Hydrophobia was released a few months back to "mixed" reviews. Some where positive but the overall ranking wasn't what the developers expected to see. They took the reviews to heart and combed the negative feedback to heart and rolled all the changes into Hydrophobia Pure which was released last week (at a discounted price). We wanted to see what all went into the patch and were granted this short interview with Pete Jones, the Joint Design Director for Dark Energy
Can you give us the nuts and bolts of what has been changed in the big patch?
Oh seriously, virtually everything in one way or another has been revisited
Our methodology has been well reported but I can give some specifics as to how we approached it. We took apart all the reviews by functional area of the game and statistically analyzed them. In this way we could rank all the issues that niggled the players the most and set about dealing with those first. The list is huge. I won’t bore the reader with every point but if they’re interested they can be found at www.hydrophobia-game.com/pure.php
My top 10 would be
1. New controls; gone are the quirky controls – they have now been re-mapped to a configuration that players will find much more familiar
2. Clear objectives; there is an objective marker in the world at all times or at the players’s election they can have the marker on Kate’s MAVI device.
3. A better camera system the camera is now much closer to Kate which really makes a difference to both the look and feel in this highly dynamic world
4. A revamped combat system Kate’s weapon is now considerably more lethal, shooting controls have been tightened. The cover system is MUCH improved Kate can slide in and out of cover easily with or without her gun drawn
5. An improved damage system – Kate is no longer killed by phantom hazards (leaving the player thinking what just killed me?) a damage map now clearly shows the direction of incoming fire…and Kate now has an oxygen meter for the underwater sections
6. Streamlined puzzles – the ciphers are now easy to find (they have an objective marker on them)
7. Many of the obtrusive comments from Scoot has been pruned
8. Much smother climbing and jumping controls
9. New lighting effects and upgraded graphics
10. The price drop from 1200 to 800 points
Criticism is sometimes hard to take, what was your first reaction to some of the more negative reviews?
Honestly, initially we were obviously very disappointed, you can't help but be disappointed. Criticism can be hard. You make games because you love games, perhaps on occasions we may of seemed a little too defensive and disappointed. Pride can be a big virtue as well because you need to be intensely proud of something you're creating in any endeavor. From the start we wanted to make a game that gamers really loved. That was our passion. That's what we wanted to do. And that's still our passion. That's why we created and spent so much time listening to what people wanted. Criticism hurts but we quickly picked ourselves up and set about examining what people had said in a systematic way – it’s the only way we could assemble a view of what people were saying
Did it take time to see the perspective of the critics?
It is fair to say we didn’t see their perspective from day one. The process of breaking down all the comments and then re-testing them one by one produces clarity. We also embarked on extensive market research. We tested the old game as a control group and then set about testing our changes one by one... This was a hard exercise as there is no hiding place. We took a very uncompromising line; if the community doesn’t like it we try and change it no matter whose toes we tread on.
As far as I can see our approach has been pretty much unique
Did you have some of the fixes already in the works or were these all new items to the dev team?
In fairness a small number were but the overwhelming bulk came straight from the community
One of the biggest changes is the overhauled control scheme; could you talk about how you came up with the original scheme and why you chose it over the new scheme? Do you think there is any room for innovation in control schemes or do you think there's now a defacto standard that all games should adhere to?
There are several questions here and I start with a confession. We mapped the controls in terms of the button layout for very good reasons BUT the game evolved (as games do) but the button mapping remained the same. There is an inherent problem here; once you have played something a number of times it becomes second nature and you cease to question it, this was brought home to me in the period of game revamping. I spent time playing a competitor third person action game and I kept dying because I was pressing the wrong button.
The process has changed the way the studio works forever. We look at everything differently now we’re a better studio for it. Life is a learning curve – I just wish it didn’t teach you things with a baseball bat
Do I think there is room for innovation in control systems? Yeah actually I do but this has to be evolution not revolution and at all times we as devs must listen to the community.
I hope this isn’t too contradictory to my last answer but yes I think a defacto standard has evolved. My advise for what its worth to other devs is by all means experiment with changes to the standard but before making changes in a game check it out with the community first. I mean things will change. Change is good our industry is about change Kinect and Move show that but before devs make fundamental changes in controls – check out the feedback first
Why the decision to drop the price with the patch?
Dead easy we pursued our listening with the zeal of converts. The community said it was overpriced at 1200 points so we changed it
Do you consider the work on Hydrophobia done now or are you still working on the game (is there any DLC in the works)?
I don’t want to give too much away here but there were a few things we couldn’t really address in the patch the voice acting and script, the ending and a couple of other areas. Yes there are many more things that we have planned and are working on.
What was the biggest lesson you took away from the process of developing Hyrdophobia and the Pure patch?
One site described us as being “humbled” by this process. In some ways we have been. The biggest lesson we have learned is listen hard – in a development context this means being innovative but at all times involving the community
…and avoid the bloke with the baseball bat
What's next for Dark Energy (other than enjoying the holidays)?
Next comes PSN, which we are really excited about.
After that we will be working on the sequel and boy are we gonna get this one right from the start. This has a truck load of really innovative stuff but we’re going to reseach, test listen. If the community doesn’t like it we change it
We also have a completely separate – very different new product slated for May next year
We'd like to thank Pete for taking the time to answer our questions so openly and honestly (and without being passed through a PR filter)