Housemarque is one of those studios that you may not necessarily know by name, but you have probably played (and most surely heard of) at least one of their games if you’ve owned a Sony system in the past few years. Though founded in 1995, they’ve really come to their stardom in the past several years. You may know Housemarque for developing Super Stardust HD, one of the most popular games on the PS3. More recently, they developed the fan favorite Dead Nation on PS3. If you own an Xbox 360, maybe you’ve played their 2011 game, Outland.
Though I’ve only mentioned a few of their more popular games, Housemarque has a quite extensive list of games that they’re either solely developed or that they’ve provided help on (such as Killzone: Liberation). Most recently, however, Housemarque created Resogun, an outstanding PS4 launch title. It has been very well received since becoming part of the PS+ Instant Game Collection. The proof lies in Resogun’s accolades. It walked away with Best PS4 Game and Best PS4 Sound from IGN’s Best of 2013 Awards. Gameinformer named it their PS4 game of the year, and it was also nominated for Best Action Game at the DICE awards.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Tommaso De Benetti, the Community Manager at Housemarque studios. We discussed a wide range of topics, and if you read on, you may see some news about their upcoming, highly anticipated Resogun DLC. Here we go!
Gamers Sphere: When you created Resogun, did you honestly believe it would become one of the fan favorites, and really, the best PS4 launch game out there (as evidenced by your IGN awards)?
Housemarque: Towards the end of the development cycle we were confident that we had something solid. Not only because feedback from the fairs had been very positive, but even because our own people at the office stayed after work just to play the game – that includes also some of the testers. That was somewhat striking: they had to play it (as a job) to find bugs and they were still willing to spend their free time on it.
That said, I don’t think we expected it to be the highest rated game on PS4, that was a great satisfaction for the whole team.
Gamers Sphere: I’ve seen lots of screenshots on the Resogun Facebook page of what the game looked like while it was still in development. Why did Resogun go through so many artistic changes before it was released?
Housemarque: I think most of the games go through an inordinate amount of changes before final release, not only from the artistic point of view. The reason is that you start with an idea, you try it out and maybe it doesn’t work. So you try something new and that doesn’t work either, for a number of reasons. It takes quite a while for a game to find its own “soul”.
When it comes to color schemes and art style, in the beginning we weren’t sure about a couple of things: platform of destination and how “retro” the game had to look. So on one side the platform limited what we could do – luckily with PS4 these limits were pretty much removed, on the other we went through different stages of “retro” until the right balance was found. At some point the game was much more colorful, think Parodius or Minecraft, but in retrospect I’m happy we went for some kind of neon aesthetic. It fits PS4 and the final game so much better.
GS: I’ve heard that the PS4 was designed to be easier to develop for than the PS3 ended up being. Does that ring true for you, and how much easier or harder is it to create enjoyable experiences on the PS4 as opposed to the PS3?
HM: Yeah, our engineers agree. Especially in the first years, there were things on PS3 that were poorly documented, or required a lot of extra effort just to work as expected. To give you an example, early dev kits didn’t even recognize HDMI inputs automatically. That was stuff developers had to deal with, and when you’re paying people by the hour… well, it didn’t make things easy. Over the years the situation on PS3 normalized, but PS4 is a very powerful machine that just works – we don’t have to spend an afternoon reverse engineering basic features.
GS: Had you planned Resogun DLC from before release, or was it more of an afterthought when Resogun turned out to be a success?
The game you’re playing right now was completed days before PS4 release, so to be honest there wasn’t time to plan much else. We wanted to have the basic game right, we wanted it to be solid, and push all possible “expansions” to a later time. Work on additional content didn’t start until the end of 2013, but in principle we always though that there was much more we could do with Resogun. Hopefully you’ll see some examples soon enough.
GS: You said that Resogun was finished just days before the PS4 released. I think that’s definitely a testament to running a well-disciplined and smooth studio. I mean, to be able to wrap up development just in the nick of time for launch day without having the gameplay suffer at all, it’s definitely an accomplishment. How do you, as a studio, stay on task and hit the deadlines? I ask because we live in a world where delays seem to be constantly appearing, yet Housemarque didn’t crack under pressure and was able to release Resogun on schedule.
