Full disclosure: we're not sure why we brought up Jason Statham in this interview, but we're leaving it in. This is to take nothing away from the lovely Maxx Kaufman, game director on Hunted: The Demon's Forge, and another of our delightful speakers during the developer sessions at this year's Eurogamer Expo.
Kaufman and his colleague Matt Findley are in town to show you why Hunted - a co-operative, third-person action-adventure in a dark fantasy world - is worth taking notice of. Ahead of their session, we caught up on the phone to find out what's on show, what you can play at the Expo, and, well, you'll see.
Eurogamer: Thank you for coming to the Eurogamer Expo. Europe is also very pleased to welcome you. Based on your experience so far, which is the best bit of Europe?
Maxx Kaufman: Well, I love the UK of course.
Eurogamer: That's a good answer, but let's say you had to do a top five list of countries.
Maxx Kaufman: Oh, top five? You know, I've only been to the UK, France, Germany, Prague...
Eurogamer: That's a city.
Maxx Kaufman: Prague's a city in the Czech Republic, yes.
Eurogamer: That's fine. They're all territories in which Eurogamer has a presence, so they're all good choices. So for the benefit of Expo fans who maybe haven't seen Hunted: The Demon's Forge before, what's it all about?
Maxx Kaufman: It's a story of addiction and sacrifice. It's this deep, twisted story about these two characters and their adventure. It's a co-op adventure so it's about the two characters and their differences, but it's Elara and Caddoc - she's the hunter with the bow, he's the swordsman with the big sword - and they're thrust into this situation where they find this world is totally twisted and perverted and it's unlike any other fantasy story I think ever. It's really dark, but fun and exciting at the same time. It's something that opens up to you and is revealed as you play the game.
Eurogamer: So it's a tale of addiction and sacrifice. Is it a personal story for you, or maybe for Matt Findley [inXile president, also heading to the Expo]?
Maxx Kaufman: Haha. It has some threads that ring true! For the most part it just skates around our lives and is not an exact representation of me and Matt.
Although I guess Matt is a bit of a Caddoc character, rumbling around the world beating people up with a massive sword. And he has a fabulous accent. The parallels are uncanny.
It is true, and I'm more the off-the-wall kind of crazy one who jumps into situations and gets in trouble - and he's kind of the one saving me, so I guess it is very true. It's all about us! This game is about Matt and Maxx!
Eurogamer: So what are you going to be showing in your session?
Maxx Kaufman: We're going to be showing a demo that we put together. This is the first time we've shown it in Europe. We're really excited to show it to the public because we have not had that many people see it - it was really mostly media.
Eurogamer: It's a section of the game I've seen where you start off with Caddoc and Elara, and Seraphine has sent them into the town of Dyfed and they discover the town is in a bit of a state. Then they head down in pursuit of a creature they've seen ripping someone's heart out.
Maxx Kaufman: Right. It's really the best representation of all the best elements of the game, and it shows off the depth. The game is not just combat, or it's not just this, so it really explains the game and the different pieces of the game. It shows that the game is not an RPG - it's built on this third-person shooter cover-based idea. It's the first fantasy game that's cover-based. We think that that's huge. It shows the co-op, it shows the different abilities of the characters. Then if you think about from a shooter stance - if you think of third-person shooter type games - having such diversity in the two characters is not typical. The whole game is built on that co-op adventure of the two characters, and a good example of it is some enemies the range character will be totally stifled by, and the melee character's going to have to step in, and it goes both ways. Another thing we did is that at close range the bow will do a lot of damage, which sounds great for Elara, right? But think about Caddoc - Caddoc goes up and starts charging ranged enemies, once he gets close he's going to have to be careful, because they do a multiplier on their damage. So the whole game is built around systems like that and ideas like that.
Eurogamer: How did Caddoc and Elara get to know each other? Internet dating?
Maxx Kaufman: We actually have an animated book that we're going to put out that talks about how they grew up and how they came together. But basically they were doing individual jobs and they kind of bumped into each other going for the same goal. They didn't plan on it, and then they were like, "Hey, you know what? We've got good complementary abilities and moods to make this work." When you're playing the game they've been together for years.
