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Eurogamer Italy interviews Pete Jones, president of Dark Energy Digital

What you’re about to read is the original version of the interview translated and the publisher on Eurogamer Italy

Hydrophobia has gone through a quite uncommon development process. What drove you to go back to your original project and remake it not once, but twice?

Let’s just say this wasn’t our original plan. Hydrophobia was a preposterous challenge for a small studio. It was built using new technology and a small team that had not really had much previous experience in this area. It is a bit like deciding to shoot a movie and having to invent the camera as well. We had vision and complete belief in what we were creating (we still do). That is a good thing and a bad thing - passion drives people to achieve the impossible but it can blind them to any faults. The original Hydrophobia polarized opinion. I cannot think of any other game that had a review range of 30-90% The bad reviews frankly shocked us to the core. It’s a bit like showing off your new baby and then someone says “My God that’s a f***ing ugly baby” It is one of those moments when you can do one of two things; write it off & walk away or change things. It was literally fight or flight.

We decided that the only way we could rationalize the coverage was to statistically take it apart line by line, point by point. This took us two weeks. At the end of the process we had a clear idea what irritated people. We took a long hard look at our game. We concluded that there were things that were wrong with the game. We had made mistakes. We decided to change it We put our plans for the company and frankly our lives on hold. Our mantra was if the community didn’t like something we would fix it – end of.

It was a hard process and not everyone in the company could take it.

Hydro Pure was a massive step in the right direction and it laid the foundations for Prophecy. I understand the question though why did we simply not release Hydrophobia Pure on Steam. The answer was there were things that we simply could not change in the title update – Hydro Pure, things like the voice acting and the ending. We are perfectionists I suppose and the process does not end with Prophecy we are still making changes – still responding to what gamers have issue with.

 In the end it comes down to a matter of pride we wanted to create a great game – we still do and we believe we have with Hydrophobia Prophecy.

Not many software houses have ever gone through so much trouble to please not only critics, but most of all its fans. Usually when things don’t go as planned straight away, developers tend to put things behind their backs and start a new project hoping to prove their detractors wrong; what’s the main reason that pushed you guys to do things differently?

As I said above we have pride and belief. Sometimes it takes a jolt to make people wake up and smell the coffee. We are a company of dedicated gamers and to some extent we lost touch with other gamers – that will never happen again. In England we have a saying that there is no greater prophet than a convert (no pun on the name intended). Hydrophobia prophecy isn’t just about putting things right it is about building a bridge with the community we want to build games that people want to play. We want to give the community a seat in the design meetings. This for us is the start of a long journey.

So far are you satisfied of Prophecy’s reviews?

So far we have been touched by some of the things that people have said. It has been an emotional journey for us and we appreciate the support we have received in return. So far our review range has been much tighter than the original Hydrophobia. This time its 70%-90%

The new in-game feedback system, the so called Darknet, is really something unique. How did you came up with such feature and do you plan to use to further improve the game in the near future?

Darknet is absolutely astounding and as I mentioned it gives the gamer a seat at the design table. It is possible only because our world is procedural.  When we first implemented this feature we did not know whether it would actually work as designed in the finished game. After all the concept is incredible. The player can lay down a comment anywhere in the world. We can see that comment in the exact place the player left it and analyse what he was thinking at that time.

For me the most exciting moment was looking at Darknet the day after launch – By this early stage we already had THOUSANDS of comments in the game world.

What we have implemented in the game is merely the beginning.  We have plans to allow players to leave challenges for other players. With links to videos of their performance we are looking at reviewers leaving a review trail a breadcrumb trail through the level. Interactive hints left by us and other players.

This is the future it is about player involvement. It is also about us pledging to continue to act to continually change our game. If people find an aspect of the game frustrating we will look to change it.

The HydroEngine is undoubtedly Hydrophobia’s biggest strength since no one has ever developed such realistic water physics ; is the game a direct consequence of that technology or was the engine originally developed to sustain the game’s mechanics?

In truth it is a bit of both we always wanted to create a blockbusting game the technology just allowed us to go places that other games have never gone.

Do you think that the HydroEngine can be further improved? If yes, what do you have in mind?

The next generation of HydroEngine is in development right now. HydroEngine is a fluid flow solver – expect this to be applied to smoke, fire, avalanches, even terrain deformation. Expect an announcement on this very soon!!!!

Considering its great potential, have you ever thought about licensing HydroEngine’s technology just like Epic did with its Unreal Engine? If not, do you plan to do so in the future?

Yes we want to commence licensing of the HydroEngine (you heard it here first!). It is our vision that using Infinite Worlds and Hydro Engine small indie developers will be able to take on the mega studios and Publishers and break this endless cycle of sequels and safe bets – as long as they keep Darknet in there of course. In our small way we believe we may be sparking a revolution.

Considering that Prophecy was release only on Steam and PSN, did Sony’s recent problems caused you significant troubles?

Our problems were nothing compared to the disruption suffered by Sony themselves. Yes, it probably delayed the game slightly but that is nothing compared to the millions Sony must have lost by this incident

What’s the reason why Prophecy hasn’t been yet released on Xbox Live? Was Microsoft not satisfied with the way you handled the game’s “evolution”?

In all honesty our relations with Microsoft have been superb. I know it is popular amongst some developers to point fingers at them but our experience was good.

 However the decision to release Hydrophobia Prophecy on XBLA is Microsoft’s alone. Of course we would like to see the new version of the game on XBLA we would like to go further and see that everyone who has bought the game so far gets a free copy but again this is not our decision – and in truth may not even be logistically possible.

What are your plans for the future?

That is a BIG question our plans are simply to make great games. We do not want an empire or lots of money all we want is to make games that gamers want to buy and enjoy. That is the ultimate drug.

Oh and we would like to change the industry too. We would like to see lots of independent developers making great games.

We can’t do any of this without listening and Darknet gives us jacks us into the community.

As a ‘PS’ to this interview - Speaking of the community not all our Italian translations in the first iteration of Hydro Prophecy were, erm, perfect. They were corrected by an Italian friend we met in Germany. Thanks Alessia

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