Following on from Play Manchester 2016, one game that has continued to impress gaming audiences since I first laid eyes on it is Hyper Sentinel; an arcade shoot ‘em up inspired by 2nd and 3rd generation classics such as Defender, Cybernoid and Uridium. Showcased at many expos, and being the subject of a recently successful Kickstarter campaign, the popularity of the game has been on the rise, and is set for full release later on this year on multiple platforms. Curious to find out more, I’ve conducted a Q&A with the game’s creative director and CEO of Huey Games, Robert Hewson, and the game’s principal developer, founder of Four5Six Pixel Jonathan Port. Here’s what they had to say about Hyper Sentinel:
What were the influences behind your game?
Jon: The most obvious visual influence is to Uridium, the twist and flip manouevre has never really been used since, so I thought it would be fun to have that in. In terms of gameplay, major influences are Defender for its frantic action and speed, Tornado Low Level (ZX Spectrum) which you could sweep back the plane wings to speed boost. I loved Cybernoid and its dramatic explosions, so there is definitely some influence there. More recently Resogun, I like the way the enemies surround and suffocate you if you don’t keep on top.
What has the developmental process been like?
Jon: Development has gone very smoothly. I’ll often implement some features and then let Huey Games take a look. We’ll then go through a short iterative design cycle until the feature feels right. Using this process, some features make it in, and some get left out. It’s about making a game that feels consistent throughout. To get such close design feedback from a publisher, but still have the freedom to create your own game has been an absolute pleasure.
Rob: It has been a genuine pleasure to work with Jon on the iterative process of enhancing and polishing the game. We seem to be on the same wavelength the whole time, I don’t think we’ve disagreed on any of the feedback we’ve given and it is always a delight to get a new build and see all the little touches Jon has added.
How close are we to seeing the finished product?
Rob: We are on track for an early summer release now that the Kickstarter has passed its funding goal. Of course, there is still a week left on the campaign so we are hoping to hit a few more stretch goals too! You can check out the campaign at www.hypersentinel.com.
What has been the most exciting aspect of development?
Rob: I think there was a moment after we’d been through a few rounds of iterative improvement when the boost and the dodge abilities came together, and the compelling loop of the gameplay was suddenly brought to life. After that, tweaking the way the enemies behave, the way the power-ups spawn and all those little details so that they work elegantly with those core mechanics, that is when we began to realise we’d found the fun, which is always the best moment!
Jon: Seeing people play your game at an expo and come away thrilled to have played it. When you are so close to the development of a game you never really know until you stand away and just let people play it on their own. It’s a scary moment as you take your game to its first public showing, but to see people really enjoying your own game is a special moment.
What has been the most challenging aspect of development?
Jon: Hyper Sentinel was originally developed on an Apple centric platform. In order to get the game out to a wider audience we needed to move the code base to an engine that could target multiple platforms. The move to the Unity engine was the greatest technical undertaking. Most of the code has been re-written entirely from scratch to get the best out of that environment. We could have gone down the route of a quick code port, but we decided early on that we should do this right to make the best game possible.
Has your father Andrew had any input into the game?
Rob: Not so much. He attended the first meeting with Jon and could instantly see the potential of the game, but he is taking more of a back seat these days. His wealth of experience is there to tap into when we need it, but that is mostly on the business side.
What impact has your father had on your career as a developer in general?
Rob: I don’t think he really pushed me to pursue a career in the games industry, if anything he was a sobering influence because he knew first hand just how difficult it could be. However, there is no doubt that being surrounded by games from an early age – climbing through the shelves in the Hewson warehouse, attending trade shows, collecting posters and stickers – it clearly left its mark. I remember drawing the Hewson logo and dreaming up game ideas with my friends, so I caught the bug early. By the time I actually got into the industry dad had already left, and although I probably talked to him about it on occasion he considered it a closed chapter in his life. Until I convinced him to write his book, that is.
How well has the game been received so far?
Rob: It has been exceptional. Everybody who plays the game seems to enjoy and appreciate it. One of the most exciting things to see is that it is not just older retro gaming fans who love it, we had loads of kids coming back time and again to play it at the shows we have attended, which is a pleasure to witness.
Jon: The greatest thrill is to see people genuinely excited to play the game. Hyper Sentinel is a hi-score game at its heart, and its great to see people putting in so much time to stay on top of the score leaderboard!
What platforms are you looking to bring the game to?
Rob: So far we can confirm Steam, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android and Amazon platforms. Hopefully we can add even more to the list soon.
Do you have any advice for aspiring developers that may be reading this?
Rob: Figure out what the hook is for your game, the thing which makes it stand out from the crowd, and polish, polish, polish. Once you’ve finished polishing, polish some more. When you think you can’t polish any further, get some feedback, realise you were wrong and carry on polishing.
Jon: Did Rob say polish? If there is one thing I have learnt from Huey Games it is that a great game doesn’t happen instantly, it’s a process of building over and over from a simple core concept. For aspiring indie developers the most important thing is to finish your game, and that takes an awful lot of hard work and time. If you know you have a great game, just keep going until you get it into people’s hands.
Where about on the Internet can people find you?
Do you have anything else to add?
Rob: Thank you for having us and a massive thank you to everybody who has supported us along the way!
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank both Robert and Jonathan for agreeing to our Q&A session to say congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign Hyper Sentinel has had, and to wish them best luck with the game upon release. From what I played at Manchester, Hyper Sentinel seems like a particularly enthralling game, a compelling homage to the 80s classics the developers drew inspiration from, and I can’t wait to play the finished article.