Interview with Andreas Rehnberg and Tommy Gustafsson of New Video Game Huntdown
By: Thomas Riccardi
In the future, the streets are running red with the blood of the innocent. The police are powerless to stop the gangs who are ruling the streets with an iron fist. Will anyone step up to take care of this new threat or will there will the gangs become the new law and order? This is the premise behind a new retro-inspired game that is going to be released soon called Huntdown. I had a chance to interview the creators for The Nerd Machine and this is what transpired.
Andreas Rehnberg is a programmer. He has over 22 years experience building successful games, apps, and MMOs. He started his career in the mid-90s making popular CD-ROM games for Swedish television. As a pioneer in the social gaming market, Rehnberg started his own online gaming community and virtual chat world, Playdo, in 1999, and led the development on Spineworld, an MMO with more than 5 million players. He has also been selling games and online experiences to global brands such as Miniclip, MTV, H&M, Adidas, Panasonic, and Electronic Arts. Since 2011, Andreas has successfully launched his own cross-platform games with millions of players. His latest multiplayer game, Friendbase, already has more than 2 million members world wide.
Tommy Gustafsson works with the concept, graphics, and music. He usually works as an Art Director with graphic design in his own company. Huntdown is his first game but definitely not his last. Gustafsson is an outright nerd when it comes to gaming and movies. He grew up with his beloved Commodore Amiga 500, where he first pixelated in Deluxe Paint and did frame-by-frame animations in the 80s. He also made music with tracker programs like the primitive four channel Startrekker. Little would he know that all these practices would come in handy when designing Huntdown.
1. How long have you known each other and how did you meet?
Tommy: It´s a couple of years now. We both have our offices at a place called Innovatum in Trollhättan, Sweden. It´s a fuming meltdown of companies within the creative industry. We’ve got game studios, 3D-studios, design bureaus, film production companies – you name it. Many times these companies cooperate in one way or another and that’s exactly what happened between us. I have a [still-working] Commodore Amiga 500 in my office, and Andreas was a C64-guy back in the days so we totally jived from the beginning. He asked me if I was interested in doing graphics for a platformer. He had ideas about making a pixelated game with a lot of 80s influences, something that we both grew up with and hold dear to our hearts. Man, it was like being shot with an arrow by Kid Icarus. Spot on. Since then I´ve been pixilating until my eyes become square.
2. What inspired you to make your first game?
AR: To speak for both of us as Huntdown is our first game together, the inspirations are mostly from games and movies from our youth. It all began when we discussed gaming on old consoles and computers that we both grew up with. Some of these old games have awesome features that have really not have been in use since then. Forgotten stuff! We started to list in-game features that we liked and then carefully decided functions for a classic setup where these features together create an innovatory gameplay. We lacked a genuine arcade shooter as we would like to play it. After testing out some demo builds, we were hooked – our vision of an action-packed tactical platformer actually worked.
Overall we try to cover as many platforms as we could, making Huntdown available to as many as possible. The button mechanics are also super simple. Almost like the buttons on a Game & Watch, making it easy to play the game from start without complicated combinations. However, don´t think Huntdown will be an easy game – it will challenge the most hardcore players.
3. Why did you go with a retro look?
TG: Nostalgia. We grew up with Commodore computers, NES, SNES, Sega Megadrive, etc. It started out when we discussed graphics and examined the retro-inspired games available today on the mobile market. Today, pixel graphics is often used to make fast and cheap game productions, and it´s carelessly used in endless runners filled with micro-transactions where pixels are sometimes even rotating. That kind of pissed us off. For us, pixel graphics is a genuine craft that demands time and effort, there´s really no work-around drawing pixel by pixel by hand. Our vision was to make a pixelated game as it was made in the late 80s, and also because we lacked genuine retro shooters on our phones.
