When Xbox Live Arcade game Hydrophobia was released to disappointing review scores, Manchester developer Dark Energy Digital hit back. Now, three months after release, DED has slashed the price of the game and prepared what it believes is a "quite remarkable" update, all with a crystal clear message: We have listened.
Here, in a world exclusive interview with the DED triumvirate of managing director Pete Jones, creative director Deborah Jones and senior creative designer Rob Hewson, Eurogamer discovers a mellowed developer prepared to admit its mistakes.
Eurogamer: Why is the update called Pure?
Pete Jones: We called it Pure because it was closest to our original vision for the game. It encapsulates what we wanted to create. We looked through over 250 reviews. Believe it or not, there have been nearly 250 reviews. And we have read and dissected every single bloody one of them. And most of the blogs, well, all the blogs we could find, and all of the comments that were posted.
It's clear that a number of people loved the game and a number of people were really frustrated by the game. In Hydrophobia Pure we believe we've eliminated those frustrations, and therefore it is a pure version of our vision.
Eurogamer: You really read 250 reviews?
Pete Jones: Honestly. We even translated all the foreign ones. I'm absolutely bloody serious. We dissected them into every comment about every functional area and then we used a mapping technique to give those a value. A strongly positive comment was a two. A mildly positive comment was a one. Neutral was zero. Minus one and minus two on the other side of the scale. We could map and look at the community's strength of feeling on each one of the functional areas of the game. There were 70 functional areas we reviewed.
Eurogamer: No one will be able to accuse you of not doing your research, then.
Pete Jones: No. We honestly did it.
Eurogamer: What are the most important areas of the game you have focused on with this update?
Deborah Jones: Controls, cameras and feedback. In fairness sometimes you get a little bit close to what you're doing. You get very excited. We were trying to do something quite innovative with the water and playing with it in a completely different way than has ever been played with in a game before.
Yeah, in some areas we got a little bit close. We mapped the controls to buttons that are not normal button layouts. The map of the buttons was quite complicated for some people, particularly when you have to swim as well. We've addressed those areas. That's the first thing we looked at.
We looked at the fact that you could get lost very easily within the game. We were thinking of it being an immersive experience, but actually for a lot of players that could be really frustrating. We can see that. When you sit back and look at it you do think, yeah, that needs some help there.
We've addressed that issue and we've put waypoints and objective markers throughout the levels. Also we've done it so if the player doesn't want to be handheld all of the time, they'll be able to see all of objective markers all of the time on the map. So they can still have the immersive experience they want, or they could have the objective markers in the world so they know where they're going. Those are the things we've looked at. And I can see how these things can be frustrating.
Pete Jones: I'm reading from Eurogamer's review, actually. You put, "Its cumulative small failings drags the player down into infuriation." It's all those small failings, as you put them, that we've addressed.
In fact, if we took your own review as a benchmark, every single point you raised as a negative in your review has been addressed in this.