Recently we got our first close-up look at Human Head's third person Viking action game, Rune, when Tim Gerritsen gave us a demonstration of the game as part of GOD's press tour of Europe.
To find out more about Rune and the company behind it, we spoke to Shane Gurno, artist and co-founder of Human Head...
Human Head might be a new company, but they are certainly no strangers to action games with melee combat and a fantasy setting - the company was founded by a group of former employees from Raven, the company behind the Heretic and Hexen series.
"For years there had been many conversations between individuals who had worked at Raven about starting a company", Shane told us. "It's only natural that creative people are going to want to do their own thing at some point."
At the time they were working on Hexen II, a fantasy action game which was based on id Software's Quake engine, and was unfortunate enough to be released just weeks before id themselves finished Quake II. With the game complete, it was time for Shane and the others to decide whether to jump now...
"At the end of Hexen II there were nine of us who wanted to take the chance. We played around with the idea of working on one more project for Raven and then moving on, but six of the original nine decided that this was the time. So we basically jumped without a net."
"We did have some hard times", Shane admitted. "But it definitely has been worth it."
Human Head seemed to have landed on their feet though, as before long they had been hired to create the sequel to .. Daikatana! Back in 1997 many people were still eagerly awaiting John Romero's latest masterpiece, and the chance to work on the sequel to what was sure to be one of the year's biggest hits was too good to pass up. Hindsight is a wonderful thing...
"We first met John when he was the producer on Heretic and Hexen, so when we left Raven we thought, who better to work with than John Romero! Initially Ben Gokey called him up, told him the story, and he asked us to work on Daikatana 2. Of course we jumped at the chance."
"Ion Storm funded us enough money for a few living expenses and some new equipment. This in turn meant that we would be using the Unreal engine, and that was extremely exciting."
Unfortunately by this time Ion Storm was already in decline, Daikatana was becoming a running joke, and Eidos were starting to wonder where all their money was going. Hiring an external studio to develop a sequel to a game that was nowhere near complete was one expense which they could do without. And so, "before we knew it the project was canceled and we were on our own again".
Human Head would live to fight another day though. "When Daikatana 2 was canceled, Epic was incredibly nice and let us use the Unreal engine even though we didn't have any contracts with any publishers."
This gave Human Head the chance to develop their own game using the engine whilst searching for publisher backing. Meanwhile they had met Tim Gerritsen, who "was also starting a game company here in the Madison area. We needed a biz guy, and Tim needed .. well .. a team. It was the perfect match."
"Now we had all the pieces we needed, except a contract. But by this time the Gathering Of Developers was up and running, and so we worked with Epic and Jay Wilber to eventually receive a contract with the Gathering."
The game that they had come up with was Rune, but the idea had actually been born back while they were still working at Raven.
"The idea was Ted Halsted's", Shane explained. "I remember we had just made up our minds that we were going to leave Raven. We had a meeting at 'the farm house' (that's where Ted and I lived) and Ted said "RAGNAR!!! The Viking, we should make a game about Vikings!""
As you do... "Vikings had always fascinated Ted, and needless to say we all loved the idea". The pieces all started to fit together, and with a little inspiration from a book called the "Saga of the Volsong" they had the basics of the game.
When the Daikatana 2 project fell through, Human Head went back to developing Rune, and continued using the Unreal engine. According to Shane, the "big advantage [of using the Unreal engine] is that it is proven to work, it looks and feels great! This gives the programmers time to enhance what's there, rather than invent something new.
"The disadvantage is, we have to pay to use it."
Hand To Hand
The main focus in Rune is on hand-to-hand combat, with a wide range of melee weapons available to Ragnar as he fights his way through the hordes of enemies that fill the game's levels.
"Rune is centered around bashing weapons (maces, hammers), slashing weapons (swords) and hacking weapons (axes)", Shane explained. "Each of these weapons has its own unique advantages such as power, speed, and fighting style."
It's not all just mindless hacking and slashing though, and according to Shane, "getting the combat in the game to work and feel right has been the most challenging aspect of Rune".
The game will feature a system where context and movement will determine the type of attack. How you move and swing will determine the attacks, somewhat like in Soul Caliber and Tekken". Which leads to Shane's favourite part of the game - "chopping off heads"! Yes, Rune allows you to hack off your enemies' arms and heads, and even pick them up and use them as weapons!
This should make for the perfect taunt in multiplayer - slice off an enemy's arm and then beat him round the head with it. Tasteful. And as Rune is based on the Unreal Tournament engine, it will naturally have multiplayer support and plenty of tools for players wanting to modify the game themselves...
"When Rune ships we intend to release all of the tools to the mod community. Users will then be able to create all their own mods based around melee combat. We'll also be launching www.runegame.com in the near future, which will host the best mods around. As for the actual modes of play, we will have more to say just prior to release."
The End Is Nigh
Hopefully we should all get to see the game for ourselves before long, as according to Shane "we're getting close to the polishing stage, and most of the content is done. Now it's time to put the game together".
If the online community's reaction to the game so far is anything to go by, Human Head could be on to a winner. "We have been working on Rune for a while now, we see it every day. When I saw the jaw dropping reactions from people at E3 I was really surprised, and it lit a new fire under my ass!"
And what next for Human Head? "Personally I think it would suck if we didn't do Rune 2", Shane told us. "But on the other hand, we have many new game concepts that are very intriguing."
With any luck we should be able to tell you more later in the year, but for now .. that's your lot!