Recently, we had the opportunity to ask the guys over at Dark Energy Digital a few questions about their upcoming arcade title Hydrophobia. A water-based Action/Adventure game, look for it on Xbox Live Arcade September 29th.
All questions are answered by Rob Hewson, the Senior Creative Designer of the game.
For those unfamiliar with Hydrophobia, could you briefly explain the title?
Hydrophobia is an epic action adventure which redefines download gaming – it’s the first true retail quality XBLA game thanks to the bespoke procedural technology of our InfiniteWorlds game engine. More importantly it is the first game to feature HydroEngine – the worlds first fluid dynamics simulation for games, which results in some of the most dynamic and emergent gameplay ever. Water flows from one area to another, carries objects and oil fires with it and you can engage in ‘flow combat’ to manipulate the elements against your enemies… it never repeats and it’s something completely different from any other action game.
How much time did you spend, from concept to finished product, on developing the title? How large was the team behind the development?
That depends what we call the start of the project. If it’s when we first got HydroEngine working then it’s over 5 years, if it’s when we first started working on the concept then maybe 4 years, if it’s when we went into production then probably about 3. The team size is about 40 people – very small for such a large scale project, but that’s part of the reason we created InfiniteWorlds because it’s a quantum leap forward in productivity terms.
The game has been under development for quite some time, has anything changed dramatically either combat or story wise since the start?
The overall vision has remained constant, but certainly the details have been allowed to evolve. We are constantly reworking and improving and polishing our ideas. Not to mention the fact that we had to spend a lot of time experimenting with gameplay to find out what worked with HydroEngine and what was actually fun. It’s such a dynamic force that we had to rethink a lot of classic game design rules because you cannot predict it. Again the instant design iterations that InfiniteWorlds allows really helped.
What inspired you to create a water-based combat game?
The fact that we had real water! Our R&D Director Huw Lloyd (who has a PhD in Astro Physics) came to us one day with a eureka moment and showed us HydroEngine. Our jaws dropped to the floor and suddenly all these ideas started to flow… we saw this opportunity to make a game changing product and set about building this massive new IP.
What effect does the freedom of water have upon the game?
It changes everything. The AI has to be completely dynamic in order to react to the constantly changing nature of the water, and the player can approach an area thousands of times and never get the same chain of events twice. You can choose whether to flood an area and engage in underwater combat, or shoot an oil barrel to rip a hole in the wall and unleash water to carry the oil fire into your enemy… but you’ll never know for sure what the outcome will be. Maybe the oil fire will flow towards you instead!
Are players strictly limited in the paths they can take or are they able to explore different areas freely? If so, is it possible to return to previous parts of the game in a non-linear fashion?
There are hidden areas and the route branches from time to time but it is essentially linear. However the action that occurs in each area is completely non-linear – it’s entirely dynamic and 100% emergent. There are also characters who you can succeed or fail to rescue and about 200 collectables, 50 medals – the replayability is huge.
What made you choose an episodic structure for the release of the game?
Episodic isn’t really right. An episode is something short and limited – Hydrophobia is a full scale game but it is the first part of a trilogy. The simple answer is that we have so much more to show you, both in terms of gameplay and storyline, this is only the beginning.
What type of achievements does the game present? Which one was the most fun to implement?
We’ve got a mixture of achievements, but you’ll find a lot for different ways of killing enemies, and you’ll be rewarded for mega combo chain reactions. We also implemented medals which are just like achievements except you need to collect 50% then 100% to unlock a full achievement. The medal for completing the entire game using only Sonic Rounds is brilliant.
Is there anything else you feel our readers should know about the game? Any gameplay hints?
Firstly thanks for the opportunity to talk about the game. As for hints, the best one is probably to remember that the Sonic Rounds are the most versatile type of ammo in the game; you can knock enemies out of cover, launch them into fires, drown enemies, blow up all the destructible objects… learn to use them wisely and the mega combos will flow! Oh and please, please try to beat our QA team’s leaderboard scores so we can shut them up!
Thanks again to Rob for taking the time to answer our questions. Look for Hydrophobia to launch on September 29th for Xbox Live Arcade.