This article originally appeared in Volume XX, Issue IX of The University Observer and online at universityobserver.ie
Alex Preston, founder of Heart Machine, chats to Niall Gosker about the highly anticipated action RPG Hyper Light Drifter
In early 2012, a paradigm shift in games development occurred in the form of a then unknown service called Kickstarter. Tim Schafer, creator of several classic adventure games in the nineties, along with his company Double Fine, launched a crowd-funded campaign to make an old school point-and-click once more, something big publishers these days aren’t interested in.
They asked for what they assumed was a modest $300,000. The response was immense and unprecedented, with total fan submissions reaching over $3 million. Since then, more developers have turned to Kickstarter to help fund what would otherwise be impossible projects.
Among these great success stories, is Hyper Light Drifter from Heart Machine, a supremely stylist top-down action RPG that’s seeking to further solidify and legitimise Kickstarter projects as being able to deliver on promise.
Founded by lead artist Alex Preston, the four-man team was born out of a simple passion for video games. “I’m just a nerdy kid who loves video games,” says Preston honestly. “I never got a chance to make my own games.
“I was always screwing around and getting partners who didn’t really follow though so this is my first real game endeavour. Before that I was just doing freelance illustration and painting so, I’ve worn a lot of hats.”
For a debut project, it has come with an unusual amount of fanfare. “I mean, I think anyone is going to feel that pressure if they are responsible and empathetic and excited about their own project and want it to be received well. I don’t think any creative person wants their work to fail or isn’t anxious about putting out a good product especially when you have backers you know, patrons essentially.
“You always want to fulfil your promise as an artist. For me, artist is a pretty broad term and I was a more traditional artist, but I consider my team members of just as much artistic merit as anything that I do. They code and they design and from a mechanics standpoint that stuff in itself has its own kind of beauty, it’s a little less apparent.”
Hyper Light Drifter’s direct influences stem from two very different schools of action RPG thought, as Preston explains. “The main influences are A Link to the Past and the older Diablos II and I, it comes down a healthy dose of Western methodologies and Japanese sensibilities.”
It’s an intriguing cultural mixture that could very well result in something quite unique. The game’s remarkable first trailer, which solidified its position in the minds of many as one to watch in 2014, was rich in a very specific mystic atmosphere; something Preston insists is going to carry over to the game itself. This idea ties into the ambitious visual style of storytelling he and his team are attempting to execute on.
“For this game, it’s going to be unique in that it’ll be a textless and voiceless game. So the storytelling will be told strictly through visuals.” Preston mentions Miyazaki’s work and Pixar films as great examples of this approach.
“There’s powerful moments you can convey without the use of text or words and I think for me that leaves a little bit of mystery to it also. And it’s more impactful in the end in some ways.”
Crucial in that initial trailer’s effectiveness was the Disasterpeace original score. [Editorial note: the music in the trailer was actually composed by Baths. The game’s soundtrack will however still be composed by Disasterpeace.] “He’s one of my favourite composers out there,” says Preston of the talented musician. The two seem to be a perfect match; their distinct visual and audio styling blending together extremely well.
The name ‘Heart Machine’ has very personal connotations for Preston. “It does have meaning to me of course because of my health issues so that’s why I created the company name, it is a direct correlation to my experiences,” he explains.
This intimacy extends to Hyper Light Drifter itself, which is very much grounded in personal experience. “It’s a very personal project which is what makes it even greater that I get to make it and even more important that we’re able to convey certain things through it. That’s all I know how to write about really, are personal experiences or it’s all I really want to write about.”
The game is coming to a variety of platforms, perhaps the least surprising of which are PS4 and PS Vita. Preston is unsure at the moment whether they’ll be able to support the immensely liked cross buy feature, but he’s certainly a fan of it. He echoes the positive sentiment towards Sony that many other indie developers have spoken of in recent times.
“They really want to tap a vein of the games industry that Microsoft and Nintendo aren’t necessarily going after so hard. I think it’s a smart move and I think it’s a great initiative and I think it’s good for everybody as a relationship.”
Looking to the future, Preston insists that it’s too early to speculate on what he might do after Hyper Light Drifter although he’s enjoyed the journey so far. “I will say I love interactive experiences and it would be hard to imagine that I wouldn’t want to make more games after this if it’s successful in a critical reception sort of way.”
If the game does indeed manage to reach expectations, there’s every chance that Preston and Heart Machine might well be the next studio to find their names added to an ever-increasing list of indie elites.
Hyper Light Drifter is scheduled to come out later this year. To keep up with its development visit http://www.heart-machine.com/