Remember the days of Deer Hunter and how it seemingly broke through its niche to become a best-seller? Expansive Worlds’ theHunter: Call of the Wild isn’t exactly in the same vein but it’s still very much focused on hunting. In fact, the nuance introduced especially with the environmental design is pretty commendable. To learn more about the title and its direction, GamingBolt spoke to producer Philipp Strecker. He briefly discusses development on the Xbox One and PS4, what’s coming next for the franchise and much more.
"You want to have big worlds for the players to explore for countless hours but at the same time, every corner of that world should ideally be detailed, tell a story of its own and be polished."
Not since the Deer Hunter days did I think there would be another mainstream hunting series. theHunter has managed to fill that slot nicely though. Did you ever expect it to expand into so many games as it’s done thus far?
When we released theHunter (now known as theHunter Classic) back in 2009, we knew that it was something fairly unique. A lot of passion went into it over the span of many years. Back then it was the kind of vision you unite everyone around: “Our goal is to make the best hunting game(s) in the world.” Fast forward eight years and I think we’ve achieved some of our goals, while some are still in progress. We are incredibly happy that so many people enjoy the games we create.
What are some of the challenges faced in creating the huge world of theHunter: Call of the Wild?
Creating vast, open worlds is hard. You want to have big worlds for the players to explore for countless hours but at the same time, every corner of that world should ideally be detailed, tell a story of its own and be polished. You want to impress players with set pieces or encounters like in linear games but these moments need to be created by systems rather than scripts.
The game still needs to feel fresh when you start it up for the 50th time and needs to present a new goal to reach or a different way to reach that goal for players to experiment. Animal variety, persistent simulation, dynamic foliage, day and night cycle, changing weather and a wide array of hunting equipment are some of the things we offer to meet that challenge.
How tough was it to balance the overall space with animal placement and greenery?
The majority of the vegetation is placed procedurally in our tools, which are all part of our proprietary Apex (Avalanche Open World) Engine. We paint vegetation with brushes and adjust by hand afterwards. This allows us to tackle such vast worlds with great detail. Placement and movement of animals needs to respond to many different things. Every animal is on its own schedule for its specific needs, like resting, eating and sleeping. They react to threats (such as the player) spooking them or hunting pressure created by harvested animals. It’s about creating an immersive, credible world where tracking an animal requires skill and an encounter is rare enough to feel impactful.
"We respect and get inspired by the animals and areas we choose for the game and we try to share that feeling with our players."
What was it like to work with Avalanche Studios especially when it came to creating the world?
Not everyone knows this, but Expansive Worlds in actually a subsidiary of Avalanche Studios. As such, it’s part of the same company group, and are striving toward the same goals. This means that employees of Expansive Worlds are also considered Avalanchers in every sense. We all attend the same meetings, go to the same parties, use the same technology and even share office space. So in practice, this came very natural. Of course, it’s an incredible opportunity to build on almost 15 years of experience and expertise in creating open worlds full of emergent gameplay. Using the latest version of our in-house tech, Apex, is also a rare treat, and we think the graphics of theHunter: Call of the Wild across PC and consoles is a testament to its power.
Could you tell us about the different missions that players can undertake? How do they range from the simple to the most hardcore of hunts?
We respect and get inspired by the animals and areas we choose for the game and we try to share that feeling with our players. There is a lot of knowledge to pick up about the world from both the main missions in the game as well as the side missions. Ethics is big part of that as well, as it’s one of our core design pillars. A number of missions in Hirschfelden walk you through the re-population of European Bison after they almost went extinct and how to deal with overpopulation and sickness – wildlife management essentially. But there are also lighter topics like animal photography. Fun fact: some of our players don’t ever want to shoot anything with lead bullets, they just play to explore the world and take great photos that they share with the community.
How does theHunter ease new players in and get them comfortable with the mechanics?
It’s mostly about finding the sweet spot between communicating feedback via the game world versus via user interface elements, as the latter can interfere with immersion. All animals feature different sets of animations that convey how well you are playing the game. You can see once an animal becomes alerted as it senses your presence, telling you to be less visible or make less noise. Hit reactions also allow the player to judge their shot placement and gradually become better in the game.
