Camille Guermonprez, the head of Arkedo Studios, is a lovely man and has the greatest pair of glasses I’ve ever seen. One half is black with a white square on the lens, and the other is white with a black square on the lens. Must be off-putting, but it looks damn cool. You certainly have to be a little eccentric of course to make a game called Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit. We talked about it, and I hope you’ll finish and be as excited for the game as I am now.
Strategy Informer: Okay, let’s start with the most obvious question – what made you decide to use an undead rabbit as your protagonist?
Camille Guermonprez: Why not? [laughs] Technically there’s a real reason though. One of the real issues we had is to find a good balance between gore and cute, between outrageous and funny, and not be insulting or aggressive. It’s a fine balance to be that silly without going over the top and yet still feel like you are going over the top. The rabbit is “what? A rabbit prince of hell?!” – although he’s not there yet admittedly. He has to prove himself, and it’s you and him against Hell. You’ve got to make them pay for what they did to him (putting pictures on the internet, what a nerve!).
He allowed us to start with a character that doesn’t take himself too seriously. The rabbit ears also helped us with animation, allowing us to create the smooth fluid movements we wanted to make. It was important for our character to be very expressional even though he’s so small on the screen, and so it was very important that he had long ears! It’s in the same way that Mario has a red hat and a moustache because they had three pixels to create an identifiable character, and the way they did that was just to colour those pixels to look like a hat and a moustache! Sometimes it’s the constraints you have that force you to create something simple and cool – the more constraints you have the better you have to be in terms of creation. A funny way to solve a problem.
Strategy Informer:Hell Yeah! is a bit of a departure from the puzzle games Arkedo is known for, how did it come about?
Camille Guermonprez: Frustration! Arkedo is a very small studio. We usually only have three or four people, but we’ve gone up to ten because this is such a big thing. Usually the idea of Arkedo is that I finance the games completely before they are made, so we have no production issues and I don’t have to have selling meetings with publishers where they ask to add stealth mode to a card game because they read some stats somewhere. We make the game ourselves and then when it’s done we sell it, if it sells we re-invest it and if it doesn’t I start selling yoghurts for a living!
Luckily the games have been good enough to re-invest each time into making a new game… until one shitty year, 2-3 years ago, where we had to work-for-hire for a small period of time. We’re not designed for that, there’s no production people, there’s no business manager for outside people, in our company. We hated every second of that, and we had to be very polite and accept a game that wasn’t our game. Frustration was brewing up, and we kept on saying to each other “next game, we’re going to have monsters to kill, with blood all over the place” and other things, and that’s where the general idea for the game came from. We were so frustrated we really wanted to lash out on our last game, so we put everything into the idea and everyone luckily loved it. SEGA were the ones who loved it most, and they were the ones we most wanted to work with. They left us alone and gave us complete creative freedom.
Strategy Informer: How long has the game been in development then?
Camille Guermonprez: Eighteen months. It’s been done for two months now, we’re just polishing, getting rid of bugs, it’ll be sent for approval soon. We don’t have a release date yet, though.
Strategy Informer: We saw the start of the story, with Ash, the scandal and some mysterious monsters, but how involved is the plot? How deep does the rabbit-hole go?
Camille Guermonprez: [laughs] Fairly deep, there’s a little bit of story for sure, but it’s mostly an excuse to keep adding silly stuff to the game. It’s always a mood thing. If we want the situation to calm down a bit then we’ll put a bit of story in, but there’s not that much. Hell Yeah! is basically an arcade game, you have stuff happening in your face all the time and make you go “what?!”, “shall we carry on? Yes!”. That’s the idea really – we want everyone to feel like an 8-year-old playing this game, and just have fun. We want to be the Lotus Super 7 of arcade gaming, to just give plain simple fun and put a big smile on your face.
Strategy Informer: 8-year-olds love blood.
Camille Guermonprez: Yeah!
Strategy Informer: How hardcore is Hell Yeah!, compared to something like Super Meat Boy?