Eurogamer: I guess it's a Lady and the Tramp thing - they're chewing on the same string of combat-based spaghetti and all of a sudden they realise they have a lot in common.
Maxx Kaufman: Haha, I like that. Exactly!
Eurogamer: So Caddoc has what I believe you guys in the States refer to as a "British accent". Are you familiar with the work of Jason Statham?
Maxx Kaufman: Yes we are.
Eurogamer: Would you say that he is a rich seam of inspiration?
Maxx Kaufman: Yes definitely.
Eurogamer: What would you say is your favourite Jason Statham film? It's okay to say The Transporter.
Maxx Kaufman: Was he in Snatch?
Eurogamer: Yes he was. He's a British institution. Anyway, what kind of demo have you got on the show floor? Because I know Hunted's going to be playable at the Expo too.
Maxx Kaufman: Well, the demo we have on the show floor is actually part of the tutorial - we kind of ripped it out of the tutorial and added some elements. Really the idea of the demo on the show floor is to give an idea of the combat. It's to show the combat because the combat's different.
Unfortunately with the limited time we have we can't really show off the depth of the game - we can't show a lot of the differences. For example, we have some very challenging puzzles and exploration. To just throw that into a short demo didn't seem logical. You really need to sit down and get an hour's worth of gameplay out of it. So the demo is geared towards 15 minutes of giving you an idea of the combat, the action that you'll encounter, and some of the visuals.
The presentation we're doing shows off more of the diversity. Again it doesn't go too deep into the exploration, but I think between the two it's a good snapshot.
Eurogamer: Will people be able to play co-operatively on the show floor?
Maxx Kaufman: They will. They can either play co-operatively, or sometimes we have chaperones that go along with them, so they're still playing co-operatively but it gives you an idea of the co-op experience.
Eurogamer: Do you plan to patrol the floor issuing wisdom and instructions?
Maxx Kaufman: Haha, I'd rather patrol the floor and see people's reactions and see what they're doing. For us it's so important to get to a stage where we can put the game in front of people who have never seen it and see where it's falling short. Some of the most successful games of all time have been built on this iteration and seeing how people react. Half-Life is one of my favourite games of all time and they really took that as far as they could - and the results are amazing. I think any game you create, you need to almost complete and then put it in front of as many people as you can.
More on Hunted: The Demon's Forge
Review: Hunted: The Demon's Forge
Hands On: Hunted: The Demon's Forge
Devils may cry.
Hands On: Hunted: The Demon's Forge
Gears of Warcraft.
E'lara lorra laughs.
Eurogamer: And see how they react in each area.
Maxx Kaufman: It makes such a difference. Like, somebody gets lost in an area. You go, "Well, I could put a pick-up item towards the exit to catch their eye." I think that iterative process is so huge and we're battling towards that now. We're almost at beta. We're getting the game together and we'll do as much time as possible getting people in front of it.
Eurogamer: Hunted definitely strikes me as a game where a lot of the proof is in the execution and what will convince people is seeing it. Do you plan to do a demo?
Maxx Kaufman: You know, we've talked about it and it's gone up and down. There's good things and bad things. Development-wise obviously it takes more time. I think at this point it's really up to Bethesda. I don't know that I feel either way - I just want people to understand the game and get the depth, and a playable demo would accomplish that. It's on the table for sure, just hasn't been decided.
Eurogamer: The game's out in Q1, so what's left for you to do?
Maxx Kaufman: It's putting all these pieces together. It's a game right now that has all the elements, and 95-98 per cent of the elements are done - it's just putting them in the right spots and cleaning up the sloppiness. If you looked at it right now it would have areas that are really good and areas that are really sloppy, so it's just pulling everything together. It takes time. You know, these games these days are so big that it's a lot of effort, a lot of work and a lot of people working.
Maxx Kaufman is game director on Hunted: The Demon's Forge. Jason Statham is available for weddings and parties.