Two days ago, nobody had ever heard of Hawken, nor its developers Adhesive Games. What a difference an amazing debut trailer makes.
The clip blew people's socks off because not only did it look good, period, but it looked unbelievable for such a small indie studio. "The core team at Adhesive has six members", team leader Khang Le tells Kotaku. "We also have three interns on rotation, but they haven't been rotating much recently", he jokes. "So there are nine members total at the moment".
With the game's sound effects and music being outsourced, that frees up time, space and cash for the team to concentrate on the look, nuts and bolts of Hawken. And they'll need that time, because the team has never shipped a game before, most of them having been members of the now-disbanded Project Offset.
Bright Lights, Big City
"I grew up in Saigon, Vietnam, so tight alleyways, colorful signage and an organic city are in my blood", Le says when asked about the inspiration behind the game's Asian megacity setting.
"To sum up the look of the city in our game, think 'post-apocalyptic Hello Kitty'. That's what I always tell our artists. I love contrasting elements. Taking things that don't belong together and just forcing them to mix. District 9 is a great example, seeing the city slum of a 3rd world country with an advanced alien ship hovering in the sky above brings a strange feeling that somehow makes it feel more real."
And the mechs? "As far as mech design goes, I love the old clunky look of MechWarrior. I like a machine that feels like a machine."
"I'm not a fan of humanoid-shaped robots like Evangelion...I think we just lost half of our audience for saying that! But that's the beauty of being a indie developer. We really have full control of our vision. We can't please everyone, so it's best to please the group that share our taste and hope the other groups are open-minded enough to appreciate something different.
"Kow Yokoyama is by far my biggest influence for our mech designs" Le says, getting into the specifics of the unit's design. "It's a niche design so I hope to bring his style to the Western market. If you look up Maschinen Krieger you'll find tons of cool stuff. His design might look bland and boring at first, but like tofu, they'll grow on you over time and you don't get sick of it."
"It's a kitbash design sense that been around since the first Star Wars movie. Getting random parts of airplanes, ship models and just bashing them to create something strange and weird. These days you can do that in a 3D program and I just love that organic process."
Cheat To Win
One thing a lot of people were wondering after seeing the trailer was how did a small team get the game looking so good? Simple: they're cheating. In a smart, effective way.
"When we started this project, my biggest technical concern was world building", Le says. "With such a tiny team, it's really hard to compete with the big boys. To solve this dilemma, I went with the 'kitbash' approach we'd used for the mechs, and applied it to world building."
"Everything in our game gets reused many, many times. If you watch the video carefully, there are not that many unique props. They are just put together in unique ways. Even our weapons get thrown into the building architecture sometime, if you notice carefully once the game is out. We try to waste nothing."
Another trick is that the game's first-person perspective allows them to "fudge" the fidelity of Hawken's graphics. Built on Epic's Unreal Engine, it only employs DirectX 9 (as it's hoped they can port the game straight over to Xbox 360 and/or PS3), and for most textures doesn't even use normal or specular mapping. "That's just one example of what we do here to cut corners without sacrificing visual fidelity. In the end, it's about the overall view and not the close up details."
Kill Kill Kill
Hawken is a multiplayer shooter. That's it. "We would have liked to expand to singleplayer, but our goal was to have a small team and finish it in a short amount of time. Singleplayer missions and campaigns are very intensive and require a much larger team to do properly. Sure, we could just slap in some mechs and singleplayer missions but I wouldn't want to have a crappy singleplayer campaign."
As for the multiplayer modes, Hawken will include "two unique team game modes", along with both team deathmatch and a free-for-all deathmatch. Le says that, time/resource permitting, they'd also like to include a co-op Horde mode.
Easy Does It
The trailer released yesterday is the first public showing for the game, which has been in development at Adhesive for nine months. What Le is proudest of, though, is not the amount of time it's taken to get the game looking that good: it's how his team is managing to balance their professional and private lives, which is a rare thing in the video game development business.
"You know what's cool?", he says. "We have never had a crunch yet. People are putting in 7-8 hours a day. No ones works on the weekend. I think I'm most proud of that. Keeping everyone working happy and healthy. Game development shouldn't have to be a death march. I would rather cut scope than have a stressful office."
While the team has no idea on a release date - only saying it'll be done when it's done - seeing what's been achieved by nine people in nine months means the wait won't hopefully be too long. To help pass the time, you could always check out the pair of exclusive screens above!