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The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Hector: Badge of Carnage

Justin McElroy

Being a giant, beloved video game site has its downsides. For example, we sometimes neglect to give independent developers our coverage love (or loverage, if you will) as we get caught up in AAA, AAAA or the rare quintuple-A titles. To remedy that, we're giving indies the chance to create their own loverage and sell you, the fans, on their studios and products. This week we talk Richard Morss, Straandlooper's co-founder, and development leads Dean Burke and Kevin Beimers about their ribald adventure game, Hector: Badge of Carnage.

How did your company get started?

Straandlooper was started by two "veterans," Alastair (Ali) McIlwain and Richard Morss, and a founding team who had been involved with the kid's series Lifeboat Luke: Tim Bryans, Dean Burke, Kevin Beimers, Ciaran Oakes and Colin McCusker -- all of whom have been or will be involved with the production of the Hector games.

The mission was to look realistically at the global animation market place and then do what we wanted to do anyway! At a time of niches and no license fees for anything anywhere, content creators may as well be truly independent and see where they get to. Having secured development funding we set about creating a raft of new stuff, including Dean Burke's Hector.

Why did you want to make games?

Kevin: I grew up as a big fan of the classic, wit-based point-and-click adventures, and shed a quiet tear when the genre of the first-person shooter fragged it into submission. The thing is, when people (me) talk about the glory days of gaming, the point-and-clicks are the ones that always come up as the ones to remember -- we're a small yet passionate audience.

There's been an attempted resurgence lately of point-and-clicks, mostly through the porting of the old classics onto smartphones, but there aren't a lot of people out there making new ones (besides Telltale, of course). There's an "escape" genre in the indie flash world, which I loathe, because they tend to involve a lot of convoluted pattern matching without any plot, characters, or at times logic. I wanted the chance to put the wacky characters and wit back into the genre, and remind folks what the glory days of adventure gaming were like.

Why be independent rather than try to work for someone else?

Dean: Distribution platforms are increasing. There are more opportunities opening up for an indie animation or games studio to reach a market. With downloadable games and content, access to a vast audience can be almost instant. It's also possible to take more of a chance creatively, to experiment with your ideas, as there's not a massive turnaround and somewhat less risk involved in setting up a production.

If you can bring in a game efficiently and on a practical budget, it has the potential to see a return. Being an indie also means you can fulfill multiple roles on a game. Where else would you be able to perform the roles of director, co-writer, co-designer, artist, animator and composer all at once?!

After self-publishing your first Hector episode, why did you decide to work with Telltale for the rest of the series?

Kevin: Telltale were big fans of the Hector game, and they approached us very early on with the idea of partnering. This was a real compliment for us to have the interest of a studio that was so well respected in the industry. They're publishing the next two episodes while reissuing Episode 1 on multiple platforms.

At the same time, they still give us full autonomy over our game content -- after all, whatever we did the first time around caught their eye -- and it's an amazing experience working with a lot of the original people who created the games we were emulating.

What's your game called, and what's it about?

Richard: The three-part series is called Hector: Badge of Carnage. In Episode 1, "We Negotiate with Terrorists," Detective Inspector Hector of the Clappers Wreake Police Service is unexpectedly called upon to deal with a disturbed and mysterious hostage taker with a sniper rifle. Hector believes that fulfilling the terrorists' strangely altruistic demands is the quickest way to make the situation go away, so he can get back to finishing his mid-morning nap. You, as Hector, get to investigate the filthy corners of Clappers Wreake -- the Crime Capital of Britain -- using your, er, unique people skills to collect and curry favors from various unsavoury reprobates around town.

You can see a guy's head explode, you get to kick a junkie in the head and hit a tramp with a crow bar. What more do you need?

Do you feel like you're making the game you always wanted to play?

Kevin: Absolutely. Otherwise, what would be the point? Okay, profit, mass appeal, ease of development -- with the right, simple idea you could make a lot more cash for a lot less effort, and Hector was certainly no cakewalk to produce. But who wants to make a game that you play for 30 seconds at a time and then forget about?

I wanted to make the game that people play, laugh, and remember for years to come as one of their favorites. I long for the day someone says to me, "Hey, you like adventure games, right? Have you played Hector?"

How long did it take to create?

Dean: With our modest team, the total production time was around six months, in and around other various animation jobs and shorts in the studio. Then a couple of months smoothing out the engine, the efficiency, polishing the cutscenes, final bug testing and creating various marketing materials while awaiting launch.

What are you proudest of about your game?

Dean: That people responded to it so well. Online, if they don't like something they get straight to the point and say it. When the game started to get many positive reviews and responses, after a while you start to believe that it's not a fluke and that they genuinely like it!

People getting a kick out of what you've created is what makes it all worthwhile.

What one thing would you tell someone to convince them to get your game?

Dean: You can see a guy's head explode, you get to kick a junkie in the head and hit a tramp with a crow bar. What more do you need?

What's next?

Richard: Frankly, we are so deeply immersed in the production of Hector Episodes 2 and 3 that we barely have the time to eat. Once Hector's in the bag, we'll start with a fortnight's worth of sleep and a few beers, and you can ask us again.

Want to check out Hector's yuckiest case? You can find all the info right here.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email justin aat joystiq dawt com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.

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