What do I know about the insanely popular webcomic, 'Homestuck', really not much at all. I do know that it's an interactive online (and offline) behemoth of a series that has gained a tremendous following and an even larger response. Lucky for you my proxy, Elektron, is a bonafide fan. She has read the epic, 7,500 page plus opus as well as cosplayed as Gamzee and has attended local meet ups.
What do I know about 'Hiveswap'? Well, It's a point-and-click adventure game and it’s coming out soon (The Kickstarter project raised over $2.4 million.) I've been told that the game will have a different story from the webcomic, since it’ll be following a young human girl, Joey, who gets transported via a portal to Alternia, an alien planet. She teams up with a bunch of troll rebels so that they can 'save the world' and find her way home.
Elektron had the opportunity to review Jess Haskins, the creative director of 'Hiveswap' and Andrew Hussie, the creator of 'Homestuck.'
What is the game Hiveswap about?
Jess Haskins (creative director): Hiveswap tells the story of a girl from the 90's, Joey Claire, who accidentally gets sucked into a portal to the alien troll planet of Alternia. She meets some new troll friends and gets embroiled in their struggle against an oppressive regime led by the vain and ruthless teenage Heiress who decrees that everyone must laugh at her jokes, or suffer the consequences. Joey must join the rebels on a quest to outwit the Imperial forces and find a way to get her back home to Earth before an unstoppable doomsday weapon destroys both worlds.
What inspired you to make the game? Were you surprised that your Kickstarter was able to get as much money as it did?
Andrew Hussie (creator): I wanted to make another story that took place within the already very big Homestuck universe, to help develop that universe further. I also wanted to do so in a different medium. The stories on my site, like Homestuck, were all adventure game parodies, so why not make a real adventure game, right? And: was I surprised by the funding? Kinda! But kinda also not really, because Homestuck is pretty popular. We did some math in advance, and figured hitting a mark like that was pretty feasible. And that turned out to be true. But getting there was still pretty cool!
What type of world did you set out to build in Hiveswap?
Jess: We're really setting up two distinct worlds: 1990's Earth, and the troll planet of Alternia. In both cases, we're expanding on what we glimpse of those worlds in the Homestuck comic, and getting to explore them in a lot more depth. Hiveswap focuses on Alternia and builds on lots of little hints about troll society and culture. It's a kind of nasty, brutish place, a largely nocturnal planet populated entirely by children and monstrous beasts, and ruled over by an authoritarian government with a society sharply divided along caste lines determined by blood color.
If that all sounds kind of grim, the tone of the game skews more toward dark comic fantasy – there's a vibrant cast of colorful characters, a lot of zaniness and humor, as well as a lot of heart.
What do you think people will like most about the game? Do you think not just fans of Homestuck, but others will like the game as well?
Jess: Hiveswap will appeal to classic adventure game fans and anyone who enjoys a deep, story-driven game with rich character interactions and a detailed world to explore. Players familiar with Homestuck will find a lot of connections to the comic and will definitely recognize the world and style of Andrew Hussie, with his trademark storytelling and humor. But no prior knowledge is required to enjoy the game – no one should ever feel like references are going over their head, and the game will welcome and introduce you to its world even if you've never even heard of Homestuck.
What do you consider the elements of a good video game? A great one?
Jess: I think a good game – and I'll limit this to story-based games, because there's a ton of different kinds of games that excel in different ways – is one where the mechanics of the game harmoniously support and convey the story. A good game respects the player, and gives them meaningful agency and interesting choices to make. That doesn't necessarily mean a thousand different branching endings, or that everything is changeable at the player's whim; meaningful agency could be about the ability to explore and react to a scenario with a fixed outcome. A good game welcomes the player into its world and allows them to become a part of it, rather than just hustling them from set piece to set piece like a fussy usher at a museum. A good game takes us somewhere amazing, populated with fascinating characters that we miss when we leave.
A great game does all that on time, under budget, and bug-free.
(Just kidding – plenty of great games miss those last three points.)
What are the challenges in making a video game Vs. a web comic?
Andrew: A web comic is a huge solo effort. Homestuck has art and music contributors for some Flash animations, but that content is like 1% of the comic. The rest is a huge one-man grind, for thousands of pages. Over the course of years that gets pretty arduous to make, given how much content there is. A game is much more of a team effort. It’s also very challenging, for different reasons. It’s less about doing every little thing yourself, more about generally conducting the efforts of a team of creative people. As the team grows, it’s more about conducting the conductors. It’s pretty complicated, as a lot goes into making a game. Thousands of art assets and such. One major difference is, with my comic, there weren’t many limitations. Any idea I had, I could write and draw and it could be on the website the next day. With a game, with how complicated and expensive production can get, the sky isn’t really the limit. You have a budget to consider. If you throw every crazy idea you have into a game, you’ll burn through all your money very fast.
What video games did you like to play as a kid?
Andrew: I played a lot of games. Too many to list. But the EarthBound series in particular was a big influence in making Homestuck, which probably starts to seem obvious once you know that. The titles are in fact synonyms for each other, sort of.
What is your favorite thing contributed to the Homestuck fandom? Ex: Cosplay, fanart.
Jess: As a team, we like to take a break once in a while to see what's shaking on the #hiveswap tag on Tumblr... it's always fun and exciting for us to see some new fanart or someone cosplaying based on the few teasers we've released about the game. We love the fan community and the cool stuff they come up with. There are a few big projects that have been really useful to us during development – the fan-maintained MSPA Wiiki a wonderful reference source, and a lot of the team swears by the Let's read Homestuck series on YouTube as a great way to catch up with the story.
Why do you kill off all your characters?
Andrew: Dead characters have a funny way of sticking around in Homestuck. It’s a story with a very big cast. In a big cast not everyone can be a major character or enjoy the spotlight for too long. All stories with huge casts have certain means of letting minor characters recede into the background after they stop being relevant. In HS, death seems to be the line between relevance and irrelevance, more than anything else. Some ghosts then struggle to stay relevant in the story, but usually fail.
That’s one answer, which may or may not be satisfying to you. There’s another answer that is more practical. HS is supposedly a story that is also a game. In games, the characters die all the time. How many times did you let Mario fall in the pit before he saved the princess? Who weeps for these Marios. In games your characters die, but you keep trying and trying and rebooting and resetting until finally they make it. When you play a game this process is all very impersonal. Once you finally win, when all is said and done those deaths didn’t “count”, only the linear path of the final victorious version of the character is considered “real”. Mario never actually died, did he? Except the omniscient player knows better. HS seems to combine all the meaningless deaths of a trial-and-error game journey with the way death is treated dramatically in other media, where unlike our oblivious Mario, the characters are aware and afraid of the many deaths they must experience before finally winning the game.
What Easter eggs in the game will a Homestuck fan notice?
Jess: Homestuck fans have already picked up on a bunch of little things from the preview materials we've released so far – hints about Joey's family tree, certain familiar toys spotted in Joey's room, a few words written in the Alternian alphabet in the concept art. If you can read Troll, there are a few fun little Easter eggs. Homestuck is just stuffed full of symbols and colors and characters and ideas, so we have a huge palette of stuff to work with. Of course, if you aren’t familiar with Homestuck, you’ll still be able to appreciate how these details flesh out the worlds. But Homestuck fans will understand them on another level.
Anything else that you would like our readers to know about Hiveswap?
Jess: If you like adventure games, or Homestuck, or both, you'll want to play this game. Don't like either of those things? How about zany sci-fi adventure, epic storytelling, and richly detailed worlds? Still might wanna give Hiveswap a look. We think we have something really special here. We're having a blast creating it, and we can't wait to share it with the world.
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