We here at Gamnesia have talked about the Banjo-Kazooie style 3D platformer collectathon A Hat in Time quite a bit over the past few weeks, and with good reason. This game looks amazing. Several weeks ago, the new studio Gears for Breakfast launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $30,000. They passed that goal by more than just a little bit. By the end of the campaigns allotted time period, A Hat in Time had garnered over $295,000, almost ten times its original objective. Needless to say, all of the game's stretch goals -- ranging from a cooperative mode, to full voice acting, to extra worlds to explore -- were reached, and in fact, they were reached early enough that for the last few days of the campaign, an interminable stretch goal was added for one new song from famed Banjo-Kazooie composer Grant Kirkhope for every $15,000 the game received past the $200,000 mark.
To make a long story short, A Hat in Time's kickstarter campaign was a huge success, and we here at Gamnesia could not be happier about that, so we contacted the team to talk a bit more in depth about the development process, the inspirations behind the game, the team's goals for A Hat in Time, and even just a little bit about video games in general. William Nicholls, the team's lead environment artist and the great guy with whom we had the honor of speaking, has a lot of interesting and insightful stuff to say, so here you go!
You've explicitly stated that games like Banjo-Kazooie had a huge influence on A Hat in Time, but what exactly about those games was so inspiring to you? What sets them apart from other 3D platformers in your eyes?
For starters we felt that Banjo Kazooie had the right level of balance in the collecting things whereas Donkey Kong 64 went too far so that’s our first inspiration. We also enjoyed the wittiness that was depicted in all the Rare games so we’re working on our own sense of humor to put in the game. We also feel strongly about the music in Banjo, Mario, Zelda and hopefully our soundtrack will reflect that! Ultimately though it’s difficult to describe but the N64 adventure games had a level of emotion that evoked a sense of enjoyment and delight and we want to try and replicate that in A Hat in Time.
One of the most surprising things we know about A Hat in Time is that Grant Kirkhope is composing a decent amount of the game’s soundtrack. How did you get in touch with Kirkhope, and can we get a final count on the number of songs he’s composing for the game?
We contacted his email, asked him if he would be willing to compose some songs for our game and we worked from there. We’re still sorting out the best places to use his songs and it’s a lengthy process of weighing which songs are more important so I can’t give a final number just yet.
A Hat in Time looks like it's going to be an absolutely gorgeous game. How and when did this "Wind Waker meets Super Mario Sunshine" sort of aesthetic come about?
Quite early on. The game started off as a hack and slash prototype and the concepts drawn by Jonas Kaerlev (Director) had a similar style to Wind Waker. Back then only Trey Brown was working on the art so they followed that route for a few months. Then I joined the team and since my last project was Wind Waker inspired, it made the perfect fit. We slowly broke away from the features that made people think “Wind Waker” and developed our own visual art style. I also feel people are saying the game reminds them of Wind Waker / Sunshine because our first level takes place on a tropical island but make no mistake the later chapters are a far cry from those inspirations.
How was the idea for A Hat in Time born? Did the idea just come to you, or were you deliberately brainstorming ideas for a game?
Originally the game started off as a fun experiment in UDK (Unreal Engine) and was developed as a hack and slash adventure game. Early prototypes were made and a small fanbase was created. Jonas found the platforming to be more fun than the actual hacking and slashing though, so we decided to go in that direction. Eventually more members joined the team and the game became what it is now.
Was A Hat in Time ever planned to be a 2D platformer, or were you always aiming to make a 3D game, given the inspirations you’ve listed in the past?
It was always going to be a 3D game. 2D is great but our team has more experience working in 3D so it was a no-brainer.
Were there any runner-ups for what kind of game you would be developing? What would you be developing if not A Hat in Time?
No other games were planned. Jonas would probably have finished off his studying and then worked some dead-end job and the rest of us would probably be working on other projects or jobs.
You mentioned in your campaign promotion that creating a game with no budget takes a lot of seriously hard work. Just how much work did you have to put into A Hat in Time to get it to the stage we saw in the Kickstarter trailer? What obstacles does now having a budget help you overcome?
Oh it does. So much work. We started in August last year but work really picked up in January when we made the first / second level and we polished it all the way to June for Kickstarter. A lot of the team could only put in a few hours a day but several of the team members worked really hard so that it would look presentable to the public. With the money we can pay the team for their work and thus we can make more progress on the games development and its quality.
How did you like running a Kickstarter campaign overall? Did you ever think it was possible that you would hit all of your stretch goals? What about then going beyond even that up to over $295,000?
It was definitely an interesting experience. We didn’t expect to reach 30,000 but we made almost 10 times as much in the course of 30 days. We owe a lot to the fan base, the various streamers and our PR manager Gustav Dahl who worked hard to make the Kickstarter look good.
Have you enjoyed getting input from your backers? Has any one idea from a backer become a major element of the game?
Certainly. We’re always looking at what people have to say and taking it into consideration. Even a small idea can start a chain of thought! For example someone drew a nice picture of the lighthouse from the first act of the game and I particularly liked the windows they added so feeling inspired I made my own.
Obviously you’ve put tons of work into A Hat in Time, but what one tiny detail are you or your team most proud of? I mean something really small, so small that your players might not even notice it.
I suppose the only thing I can think of are our easter eggs. The game will certainly have its fair share of them and players will have to keep an eye out because some are quite mysterious.
I remember you saying you hoped to get the game out by early 2014. Are there any chances of a delay?
There’s always a chance for delay because game development is erratic but we’ll do our best to make the goal!
How likely is it that A Hat in Time will make its way to Wii U and what hurdles stand in the way? I remember you saying the game would need a publisher to make it to Wii U — why is that?
As we explained in the Wii U update post on Kickstarter, we are discussing deals with several publishers who have approached us. These negotiations take time as we want the best deal for us. We’re using the Unreal Engine which requires the purchase of a license to port it to consoles and it can be very costly. For now we want to use the money to focus on a PC version but a publisher can help us because they have access to a license we can use.
Obviously you guys are gamers. So what do you think it is about video games that sets it apart from other mediums?
The ability to experience these journeys and adventures firsthand is something that makes games stand out from movies and books. It’s also interesting to see the impact it has on each player because a game can be played differently each time and I find that fascinating. Games like Zelda: Majora’s Mask had a big impact on my life and taught me many things about the world we live in so we’re hoping A Hat in Time will leave its mark on the next generation of gamers and maybe someday we’ll have a game that revives the Hat in Time genre!
I'll leave you with one final question. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 both brought two legendary franchises into the third dimension in an era from which you clearly have drawn so much inspiration. Personally, which of the two do you prefer?
I cannot choose because they are both very different from each other and offer unique gameplay and experiences. (Personally I’m more of a Majora’s Mask fan hehe.)
So it looks like the revival of the 3D collectathon platformer known as A Hat in Time will still be coming out on at least PC early next year and hopefully on the Wii U at some point as well. I hope you enjoyed this exclusive interview with Gears for Breakast's Williem T. Nicholls, and make sure you follow this project because it should be a good one!
Now tell us what you thought of the interview and what you think of A Hat in Time overall in the comments!