Wildfire is an upcoming stealth platformer inspired by Far Cry 2, and designed by Daniel Hindes. He’s currently the Australian editor at GameSpot, and also helps to run stealth gaming blog Sneaky Bastards, as well as working on Wildfire.
He’s a busy guy, then, but he managed to find some time to talk with Siliconera about Wildfire. Hindes talks about what specifically he’s taking from Far Cry 2, how the game works and what direction he’s taking it, and also why he wants you to play the alpha builds.
You have a history in games journalism so how did you fall into actually making games? Is this your first?
Daniel Hindes, designer: I was studying computer science at university before I started in games journalism, but actually dropped out and went into games journalism because I just couldn’t understand programming. My brain is wired in a certain way – I’m a very visual person and I work well with words, but when it comes to mathematics and more abstract concepts, my brain just seems to shut down.
I’ve always still wanted to try my hand at making a game, though, so it wasn’t until I gave GameMaker a shot that things started to click. It’s still an intense learning process, however, and it often feels like I’m just hitting my head against a brick wall. But that’s all part of the challenge, and it’s so invigorating! The indie dev community has also been extremely welcoming, particularly folks from TIGSource and the GameMaker community.
You also have a particular interest in stealth games. What is it about the genre that appeals to you?
Stealth games are smart about how their systems interact to create situations that then require you, as a player, to be smart about how you approach things. And when you do achieve a goal, you feel smart because breadth of possible failure outcomes is very real, rather than faked or imagined. There is very little that is false or scripted about a good stealth game, and it’s the exploration of those systems that I find absolutely fascinating. Because of this, stealth games tend to focus more on allowing the player to conjure up creative, systemic solutions, and I think there’s no better feeling in a game than when you’ve used the interaction of various systems to create an unexpected, but still contextually appropriate, outcome.
Now, you say Wildfire is inspired by Far Cry 2. How in particular?
At a basic level, it’s inspired by the fire propagation mechanic in Far Cry 2. On a deeper level, it’s inspired by the feeling that such fire propagation creates. I wanted to make a game where a situation can gradually spiral out of control, and you need to overcome your initial panic to improvise a creative solution to what could easily end up a disaster. Those kinds of situations in Far Cry 2 were where the game shined.
Could you explain the progress you’ve made with Wildfire so far – especially how you’ve made the most out of the use of fire?
I started off just building in basic platforming mechanics and a rough fire propagation mechanic. From there I started to think about how propagation can play into sidescrolling stealth elements. What is fire? It’s light–so naturally, during night time levels, light and shadow form additional stealth mechanics that require you to rethink your approach to moving unseen.
Light is also heat, so in propagating, I wanted it to take away something that could have been an advantage. That’s where I came up with the concept of tall grass that you can crouch and hide in–but that grass is also flammable. With Wildfire, I want to make a game where every opportunity can also be a hazard, and your manipulation of fire is the key to switching things from one to the other.
At the moment we’ve only seen the fire used in conjunction with tall grass. Will there be different types of environments with new challenges?
Absolutely. At the moment I just needed to perfect the propagation mechanics with tall grass–something simple. But I’m in the process of adding verticality to levels, with climbable vines that can also catch on fire. I’ve also got wooden bridges that can burn away completely, thereby requiring you to find an alternate route through the level.
Later down the line I also want to build a level that is about ascending an entirely wooden structure whilst outrunning fire that is propagating up toward you. I also have ice and snow terrain in an early stage which melts on contact with fire, but that introduces a whole new set of level design problems which I’m still in the process of solving.
Related to that question, will you be working on much of a story for Wildfire?
Yes, however, Wildfire will be a very focused game–the kind of indie game that introduces one or two new mechanics and fully explores them to their logical conclusion–and the story will follow suit. I’m not a fan of cutscenes, or clicking through loads of dialogue, or audio logs. So at the moment I’m planning on opening each level with short exchanges that establish context for the new mechanics as their introduced, as well as give clues into the main plot itself.
A good point of comparison would be Gunpoint–I liked how the game allowed you to engage with as much or as little of the story as you wanted to, and the gameplay itself was about exploring the game’s interesting and creative systems.
We have an animal, actually! I won’t reveal it just yet, but I’m a huge fan of the distinctive creature AI in the Oddworld series, and I’d liken what we have to the Slig and Slog dynamic from Abe’s Oddysee. I wanted every enemy to present a distinctive challenge through their different but easily readable attributes. No enemy in Wildfire is a throwaway obstacle; in fact, there is no direct way to kill or remove them from play–you have to use the environment and fire propagation mechanic in intelligent and creative ways.
Why have you decided to be so open with alpha builds of Wildfire, allowing people to play it early on?
I’m just really stoked that people are interested enough to take time out of their day to play it and provide feedback. And that feedback is incredibly valuable to me, too. Nothing in the alpha build in terms of levels or narrative will be present in the final game–in fact, the “test” level is just a recreation of World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros–so I don’t feel like it’s spoiling anything significant. But because these mechanics are new and interesting and a little bit odd, I want to get them in front of as many people as possible to know if I’m heading in the right direction.
Will you be selling it as a commercial game? How about trying to get it on Steam?
Wildfire will be a commercial game. I have spent a lot of my own money developing it already, and we will have a Kickstarter campaign up soon. It won’t be asking for that much money–I really just need to pay for art, sound and music–but it’ll be going through Steam Greenlight at the same time.