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PSLS Presents – Sean Murray, Managing Director of Hello Games

June 11, 2010 Written by Sebastian Moss

Joe Danger is quickly becoming everyone’s favourite PlayStation Network title of the year, getting stellar reviews across the web. The side-scrolling racer has brought Sony’s “Play, Create, Share” motto to the PSN with style, with comprehensive and easy to use level creation. To learn more about the game, its future and the struggles of a small developer, PlayStation LifeStyle chatted with Sean Murray, Managing Director of Hello Games about everything from PlayStation Move, to Home, and even the future of the Games Industry in an extensive wide-ranging interview.

Hi Sean, could you introduce yourself and tell us what about your position at Hello Games?

Hello! I have a card that says Managing Director on it, but that doesn’t really mean much when there’s just four of us working together. I’m really a programmer, and so are David and Ryan, then there’s Grant who’s our artist.

With a team of just four people, what are the advantages and disadvantages of a small development team?

We worked at huge companies before, like EA, Criterion and Sumo, then began our own thing in 2008. We started working on my dining room table to begin with, then crammed ourselves into this tiny office.

We’re a tight little band and we kind of feed off each other in terms of design, I’d love to say we’re suffering for our art, but it’s actually really good fun. That’s the real advantage. We work incredibly hard though, mostly because we’re trying to make a pretty big, polished game, and also because we’re really passionate about what we’re doing. It’s a really personal project for us.

That’s the hard part, we never switch off and most things are a lot more difficult for a small team. We definitely feel we have a lot to prove.

The game is currently only on the PS3, or are their plans to bring it to other platforms?

PSN route has always been the best fit for us. We left our previous jobs at bigger developers so we could have the freedom to make the games we wanted. Sony understand that freedom and are happy to give it. For instance, we’re the publisher on Joe Danger, probably the world’s smallest, so we do everything from marketing and testing to getting the game localised. PSN is the only platform that would allow us to do that.

Right now we’re just concentrated on making the best PS3 game we can, after that who knows. We still have total freedom and we’re really looking forward to people finally playing Joe Danger. We’ll use that to help us decide what to do next.

With the announcement of LittleBigPlanet 2, people will have the ability to create entire games – including side-scrolling racing titles – do you see this as competition?

Not at all. I mean I loved Little Big Planet, and I’m really excited by the follow-up. I think people are going to do amazing things with it, some really fun games. Having said that, when people play Joe Danger, they are holding two years of iteration and refinement of every little detail in their hands. We agonise over every variable and craft every parameter. We set out to make a very arcadey game. When you do that, cameras, handling, controls, level design and progression are everything. That’s difficult enough to master even when you start from scratch as we did.

Joe Danger allows you to share levels you have created, will this only be to friends, or will there be a server with all the levels – like with LBP and ModNation Racers?

Global sharing is something we would love to add in the future. There are a number of issues like cost, moderation and legals, that we just can’t afford at the moment, that bigger publishers normally would. As soon as we can though, it’s something we would like to try.

In the meantime, I can say that we’re looking at adding a new way of sharing, that hasn’t really been done before. It’s in the experimental stages, but we’re definitely excited about it, and it could give the best of both worlds.

Do you believe ‘Play, Create, Share’ titles are the future of the games industry?

I think there will always be a focus on well-crafted experiences like we have now, but at the moment I definitely think we’ve only seen the very tip of the iceberg with user generated content.

That’s something we realised very early on playing about with this little stunt toy which actually inspired the game. We started to think, wouldn’t it be cool to have an editor that was actually fun to use? One that was tactile and gave you some feedback and let you enjoy that creative process. So all our levels are made with the in-game editor, and the editor is fully integrated into the game. That’s actually pretty cool, so for instance you can jump a ramp, and drop a Shark Tank just before Joe lands in it, or lay down the perfect trail of coins in his wake.

What I really like, is that having a fun editor is helping us actually enjoy making the game more. Hopefully that shows through, that experience is certainly the future for us.

After the success of LittleBigPlanet, Media Molecule was acquired by Sony, would you ever consider a similar move?

The Media Molecule team are about the nicest people you could ever meet. I think they have been a massive inspiration to us and lots of other small teams. We’re delighted to see the success they’ve had and I hope they continue to blaze a trail.

We’re a very independent bunch though and this is all very new to us. We’re really enjoying making our own games and we try not to think too much about what that business side of things. If we did we’d probably wake up at night screaming.

What do you think of PlayStation Move, and would you ever think of patching motion controls into the game?

I honestly can’t wait to get my hands on Move, and spent some quality time with the launch titles. I’d really like to see what’s possible. From everything I’ve seen it’s very accurate, and that’s exciting. Games are all about skill for me, and if it’s not accurate then there’s no skill. The Move looks like it can support those more skilful gaming experiences, so we’re very interested to see what we can do with it.

What other plans are there for Joe Danger? Will there be any PS Home content, or additional downloadable content?

Right now, we are putting everything we have into this game. If people want more, then that would be so amazing. We have so much that we’d love to do. That would be an awesome opportunity, we would want to be really adventurous and surprise people with where we go next. When you make a game you always dream of just how far you could push the concept before it breaks.

PlayStation LifeStyle would like to thank Sean Murray and Hello Games for taking the time to hold the interview. Stay tuned to PSLS for more PlayStation news, reviews and interviews.