Mile Marker 9: Joe Danger

Tired of stodgy corporate games made by The Man and his minions? We're playing the 31 best indie games for a change of pace —- and so we can judge them. Today, Joe Danger.

In A Sentence
A stunt-racing, side-scrolling Excitebike for the modern era, with LittleBigPlanet-level high-res and cute visual pizazz, and maybe some deep level customization too.

State Of Completion
Technically very far along, but the version made available for judges of the Independent Games Festival was lacking some main modes. The Hello Games team's official blog hopefully targets a spring release on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network or PC.

Thoughts
While this wasn't the oddest or most innovative game I played as an IGF judge — and bear in mind those are the qualities you, fairly or unfairly, expect from an "indie" game — Joe Danger was technically stunning. This is a bright and detailed game with a professional slickness befitting the Criterion and Kuju backgrounds of Hello Games' founders. Players of Trials HD would feel quite comfortable racing through the pre-arranged physics-mad obstacle runs of virtual stunt man Joe Danger. The more we all learn about the customization and multiplayer options also in this game, the more it has a chance to come together as a delightful downloadable. game.

To be honest, I wasn't the world's best Joe Danger player. My daredevil-on-a-bike fell into many shark tanks and stopped short of a bunch of jumps. The physics might as well situate this game on the moon, but it's not the lack of tight gravity but the frequent checkpointing that enabled me to race further and flip more times. Again, Trials HD folks are going to love this.

Answers We Demanded
Kotaku: The entries of the IGF are an eclectic bunch, ranging from esoteric art titles to straight forward drop-in-and-play casual games. In creating your entry what do you hope to accomplish with your game?

Sean Murray, Hello Games: We're making the kind of game that we actually enjoy, probably the kind of game that we've always loved. I like to think it's a kind of love letter to my younger self, that time in my childhood when I could afford two games a year, and they got played to death. Those games had to play like silk, but have a top end difficulty that you could spend forever mastering. I have formed this strange emotional bond with games like that.

We come from that Sega-blue-sky generation, we grew up with the SNES and Genesis, so that's what games mean to us, those are our cornerstones. For people like us bright and vibrant means fun, and you know, not necessarily casual. Probably the opposite, like Sega used to make some of the world's most hardcore games, but still with that distinctive, happy-blue-sky style. I'm totally not ashamed to have huge nostalgia for those types of titles.

I loved the fact that those early consoles had more quirky, slightly surreal and imaginative games at the top of the charts too. Games like Toejam and Earl or Earthworm Jim were diverse and charming in a way that you don't really get now.

If we have one dream it's to make a game that would be pure enough to fit in with that kind of line-up.

Kotaku:
What was the inspiration behind your game?

Murray:
I love how it all happened actually, it was really fun. We know each other so well that we all have the same culture points. Someone can just reference an obscure character in "Defenders of the Earth" or the controls in "Space Harrier" and everyone is instantly on the same page. It meant the type of game we were going to make was just implicit. We all wanted to use this opportunity to bring back some of the bright, fun, arcade magic that we grew up on.

Grant, our artist, brought in a box of toys from his parent's attic, and something kind of beautiful happened. There was an instant power to demonstrating your latest game idea with Optimus Prime or Lion-o in your hands. We kept coming back to this one toy though, an Evel Knievel stunt cycle. We just sat and actually played with it, building bigger and bigger ramps, launching it out of windows, down corridors. It didn't matter that he crashed all the time. In fact that was almost the point. So we started to build this little personality around who this hapless dude was; The world's most determined stuntman. It kind of tapped into the character you imagined as you played with those toys as a kid. Designing the game from there just flowed really naturally.

Kotaku: Who or what are your greatest influences when creating a game?

Murray: I think with Joe Danger a lot of what we're inspired by are toys and classic cartoons. A lot of our shared childhood experiences really. That's something we certainly talk about and reference a lot. Weirdly we kind of influence each other too, we're a tight little band and we kind of feed off each other in terms of design. I like to think, if you aren't having fun making a game, then the game probably isn't going to be much fun either.

Personally I'm in awe of a lot of golden age developers, their work is a big influence. Someone like Yu Suzuki probably isn't discussed enough. It's mind-blowing that there is anyone who made Space Harrier, Super Hang-On, Afterburner, Outrun, Virtua Fighter/Racing/Cop, Shenmue and so many more in just one career. I devour anything written about him, or anyone from development houses like AM2 and EAD. I don't think there's anything today that can compare to that blend of innovation and pure polish they managed. A lot of the history of that era is pretty fascinating too, I'm sure every developer must be influenced by that.

Make sure to check out the rest of the Independent Games Festival finalists as we head toward the March awards show.