Interview – Juxta-Pole-Position with Peter Hann
The term polymath hardly describes Peter Hann’s genius in all things he’s put his mind to. Peter was born near Hamburg, Germany, has lived in South America, and currently resides in East Germany where he runs his own Studio. After studying Design at Burg Giebichenstein he worked as a Teacher for Game Development using Virtools at the Games Academy in Berlin.
He eventually became a game designer with the now defunct video game developer Ascaron Entertainment. Ascaron was best known for its franchises like Pole Position, The Patrician, Port Royale, and the Sacred series. Peter left the company around the time it shuddered its doors and founded MonkeyHead Studios. As CEO and Project Lead, he employed 2 ex-Ascaron programmers – the rest of the crew consisted of his Friends and Colleagues.
Peter, with MonkeyHead Studios, began working on, a yet still unannounced, Playstation Network title for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe that had lasted for a 2 year development cycle. In 2010, sadly, development processes failed and MonkeyHead laid down for the long goodnight.
Always the optimist, Peter has since become a Freelance Designer working for a slew of great clients, all the while continuing to maintain his Indie Dev status from his early days at the academy. Currently, his day-to-day consists of graphics, game design drafts, product visualization, working on his Indie Project, Cyberpunk 3776, and being forced into this Interview against his will.
Me: Alright, Mr. Hann. Do you mind if I call you Peter, or do you prefer Peter “der Gewaltige” Hann?
Me: Let’s pretend I haven’t fanboy’d over your new title, Cyberpunk 3776, and I need you to pitch me the game. Go!
Peter: Well, the project I’m currently working on is called Cyberpunk 3776. It is mostly a classic Arcade style side-scrolling shooter in a post-apocalyptic setting where the Player fights an already lost battle against an alien invasion.
I was frustrated the day I started the project and I used my emotions to paint a picture of this utterly lost “World” where our presence has lead to a hopeless future. The “World” is ultimately lost, society has destroyed it through its very own avarice and disregard and now these Alien Invaders are just the last straw.
The Protagonist can’t win. It’s not out of resignation that he will lose. There is nothing left to return to. The “World” has died and the only thing left for him to do is fight his last battle until the bitter end. There is no hope to steady his thoughts, he stands purely for himself and what should have been. It is a really dark setting and I’m aware of that, but I like it that way.
Our civilization is heading to a dark future if we continue the current on our current direction, but that might be a different topic.
Me: We can come back to that topic during another Interview. After you’ve become “Gabe Newell” famous, I’ll call you up and you can tell me more about our impending Social collapse. Unless, of course, we’re all living in underground bunkers by then. What a buzz kill. Quick, talk about something happy!
Peter: Do you know the movie Ghost Dog, by Jim Jarmusch?
Me: I celebrate the Jim Jarmusch’s entire catalog, sir.
Peter: I like this inevitable path that things have to go no matter what. Everything moves on. Every hour, every minute leads to the inevitable “end”. Your only choice is to hold your head up high while walking down this road or crumble in a dark corner crying.
Me: What tools are you using to create Cyberpunk?
Peter: I am developing the game currently with Unity and Playmaker, aiming to release it in the first quarter of 2015. It is, somehow, a training project for me to get back into the saddle after the break I took from developing a short while back. Plus, I’ll get a chance to get comfortable with my new development tool, Pipeline. With this in mind I’m primarily developing for PC only, with support for gamepad and mouse steering. This game will eventually become an exercise in learning digital distribution for such small Indie titles.
Me: I’ve been fortunate to have seen the amount of effort you’ve progressed through in the conceptual and actualization stages of Cyberpunk, but how will you know that you’ve hit that point of the story where it’s just time to give up the ghost, compile a finalized executable and leave it to everyone else to make it their own story?
Peter: There is no such thing as perfection. When you finish a project as a developer, you might feel the strong wish to rebuild it all from scratch since you’ve learned so much by the end of production, but everything has to come to an end at some point. I usually tend to end a process as they start becoming different instead of getting better while I’m in production.
Most likely, if I mess it up and the result becomes worse, I’ll change it, but sometimes you can’t even look at it anymore by the end of it because you’ve spent so much time using so many parts of your being to put into it. Overall, it’s a progress, as you pointed out, and it has to end somehow. You have these things you have to do. You’re a designer. You have to start something new, and most of the time I am fully satisfied with that.
Me: How is changing your Design Software going for you? Any feelings one way or another?
Peter: I learned to use 3D Max during my studies and was introduced to Virtools. I’m not good with actual code and translating my ideas into syntax seems an extreme workaround for the way my mind works. So that in mind, Virtools came in handy because it heavily supported some kind of visual programming that kept me working with it for around 10 Years. Since it hasn’t developed any further I switched to Unity and Playmaker. They feel kind of similar in many ways.