AR: Overall we are very keen on the craftsmanship. The game engine is programmed from scratch and all of the pixels are animated by hand. We have a modified palette that is based on the Atari 2600, which consists of only 162 colors. The music is done in an old-school tracker program with samples that are mostly converted from the Amiga 500 to PC where the notes are inserted by hand. However, Huntdown coming only to phones has changed now; it´s no longer just a mobile game. Anxious fans requested Huntdown to other platforms, and they were right so we listened to them.
4. Tell us a bit more about the Huntdown universe .
TG: Well, the futuristic universe in Huntdown is kinda grim and cold, in some places almost medieval. Both politicians and mega corporations have become greedy and selfish. There was a great war that made parts of the land inhabitable (guess you heard this one before, haha). Even planets got battered in this ‘War of the Solar System.’ The remains of the shattered moon are circulating Earth in a ring of unbalanced movement that creates chaotic storms, unpredictably raging the planet´s surface. Bandits and abnormalities ravage the toxic wasteland, while the millions eventually forced to barricade themselves in vast cities protected by high walls. Nobody gets in or out within the city limits. Through the years, these few cities have become independent from the rest of the world, until now. Since the cities became increasingly overcrowded, the authorities lost control to corruption. The mighty gangs rule the streets, and it´s your job to hunt ´em down.
AR: You basically get thrown into action as the game starts in order to stop a riot uphold by the first gang, the rowdy Hoodlum Dolls. After finishing these levels, you will encounter other gangs like The Misconducts, a fifth gang still not announced and will be kept secret until the release, The Heatseekers, and finally the No.1 Suspects. You will progress one level at the time by unlocking levels as you advance through the game. Each gang turf resembles a location with several sub-levels inside each turf/location. In order to get to these Leaders, you have to fight each Leader´s minions through their territory. The different gangs have their own unique characteristics and confronting them means different strategic gameplay. Huntdown has evolved quite a lot since the release of the trailer a couple of months back, but that concerns mostly technical stuff like improvement of animations, a new weapon system, and a new solution for enemy variety.
5. What are some of the games that influenced Huntdown?
TG: Oh man, where to begin? Namedropping some of our youth influences: Syndicate, Hired Guns, Flashback, Turrican, Contra, ESWAT: City Under Siege for Megadrive, Final Fight, arcade shooter Sunset Riders etc. I’m also a big fan of Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, and Duke Nukem. The list goes on! But our influences are not just games. The concept and the dystopian world we´re building in Huntdown comes more from our movie influences. We are both indoctrinated by cheesy action movies and sci-fi pictures mainly from the 1980s like Bladerunner, Total Recall, The Running Man, Robocop, The Terminator, or Big Trouble in Little China. Nowadays it seems that many associate the “phenomenon of the 80s” with optimism and glamorous colors, you know, pink neon and sunburned characters in white tuxedos driving a Ferrari Testarossa towards a warm sunset behind a silhouette of palm trees to the soundtrack by Jan Hammer. However, we want to go darker and a bit gloomier with Huntdown. Think of the pitch-black feeling in Escape from New York or Cobra with Stallone!
6. What sets Huntdown apart from the other “shoot ’em ups” out there?
AR: Huntdown looks like an old-school arcade shooter, but the gameplay and in-game physics work differently. Unlike classics like Contra, where slow bullets almost behave as floating obstacles in midair, the bullets in Huntdown fly by fast making it hard to jump over to avoid getting hit. Our solution is the Duck & Cover feature where you can dodge enemy fire at strategic spots, e.g., near crates or dark openings in the background. This makes the game a thrilling experience with turbulent shootouts where you have to consider your advancement and time your shots. There´s gonna be a lot of bullets thrown at your position, especially from enemies armed with rapid fire weaponry.
7. What other games can we see from you in the future?
AR: We have lots of ideas on the table, but we can´t really reveal anything yet. Not to leave you empty-handed, though, we can hint about a multiplayer arena game we´ve been testing out for quite some time.
8. Anything else to say in closing?
To our audience, thanks for all the awesome feedback and support we have got since releasing the trailer! We have lots of exciting things happening that we want to share but can’t reveal right now. The best way to keep up with the latest news and announcements is to sign up on the Huntdown website. Stay tuned!