It’s Hero Time! – Hero Hunters Interview with Hothead Games
Published by Elijah Beahm on Action
Today we’re joined by Bryan Brandt, Producer, Bryan O’Hara, Lead Designer and Kevin Fink, Lead Artist of Hothead games to talk about their ambitious new third-person Hero Shooter, Hero Hunters!
Check out our review of Hothead’s latest game, Mighty Battles, here!
Appolicious: What originally inspired Hero Hunters? It’s got elements of a hero shooter, but also a team-building game, and a cover-based game all in one.
Hothead: Hothead is all about shooter games, and we wanted to come up with a version of a shooter that was different from anything we had done before — that was, in fact, different from anything else anyone had done before. There are some good team-based shooters available for PC gamers, but hardly any for mobile, so we decided to tackle the challenge.
Appolicious: Can you take us through the process of crafting a hero for a hero shooter?
Hothead: We wanted each Hero to have their own unique personality, and we wanted them to represent a very diverse range of people from every stripe. From there, they had to affect the gameplay in unique ways as well, so that it gave players a lot to choose from when deciding which Hero to bring into battle with them. After that, we let our team get creative and come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, some of which were tossed out but many of which ended up in the game that you see today.
Appolicious: What comes first – visual or mechanical inspiration?
Hothead: The majority of our starting roster had their visuals developed in parallel with their gameplay. We iterated a lot with their aesthetics, their gameplay and their overall ‘feel’. We experimented with how far we could push our Heroes as we fleshed out the world and how these characters stood in relation to each other. Later Hero concepts sat within the established goal posts, but their inspirations came from just about everywhere; some from plugging mechanical holes or fulfilling gameplay niches, and others were built from the top-down from little more than a sketch.
Appolicious: What do you look for to ensure each hero is unique enough to make the cut?
Hothead: We start by ensuring that no two characters inhabit the same gameplay space, so everyone has their own unique starting point to build upon. Some of the differences get reinforced as we challenge the Hero’s purpose in the game. We asked ourselves what does this Hero bring to a gunfight that no one else can? And how is this character different than other Heroes?
Defining their personal struggles can also help to reinforce who this Hero is and why they do what they do. If you can establish the why, their personality can develop naturally. Some of our characters come from places of loss or heroic service, others have more sadistic or evil roots. So, while some of our Heroes can fill similar roles, each of them has a unique flair to their performance.
Appolicious: Which hero was the most challenging to implement?
Hothead: Halloway uses projection technology to create holographic clones of himself on the battlefield. Sounds cool, right? He ended up being our biggest technical challenge because we had to redesign all of the missions to take the possibility of the clones into account. The challenge was completely worth it, though, since he ended up being an incredibly fun and unique Hero!
He also ended up being a bit of an inside joke because his technical challenges caused his release to be delayed a few times but his model still managed to slip into a few promotional materials. Players were asking about this phantom Hero and were pretty hyped when he was finally released!
Appolicious: How do you find a baseline for visual direction that congeals between the various heroes? You’ve got everything from grizzled marines to neon-colored space ninjas, and they all need to click together.
Hothead: Having a broad spectrum of character personalities means there is something for everyone to engage with. It can be a challenge to maintain cohesion across a diverse group, but the common thread is that they are all headed into battle, and need to look ready for it. One of our visual design pillars was that every character needed to look ‘battle ready’. Whether they were a soldier, mercenary or citizen they each needed to evoke power through their load-out, weaponry or attitude, and ideally all three.
Rapid iteration in the concept phase helped us find the sweet spot between uniquely bad-ass and just plain weird. Finding out what we wanted was great, but equally valuable was learning what we didn’t want!
Appolicious: On the same train of thought, in Hero Hunters’ case, not only do you have to ensure the heroes work well on their own, but as a unit. How did the team at Hothead get all these disparate characters to mesh in gameplay?
Hothead: This again goes back to “plugging” mechanical holes in our roster of Heroes. We broadly classify Heroes as frontline tanks, midline damage or backline support. We also consider their skills, whether they’re damage dealing, healing, shielding or crowd control. Finally, we have our elemental rock-paper-scissors system. We try to ensure there’s a balance across all of these aspects so that players always have a choice to make in order to achieve a balanced team.
Appolicious: How did the team-swapping system come to be? We’ve seen swapping as one hero in Agents of Mayhem, but never manually controlling an entire team at once in a shooter.
Hothead: We spent a pretty significant amount of time at the start of the project prototyping different types of gameplay. We knew we wanted this game to have an incredibly deep metagame that would drive discussions and create a lasting community. It was pretty obvious right away that going into battle with just one Hero would never support that goal. There just wasn’t much depth. As soon as we allowed players to bring more than one Hero into a mission, the meta started to develop.
Allowing players to swap between Heroes came after even more experimentation. We wanted to find the right balance of complexity, tactics and strategy. To have strategy, you might want to use specific skills at specific times but allowing the player to access all of your team’s skills simultaneously was far too complex. Knowing we wanted this game to be a shooter, controlling only one Hero at a time was kind of a necessity. Switching between Heroes started as a compromise but eventually grew into a cornerstone for us. People enjoyed it and it felt unique right away.
Appolicious: What’s something most people don’t about when it comes to crafting a hero-centric game?
Hothead: Having a huge cast of Heroes creates a lot of limitations as well. Players don’t get a lot of time to explore each Hero, so the purpose of the Hero and their gameplay needs to be pretty clear right from the start. Additionally because of that limited time with each Hero, we don’t have a lot of time to let the player connect with the Hero. There’s no story arc or journey to experience with the Hero. A lot of the Hero’s personality and backstory needs to be communicated through a very limited set of tools so a ton of work is put into the Hero’s visuals as well as each animation and voice line so we can communicate the little quirks that make a personality come alive without forcing the player to spend a long time with the Hero.
Appolicious: Why do you think we’ve seen so few hero games on mobile thus far? Are Clash-likes and MOBAs just too dominant, or is it something else?
Hothead: Making a Hero shooter game in the style of Hero Hunters requires a lot of elements that aren’t available to typical mobile studios. Hothead has a background in mobile shooting games and has great bench strength in character design and creation from our past sports games. We also have a background in character-based RPGs, which definitely played a role here. Combining this expertise was absolutely necessary to pull this game off, but in addition to this, we’re hoping that Hero Hunters breaks ground as a new genre of shooter that makes total sense on mobile platforms. Perhaps we’ll be seeing imitators soon?
Appolicious: Which hero are you both personally fond of/proud of the most?
Hothead: This is obviously a really tough choice. Clyde is probably the collective favorite. Everything just came together with him–animations, voice acting, skills, backstory. He was originally a throw-away sketch our lead character artist made trying to do something a little “outside the box” from the military characters we had been focusing on initially. But the more we fleshed him out, the more his elements clicked into place. He ended up being this super interesting Hero with a ton of depth despite the really simple premise of a robot deputy.