are the more important ingredient in this combo. Fluidity is the key to SUPERHOT's gameplay.
Rashid K. Sayed: Will the game run at a native 1080p and locked 60 frames per second on the Xbox One? If not what are your targets?
Piotr Iwanicki: 60 frames per second is the most important ingredient here. Fluidity of gameplay make the whole world of difference in SUPERHOT’s case. You should be able to see all the tiny movements in the game’s world very tightly tied to the movements of you controller.
Otherwise the game feels wrong.
It’s a funny thing because it happens on the edge of your attention. With lower frame rate you don’t complain about lower frame rate, you complain about other things. The game doesn’t look as well, the controls seem unresponsive, bullets seem much faster. Things like that. When you once start playing in 60 fps you never want to go back, you just learn the difference.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is there anything else you want to tell us before we let you go?
Piotr Iwanicki: I just love talking about the project and I’m so hyped all the time.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is the game not coming at all to the PS4?
Piotr Iwanicki: We’re not working on it at this moment.
Rashid K. Sayed: Is the game going to run at native 1080p on the Xbox One?
Piotr Iwanicki: 1080p and 60fps are the goal and we’re on a right track. Frames per second are the more important ingredient in this combo. Fluidity is the key to SUPERHOT’s gameplay.