When High Voltage Software first showed off its self-funded FPS The Conduit back in 2008, both core game-starved Wii owners and press intrigued by how a low-profile tie-in factory was eeking such impressive visuals from Nintendo's humble console immediately sat up and took notice.
Sniffing an opportunity, SEGA swooped in to publish, while the developers continued to talk up a storm, raising expectations to levels that the finished game couldn't hope to match. Duly, the release date rolled around and reviews made for ugly reading.
Now, chewed up and spat out by the hype machine it so knowingly fueled, High Voltage is back, quietly talking up a bigger, bolder, better sequel. Eurogamer sat down with senior producer Kevin Sheller and producer Keith Hladik to discuss making amends for past mistakes, growing up in public and finding a receptive FPS audience on the Wii.
Eurogamer: Before The Conduit, High Voltage mainly focused on ports and licensed titles. How did you make the step up to creating your own IP?
Kevin Sheller: It's something we'd wanted to do for a long time. We watched as, over the years, publishers became successful with us doing their licensed titles for them. And we liked it too – we learned a lot, we got to understand game development.
We delivered time and time again with all those titles – on time and on budget. We were always trying to stretch our wings. It was like, "Man, if we could just have a little bit more time or this perfect licence then we could really do something great." And we came really close when we worked on Hunter: The Reckoning because we had a cool licence to work with and a great publisher [Interplay]. We were excited about being able to do something good there – and we were able to. It was like, "Yes, we can do this". So when the opportunity came for us to do our own thing, we had to take that.
We decided the real success, the real excitement, everything we want do as a company – that is in making original titles. Yes, we did get investment help and then started on The Conduit.
Eurogamer: Was it a steep learning curve?
Kevin Sheller: Well, there's certainly a difference. When you're working with licensed titles, all the characters have already been pre-drawn for you. The story is already well known, we know all their personalities, we know everything about the world we're working in. It's all there for you. All we had to do was to convert that into a videogame.
When you're starting with a completely clean state it's a different situation. Now we get to create that. So there are certainly some disagreements and some direction changes because you go, "Yeah, I think that's good," and then you start to work with it and then you go, "Well wait a minute, it's maybe not going to work in this situation." So there was some learning involved.
But when you have a couple of games to do it in – like Conduit 1 and Conduit 2 – now we have an opportunity where we learned quite a bit from the first game and we figured out what worked and what didn't.
Eurogamer: Was it hard to get specialist press, and gamers, to take you seriously?
Keith Hladik: As an outsider, I saw Eric [Nofsinger, chief creative officer] and Matt [Corso, art director] go over to E3 and they won people over with their enthusiasm for this game. It was pretty easy for people to latch on to their enthusiasm for the Wii and for making a mature title for the platform. We were ushering in a new era of higher quality games people who only had a Wii didn't have before.
Kevin Sheller: We made some bold statements when we started off. We said, "People aren't taking advantage of the Wii's power – we're going to." We said, "People aren't respecting the fans of the Wii with serious games – we're going to." That really woke some people up. People started to get excited about it and the fans got into it. And the media wants to go where the fans are, so the media said, "Okay, let's see what this is all about."