I love to bring a certain emotion to life, make it breathe. A cheesy Example: I remember, as a kid, sitting at night by the Window when it was raining outside. Lightning lights up the sky, silhouettes of storm bend trees out there. Nothing more to hear than thunder and the constant white noise from tropical rain relieving earth from the overwhelming heat of the past days. Kind of peaceful being the only one awake sitting here at the Window in the dark.” This paints a Picture and with it comes an emotion that might be interesting to evolve further. And Game Dev is much more flexible and rewarding for me to bring something to life rather than making Short films or writing for example.
Me: Is this going to be your Break Out hit? Will this make a name for yourself and put you in those more “elusive” Indie Circles?
Peter: Not sure. If you’re asking me if I think I can make a living out of it right now – No, I don’t. I’m just one Game Dev of thousands out there, and sometimes this fact might be discouraging, but then I just point myself to realize that I am doing what I do out of a necessary need for creative expression. I do what I feel needs to be done by myself to gain something out of it besides occasionally receiving money. If one day enough people are willing to support me with money, that would be great and I would be honored. Until then I got to do it anyway and do some contract work at the side.
You pick a project that fits your abilities, get your projects done, finish them and don’t chicken out when it gets frustrating. I try to honor my audience with attention and collect as much feedback as I can get. Keep in mind that they don’t judge you, they just judge the product they review at the state it is in. At the end, that feedback is just someone’s opinion and you have to make your own decisions by the end of the day, but they can point you to some issues you might not be aware of while getting workblind during your development.
Often, clearing restrictions are my best friends in Game Design. Making different iterations and evolving variants while you’re searching for a new approach every time. I’m been a Game Dev a while now, but I took a break of almost 2 Years where I didn’t develop much more than just some rough game design drafts. I lost my way after my beloved start-up Monkeyhead Studio failed and needed some time to deal with that. Now I’m back feeling the Joy in spending countless hours at my desk and banging my head against the wall until some ideas drop out. Currently my typical week varies from ~5 to 90 hours. I love to work when I’m “in the Zone” and sometimes I need to do unrelated things to get me motivated where I need I to be.
Me: Is it just you doing the Studio thing or are you working anyone else?
Peter: Overall I like to work with other people, it can be very motivational if you find the right match.
Currently, someone from Finland is supporting my current Project Cyberpunk 3776 with awesome voice-over recordings – I appreciate his help a lot and this kind of support gives me the push to go on with my work at days when everything seems unpleasant, difficult and unlucky.
Me: Do you think the Indie Game Scene should have a Standards and
Practices like other larger ecosystems?
Peter: Could be helpful to be organized as long it doesn’t build up harsh barriers for new developers to participate. The Consumer is looking for a great game to play fitting their personal preferences and there they are, side by side on the same digital shelf, Indie Games and AAA Titles. And it took a lot of work to get into marketing while pulling yourself away from developing new gorgeous games
Of course things get blurry as soon as Indie Games compete with the production value of, at least, AA Titles, but like I said before, the smaller Indie Dev is able to risk something and get away with it, while the Big Corp. has to sell a minimum of 1 mill+ units to break even these days. It can be difficult to be seen at the market with a new product if you’re a One-Man-Indie-Dev Company, so a possible entity with greater reach and access to more distribution platforms and bigger audiences is a great possibility for Indie Devs.
Me: Everyone has a favorite game series or a memory from a some game that changed their outlook on games or just wowed the hell out of them. Is there something you think you’d like to have worked on that would give people an emotional attachment to that game?
Peter: I like post-apocalyptic settings and I dig the original Fallout Series. I loved the atmosphere from The last of Us, also Jagged Alliance is one of my all-time favorite games, and making a real Syndicate follow up would be awesome. But I’m not sure if I would like to destroy my point of view as a gamer in exchange to work on such a title.
I can get excited about lots of stuff, however one bigger thing I would like to do might be Backdrop, Franz Stradal’s Project I helped pitch a while ago, but we couldn’t get any serious funding until now.
I worked with Sony Europe while I had my start-up. It opens a door to bigger projects as soon you got certain funding and a strong team instead of working all alone in your basement. But with that comes a lot of restrictions and huge expectations. You have to be aware of that, as I wasn’t back then. You’re trading one thing for another at this point.
Working on a game with a bigger team makes me lose that kind of naivety that makes
you appreciate the unknown while discovering this “new world” and make it yours. The biggest Productions I worked on where Sacred 2 and Dark Star One and I just can’t look at them anymore as a Gamer. I sometimes think I would like to finish the two Games we started with our start-up – but not sure if it would feel depressing after a short while. Maybe I’ll find out some day.
Me: Thanks again, Peter. I look forward to talking with you again.