Real talk with Destructive Creations (Hatred interview)
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Hatred reveal trailer was released in October 2014. Destructive Creations, the company behind the "new-age Postal", was attacked by thousands of people online who saw their game as a huge danger for the society.
The team behind Hatred was accused of being neo-nazis, anti-islamic, anti-immigration - pretty much anti-everything and everyone. Because why would press cover a game itself when there are so many "interesting" topics to discuss, right?
Hatred launches on June 1st, 2015, exactly one week from the moment I'm writing these words, and it's about time people finally get to meet the team behind THE MOST anticipated game on Gamespot 50 list (via Gamespot). I've talked with Jaroslaw Zielinski, CEO of Destructive Creations, about running a company, outsourcing work, pre-orders and much more. Enjoy!
There has been a lot said about Hatred since its official announcement in October 2014, but not enough about Destructive Creations. How did you come up with an idea for this game, your own company and how did you manage to hire such an experienced team?
The story begins in September 2013 when I left my previous employer to become a freelance animator. For 6 months, I lead a lazy life making decent money, but decided that being just an asset-maker wasn't my life's goal. I always wanted to have my own project; I have a few ideas and know how to turn them into reality. I've chosen Hatred as my first game due to its fairly small size, in theory at least and started prototyping in February 2014 with the remote help of a programmer.
Soon after I began working on the project, I decided to start my own company in order to turn my prototype into a full-fledged game. I acquired initial funding and started talking with a bunch of friends that worked with me for my previous employer. Actually, Destructive Creation's team is made of people who previously worked together for years. Because of that we, as a team, are extremely productive. We instantly knew what each one of us should be responsible for, we knew each other's strengths and were able to start developing our game since Day 1.
We worked based on what I wrote in my "design document," which never actually existed; everything was in my head.
One of the main Indie Developers issues is money. Some of them use crowdfunding websites, others try to acquire initial backing from Venture Capitals or Angel Investors. How did you manage to get money for your company?
My company is pretty much a family business which has its pros and cons. The biggest issue with this was that I couldn't be flexible with the initial budget, but at the same time I knew I could fully trust my business partners and we all knew what our roles in the company were from the get go. Of course, when the buzz around Hatred grew, part of the development team tried to convince me to launch a Kickstarter campaign.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, I didn't agree on that. I thought, and I still do, that because we already have a budget for the whole project we should just stick to the plan. And on contrary to what some people might think, I do not like nor accept acquiring "easy" money which Kickstarter was at that time. I believe in more traditional methods which mean that you invest your own money and make a profit from your project (or you don’t). I also don't like crowdfunding - you respect your own money more, hence you're more productive that way. But I know that some people don't have a choice.
"You respect your own money more."
While trying to acquire initial financial backing did you have a prototype already or was it still just a concept?
It was mainly a concept supported by a mediocre prototype. To be honest, it simply wasn't necessary for me. I've created a prototype to show my team what I'm actually talking about and to prove that you can finally make something good in Unreal Engine 4 *wink*
You've officially announced Hatred in October 2014, but Destructive Creations came to life a few months earlier. How long have you been working on the game when you've decided to announce it?
We've started working on Hatred on June 1st, 2014 which gives us roughly 4,5 months of development.
Not many people outside Polish games' development industry know that at Destructive Creations everybody knows how much every person earns each month. Why have you decided to introduce full transparency in your company? How do you manage to run a team in which some people might not agree with the amount of money made by their colleagues?
I believe that the best feature of any CEO is fairness; especially towards your employees. My team knows exactly how much does running our studio cost every month, how much we made on pre-orders and what our salaries are - including mine. It makes us all feel that the company is "ours" not "mine" and we all do our best because we simply care about its future.
"The best feature of any CEO is fairness"
In fact, I treat Destructive Creations as something we’ve built together because I know that without these amazing people working with me I wouldn't be able to achieve anything. And just because in our team it was me who became the "boss" doesn't really mean anything - we all have certain roles within the project. Being a CEO doesn't make me better than the rest - it's just a job.
As for your question about the transparency, I made this decision based on my experiences. Trust between our team is built around transparency. So far, there wasn't a single person that didn't agree with his colleague's salary simply because salaries in my company are decided based on one's experience inside the gaming industry and his role.
For example, our programmers make the most; even more than myself. If I hired someone, there were situations when somebody else got a raise just to keep everything in its place.
Obviously, after Hatred's release, if we still have a company, there are going to be some changes because the level of engagement and usefulness is different for everyone so it's easy to understand that I won't be able to give an equal raise to everyone. Although, this was my plan in the beginning.
