Catching up with Hyper Luminal Games: “We’re really passionate about accessibility. Our stories are universal, so we feel our players should be too”
We last checked in with Dundee’s Hyper Luminal Games in 2018 as it was about to release its debut, Big Crown: Showdown, a multiplayer combat platformer that preceded Fall Guys and that in hindsight shares more than few similarities – all of them good, apart from perhaps not being quite as successful. Since then the studio has gone from strength to strength and as well as completing work on the educational business sim Venture Valley, has two new titles deep into development, Pine Hearts and Cloud Jumper – both of which look like future contenders for 2023’s MCV/DEVELOP Game For a Better World Award. Keen to find out more, we fired off some questions to Hyper Liminal co-founders Stuart Martin and Rob Madden, CEO and creative director respectively.
It’s been four years since MCV/DEVELOP profiled your first release. What have you been up to since and how is 2022 shaping up?
Stuart Martin: After the release of Big Crown Showdown in 2018, we began engaging with various work for hire developments – working with clients in the US and UK. We continued the growth of our team scaling from the 10-person team at Big Crown’s launch to the now 50+ strong development studio we are today. We have remained committed to building out original IP titles and experimented with multiple prototypes before finally settling on Cloud Jumper and Pine Hearts to take forward as our next self-owned releases. 2022 is shaping up to be our best year of trading to date. Exceptional team growth, fantastic development partners and an incredibly strong pipeline of work through 2022 has provided us with the confidence to commit a major investment into the development and self-publishing of Pine Hearts – due to release in the first half of 2023.
Looking back at Big Crown Showdown, it appears to share many ideas and features with Fall Guys – and of course preceded it. How do you look back on the game in that context?
SM: We knew we were onto a winning formula with Big Crown Showdown. Play tests and event attendance let us see player engagement was great and the frantic nature of the combat created real excitement. The comparison to Fall Guys is purely a matter of resource and experience – we had the fundamentals but lacked the resource to reach the same ambitious heights. We know what we did well and what we didn’t deliver on – it’s only a matter of time before we get our own “Fall Guys” success!
Your second major project has been Venture Valley. How did that come about?
SM: We had initially engaged with The Singleton Foundation to build Venture Valley in late 2019 as part of a co-development opportunity. The project is hugely ambitious with a real “games for good” value at its core. The Singleton Foundation aims to provide opportunity and inspire entrepreneurship through teaching financial literacy. Venture Valley is one aspect of their mission to showcase the fundamentals of business operation within a fun and engaging interactive game. Deploying games technology to provide more than just entertainment is something the team is incredibly passionate about and fits with our wider studio ambitions. In 2021 Hyper Luminal took the reins of the project and are now the primary developer working directly with the Singleton Foundation to achieve its goals.
What’s it like to work on a not-for-profit project – especially one that’s designed to reward gameplay that seeks profit?
SM: Hyper Luminal’s roots in creating interactive experiences that bring games technology to other industries/sectors made us the perfect fit for the project. Venture Valley’s not-for-profit business model is only possible due to the Singleton Foundations generosity. The aim of the game is to teach fundamental skills in financial literacy and entrepreneurship hence the gameplay must buy into the idea of cash flow and profitability from a gameplay perspective. The need to generate money is critical to a business’s operation and knowing how to manage money is an essential life skill. The game itself will remain “free” to allow for greater accessibility for our players and allow it to target the diverse demographic it is targeted at.
You are committed to games being used for good. How does Venture Valley embody those values, and how are you continuing to uphold them in your other projects?
Rob Madden: The concept for Venture Valley has been built from the ground up as a game that offers more than just engaging play. The whole ethos of the project is to improve the financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills of players, particularly those in impoverished areas with a lack of opportunities. The game is completely free, accessible across multiple devices, and backed by a charity with an incredible history of philanthropy in the financial education sector. This has made it a perfect fit for our Studio.
Further to this, the Studio continues its focus on games for good in all developments; from gamified living aids for a UK housing association, to our own in-house developments that put sensitivity and accessibility at the heart of the experiences.
Cloud Jumper and Pine Hearts both seem like games that the world needs right now. What inspired them?
RM: Both games are born from a desire to build worlds that welcome players. They offer chilled out, contemplative experiences that focus on telling stories with sensitivity and standout aesthetics. Our games are often surprising too in their depth and nuance of emotional storytelling; both games on the surface appear to be simple adventure games, but underneath are stories of loss, grief, love, happiness and hope. We’re also really passionate about accessibility, and we spend a great deal of time considering how best to build games that players of all different circumstances can enjoy. Our stories are universal, so we feel our players should be too.
What are your hopes for both games?
RM: Our biggest hope is that these games create the opportunity to fulfill our OIP ambitions. We want to build a passionate fanbase that loves our stories and wants to support our team and studio message. We want to continue building bigger and better games that set the standard for effective storytelling and player accessibility. Finally we want to help other studios and content creators tell their own stories by providing business mentorship, development support, and game publishing, all from within HLG.
How has development been across your recent projects, especially during what’s been a difficult couple of years?
SM: We have been incredibly fortunate to have weathered such a difficult time and not only survived but thrived throughout it. We had a very smooth transition to a remote working setup in March 2020 and have continued to work from home throughout the entire pandemic. We have seen substantial growth in all areas of the business but not without its challenges. Rob and I both see games development as a collaborative art and working in isolation isn’t the ideal formula for creative success. We are only now just welcoming the team back to the office gradually and already seeing the in-person collaboration and creative bolster our team’s output.
What has been the biggest challenge for the studio over the last eight years, and how was it overcome?
RM: I think the most challenging thing has been maintaining a true set of values and culture within the studio over eight years of change. We’ve grown a huge amount over the years as the team increased, projects became bigger and clients more prestigious. No matter how much has changed though, we’ve stuck true to our vision of creating a stable business that puts people first and provides secure and fulfilling careers for our staff. The studio is still independent; the owners are right there with everyone else working day-to-day, and this has allowed us to build the studio we want it to be, not the one that the industry says it should be.
Apart from your games output, what are you most proud of as a studio? What has been a personal highlight?
SM: Hyper Luminal’s team values and culture sit above everything we do. We make many games as a studio, but we only have one team. Working together, looking out for each other, and pushing each other’s creative boundaries is at the heart of what we do. We invest heavily in skills development across the team and truly understand reward and growth within the studio. I’m incredibly proud of the team we have built at Hyper Luminal Games and I think our continued success through one of the most challenging periods of business in recent times is testament to the commitment and passion our team have for the studio and all the games that we produce.