Interview – Tommaso De Benetti – Housemarque
Alienation is on the horizon. The latest work from the acclaimed Housemarque – developers of sensational titles such as Resogun or the Super Stardust franchise. The studio recently celebrated it’s 20th Anniversary, and with Alienation on the brink, what better time to sit down and talk to the studio about their past, present and future. Buckle in as Tommaso De Benetti of Housemarque gives you the lowdown on Alienation, and the future.
Paul James: So it was recently revealed to the public that Alienation was locked in for an April 26th release date. How is the development of the game going given that the release date is now under two months away?
Tommaso De Benetti: Initially the game was slated for an earlier release, but a series of circumstances including the possibility to be featured in the PSN Launch Party promotion made us settle for the later date. This incidentally gave us a few more days for extra polish, and that’s not something we want to pass on – even if all looks good, there’s always something that can use that extra little effort. In the end I think this is gonna be good for the players.
For any of our readers who are not yet familiar with Alienation, could you please tell us a little bit about the game?
Alienation is both the culmination of our expertise in the arcade twin stick shooters genre and a chance to try out something we haven’t done before. It’s a very fast, explosive shooter that you can play alone or with 3 more friends, and it features some RPG-lite elements like levels, abilities to upgrade and weapons to customize. The main theme here is “can you survive the onslaught”?
There have been a number of comparisons between Alienation and the studios previous work on Dead Nation. Firstly would those suggestions be legitimate, but if so what has been changed that makes the two games different?
Yeah the comparisons are not unfair. Fans of Dead Nation will find a lot of elements in common between the two games, but aside for the obvious thematic difference, Alienation plays faster, it’s much more colorful, it offers three separate classes to play with and a slate of new features such as 4 players drop-in/drop-out multiplayer, some procedurally generated levels, the possibility to invade other players and much more.
What sort of lessons have been learnt from the development of Dead Nation, but also other works such as Resogun, that have helped to inform development of Alienation?
Well, I’m sure each developer would offer you a different answer here. From Dead Nation for sure we learned that players really like that feeling of being overwhelmed, of fighting against impossible odds. Alienation builds on that and adds depth with customisable loot and gear. We’re really looking forward to see how some players can get out alive of some situations!
Tech-wise the progresses we made with our engines have certainly informed how we did things this time, but I might not be the most qualified to discuss the math behind it. I just know that we have some of the best guys in the industry and each time I’m blown away but what they can put on screen. Just wait and see…
Have their been any particular capabilities of the PS4 that the team is harnessing in Alienation that have meant you’re doing things you felt you couldn’t last gen?
I asked to the team what they would answer to this question and I got one single word in reply: “Everything”. Short but to the point. To open it up a bit, I think one of the major improvements with PS4 has been that the increased horsepower has enabled us to have a new workflow for gameplay programmers, enabling faster iteration.
What have been some of the difficulties, and also most rewarding moments of Alienation’s development?
It’s been a long project, and some aspects of the game have evolved significantly from the initial design. It’s been all for the better but nailing details is always a challenge, even because we tried so many new things here. About the rewarding moments… well the recent previews are all very positive. That has been a fantastic boost for the team – sometimes you spend so much time with a project that it’s hard to see it with fresh eyes. So yeah, hearing that gamers like it too feels great! I know it’s not a big revelation but that’s all that matters in the end.
I also must extend my congratulations to Housemarque on the recent reaching of the studio’s 20th Anniversary. What have been some of the more treasured memories that you’ve had from your time at the studio?
I’ve been around for only four years or so, so I’m not sure if I can speak for the whole history of the company. We have a fantastic “collage” video of all the greatest moments in Housemarque’s history, but that’s been shown only at the Anniversary Party. It’s hard to summarize it but the distinct feeling here is that it’s about friendship and “doing cool shit” as much as it is about business. Another good moment has been receiving the recognition of some friends in the industry, you can see their testimonials here:
What has been your personal favourite Housemarque game from these past 20 years?
I have to say Resogun. It really hit all the right spots for me, and it’s one of those games that make me say “just one more go”. Before that it was Outland, our “Ikaruguesque” platformer. But in all fairness, I still think some bosses there were a bit too hard.
Casting our minds forward very briefly, the studio is also working on Matterfall. So far there has been one trailer released to the public, and it looks fantastic, but when might we expect to hear more about that particular project?
Matterfall is still deep in development and I’m confident we’ll show more of it this year. We don’t have a gameplay reveal date locked down, but it’s not too much of a stretch to think it will happen around the time of one of the major events in the industry.