When I received an invite for an appointment with Runic Games, I figured it was for another Torchlight project. Nothing had been announced, but at a certain point after seeing certain developers’ work those unfortunate assumptions happen. Then I was casually e-mailed the trailer to Hob. This is significant for two reasons: it’s a new IP and it’s a whole new genre for Runic Games. Now the developer best known for the ARPG to take on Diablo was making an action adventure game and that teaser trailer did exactly what it should. My interest was piqued.
That wasn’t the end of the surprises. Next thing I know I’m at the Hob booth and I am given a controller. No, it wasn’t a game running on consoles (although they did tell me it’s coming to at least one), but rather a Runic Games title on PC that used controllers. I had to pinch myself. Finally – and this was probably the biggest anomaly – members of the dev team sat down and without any intro, explanation of controls, or really discussion at all they simply sat back and told me to play. It’s rare at a trade show that a company can give you a proper demo or vertical slice of a game and not explain anything to you. That’s in a way exactly what Hob is. It’s an easy to pick up game that you just play, regardless of any factors, and during that process you will find a game purely about discovery.
I promised Runic that I wouldn’t break the cardinal rule of previews, which is to describe an upcoming title with an existing one (although for some reason I feel fine doing it in reviews). So let me paint you a picture and if you see parallels to anything, that’s on you, because while Hob may share features of games in existence it’s not defined by them. It’s an action adventure title, earning that genre because the game itself is all real time action but the concept of the whole thing is to explore a large world otherwise known as an adventure. I can’t remember honestly if I had a weapon or not at the start of the demo, but I was told that the main game would start me empty handed. With a little of looking around I would discover a weapon and perhaps simply see a button above my head that suggested how I could use it. The world was spread out with wondrous, colorful landscapes and minutiae, including a gently breezing patch of grass every few feet. Of course the first thing I did was slash at it and sure enough, I was able to cut it down. Nothing else happened – no item, no enemy, nothing – but I continued to do it anyway. Don’t ask me why, it just felt natural. The same happened when I came to an edge of land with land across a gap, I tried buttons until I found a jump and then I jumped across it. Platforming, in an adventure game, that’s somewhat unique. Okay so now I’ve got that down, lets see what else happens. The same unfolded for battles, climbing, and some cool acrobatics with my character’s arm gauntlet (which had a magnetic power on for the demo). Now I was definitely interested, I wanted more.
Runic Games was coy with us at the demo, which is fair considering they had only announced the game a week earlier, but I was assured there’s a lot more to it. Hob will feature a silent protagonist in a world that also doesn’t speak, but if it operates like I’ve seen so far I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. Apparently a mechanic was revealed in the trailer and demo that will be expanded upon in what the developers feel will be an incredible reveal, but what exactly that is could be anyone’s guess. It might be the use of light and dark or the fact that the world seems to be able to reassemble itself as I flipped switches, but I think the exact answer may be a bit more crafty (or at least complex) than that. Either way, I’m fine waiting for the full experience, especially when any screen can basically be a painting and there are hidden vistas that offer wide expansive views if you stand in the right place to take it in. In short, the foundation of a title I definitely want to play is there, but the worst part about seeing such a magical game right after it’s announced is that I will probably have a decent wait on my hands until I can experience it. I can’t wait.
Want to hear more about Hob from Matt Lefferts, the lead animator for Runic Games? We got to spend a half an hour with him at the developer’s office to discuss some of the finer points of Hob, game development, and PAX itself. You can find that interview here.