There aren't a lot of intentionally funny video games and while the first Matt Hazard didn't exactly light up the sales it did tickle a lot of funny bones. With the release of Matt Hazard:Blood Bath and Beyond coming up quickly we shot over a few questions to Brian Etheridge, the producer of the game, to see how this game differed from the first one and what we can expect from Matt Hazard's upcoming adventure.
What's the skinny on the plot of Blood Bath and Beyond and how does this tie in with the previous Matt Hazard game?
The skinny is this… Matt is in trouble and only Quentin A. Meyers (previously known as QA) knows what’s going on. General Neutronov, one of Matt’s many arch nemeses, is running amuck on the Marathon Megasoft game servers. He’s hatched a plan to get rid of Matt Hazard forever by kidnapping the old 8-bit Matt Hazard and putting him under 6 feet of digital dirt. Of course, Neutronov will have to drag the old 8-bit Matt through 8 levels of Marathon’s classic back catalogue of games; old gems such as Chest of the Pirate Queen, the ill-fated Legend of the Death Wuzzles, and of course The Adventures of Matt in Hazard Land, Matt’s first digital foray.
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond technically takes place after Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, but the storyline is not really a sequel to the events of Eat Lead.
A lot of people have noticed that the game is similar to another XBLA game that rhymes with "Fadow Somplex", can you describe how the game is different from the other title? Could you talk about the inspirations behind the game?
Well, it’s actually funny that so many people have drawn the conclusion that we’re going after “Fadow Somplex”. Not only was Blood Bath and Beyond announced first, but it seems that some people haven’t been scouring Wikipedia for Matt Hazard backstory like they should have. In 1993 Marathon Megasoft’s Dark Outpost was the first 2D game with a flashlight that mysteriously made things glow in different colors. Funny how things come full circle, isn’t it?
In all seriousness, there are huge differences. They obviously share some major characteristics (like both being side-scrolling shooters), but the gameplay is drastically different. Many have said that Super Metroid was inspiration and that Fadow Somplex was not meant to be Contra. I would say that, from the start, Contra and Metal Slug were huge inspirations to us. The constant stream of bullets, enemies, and blood is what we wanted. We wanted to bring that old-school quarter muncher feel to XBLA and PSN. Also, we built the game to be a co-op experience from day one. I’d say that those are the main differences.
Matt skewered a lot of video game figures and genres in his first go around, what kind of feedback did you get from people inside and outside the industry about the parodies in the game? Did you think you were too harsh or is there room to further lambast the industry?
Giggles, chuckles, gasps, the occasional “Oh no you di’int”… those sorts of things. Generally, the industry people would ask me things like, “Aren’t you worried that you’ll get sued?!?” but the regular folks just laughed.
All the things that we played at are things that gamers recognized. Some of them were things that kind of ticked us off, but most of them were just industry clichés; things that we all knew about in the backs of our heads.
There is plenty left to parody, but this time around we are not telling the same kind of story as in Eat Lead. Blood Bath is a totally different type of game and the comedy comes more from the action than the dialogue (Though the one-liners remain a hallmark of the series). With BBB being so fast and frantic, we knew that we had to rely more on visual humor… like a giant, mutated penguin puking its guts out. Not your cup of tea? How about pack of pirates getting turned into crispy chunks by Matt’s flamethrower? I don’t understand why you don’t think this is funny…
Regardless, the levels themselves are filled with enemies you will think you have seen before and areas you will swear you have visited in a past gaming life.Other than length how does developing a downloadable game differ from developing a full length game?
I think the main difference is that you have to come at the design from a different angle. When you pay $60 for a game, you either expect an epic, movie-like experience, or you’re looking for a sports game with like 5,000 real athletes with true-to-life stats (only .01% of which you will actually use when playing because you’re such a diehard fan of team X).
When designing Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond, we wanted to offer something that could be played in shorter sessions, but could also be played over and over again. The levels are meant to challenge you to improve your score, get a better time, kill more enemies than your buddy did, rank higher on the leaderboards, or find all of the collectibles.
We also have a difficulty mode called “F*ck This Sh*t”… I think the name speaks for itself. You die with 1 hit and the enemies fire twice as often. This is for those people that love a challenge, love Achievements and Trophies, and love playing other games that involve a safety word and vinyl pants.
The previous Matt Hazard game did not fair well with reviewers and consumers. What lessons did you learn from the first game that you are applying to the new one? What ideas/concepts did you keep from the first game?
