We talk with Niklas Astrand, lead game designer of Space Hulk
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Jamie Davey: Firstly Niklas, could you let us know how development on a remake for Space Hulk originally started? When did you decide that this was something you wanted to do, and how did you turn that dream into a reality?
Niklas Astrand: This is actually quite a funny story; it started off as nothing more than a screenshot of a very simple ingame layout of what the game could look like. When this was done I showed it to my friend and co-developer Jorgen. Both of us being fans of the Space Hulk board game could not resist finishing off what we started. We had made other games in the past but felt like we wanted to endeavor a much larger project that anything we had done before. Back then none of us knew that it would be an 18 months journey to finish the first release (v1.0) and after that a couple of months more to get the second release (v1.1) ready. We’ve always been a true star in under estimating the development time, and in the Space Hulk project I think we broke all previous records. In early autumn 2007 when the project was celebrating one year we thought we were getting pretty close to the end. Little did we know that new features would crawl into the design for another six months and to this date we still add new things every day.
Jamie Davey: The first release of the Space Hulk remake is being enjoyed by thousands of Space Hulk fans around the globe, many of which have enjoyed the original board and video games in the past. When you originally set out to create an indie video game based on the Space Hulk genre, did you think it would get such a great reception?
Niklas Astrand: Not a chance! In the beginning of the projects - and to be really true - up until a few weeks before the 1.0 release, we thought the game would only have two players, ourselves. Maybe a few of our closest friends would try it out and then it would be put on some dusty shelf as another one of those things we did purely for our own enjoyment.
But as we got the website up and running by the end of 2007 we started to notice that visitors from all over the world found our project quite interesting. We understood that it might not be only 2 but maybe 20 or even 200 players that would try it out. But not even with our wildest imagination (and we are pretty good at that) could we have guessed that the world be in such an urge after playing a turn based old school version of Space Hulk.
This is a proof that a good game doesn’t need a multimillion dollar 3D-engine, realistic real-time physics and all that to be enjoyable. The most important thing is to give the game a soul and present the game in such a way that players can appreciate it. When the developers love the game they are doing it really bears fruit.
Jamie Davey: What has been the hardest part of development since work began on the remake of Space Hulk?
Niklas Astrand: There is only one thing we can answer on this question and that is the AI. If this game would not have an AI that was challenging enough for the player, giving replay value to a mission, the game would pretty much be put aside after a few tries.
We wanted to create an AI that mimicked a human player much like the way we played when we were younger, or at least didn’t act the same way every time. In the beginning of the project the enemies moved with the same pattern and you could basically place your marines in a way you would know where the new foes would enter and when they would attack. But after months of testing and tweaking we started to understand that we were on the right track. Every now and then we found ourselves being slaughtered by the enemies who we made intelligent. Although this has been the hardest part of development, it's also what make us the most proud apart from the popularity we have received.
Jamie Davey: Development on the next version has been hampered due to legal reasons with Games Workshop and THQ, has there been any developments with this in the last few months? Do you think it's likely that you'll get the go ahead from THQ?
Niklas Astrand: We have tried to be as open as possible to our fans all along without actually jeopardizing our chances with THQ. Over the months we have sent hundreds of emails to various people working at Games Workshop and THQ, but 95 percent of them have never answered us back and that has really dampened our spirits. The only real option at the moment is a person who got suggested by one of our fans and he has expressed his love for the game and his willingness to help us out any way possible. As we tried to contact him a second time without reply we decided to send a real letter and at the moment we await his answer. Normally we would not hope for any kind of reply but from his previous statements and the position he has, we think we at least have a fairly good chance. In order to not risk any further complications his identity remains hidden until we get some kind of reply. Whatever THQ answers we cannot say. They have no real benefit from our game apart from the goodwill and they are taking a huge risk being associated with some people they have never have met. The benefit is a game free of charge without any real efforts that a huge amount of people love. They do not even have to release it under their flag but simply stating that in no way will try to stop us.
Jamie Davey: Are you pleased with the amount of fan support that has been provided since the legal issues started?