Camille Guermonprez: No, it’s not Super Meat Boy-level hardcore, although our next game might well be. For this one though we wanted to take the gamer for a ride and we wanted to keep as many people as we could during the journey. I don’t mean it doesn’t get difficult, but we wanted the majority of people to see the different laughs we have carefully placed down the road. For hardcore gamers there are many different things you can do in Hell Yeah!, it’s an open world after all to have fun in. The general story is arcade-like, a bit easier than the Super Nintendo phase of difficult platformers. We generally make SNES-level difficulty in our games, we’ve toned it down a little here and added more, like humour. You know WarioWare? [I nod] There are hundreds of games in there, done by one of the best teams of the world in Nintendo, and those guys used to show 177 different ideas of gameplay in just one game. We’ve put a WarioWare-esque feel into Hell Yeah! with the finishing moves, and that’s part of the fun!
Strategy Informer: Speaking of those, each monster was finished with a completely different minigame. Will there be a different one for all 100 monsters Ash has to kill?
Camille Guermonprez: There are 35 templates of minigame, and about three variations on each. We have tried to place each one where you don’t expect it to be, and tried not make it immediately obvious that you have done one before. We really wanted to make those finishing moves cool, so we focused on a third of the 100 and made them really cool then worked on variations of each one, as opposed to making a hundred minigames that weren’t as good. With the size of the team we wanted to stay focused on the core gameplay.
Strategy Informer: Getting back to the difficulty, one game that recently struck a really good balance was Rayman Origins, where the main path was fairly doable but the additional stuff was much harder. Will Hell Yeah! do that kind of thing?
Camille Guermonprez: First of all, Rayman Origins, Ubisoft Montpellier – best studio in France, in our view. Amazing game, Michel Ancel is an amazing guy, and just being able to make a game like Rayman Origins now is not easy, let me tell you. He really wanted to make it. They did that Nintendo-esque approach really well, but we’re not really doing that. We’re more in terms of missions and backtracking where you’ll find other challenges. There are places to find which are specifically harder, but you’ll have to search for them as they’re not immediately visible. We have 10 worlds with lots of backtracking, and the reason for that is that we love hiding things! The difficulty level is pretty “classic” I would say in terms of today’s difficulty, and if you want more Hell Yeah! will be able to offer you that too. No extra difficulty levels though.
Strategy Informer: Including backtracking, will there be a lot of replay value to the game?
Camille Guermonprez: Oh yes, we’ve intended this. Our intent was to allow a “backtracking” phase, that is why we went for a “Metroidvania” setting to allow you to go back and see extra stuff. We liked doing that, at Arkedo we like doing lots of worlds with different music and styles and switching them about in the game. We’re making games for the remote control crowd, always zapping over!
Strategy Informer: Oh, so it’s literal Metroid-style platforming, where the backtracking is to use your new upgrades to find new areas and secrets?
Camille Guermonprez: Oh yes, and that’s mainly because of the wheel. The pink material for example is easiest to cut through with the wheel, but even in the first world some of the passages are blocked. You’ll need to upgrade the wheel to get through those stronger stones, and you won’t get that until about halfway through the game. We have used the wheel as a way to open up the replay and backtracking possibilities.
Strategy Informer: Will there be moments when the wheel is actually taken away from you?
Camille Guermonprez: Of course!
Strategy Informer: Are the collectable skulls literally just for money or do they serve some other purpose?
Camille Guermonprez: They’re mainly to buy things in the shop. We spent a lot of time on the shop, especially our art guy Aurélien. There’s about 150 items, all unique, and the whole economy is based on what you get from the collectables. You can upgrade your stuff, you can buy weapons, you can buy customisable faces… all sorts of things. You can play as an arse! [laughs] You can buy an arse face and play the whole game as a bum. We make that compulsory at one very specific point in the game!
Strategy Informer: For an average gamer, how long do you expect them to take to get through the game?
Camille Guermonprez: First loop without doing any secondary missions, you’re looking about 12-15 hours I would say.
Strategy Informer: What platforms are you aiming for?
Camille Guermonprez: XBLA, PSN, and PC via Steam. And we’re making a real PC version, we’re not making a lousy port. I’ve put my best devs on this one because it’s really important for me. We’ve worked hard on that version. It’s our game, it’s our baby, it’s our IP. We haven’t slept because of this lousy baby for two years! [laugh] And we want him to be worth it.
So, excited now? A crazy cartoon open-world Metroidvania platformer featuring an undead rabbit, a buzzsaw-bike, more imagination and fun in a single level than most games have in their entire playtime, and a mandatory arse disguise? My mind’s blown already. Thanks Camille for taking the time to chat with us, and can I buy glasses like that? No? I’ll settle for the game then. Hell Yeah!’s aiming for a Summer release on XBLA, PSN and Steam.