Interview: Jonas Kærlev – Senior Designer of A Hat In Time
A Hat in Time is an adorable flashback to the era of Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Psychonauts and many more. Our own Paul James had the fortunate opportunity to have a chat with Jonas Kærlev, the Senior Designer at Gears for Breakfast, where they discussed the game, its inspirations and its ongoing development. Enjoy
Paul: Hello Jonas! Firstly, I must extend an enormous congratulations on everything that you and the team at Gears for Breakfast have accomplished so far. For those out there who are not familiar with A Hat in Time, could you provide us with a quick summary of the game?
Jonas: Absolutely! A Hat in Time is the adorable adventure of Hat Kid who is stranded on a big planet and has to explore the planet’s surface to recover all her fuel, the Time Pieces! Hat Kid can harvest the power of her hats, each providing her with a unique ability, such as the fox hat which allows her to see into alternate realities. She meets colourful characters, both friendly and rude, and she has to fight her way home!
P: A Hat in Time is in the eyes of many, a leader, along with Yooka-Laylee in a potential resurgence of 3D Platformers. What does it mean to be a major player in a resurgence that brings back so much nostalgia to so many players?
J: Wow, thank you! It’s really flattering to hear that our tiny indie team is considered a leader alongside a AAA developer. We’re really happy that so many players are looking forward to A Hat in Time, and we’ve been putting our all into providing an experience that is both nostalgic without being overbearing, and fresh while remaining familiar!
P:Given that A Hat in Time is a 3D Platformer in the ilk of Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and others of that era. Did these, or any other particular games serve as particular influences for A Hat in Time?
J: Yes! In particular, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Psychonauts have been huge inspirations for A Hat in Time. We really like the worlds and movement of Mario games, and we love the humor in Psychonauts!
P: What do you feel that time and the progression of technology has done to a game in this particular genre. Do you believe these developments have had any bearing on the game’s development?
J: I think player expectations have changed a lot throughout the years. In the 90s and early 2000s, players were generally OK with just being told ”go collect X things and you win”. Players of today seek an adventure, they want a cool story, premise and characters that’ll leave a lasting impression, and not feel like they’re just running through a laundry list.
For A Hat in Time, we took this to heart and created a cool episode for every single objective in the game. In Battle of the Birds, you’re running through an exploding train, playing detective in a murder and guiding a parade band through a busy town. In Subcon Forest, you sign your soul away to The Snatcher, and has to complete contracts for him in order to get it back. We’ve got a ton of episodes like this, and we can’t wait to share them with players when A Hat in Time releases this year!
P: The world of A Hat in Time is quite diverse and is wonderfully vibrant. Do you personally have any particular worlds that you’re especially proud of? Or do you find it to be like picking your favourite child?
J: Haha, that’s very tough! Every world in A Hat in Time has its own spin, such as the Subcon Forest featuring an all-new contract system, Battle of the Birds has you picking the side of either The Conductor or DJ Grooves in a turf war, and Sand ‘n Sails provides the player with a massive open desert to explore freely. Because of this, no two worlds can really be directly compared, they’re so different! Even visually, every world is completely different.
P: Being a Kickstarted game, the development of the game has been well publicized with playable betas made available to backers. What positives and negatives have come with having to be so open during development?
J: We post weekly updates to our backers and non-backers via our social media sites, and we’ve found that its a really effective way to get instant feedback on new features! People will be very vocal if there’s something they don’t like, and sometimes we contact those people directly to get a good understanding of their dislikes and concerns. This has helped immensely in judging whether a feature or segment is a good addition to the game.
The biggest downside is that you’ll have to be open about everything, you can’t leave anything out. This means you’ll have to explain very technical details in a way thats easily understood by a non-technical audience. Worst of all, if you do a poor job of explaining these details, your message will be butchered or skewed by word of mouth. So you have to be really careful about the messages you put out there!
P: The team is made up of a group from numerous people from different points around the globe. What bearing do you feel this has had on the games development, good, bad, or otherwise?
J: When working remotely, you can work in your PJs! Joking aside, I think working remotely works out really well for us, as people can spend their daily hours as they’d like, as long as work is done on time. It’s a very different approach compared to 9-5 office work, for sure!
P: A couple more specific questions about the game’s inner workings next:
When designing a game like this how conscious are you of filling space? How do you straddle the line of knowing when an environment is too cluttered versus too barren?
J: The worst disservice you can do to a game world, is to make it wide as an ocean but deep as a puddle. For A Hat in Time, the worlds we’ve created are really large, but we’ve made absolutely sure that there is no dead space, no area without a purpose. There’s always an objective, secret mission or reward in every corner!
Obviously, you should never go too crazy, as the result will be a very visually-cluttered, stressful and confusing world.
P: Are there objects or tools that you can collect that will allow the player to revisit previous worlds and access new areas?
J: Yes, there are! Hat Kid obtains new hats as she progresses, and these give her new movement options and abilities that allow her to enter new ground. For instance, the Hookshot Hat allows Hat Kid to attach to hooks and swing across gaps, which allows her to get further and higher than before!
P: Players who are drawn to these games are often the completionist sort. Will there be any sort of post game perks and rewards for those who do the time to see or collect all there is to do in the game?
J: One of our core design philosophies for A Hat in Time, is that the player has to be rewarded for completing difficult tasks. I won’t spoil it here, but there’ll be a lot of secrets for the hardcore fans to find!
P: Co-op play is a part of A Hat in Time. How difficult is it to balance a platformer such as this when you can have multiple playable characters present?
J: Really difficult, especially when players are so interested in beating eachother up! Luckily they can’t kill each other, but that’s always the first thing players try.
Players also tend to get in each other’s way, especially during tricky jumping; that’s why we made it so players can’t bump into one another if they’re doing a difficult jump, to avoid messing each other up on purpose!
Overall the co-op play is a very unique experience, we’ve found it to be really fun. We’re excited to see how players will play with one-another when A Hat in Time releases!
P: As we wind things up, a couple rapid fire questions, ones that I’m sure you’ve answered countless times already – when can players expect to play the final release of A Hat in Time, and what platforms will the game be playable on?
J: A Hat in Time releases this year, for Windows and Mac!
P: Given that your current plans are to see A Hat in Time release on PC and Mac, are there any long term plans in place that might see the game arrive on PS4, Xbox One, or even the Nintendo Switch?
J: No, A Hat in Time is scheduled to release on Windows and Mac OS X only!
P: If there’s anyone who had not yet heard of the game up until now, where can they go to learn more or to track the game’s ongoing development?
J: You can check out A Hat in Time on our website at http://hatintime.com/ and become a slacker-backer (which gives you access to the Beta Build)! We also post weekly updates on our Twitter and Facebook!
P: Jonas, a massive thank you to you for giving me and the Player2 readers your time. I wish you well in the continued development of the game.
J: No problem, thank you so much for your interest in the game!
Born and bred on the Super Nintendo era, Paul relishes any opportunity to sink his teeth into an RPG, action or platformer. Despite being an owner of all major platforms, Paul does have a particular love of the Playstation family of consoles – take only a few minutes to skim through his Twitter and you’ll see him ranting about the next big thing on PS4. We swear he’s sane.