Sean Murray on Joe Danger, dealing with publishers & sticking to your guns

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Which game do you think I was most looking forward to playing at Eurogamer Expo 2011? Modern Warfare 3? Nope, not interested. Battlefield 3? I dominated the scoreboard, but – nope. Skyrim? It looked lovely, but no; the game I was most excited about getting my hands on was one with no release date and, at time of writing, not even a confirmed gaming platform. I put Joe Danger: The Movie at the top of my ‘to do’list – and I was not disappointed.

Of equal excellence was the opportunity to interview Sean Murray of Hello Games. As he’s the one who usually does the talking at conferences and in interviews, Murray is often seen as something along the lines of CEO (if that’s possible in a company with four employees). When I ask him for a job title for the benefit of the recording however, he modestly replies – in a slightly embarrassed tone of voice – “I guess I’m co-founder. There’s only a few of us, we don’t really have important titles.”

Joe Danger garnered a massively dedicated fanbase very quickly. Were they expecting that? “Not at all! Maybe that sounds bad, like we weren’t proud of our game. We thought it was good, but you don’t know what reception it’s going to get. We’ve played it, a few good friends played it, but they’re not going to tell you if it’s crap! People really did seem to like it; that does continue to surprise me. Eurogamer is awesome for us in terms of the expo. We get people coming round who properly know the game, with really tough questions.”

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When I interviewed Grant Duncan before the release of the first game, he seemed keen to get it released on Steam… “Maybe disappointed is the wrong word,” says Murray, on the fact that this didn’t happen “but we missed an opportunity there, we always talk about it. We had to choose one platform at the time, do one thing basically. I’ve always really wanted to see it on other platforms like PC, see it on the 360. I’m a bit of a Sony fanboy, but that doesn’t really come into it. What’s important is that the most people play our game. That may have tainted our decision a little bit; but ultimately, it’s really disappointing to me if somebody comes over to the stand like today to play Joe Danger: The Movie and they look at the controller -” the game is running on two 360s and two PCs, each using a 360 controller “and walk off because it’s not the controller they wanted to see.”

So what formats will we see the new game on? “We’re not in charge of that, we rely on the support of Sony, Microsoft, Steam and whoever else. But it’s been so well received, and so well received at these shows, that hopefully we’ll have more opportunities this time round. Maybe naively we focused on the game first, got it ready, then brought it to shows like this. Everybody asks us what platform it’s on, and we look like idiots! It’s not that we haven’t decided, but we’re hoping that people liking the game will open some doors for us.”

I then ask, for my own personal interest, whether Joe Danger’s resemblance to Bedknobs & Broomsticks-era Bruce Forsyth was intentional. Unfortunately for Murray (and very nearly for me), he was taking a swig of tea when I asked this. “I can’t say that it was intentional,” he says, once he’s stopped laughing “but now that you say it, I can’t see anything else!”

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I imagine Joe has an eye for the ladies too.

I make it my mission throughout the rest of the interview to make him spit tea over me, so that I can use the DNA to absorb his powers. Unfortunately, although I make him laugh a few more times, Murray proves to be too polite and restrained for my plan to come to fruition.

Hello Games’ second title is also their second Joe Danger title. Are we seeing the beginning of a long-running franchise? “You’re going to hate me for saying this… no. It’s not that we don’t love the game, but we’ve got to make this decision. The game that we’re doing now, we have to say ‘there won’t be a Joe Danger 3′. Because otherwise we’ll start holding stuff back. Companies I used to work with always used to do that, they’d say ‘Oh, that’ll be for DLC’ or ‘that’ll be for the sequel’. So we’ve all said ‘we won’t do another one’.

We thought people would much rather see us do something new. So we’ve done that, focused on that. Next time, I’d like to see us focus on something much bigger than what we’ve done previously, and not be ‘the Joe Danger studio’.”

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“Something I should probably say is that… a good analogy might be that we’ve taken everything and put it on the operating table.” he says, on the issue of players perhaps having missed the PSN exclusive prequel. “We’ve broken the game apart, and the introduction of vehicles isn’t just a reskinning. Skis are all about the scoring aspect for example, while the mine cart isn’t. We’ve broken everything up, had it on the operating table… it’s still in the early stages of development, but we thought we should show people what we’re doing. So we’ve quickly put everything back together again, and shown it.

So what you’re seeing is representative of the final product, but the finished game will be a lot different. If somebody is new to the game, I don’t think that will be a problem. The point is that we’re going to use the fact that we had the original Joe Danger to base this on, and add a lot. So there are moments in the game right now where I want to grab you -”

I back away slightly.

“and say ‘That! That right there, that was what Joe Danger 2 will be like!’. Then there’s other moments where I want to say ‘It won’t be like that, there will be none of that’. People come round and they say ‘oh, this looks finished! When’s it out?’. We don’t know when it’s out, we don’t know a format. I want to tell people, but I don’t admit this usually, that we made all the levels that are in there in about two weeks, before GamesCom. It was a manic ‘put it all back together again!’. So that’s what you’re seeing, you’re not seeing the final game.”

But we’ll still have a level editor to play around with?

“Definitely. That was one of the first things we did, was plan that. The level editor in the first one felt fun to use, but everything that surrounded it was a bit shit. It was a bit clunky to share levels, a bit clunky to fill levels. Actually using it, I always enjoyed. So we really wanted to improve that. There’s lots of things like that, I could tell you so many things. It’s not that we hate the first game. As with anything; you must find this with writing.”

Busted.

“You go back, and you’re like ‘Oh, what an idiot! What was I thinking?’. You have to think like that.”

What’s changed for Hello Games now that their first game is out in the big bad world? “What’s been really crazy is we realise now, we were hitting lots of brick walls with the first game. It came out on PS3 almost out of necessity, every other door had been closed to us. I don’t mean that in a bad way, obviously we’re delighted to be on PlayStation; but we were self published. Nobody would publish the game, basically. Literally, we took it to everyone. We took it to EA, to Capcom, to Sony, to Microsoft… nobody would have it.”

Why not? Was there one particular issue that kept cropping up?

“Lots of different ones. One thing that we hit over and over again, which is something that I’m very wary of, was that people would try to change the game. The difference is that now our game has been successful – it’s one of the top selling games on PSN – now that that’s happened, what I notice is that everything’s a lot easier. In terms of talking to people, in terms of dealing with people. Now we could get our game signed, I’m sure.

At the time, what we kept hitting was what I think is quite indicative of where things are at at the moment. People would look at it, bright and colourful, and think that means it should be on the Wii, and it should be for kids; people think kids are terrible at games. So it should be really easy. We had a lot of that. When I was growing up, bright and colourful games were the hardest games in the world. Every game was bright and colourful. Sonic, Mario – these are difficult games. People would say to us ‘you should make it really easy, like Mario’. These people have never played Mario! ‘Kids need easy games, one button games’. They’ve obviously never seen a kid play through a game!

With this, with the expo, it’s by far the best place to learn that. But anyway, that’s me going off on one. That was a recurring theme for us; people think that now, if you have colours in your game, you should be a casual game. We had loads of people asking us if we’d put it on Facebook.”

He really told me that; I’m not making it up.

“I think the thing is that we were inexperienced, and people could then read that. That’s the biggest difference now, is that we can say ‘this is what we want to do’.”

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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