We talk with the Huey Games CEO about their upcoming retro shooter Hyper Sentinel, retro gaming, and the road to getting on the Switch.
As you may have gathered from my recent preview of Hyper Sentinel I’m a die hard retro gaming fan, though to me it is all just games I grew up with. When I first saw footage of the game I was intrigued but then once I played the available demo I realized I was looking at something pretty special. From the moment the game loads it is an immersion in, for me, Commodore 64-era goodness but the gameplay also displays sparks of modern sensibilities.
Having been impressed with the game I decided to reach out to the folks in charge of distributing Hyper Sentinel, Huey Games, and it was at that point I began to better understand why I’d been sucked in so completely. While the game had been developed by “bedroom coder” Jonathan Port it is fitting that he then teamed up with Huey Games, as the lineage of great gaming runs deep there. Rob Hewson himself has worked on a number of modern gaming projects, formerly working as a Game Director with TT Fusion, helping produce several notable LEGO projects. More significantly Rob’s father created the company Hewson Consultants Ltd. which published a number of notable titles including one of my favorites from that era, Paradroid.
With that in mind I decided to talk to Rob about how Hyper Sentinel got started and on their radar, the Kickstarter campaign that got the game off to a strong start, retro gaming in general, and what more we can look forward to from Huey Games.
Aside from the obvious reverence your team has for classic games what was the inspiration for Hyper Sentinel? How did it get started?
RH: We bumped into Jonathan Port, the creator of Hyper Sentinel, at an indie developer’s beer night in Manchester. It was immediately obvious that the game had potential and that it would appeal to our retro community.
Jonathan was working on the game in his spare time and hoping to release it on the iOS AppStore, so I proposed a partnership which would bring three clear benefits for the project. Firstly, working together we could amplify the production values and quality of the game and really take it to another level. Secondly, we could hit many more platforms, including consoles and PC, and finally we could enhance the market potential and generate much more buzz.
In terms of inspiration for the game itself, Jonathan told us he wanted to create a game which played like 8-bit shooters did in his imagination and in his rose-tinted memories. That really resonated with us, and from there we built our Neo-Retro development philosophy for Hyper Sentinel.
Having seen many independent game projects struggle to get funded on Kickstarter how would you describe the process and your success in meeting your goal?
RH: Huey Games has a unique 8-bit heritage, and as a result we are very lucky to have a community of fans who remember the games our team produced all the way back to the early 1980s, including Uridium which was by far the biggest 8-bit hit. Hyper Sentinel is inspired by several classic shooters, but one of the biggest stylistic influences is Uridium itself. That community helped us to successfully fund a book about our heritage called Hints & Tips for Videogame Pioneers, which gave as a platform to build from and lots of lessons to learn.
We then came back to Kickstarter with Hyper Sentinel, which has that particular hook from our heritage and we brought in the USB Cassette reward which really appeals to the collectors in our community.
It is certainly not easy, there is a huge amount of work involved, but we are very fortunate that the community we have built is hugely enthusiastic, massively knowledgeable and incredibly supportive.
In the US there has definitely been a resurgence in the appreciation for classic arcade experiences with Bar-cades and other classic venues opening up. Is the same happening in the UK? How would you size up the retro arcade gaming community as a whole right now?
RH: The retro scene is huge in the UK and there are retro events almost every weekend somewhere in the country. It is interesting because it seems like most people know about the US version of retro gaming history, with Atari, then the video game crash, then Nintendo re-igniting the industry, but in the UK there was no video game crash. During that period, the UK industry was massively exciting and was arguably producing the finest games in the world, but many people outside the UK don’t remember them. As a result, the retro scene in the UK feels like a club – we all know each other and we all remember the games we grew up with, which many people in other countries missed out on. It was a fascinating period, which we really enjoyed recalling in our book Hints & Tips for Videogame Pioneers, and it has led to a hugely vibrant retro scene in the UK.
Having played the demo I was immediately pulled in by the great retro music and then quickly felt very much at home with the gameplay style. What modern sensibilities have you worked to infuse into this classic experience?
RH: This goes back to our Neo-Retro development philosophy for Hyper Sentinel. We want players to pick up the game and jump straight into the action with a big smile on their faces because it captures the essence of all those classic shooters. It’s a bit like watching The Goldbergs on TV, where the warm glow of nostalgia is weaved throughout the experience, back packaged in a modern format.
Hyper Sentinel is an unmistakably modern experience with nostalgia deliberately weaved through it. There’s absolutely no way you could throw this many enemies around on screen and maintain 60fps on a retro system. And while we have worked hard to capture the best bits from classic shooters, it is just as important to modernise those annoying elements which we forget in our rose-tinted memories - the overly punishing death systems, the lack of checkpoints and the thin, limited game modes.
It is the same with the visuals – you want to capture a style which evokes fond memories, but enhanced with modern effects and all the juicy feedback which the technology now allows. That’s what Neo-Retro is all about.
What prompted you to look at porting the title over to the Switch?
RH: Firstly, we are huge fans of the Nintendo Switch ourselves. Secondly, we think Hyper Sentinel is a perfect fit for the system. On the one hand, it offers a pick-up-and-play experience and bite-sized blasts of intense gameplay which works brilliantly in portable mode. On the other hand, you can indulge in extended gameplay sessions in TV mode when you are trying to unlock some of the tougher medals, beat a high score or tackle the ultra-hard Retro difficulty mode. Finally, the chance to get onto a Nintendo system early in the consoles life-cycle was a no brainer.
Having seen mixed impressions on getting started with Nintendo in terms of difficulty how would you describe the process you went through?
RH: Nintendo have been brilliant for us, we couldn’t be happier. It feels like they are embracing Indies on the Nintendo Switch which is very encouraging.
I couldn't help but get interested in the tease for Mechinus on your site. Anything to share about your next project?
RH: Mechinus is a unique and beautiful project, totally original. However, the focus right now is on doing the best job possible with Hyper Sentinel, so we’ll have to save the details for another time!