Niklas Astrand: YES YES YES! We are amazed every day that people still visit our website, write on our forum and continue to send us emails a couple of months after the game's custom content was removed from our website. There have been no official support in the last two months and still more than 300 people continue to visit our webpage every day. It makes you wonder how common this is in today’s world where almost 90% of rated games get the attention and the rest are history few a days after their release. Maybe the fact that people can identify with what we have done and support us in our fight to get an official approval in order to help our cause. So yes, we are very pleased and this is pushing us forward to keep developing the game, so we would like thank all our fans for that. When people send us emails with stories about how they play this game with their sons and then in the closet find the old board game and start to play it with the entire family, it really feels like our game has made some impact on this world.
Jamie Davey: Even though the legal problems could mean you'll have to cease developing the Space Hulk remake, your team is still working on the next version. How is its progress going, and what changes will fans see?
Niklas Astrand: When you witness your game basically every day you tend to get a bit blind of the progression but to be really true, v1.1 is such a huge update we almost regret releasing v1.0 in the first place. There are so many new features and bugs fixed that we can’t wait to release it to the community. It feels like an entirely new game and twice as professional as 1.0 is. We have recruited three testers from the community and they have really helped us out and come up with a lot of new suggestions that we ourselves never thought of. It's thanks to them that the new version is so good. Many of the new features are suggestions from the community which we thought were so good they deserved to be implemented.
The 1.1 contain two really new features; the biggest change in the game will be much more flexible in terms of changing content. If you don’t change anything it will basically use the default graphics, sounds and texts from the original content but if you do, you can alter graphics and sounds both in the menu and ingame for your own custom marine chapter or campaign. Secondly, there are new options in the game, like ten new features to customize the appearance, size, speed and overall look of the game. This will remove any complaints about the game being to slow or too small.
Jamie Davey: If the project gets halted by THQ, is it likely that you'll continue the project with a new name but keep the Space Hulk style, or will you work on something completely different?
Niklas Astrand: During the development of v1.1 the game will be named Space Hulk. When we are done and if we still have no reply from THQ we will just have to see what we are going to do. This game from day one was intended to be a tribute to Games Workshop and its Space Hulk IP, that is still our core intention.
We have still, in our own naive way, not given up hope and are trying to get in touch with THQ one way or another. Latest attempt was a snail mail which we still are hoping to get a reply on. Remember, it'll only take one single “yes” to green light us…
Jamie Davey: If you could remake any game, what game would you decide to and why?
Niklas Astrand: There are many old and new games that we would love to create a remake of. Games which have been discussed are the old IDsoftware games like Doom 1 and Doom 2 , since they have a special place in my heart. But if we would ever go down the “remake road” again we will make sure the owner of the IP is happy with everything.
Jamie Davey: In an ideal world, THQ would sign you up to develop a PC, Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network release of Space Hulk, wouldn't you agree?
Niklas Astrand: In an ideal world we would get the green light to continue this project for the PC. Our game is open source when it comes to content and you would miss out on that if you took the game to the consoles. Creating and sharing home made chapters and campaigns, custom graphics and sounds are really the key to keep the community of our game alive and growing.
For the Xbox 360 and PS3 we'd much rather see THQ creating a triple A title which utilizes the full capacity of those platforms. Its been a couple of years since EA released their “Space Hulk 2 - VOTBA” and our game shows that Space Hulk still works. At least we would gladly buy it to be able to kill Genestealers on a 42 inch TV.
Jamie Davey: Since this will be our last question, is there anything you'd like to add or say to our readers and fans of the Space Hulk project?
Niklas Astrand: First of all the whole development team (today five people) would like to thank each and every one that has played our game. When it comes to sending positive comments and suggestions of changes and new features there are no words that can describe how happy we are. Instead, we hope v1.1 will show everyone how appreciated it is since the new version is basically dedicated to the community. If no one would have downloaded and played the game in the first place the development would probably have stopped in February as v1.0 was released and we would had done something completely different today instead of answering these questions.
Also we must not forget to give you guys at Strategy Informer a big thank you since you have supported our project from day one.