At the 2013 Euorgamer Expo, I was fortunate enough to be able to get talking to Sam Read from Hypersloth. Hypersloth, if you aren’t aware, are currently working on the stunning-looking Indie title Dream, due to appear on PC some time next year. Available now via Steam Early Access, it’s definitely one to watch. Shortly after the Expo, I had the chance to interview Sam. Here’s the first part of the review.
Dale: Hi Sam, care to introduce yourself and the team to our readers?
Sam: My name’s Sam Read, and I’m one of the co-founders at Hypersloth; I work mainly on the level design of the game.
We also have Lewis Bibby, our lead artist. Our last co-founder is Ashley Sidebottom. We hired our first guy a few months ago: Gary Lloyd, who’s also an artist. [Author’s note: Gary is doing a lot of the environmental and 3D work on Dream].
Dale: Who does the narration and music for the game?
Sam: We actually have two people who we outsource to. We have Jonathan [Keith] who’s our great voice actor and he actually does all the voice acting for the game. So far, we only have the one character in the game. We’re looking at maybe expanding that, but [if we do] we won’t have many.
Then our musician is Norman Legies [Author’s note: for anyone wondering, it’s pronounced Lee-Jiss!]. We’re really happy with all the music that Norman’s done for the game.
Dale: I’ve certainly enjoyed all of the music that I’ve heard so far. Jonathan Keith actually reminded me a bit of the narrator in The Stanley Parable.
Sam: The game’s set in England, so you play an English graduate. We wanted the voice to sound quite British and we think Jonathan does that quite well. He’s quite a posh London boy himself, which is definitely the sound we were going for! [Laughs]
We actually met him at the Eurogamer Expo last year, and we were lucky to have him working on the booth with us this year, so everyone got the chance to talk to the voice behind Howard.
Dale: It’s been a while since we last spoke. How have things been going since the Eurogamer Expo in September?
Sam: We put out our Halloween patch, so we had to gear up for that, and now we’re sort of back on track with what we have to be doing with the next update, so we’ve been pretty busy!
Dale: So tell me a bit about Dream. What is it?
Sam: We always like to think of it as an atmospheric-exploration game. So when it comes to the gameplay you’re exploring these environments; we try to make it so that there’s always something for the player to see and do and then on the way to doing that, they’ll see something else. We always want things to be popping out at the player. It’s also very narrative-driven. So you play as a guy called Howard Phillips, who’s a young graduate who doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life. He goes into his dreams to sort of introspect and find out who he is; then we try to marry that up with the gameplay as much as possible as obviously you’re exploring through these worlds.
Dale: How long roughly do you think it might take people to complete the game, from start to finish?
Sam: For a normal-paced run, probably around 8 hours; to see everything and go and do all the side-missions, probably closer to 10.
Dale: That’s very good actually. A lot of the experience-led games that are coming out at the moment tend to be fairly short in length.
Sam: Yeah, games like Dear Esther and Gone Home are about 1 or 2 hour experiences. We’ve been working on our game for about a year and a half now and both of those games came out whilst we’ve been in development, so we’ve been able to see what they’ve been doing. But it’s actually quite nice not to have been swayed that way, as obviously if we were to develop it now we would have had those ideas in our head that it should be that length. So in a way it’s nice that we wrote and designed our game before those came out so we weren’t swayed by them at all.
Dale: I think it’s great because one of the criticisms that often gets mentioned with games like that – as fantastic as I and many others think they are – is the length of them, particularly relative to the price. Personally I think that’s a bit strange, but 8-10 hours is great – you get some full-price £40 games now that offer less content than that, for example.
Sam: Yeah. Obviously one thing that we have to make sure of is that the quality stands with the quantity. We definitely think it is at the minute, it’s just one thing we always look at and we know we have to make a fun 10-hour experience, not just a 10-hour experience.
Dale: You’ve pretty much answered this one already, but “Experience gaming”, “not-games”, “games-as-art”… no-one seems to know quite what to call this new blossoming genre. If someone asked you to categorise Dream in a few easy words, how would you describe it?
Sam: We normally say it’s an exploration game. Obviously you’re exploring the environment and in this game you’re also exploring your character and we try to do that all through the game, whether it’s exploring the world or going through [in-game] PC files and exploring.
I’ve talked to Dan Pinchbeck [Creative Director for The Chinese Room] a lot about how they talk about Dear Esther and they also try to call it an exploration game.
Dale: What was the inspiration behind Dream? Were there any games in particular that influenced your direction, or did it more come out of discussions between yourself and the rest of the team?
Sam: So, in the year before we started development, Lewis (one of our artists) wanted to develop a dream world for one of his projects at University. Me and him were working on a game together anyway and we just thought “ok, we’ll scrap that and we’ll start this game, where it’s in dream worlds, but we’ll take this year to develop the idea and talk about it.”