HM: The game was playable well before that, I think we could have released it two months before the actual launch, but a big part of what we do has to do with balancing and polishing, so we used until the last day to make things better. Ask any game studio, if they can make that texture slightly better, or modify how that multiplier works, they will try to do it until someone steals the keyboards from their hands. So, in a way, with Resogun we have been able to stay within deadlines. It’s all about planning, having a clear plan is key, because changing a mechanic late in the cycle can have a domino effect on a bunch of other stuff. It even has a name: “feature creep”. Keeping your vision pure is not always easy because there are many parties involved, so sometime someone has to stand his or her ground and say “no, we are not gonna do that, it doesn’t matter how cool it sounds on paper, because it’s gonna screw up 10 other things”.
Bosses 2 and 3 From Resogun Pictured Above
GS: What can we plan to see in the DLC? Are you planning new levels, ships, powerups, or enemy types? Any teasers or sneak peeks you can give out?
I’m confident we will be able to start speaking about it in a matter of days. One thing I can say is that we’ve been listening to the feedback from fans, and then we included a few things we wanted to do and that fans don’t necessarily expect.
GS: Is there an estimated release timeframe for the DLC?
HM: We don’t get to pick the date, but I’d be surprised if you don’t see it before the summer.
GS: The last question concerning DLC: are you planning another pack after this one, or will you be working on a new project?
HM: There’s plenty of ideas on the table. After launching the first DLC we’ll sit down with Sony XDev and decide what to do next.
GS: I can assume that you (as a studio) wouldn’t create games if you didn’t enjoy the creation process or the final product. How does Resogun compare to other game’s you’ve created in terms of enjoyment, and what has been your favorite game to develop and play so far?
HM: I probably answered this already on the first question. Regarding “enjoyment” it’s hard for me to say, because 99.999% of the job is done by our tech guys, coders, level designers and artists. We strive to assign people to projects they care about, and generally do not proceed with an idea if we can see that despite market demand there’s scarce enthusiasm among our people. This doesn’t assure that getting the work done within deadlines will be easy, but at least we will have motivated professionals working on a game they care about. That’s also why in recent years the company has encouraged employees in pitching their own ideas… we had a session just last week.
GS: Finally, if you could develop any game for any system with any budget, what sort of game would be your dream creation?
HM: Very hard to answer, we are more than 50 now and tastes about games can vary wildly. I’d say that Housemarque’s strong points are proprietary cutting edge tech, strong visual style and an extraordinary attention to tight gameplay mechanics. As a curiosity, on our internal chat we have a whole channel dedicated to Dark Souls, so if we came up with something like that I think a few people in here would gladly come to work even on Sundays
Well then, one more…
GS: You say that the team consists of over 50 people with wildly varying tastes. Was it difficult to reach compromises on the style that Resogun would take during development, and how did you manage to overcome that? I’m sure there had to be at least some dissension as to how everything should be presented.
HM: Interesting question. I think everybody has a chance to articulate why a certain enemy should be yellow or green, or why this look is too gritty and this other one is not. If one has valid arguments, they rarely go ignored. We also have to mediate with the wishes of the publisher, how do they see the game, what kind of aesthetic they are looking for, etc. Given certain boundaries (say: “The game has to look futuristic, clean, emphasize voxel technology and settle on a darker palette of colors”), we are then free to experiment. If during development we realize that the starting assumptions do not work at all, we can come up with alternatives and see if those get any traction. It’s a balancing act: there’s the studio vision, some guesswork on what would appeal to players, and making sure that the game is always readable… It’s not easy to nail a visual style right away.
Well, there you have it folks; that’s our exclusive interview with Housemarque Studios. Thanks again to Tommaso De Benetti for taking the time to answer all my questions. Everyone, if you haven’t downloaded Resogun for your PS4 already, go do so now; you surely won’t regret it! Stay tuned for our review of the Resogun DLC once it releases, and be sure to come back here before then for more great content.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this exclusive interview!