As a side note, I can say there's nothing worse than to learn that a new guy makes more money than you do at a company you've worked at for the past 5 years. Situations like these are extremely demotivating; I’ve experienced it myself. That's why I've decided to run my company the way I do just to avoid speculations and lack of trust. I recommend this business model to everyone.
Let's talk about the main topic of our conversation - your game. When did you come up with an idea to make Hatred?
It's hard to say. It was probably when I got disappointed by Postal 2 which, due to its wicked humor, took a different direction from what I was hoping for. I won't deny that I like the sequel too, but for other reasons. Postal 1 was a serious game and it had that vibe that attracted me in some way. I think because of an urge to become an evil human being that you're not in the real life.
For years, the idea of making a "better" Postal 1 was slowly growing on me, although I've always put it at the end of my „ideas” list. However, when the opportunity to make my own arose I've decided that Hatred will be the best pick for my new company. The name itself and core mechanics were developed during the prototyping process.
Why you, as an Indie Developer saying you're creating a "spiritual successor to Postal," have decided to go with a more realistic, black and white graphic design and not pixel art, full of "funny" comments made by the antagonist?
The game’s atmosphere and vibe one of many things that make Hatred stand out among other games. No one from our team likes pixel art and you can be sure that if we've made our game in 2d pixel art there wouldn't be anyone interested. And I'm not talking solely about the "shock value," but also our game as a whole.
Hatred looks good, especially when we take into consideration time, the size of the team and money that we spent. Honestly? I don't know any twin-stick shooter game created with such grandeur as ours. Also, talking about Hatred’s vibe, I pay enormous attention to what you see on the screen and how it co-operates with music and sounds.
It's dark, even surreal-dark at times. I asked a friend to play it once and he said, "because of that design and soundtrack I feel like a fucking psychopath." And that means we did something right. Our Antagonist makes comments or long speeches from time to time. Sometimes they are so evil that they're funny, but that depends on your sense of humor.
You mentioned that you make sure that everything players see on their screens play well with music and sound design. How important in-game sound is to you? Who made Hatred's OST?
I believe that in-game sound is 50% of the whole experience, so it's pretty important obviously. That's why I spent money to work with the best on the market - Adam Skorupa. We get along very well and that's why Hatred's soundtrack is so good. Sound and music are an important element of our game and they weren't marginalized.
The game itself and you've never denied it, emerged on its controversial theme. The controversy was also one of your main ideas behind marketing strategy, which you haven't denied either. However, were you expecting SUCH publicity? What were your expectations for the release trailer?
No, I haven't expected to make so much noise. After seeing what happened from the moment of releasing our first trailer, it is with great sadness I must say that political correctness have sprouted in our industry more than I've ever expected it to. I wasn't following and didn't know about all these scandals like GamersGate and Feminist Frequency. I didn't know who Anita S was; I wasn’t interested in all this crap.
"It is 'evil,' but hey - we had this already in 1997."
That's why I didn't know that we've stumbled upon a very fertile ground for our game and we stir up a hornets' nest with it. Especially, because it's not that shocking to me. It is "evil," but hey - we had this already in 1997.
We had no expectations towards the initial trailer, but it's hard to have any when you're blazing a trail. The world has already forgotten about Postal 1 and the whole series is treated as a comedy because most people associate it with Postal 2 and the movie. That's why we had no idea what's going to happen and what would be the world's reaction to it.
In the beginning, it was a bit overwhelming to me because of the amount of e-mails and interviews. However, I admit it's hundred times better than I could have ever dreamed of. We are now at our final stretch and everything's going to fine.
Your trailer had an amazing narrator. Where did you find the person behind the voice of the Antagonist and will we be able to hear him in the game?
Our Antagonist will also be the narrator throughout the whole game making fierce speeches or just throwing some one-liners. The voice actor wanted to stay anonymous under the name of "Clint Westwood." Adam Skorupa found him through some of his networks, but I don't know exactly where.
I know we're being very theoretical at this point, but what would happen if your first trailer didn't become a success and wouldn't create so much hype? Have you considered such scenario?
Well, our game still might turn into a financial disaster. That's when I pay back the initial backing, pack my stuff and start looking for a job. I've been telling my team from the very beginning that if our project fails we won't be running the company just for the sake of it.