The wardens that look after each reserve will also be of great help to new hunters. In general, we try to solve as much as possible via the game world but we do feature very useful features via the UI too. Harvesting an animal shows an X-ray view and the shot placement of every shot, which organ was hit, how much damage the animal took and more. There is also a contextual help system and displays tips and tutorials once you encounter a specific situation for the first time.
"A lot of care goes into making weapons as we know that some of our players use these calibers and models in real life, so mistakes are quickly spotted."
How do aspects like the wind system, day/night cycle and dynamic weather play into the various hunts that players can embark on? How do they make each hunt feel unique?
We try to find as many systems as possible that affect both the way you (need to) approach a hunt as well as how it is presented to you. Hunting an animal is never a scripted moment, it’s all these things playing into each other that require you to adjust, but also give you new opportunities. During rainfall, animals can’t hear as well, so traversing terrain and foliage can be done swifter. Some species are more active during day or night so they will show different behavior or you might even catch them sleeping. These windows of shifting gameplay is what we are building on to keep the game exciting even after hundreds of hours.
What are some of the skills and equipment that players can unlock while playing?
The skills mostly depict your journey of becoming a better hunter. You will read more information from tracks, get more precise and stable when aiming and even be able to forecast the weather to some degree. We try to keep the skills and perks realistic and in line with the immersion of the game but we do jump on great opportunities for gameplay even if the make somewhat less sense in reality. A master hunter will be able to briefly “stun” animals with a call to ease shot placement.
We have weapons across a few important categories, like rifles, shotguns, handguns and bows. In total, we have 14 unique base weapons that can be outfitted with scopes and use different ammunition. You can also use skills to change the way you handle weapons, like decreasing the recoil, reloading faster or firing two barrels at once. On top of the weapons, there is a lot of useful equipment for different playstyles like callers, ground blinds, animal scents and even an ATV.
How much work went into the weapon customization and realism?
A lot of care goes into making weapons as we know that some of our players use these calibers and models in real life, so mistakes are quickly spotted. Both visuals and acoustics are very important. Whenever possible, we go out in the woods and shoot the same weapons with microphones placed at various distances. Ballistics are very close to reality, featuring bullet drop, zeroing and a complete shooting range in game to test your weapon out. Understanding your weapon and ammunition is key to mastering amazing rifle long shots and skilled bow hunting. With animals and weapons being the bread and butter for a hunting game, we have a lot of plans for the future.
"We are committed to long term support for theHunter: Call of the Wild that consists of both maintenance as well as new features and content in the form of free and paid DLCs."
What can you tell us about the multiplayer experience, both competitive and co-op?
theHunter: Call of the Wild can be played with up to 8 players in multiplayer. It is mainly a cooperative experience as you can team up with friends to spot, track and hunt animals just like in singleplayer. This allows you to use different hunting tactics like driving animals. We also feature competitions in the game that can be set up by players per session. If you want to find out who the best shot is then you either go directly to the shooting range where your shots will be measured once you step on the range or you start a competition who can land the first heart shot on a Red Fox with a bow.
What’s next for the series? Are you currently working on the next big sequel or more DLC?
We are committed to long term support for theHunter: Call of the Wild that consists of both maintenance as well as new features and content in the form of free and paid DLCs. Seven DLCs have been released for the PC version so far, the Medved-Taiga being the most recent and the most ambitious. We constantly talk to our players via forums, streams and more to find out what they like to see next and how that fits our plans. We are bringing a lot of experience from running theHunter Classic for over 8 years and we love to roll out new things for the players.
Are you looking to add Pro and Xbox One X support for theHunter?
Yes. PlayStation 4 Pro has been supported since the game’s release on consoles (October 2nd) and we are currently getting the Xbox One X version ready. It will also feature significant visual improvements, and will be available shortly.
What resolution and frame rate is theHunter running on Xbox One and PS4?
They are both running at 900p and 30 frames per second.
Are you looking to bring theHunter to the Switch?
We currently have no plans to support the Switch. We just released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, and are hard at work on Xbox One X enhancements.