At Gamescom, we had the chance to try out one of the areas in comedic first-person shooter High on Life. While it was a whole lot of fun, its humour has come under fire on social media since footage came out, with many already dismissing the game as “cringe”. Of course, comedy is subjective and very hard to get right, especially with how fast tastes change in the social media age. High on Live would have thrived a few years ago, but now it has to prove itself to a tired audience.
Wanting to dive into the game a bit more, I chatted with executive producer at developer Squanch Games, Matty Studivan. Pleased with the fact that I’d taken time in the demo to find all the hidden gags throughout the level (an area called “Little Shitaly”, a dude pissing in an alley, and much more toilet humour), Matty shared some more insight into how development is going over at Squanch, and what we can expect from High on Life.
TheGamer: The Rick & Morty comparisons were inevitable with High on Life, but was it a conscious decision to draw so much from the show’s comedy?
Matty Studivan: “We're fans of the show, and Justin Roiland is the co-creator of Rick and Morty. It’s also his voice [in the game] and this is his new IP. So this is part of his mind.
“We're all huge fans of his work, and huge fans of comedy. And we think that the comedy game genre can actually be expanded. Why aren’t there more comedies? I think it's because they’re very hard to do. What does comedy take a lot of? Iteration. What's really expensive in game development? Iteration. So it's something that we've really been trying to work on. And we admire studios that do.”
TG: A lot of comedy doesn’t land at first, and it takes time to get jokes right. Does this mean comedy games need longer development cycles?
MS: “We've generally taken a normal time for a game this big. However, what we do is we hire a lot of people from comedy and TV, not games. Our narrative director Alec Robbins did comedy TV for a while. And so he's like, ‘I know what we need to do to make something funny’.
“What we do is have a writers room where we let that happen for a period of development. We start bringing the script in, we get a huge cast – I think it's like 40 actors – and then once we have that we have a lot of tools for the designers [so they] can really work with Alec on the timing of the jokes.”
TG: So has this been quite an atypical game development cycle? Quite different?
MS: “I think so. I think the reason that games are so interesting is there's not a formula. I think we can apply specific processes to every studio, but like every studio and people are different. Every genre is very different. It's a reason why you can't make every game in every engine, and you have so many make their own engines. I think we've been able to release Accounting, Space Heroes, and then Trover because we've been able to evolve our own process to what works for us as a studio that needs that time to have an iterative process.”
TG: We all recognise Justin Roiland’s performance in the game, but are there any other familiar voices we’ll hear?
MS: “Yeah, so in the trailer itself there’s Jennifer Hale. We have Rob Schrab, Fred Stoller, Maurice LaMarche, Andy Daly – a great improvisational comedian – and a whole tonne more. And other guns are all voiced by actors. We're pretty excited about Tim Robinson from I Think You Should Leave, and J.B. Smoove from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Betsy Sodaro, excellent, excellent comedian. And then Knifey is Michael Cusack. We're really excited about the cast.”
TG: I’ve got to ask, does that mean there was a lot of improv in the recording booth?
MS: “Always. Like, what's so great about this is that we've had a great script that was funny to start with, and then once we get the lines that we know we need, Alec and the rest of the directing team work with the actors and we just kind of let them go.”
TG: How long does it take to complete High on Life?
MS: “[It will take] about eight-to-12 hours, depending on what type of gamer you are. And then there’s the collectibles, side content, so maybe up to 20-to-25 hours. There's a lot of nooks and crannies. And they're not your typical side quests[…]If you play Trover, some of the extra content we have is really just like finding extra jokes and the extra lines [of dialogue] from the characters. We also have a lot of different collectables, and a store that has some pretty special stuff in, that we weren't talking about yet.”
TG: Do you have any ideas for post-launch content?
MS: “The biggest thing for us is we want to make sure that we're supporting the game after launch for a long time, with bug fixing, and [adding] content that we couldn't get in.”
“[We’re] thinking about DLC, as always. With Trover, we supported it for a long time and that really paid off as a studio. And so I think we want to do the same with High on Life.”
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