"On the day we moved into our office, we were really excited," says Sean Murray, one quarter of Guildford's latest gaming microbrewery, Hello Games. "Four lads striking out on their own for the first time. When we got there, the office's previous occupants were moving out. They'd just failed to start their own indie dev team. They offered us their old monitors. That dampened our excitement a bit."
Spend any time with Murray and his three team-mates, programmers Ryan Doyle and David Ream alongside artist Grant Duncan, and you'll find that hard to believe. The foursome exude boundless enthusiasm from every pore, giddy with excitement that they're finally getting to make stunt-'em-up Joe Danger, their dream project.
Refugees from Criterion, Kuju and Sumo (the last game they worked on was Geometry Wars: Galaxies), the guys have thrown in everything they've got (Murray even sold his house) to go it alone. "We wish we could say our creative juices had been mercilessly squeezed out of us by the cogs of corporate developers," says Murray. "But the truth is, we quite liked working at our respective companies. It just felt like we had to go and make our own games though. Ryan, Dave and I were so excited about starting, we forgot to even hire an artist."
Crowding round the monitor in the Hello Games office (which is smaller than most developer's bathrooms), Grant boots up Joe Danger, their debut game for PC, PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. A daring stuntman permanently attached to his mortorbike, Joe is a bit retro, complete with cape and perma-smile, a sort of Jovial Knieval. "It's the old riches to rags and back to riches tale," says Murray. "We'll probably have Joe bunnyhopping up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art at some point."
The lights go green, and Joe's instantly tearing down the track, ducking under hurdles, leaping over buses and pulling off awesome stunts. Messages constantly flash up on screen telling you how awesome you are while the combo meter at the bottom of the screen goes ballistic. Get one of the letters that ultimately spell out the word D-A-N-G-E-R and you'll trigger an awesome sample from a popular eighties power ballad ("We haven't actually, uh, cleared that sample yet," says Ream). As Grant Duncan bounces off a platform that triggers a spiralling line of time-limited ghost coins, it's clear this is pure old-school Nintendo-style sugar-rush gaming, three lanes of terror that keep the pulse pounding from the beginning of each course to the end.
On each run the aim is to gain one or more stars, either by capturing a gold cup, collecting the coins or letters, hitting certain targets or finding a hidden star. Fans of the older Tony Hawk's games will recognise this model of level unlocking, and the influence spreads to the tricks too. Combos can be linked together with wheelies in a similar style to manuals in the skating games. Build up your stunt meter by pulling off some sick moves, and you'll fill up your boost bar, Burnout-style.