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Hermit Games interview

Interview

Born in Cornwall, England, Matt James is the one man team behind Hermit Games, creator of Leave Home and most recently qrth-phyl. The latter being the winner of our Best of Indie Games Uprising III.

qrth-phyl took a known formula, updating it passionately and breathing life into it. The result was an intergalactic snake that felt very much alive. When playing both these titles there was a feeling of a hidden depth that I felt I could never truly uncover.

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This gave them an organic feel, as there seemed to be some evolution occurring as time passed that couldn’t exactly be pinned down. It’s something Matt was keen to create. “That’s how I wanted them to feel, deep so you can come back and find something new each time, and you couldn’t really know everything that’s there. They do change as you play and it’s a deliberately opaque process that you’re almost in control of. The algorithmic generation stuff ties into this too, in that you can force some stuff to happen but you can’t control it entirely.”

“In qrth-phyl it learns over time.”
It is this opaque process that turns these indie titles into more than a quick fix. There’s evolution at play. The slightest change coming directly from your input, though in a manner that makes it less than obvious. “It’s a mix of randomisation, traditional designer influence stuff and learning based on what the player does” he explains. “In qrth-phyl it learns over time and starts messing about with how the whole game is generated, so after a few months it’ll do different stuff from when you first start playing, and each person’s copy/save will end up different.”

Hermit Games exists to “make stuff I want to play that I don’t have, mainly because it doesn’t exist these days, rather than not being able to afford to buy it”. This came not from a desire to break into the industry but a more common feeling we can all share: “boredom”.

“There’s loads of stuff I want to play that doesn’t exist”. This driving force for something personal shapes both the methodology behind the game design and the simplistic appearance of the product. The process of creating a new world with the algorithmic generation helps Matt to “make something that feels like it does in my head. Recreating that feeling through the controls, mechanics and atmosphere.”

For me, Hermit Games’ work reminds me of Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s; the mind behind Rez and Child of Eden. Though Matt believes there is distinct separation between their work: “I kind of like Rez but it doesn’t feel like a personal game, the trance/world civilization theme stuff is a bit cheesy, and it was made by a team, not Tetsuya Mizuguchi himself, but I suppose well done for getting something like that done within a big multinational”.

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“It’s not really a business thing.”
qrth-phyl garnered positive reviews across the board, having sold far better on the XBLIG platform than PC. However, as an indie developer this remains a time consuming love. “I’m lucky to know a few people who make games I respect and value their opinion, and I send out test builds and new games to them. But I mostly want to work away and just release stuff that I’m happy is finished”.

“It’s not really a business thing, there’s no way I could live off the proceeds”, Matt acknowledges. It’s word of mouth and press coverage that enables these games to get some of the attention they thoroughly deserve. The XBLIG area of the 360 dashboard still needs several steps of navigation to find the games.

Is this disheartening to those creating the games? “It’s up to [Microsoft] I suppose. It’s a shame they don’t put a higher priority on XBLIG. Some of those Minecraft copies are making over a million dollars. You’d think 30% of that would pay for someone to fix stuff like the promo tokens being broken or highlighting a few decent games for promotion each month.”

“Making carts was too much of a hassle”
What then about other avenues of support? “Those two don’t really mean much to me”. Matt replies when asked about Kickstarter and Valve’s Greenlight. “I’m not sure they’re scenes in and of themselves, you have to build your audience yourself before you can leverage those sites.”

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Then there’s the homebrew scene. With hobbyists creating software for aging hardware, is this something Hermit Games would be dabbling in? “I’ve got a few GBA games I quite fancied releasing, but making carts and stuff was too much of a hassle”. However, Matt doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility of working on another system. “I suppose it depends on the project, maybe”.

For Hermit Games the work continues. There are currently three different prototypes, “one built off some of the qrth-phyl code, a platformer, and a strategy”. But this doesn’t mean that development has become anything beyond a hobby done for enjoyment: “[I’m] quite enjoying just messing around with stuff again after finishing qrth-phyl”.

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

Gentle persuasion

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