Monday, 24 August 2015

Exclusinterview: Jamie Fristrom (Happion Labs)

For many of you, Jamie Fristrom is a man you've probably never heard of, yet loved the work of. Not only has Jamie worked on the Tony Hawk series, but he was also responsible for the legendary swinging in the excellent Spider Man 2 game, possibly one of the best movie games ever made. He's now taken his expertise in stunts and swinging and put them into his next game, Energy Hook, which I've already played and thoroughly enjoyed. I managed to get an interview with Jamie, now working as an indie developer in his company Happion Labs, and here's what we discussed:
How do the swinging mechanics work in Energy Hook? How does the jetpack factor in to it?
Unlike most other swinging games (Bionic Commando Re-Armed, Tribes: Venegeance, the Quake grappling hook mod...) you don't use the camera to point at what you want to swing from; you point the character in that general direction and a cone of beams - initially precise, but then widening to allow more slop if it can't find something - emerge to find a good point. Then physics takes over, constraining your character to that point while keeping your existing momentum. I like the expressiveness of being able to look one direction while swinging another - it's pretty easy to reverse direction for example. As for the jetpack, it allows for mid-air jumps and lets you do nitrous-like boosts; both of these are limited resources - the boost can be replenished by being awesome. :)
For those who don't know, what events will players compete in, and will players be rewarded for winning or doing well in an event?
The main things are Tony Hawk-esque score attack challenges where you have a limited time to make big chains of tricks to score big, and races where you swing or jump through virtual hoops. The better you do in these challenges, the faster more content and gear improvements unlock - also there are leaderboards for bragging rights.
What's the story in Energy Hook? Will it be a developing narrative, or will it take a backseat to the gameplay?
There is virtually no story. Think Tony Hawk 1 or 2. You're just having fun. There is some backstory to the world you're in - most of these cities are flooded, which shows that some drastic climate change has happened; and there are buildings and islands that float in the air which shows that the same gravity tech that powers your gear is being used for other things. It's also pretty clear that being an Energy Hook athlete is against the law in most of these places... you're such a rebel.
You worked on Spider Man 2, which is considered one of the best 6th generation games by many (Including me!). What do you think made that game so special compared to other superhero/movie games?
I'd like to say it's the swinging mechanic, but I'm biased. :) One thing that really helped was where most movie games were an afterthought by the studios and didn't have much time to be developed, we knew we were making Spider-Man 2 from the get-go and had a full two years to work on it. Side note: at this point I've worked on Energy Hook longer! I've never put so much of myself into a game.
Last of all, did you ever finish the devilishly evil pizza missions in Spider Man 2?
Nope! (There was one challenge where the only guy at Activision who could do it was the designer, Hans Wakelin. QA told him it was impossible and he sent them a video of himself completing it...)
Energy Hook is available on Steam Early Access. Follow @happionlabs for Energy Hook updates.

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