One of the most refreshing things about the steady rise of independent games development over the last decade is the way that this shift has chipped away the conventions of how games are meant, supposed or expected to be. With a AAA franchise like an Assassins Creed or a Call of Duty, you more-or-less what you’re getting from the moment you pick up the box. By now, you know the drill. Tutorial to credits in about ten hours or less, depending on how deeply you delve into the collectibles and side-content.
However, when it comes to indie titles, these same rules don’t apply. Everything is up for grabs and experimentation - from the structure, form, style, scope to the overall tone of the experience. The upcoming Hello Neighbor embodies this new paradigm in good form.
Published by TinyBuild Games (No Time To Explain, Party Hard, Punch Club), the game is a first-person stealth sandbox game where you take on the role of a nosy neighbor. Your goal: to discover just what is making all those strange noises coming from the basement across the street.
It’s a quirky but not unexplored premise when it comes to film (Monster House, Disturbia), but games? Less so. Regardless, it’s nicely brought to life here by a distinctly Pixar-inspired art style and surprisingly hectic soundtrack that keeps you on your toes.
We had the chance to TinyBuild producer Karrie Shirou about the game (which exhibited at this year's PAX Australia) and how developer Dynamic Pixel have gone about refining an experience that relies so heavily on dynamic artificial intelligence.
As you play through Hello Neighbor, your titular nemesis will learn from your mistakes. Get caught after sneaking through the back door and he’ll start laying traps there.
It’s easy to imagine a situation where this escalation runs its course and eventually results in an experience that’s too difficult for players. However, Karrie insists that both TinyBuild and Dynamic Pixel have been working tirelessly to ensure that doesn’t happen.
She says that getting the game into the hands of players was crucial in terms of finding the right balance here.
According to her, “what we heavily believe in as a studio is [that is it is important to] play test all the time and, also, [to] get alphas and betas out to the players all the time.”
“They're gonna be the ones actually that are gonna really grind on your game, show you how it's played in ways you didn't expect. So that's why we did the alpha program, the beta programs. We've just been constantly releasing it.”
When asked about whether there were any plans for Hello Neighbor to make the jump from PC and Xbox One to other platforms - including the Switch - she didn’t rule anything out but emphasized that their focus was on the initial launch at this time.
“We love and work with all those platforms, we release on those platforms all the time, we don't have any announcements about it yet, but I imagine all our games usually come to most of the platforms.”
That said, the game seems an ideal fit for the PC - where streaming culture is at it’s strongest. Shirou indicated that the early-access build of the game had already garnered a lot of attention through Youtube and Twitch. From what we saw of Hello Neighbor, this isn’t a huge surprise. The game’s colorful aesthetic, accessible premise and sandbox style gameplay seems like a perfect fit for that audience.
Of course the most-important question for an in-development game like this is “when will it be complete”?
The game is already available through Steam’s early access program but, as for the full release, Karrie says players will have to wait until December 8th. She says that the game’s original release date of August had to be pushed back due to concerns about bugs and overall polish.
“We had all the content we wanted in, but it just wasn't playing how we needed it to so we opted to basically take that extra time, lock the content earlier, do the bug fixing and that's kinda where we are now: performance and bug fixing.”
The early access build of Hello Neighbor is currently available on Steam ahead of the game’s full release on December 8th.