So then he went off and did that, and made a really nice Desert world, which probably grew into the sort of world you saw at the Eurogamer Expo. And then Ash was working with someone else on another thing, just another project and we saw what he was doing and thought that was really interesting, so we brought him on board and then the three of us started up Hypersloth. We’ve been doing that for about a year and a half. We got Gary on board once we got funding, so it was nice to grow the team and bring more talent into the company.
Dale: You mentioned when we spoke at the Expo that after release, you wanted to go back to University and finish your degrees, as you’d taken a year out.
Sam: Yeah. We did two years of our degree and then instead of doing a placement at a studio, we did a year-long business course so we could start our own business. And then just after that year finished, we got funding to finish the game, so we decided to take another year out. At the minute, we’re sort of still classed as students but really we’re away from University completely for this year. But then yeah, definitely all four of us want to go back and finish our studies next year.
Dale: If Dream becomes successful, how do you think you’ll manage that alongside your University work? It must be quite an intimidating prospect.
Sam: [Laughs] Obviously, we want it do well. We’d love for it to take off! It’s one of things where myself and Lewis were designing it and working out what direction we wanted to take for a year beforehand, and then it’s been a 2-year lifecycle developing it. I think we’d actually quite like to do that again over the final year: make some prototypes and think what our next game’s going to be; not rush it, just sort of work it out. Then when we finish university we can just start straight away.
Dale: Any plans or ideas for post-release content at all, or is the game going to stand as its own thing?
Sam: We think it will stand as its own thing. Obviously we’ll do the general patch updates. I don’t know, we may add one or two things but I don’t think there’s going to be any DLC.
Dale: Any prospect of a developer commentary to listen to while you’re playing through the game? It’s something a couple of games are doing these days now.
Sam: I think that’s actually something we would probably like to do. It’s more if we do it, we’d have to think about putting it in other languages. The contract we have with our publisher says we have to do everything in about 6 or 7 languages. But it’s definitely something we’d be interested in doing. Obviously when it comes to things like Portal 2 – well, all the Valve games do it now – I really enjoyed playing through those with the commentary, so it’s something I’ve enjoyed in the past.
Dale: I think Gone Home has recently had a commentary track added to it. I believe they did a free DLC update.
Sam: Oh really? I didn’t know that, it would be interesting to play that again with a commentary.
Dale: I noticed that the main character, Howard Phillips, is a cheeky reference to H.P Lovecraft and his Dreamland works. Are there any other links with his works to be found?
Sam: Not so much with Lovecraft. There are more references to other writers and novelists. When it gets into the story, a lot of the stuff that we’ve left out of the early access happens to be that kind of thing. When it comes to the full game, a lot of that stuff will be in the second and third acts, so we’ve tried not to give any of that sort of thing away, but there will be other references to creative writing.
Dale: I’m sure a lot of people will have fun discussing amongst themselves whether the references mean something other than just being there for a bit of fun, or if there are wider links to the game and things like that.
Sam: That’s what we’re hoping! We’ve also tried to link it in to Howard and his uncle Edward, who’s also one of the main characters in the game. He’s just passed away, so you never see him and he’s not actually in the world with you, but his presence is quite strong in the game so we try and link that with other authors and what may have influenced them, and what they would like, and so it all actually makes sense in the [game’s] universe as well.
Dale: Parts of the game show a very dark, almost sinister tone. If you remember, the maze section made me jump the first time I played through it! Was it a conscious decision to unnerve the player and introduce almost a horror vibe in parts of the game, or did it evolve over time?
Sam: It’s definitely something we wanted. We wanted your heart to race a little playing the game. It’s more that with exploration games, if it was just exploration it would maybe get a bit tedious. You need these ups and downs. Gone Home I think does it in a great way, where when you walk into one of the bedrooms a branch bangs on the window and makes these scratching sounds. And in Dear Esther there are the ghosts up on the cliffs which you can see. So it’s more something we feel that you need to keep the player interested and invested [in the experience].
It’s also for that exact reason that we added puzzles to the game. There’s actually going to be quite a few horror sections and quite a few puzzle sections so it varies and never stays too stilted.
Dale: I’d definitely agree with that. You’ve done a good job with the pacing so far. I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into the final game when you finish it.
Thank you! I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet because it’s something we only recently put in a few weeks ago, but we put out our update during Halloween, where we added the first Nightmare. So with the mazes, we sort of implement a bit of jump-horror; you’ll go around a corner and there’ll be a monster there. When it came to the nightmares, they’re all set in the house that you start in. We wanted those to be more psychological horror, so in the nightmare that we’ve currently released, there are these cameras watching you and writing on the walls. That was a lot of fun to do!
Dale:I think a lot of people will like that, with some of the suspicions surrounding things like Kinect and the new consoles.
That’s it for the first part of the interview. Click here for the second part.
[This article was originally published on All About The Games. It is reproduced here here with permission and some minor alterations]