Interview: Hydrophobia’s Rob Hewson

Hydrophobia made quite a splash (get it? splash!) during its unveiling at this year’s Penny Arcade Expo in Boston. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend the gameplay briefing, but we did manage to get a hold of Dark Energy Digital’s Senior Creative Designer, Rob Hewson, for a few questions about the Xbox LIVE Arcade title – which is promised to “push the boundaries of what an Arcade title could be”.

In the interview, Hewson overviews the story of the game, touches on about the hydrophobia that the protagonist suffers, tells us the variety environments we can expect to see in the game’s city-sized ship, explains the Xbox LIVE Arcade exclusivity, and even reveals an exclusive bit of intel just for our readers.

Interview conducted by Sal Romano.

For those unfamiliar with the game, can we have a brief rundown of what Hydrophobia is all about?

Hydrophobia has been developed using Dark Energy’s revolutionary HydroEngine technology – the world’s first fluid dynamics simulation for games. This allows water to flow from one area to another, sweeping characters and objects along with it. It’s a true physics simulation so you never get the same behavior twice, and players can use and manipulate the flow to engage in some incredibly dynamic and emergent gameplay.

Other than being an engineer, is there anything special about protagonist Kate Wilson?

We wanted a lead character that starts out as a reluctant hero, somebody with flaws who has room to grow and evolve. We took inspirations from protagonists like Ripley in the first Alien movie; we really wanted to get away from the beautiful but deadly stereotype for a female lead. Kate has been deeply affected by some traumatic experiences in her past giving her an intense fear of drowning, and although her external battle is with the neo-Malthusians, she is also fighting internal demons.

How does Wilson’s fear of water affect gameplay?

Kate will experience hallucinations and flashes of the traumatic memory which is the route cause of her phobia. As Kate endures she begins to learn to use the flow of the water against her enemies, and ultimately by facing up to her own nightmares she will begin to unlock the power to control the water itself.

With the “Queen of the World’s” scale the size of a city, what different types of environments can we expect to see aboard the ship?

The ship contains a massive variety of environments, across the social hierarchy of the deck structure. There are industrial power plants, secret research labs, seedy neon-lit shanty towns with towering casinos, clinical robotics factories, luxurious residential areas and more. The player won’t visit all of these in the first instalment but we’ve designed the whole ship right down to detailed architectural plans.

Hydrophobia takes place in the near future. Will we see any kind of new technology/weapons/items being used by Wilson?

The most iconic piece of equipment Kate carries is her flexible screen MAVI device (Mobile Automated Visual Interface). It overlays information about the environment to highlight areas of high water pressure or reveal enemy positions. As with the setting of the game itself we researched up and coming technology and used this as inspiration for the games science and technology.

What inspired Dark Energy Digital to go with a “sinking ship” theme for their next game?

The technology behind Hydrophobia came first, and a sinking ship was the ideal setting to make the most of it. We began to research the idea of a city sized ship to provide a wide variety of environments for the game to take place in and were surprised to find many similar concepts for real ships or floating cities exist. This all fitted perfectly into the wider fiction of an overpopulated near future world and began to lead us to our remit of following existing trends forward to create a tangible setting.

How does the game’s HydroEngine help provide the best experience for a game with as much flowing water as Hydrophobia?

The gameplay we have is only possible with HydroEngine. If you want to shoot out breaches to direct floating oil fires into enemies using the natural flow of water, wipe out enemies with waves, allow different players to trigger different experiences depending on how much water they let into an area you need HydroEngine. On top of that, we get a huge amount of emergent gameplay because it’s a true physics solution and therefore never repeats.

Hydrophobia, if I recall correctly, was originally announced as a Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC game. Why the shift to XBLA exclusivity?

Our game engine InfiniteWorlds was developed to make the process of producing games more efficient, and because it uses bespoke procedural technology we discovered that our full scale AAA action adventure had a small enough filesize to ship on XBLA. Microsoft were very excited about pushing the boundaries of what an Arcade title could be and we could make the switch without any compromise in the quality of the game.

Are there any unrevealed bits of information about Hydrophobia you’d like to drop with us before we let you go? (big smile)

We haven’t talked about weapons. Kate’s gun is actually upgradable, so you bolt on new ammo types throughout the game. Some of them are pretty cool – we have gel rounds which stick to objects and enemies, including objects which float ;) and energy rounds which emit an electric pulse which conduct through the water.

Thank you for your time, Rob!

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