However, if our trailer wouldn't create such a scandal around it I still think we'd find a handful of supporters. Whom, by the way, aren’t shocked by this game. They just want to have some fun and blow off steam in a game. There are many people like those I mentioned and we don't have to sell 10,000,000 copies to make enough money for our company to exist.
The biggest unknown, which at the same time was extremely exciting, was the whole "Steam situation." But since we've been allowed to sell on Steam officially I sleep like a baby. That's when I knew that if anything could go wrong it were our mistakes during the development process.
In one your first interviews you said that the game will have seven large levels and players will have access to a vast array of weapons. Have you managed to fulfill your promises?
Personally, I am extremely proud that we stuck with the plan. Actually, none of the features we planned for Hatred weren’t removed. Everything was planned around driveable vehicles; we were ready to remove it from the game should it turned out to be too much for us or if we wouldn't have time to finish one of the levels. Luckily for us, none of these situations happened and we managed to accomplish our goals with no cuts.
On the other hand, what I feel is even more important is we didn't add any additional features during the whole development process. Obviously, during focus tests, people said we needed things like a mini-map or side-quests to lead the player through our open levels, but these were some minor add-ons.
One of the many errors companies make is pushing new, large and unplanned features to their game. Features that take too much time and cost too much money. The game is just getting bigger and bigger and when the push comes to shove the team has a problem because of the lack of time.
Same thing with changing game's concept during the development phase - total disaster. And I know many examples where this happened. I controlled both myself and the team not to fall for this trap, although it was sometimes really tempting since what we do is creative work.
"Our game is 100% complete."
When situations like those arose I always told my team that we "stick to the script and if we'll have some spare time we can think about adding new stuff." The result of my decision is our game is 100% complete (according to the plan).
We've also made it on time and it looks like I managed to lead the team, and proved myself as a manager. But this is not just my success - it's ours. Because we all worked hard and poured our hearts into Hatred for the past 12 months.
I'll also go back to the initial question: I don't know if 10-12 weapons can be called a "vast array" and I've never said it was *wink*
Have you outsourced some of your work during the development process? What are you experiences working with freelancers?
Yes, we outsourced sound, music and character, vehicle, and weapon design. However, you should phrase the question differently - how do freelancers like working with me (wink). And from what I've been told they actually do like it¬. Probably because I used to be a freelancer myself and I know what are the most annoying features of this job.
First of all, communication problems with your employer. That's why I'm trying to be as available for the freelancers as possible and provide them with feedback as fast as possible. Secondly, there's your creativity space. Very often, employers want to show you that they know more about your job than you do, which usually isn't true.
Situations like those often end up with millions of small changes which, in the end, damage your work. I don't pretend I know more about character design from a person who's been doing it for years. That's why the number of iterations is small and everybody is happy.
You've launched pre-orders on your website in January 2015, which could be seen as a risky move. Why have you decided to take this road and have you managed to reach your goal?
We couldn't sell pre-orders in any other way. Steam runs pre-orders with trusted partners and we are a new team. I didn't have a specific goal for pre-orders, but we've managed to hire three additional people we needed. I was able to get more music and make the game more awesome without overspending.
Pre-orders were highly important and helped us a lot. They were also a great motivational booster. I am super happy that there are so many people who trusted a new company and our game.
During pre-orders, you could not only order a game, but also buy a t-shirt. How did you cope with sending all those t-shirts around the globe? Would you add physical rewards in the future?
We made t-shirts in Gliwice, Poland. We assemble the packages in our office and deliver them worldwide through the closest post office; we went old school with this. It's awesome that people are happy with the quality of the product because it's good - it's not a cheap-ass rag with something printed on it.
"For me, the community comes first."
We will definitely keep selling stuff, especially because our fans want more merchandise. They've just recently spotted our company cups with a logo on them. We don't want to disappoint our fans. For me, the community comes first.
You haven't said anything about a retail copy of your game thus far. Have you managed to find a publisher?
One thing we know for sure right now is that if retail copies will be available, it won't be in parallel with the official release date. We've been talking with a publisher for a while, but his resellers are a bit afraid of our game. We'll see what happens, but a boxed version was never our priority. Our goal is to continue operating on digital sales.
What are your plans after the release (June 1st, 2015)? Are you planning to create free expansion packs or add some new features?
First, we want to take a break; we really need holidays. Then we want to release Hatred Development Kit and video tutorials for the modders' community. If the game sells well, we will create a free expansion pack with a few new Single Player scenarios, Co-Op and Multiplayer (which I'm personally waiting for the most). One group continues working on the expansion pack, others will focus on our new, unannounced project.