For all of the reviewers that knocked us, there were a lot of critics that understood what we were trying to do. We made a lot of core gamers laugh. We all viewed that as a huge win. We also established a character that, even if people didn’t love the game, they still talked about him as if he was this beloved video game icon. We created a back story that resonated. Another win. These elements are sticking around.
As for lessons, we read a lot of the reviews and listened to what people said on the message boards. A lot of people were upset that they didn’t get to see more of the games that made up Matt’s backstory. We took that idea and ran. Also, people liked the collection of environments, but wished it was even more diverse. Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond is basically a collection of old Marathon games that were all sitting on the servers at Marathon Megasoft. These are all completely different games in totally different settings; a pirate ship, a Canadian Mountie base, a cruise ship. The humor, the diversity, and the whacky collection of characters were things that we kept and even expanded on.
What are the key components of a side scrolling shooter? What do you think is the most important design factor in this genre?
Key components depend on what you’re playing, I guess. Side-scrollers can be as varied as FPS games. To go back to the inspirations mentioned before, if you’re talking about something like Metroid, its lock and key puzzle upgrades and creating very specific enemy behaviors. For something like Contra/Metal Slug, the emphasis is the frantic pace, enemy variety, and the power and feeling of the weapon upgrades. If I had to categorize the types of play for those 2 examples, I would say that Metroid is a little more cerebral while Contra and Metal Slug are definitely more twitch or visceral (is that term too overused, yet?).
Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond definitely falls into the second category. I think the most important component is our pace. The game can be insanely fast at times with bullet dodging akin to Ikaruga. The amount of blood that coats the screen can be ridiculous (in fact, we had to tone it down more than once). The number of enemies rushing Matt and Dexter can be overwhelming. This is where we hang our hat. The game is over the top and begs the player to kick it up to the “F*ck This Sh*t” difficulty, just to see if they can survive.From the screenshots we've seen so far it looks like Matt has a wide variety of weapons to play with. Can you give us an overview of the weapons and talk about your personal favorite?
We have 10 weapons and they’re all pretty unique. From the famous “Hazard Gun” with unlimited ammo to the Plasma Rifle that can cut through objects and enemies. We really wanted the player to feel like they got something powerful when they picked up a weapon upgrade, so we decided to go with a limited ammo system for upgrades. When the player has one, they know they’re about to dish out some serious ass-whoopin’.
As far as favorites, the Laser Rifle is awesome because it makes you feel like Geordi La Forge when he made that bitchin’ modified phaser rifle and kicked some Borg ass (kinda), but my fave is the old standby; the Shotgun. What’s so great about the shotgun is that, if you’re close enough, you can take out 3 or 4 enemies with a single shot. What’s more is that it will gib every one of those enemies, ending their lives in a fountain of chunks. It’s something to see.
It looks like Matt's made a lot of enemies in his travels. Can you talk about some of your favorite bad guys in the game? Can you talk about the weapon design as well?
Initially, the bartender from the Hate Boat level was my favorite, just because of how it looks like he’s running up to bring you a Mai Tai, but then he tries to stick you with a shiv. The juxtaposition of hospitality and violence is really just a metaphor for the society we live in, is it not? (Bet you didn’t know that BBB was a socially-enlightened game, eh?)
All in all, my favorite enemies have got to be the Mutant Penguins from The Adventures of Matt in Hazard Land. These gelatinous, mutated beasts are a byproduct of a Soviet Cold-War era experiment gone seriously wrong. Not only can they projectile vomit toxic waste some 30+ feet, but if you’re not careful they will explode when you kill them, squirting their noxious bile all over the place.
The weapon design, in contrast to the rest of the game, was actually a little more traditional. We took some of the standard weapons that people love to have in 2D shooters and Hazard-ized them… Hazard-nated them… or whatever you call it.
Matt Hazard now has Twitter/Facebook accounts. Any idea of what we can expect to see Matt posting in the future? Is social media now an important part of getting the word out about your game and how does that change your approach to marketing the game?
That question is better served directly to Matt Hazard and his marketing buddies. Matt is always a very outspoken kind of fella. If he has an opinion, he will share it, no matter how honest it is. There is no sugar coating with that guy. And now with the support of a great marketing team, Matt Hazard has no limits. The marketing guys introduced him to social media and I swear he gets no work done as he is always posting on Twitter/Facebook. Everyone must join his page
and check it out. Tell Matt I sent ya.
We'd like to thank Brian for taking the time to answer our questions as well as Brandon for helping to coordinate the interview.