Updated: Feb 19
So hot right now
I recently wrote up a review for the groundbreaking first-person shooter that is SUPERHOT. I’ll never forget seeing it listed on the PlayStation Store and recalling how someone had recommended it to me only recently (thanks, whoever it was). It was late, and the idea was to have a browse so I could see if there was something interesting I could play the following day. In a way it was a terrible idea, as I was up for hours more and could not sleep. Everything from the strong, unique visual identity, manipulation of time and unsettling story were making the synapses in my brain fire on all cylinders.
After a day or two I had completed the main story and started on the extra challenges, and I thought to myself, who are the people behind this innovative shooter? After some googling, I visited the website of Team SUPERHOT. The levels of transparency and openness I found on their website was really encouraging and got me to thinking that maybe, just maybe there might be an opportunity here to learn some more about them.
So I took a shot in the dark and emailed the SUPERHOT Team. Lo and behold, I received an email back super quickly from Paweł, who was more than happy to receive my questions. It was an opportunity to chat with one of the up and coming, preeminent development houses in Europe and I couldn’t be happier to have it!
Got to ask this right away. The Superhot concept of time moving normally only when you move, is simple and brilliant. It immediately hooked me in. What was the inspiration for such an innovative take on the FPS genre?
“Piotr Iwanicki (who came up with the overall idea for SUPERHOT) was and still is a huge fan of flash games and one of his favourites was Time4Cat - a game about a cat crossing the street in which time would stop when the cat wasn't moving. This was the original inspiration for the mechanic and it was brilliant. As far as I know there were some differences in the mechanic (its fluidity etc.) but this made Piotr's creative cogs moving. He had this idea of "hey, but if you use such mechanic in an FPS game, you suddenly have to rethink your whole strategy" and that's what blazed the trail for his and the team's work at 7DFPS Game Jam that brought us the first prototype of SUPERHOT.”
The other key factor which attracted me to Superhot, was the stylised, minimalist and distinctive aesthetic. I'd love to know the influences behind this, was it stumbled upon or were there plans for the red/white/black look from the beginning?
“The "tricolor" aesthetic, if you will, was kinda there from the start, but we went through some iterations before we've found the exact style we were happy with. The whole point of SUPERHOT was to boil the FPS genre to its very core so minimalism was quite a logical choice and color coding the whole game seemed necessary and natural. Do not take my word for it, though - here you can find more info on this, in the artbook straight from our Art Director, Marcin Surma: https://superhotgame.com/origins/”
The improvisational and strategic nature of the gameplay really makes it stand out amongst the crowded FPS market. Were the gameplay decisions around Superhot chosen as a reaction to what is going on in the genre?
“Indeed, the main idea was to create an FPS that takes the precise nature of FPS games with an added twist of now so-called SUPERHOT time mechanic, and cut all the fat off, get rid of what's just smoke and mirrors. Additionally. it was Piotr Iwanicki's goal to make it feel fluent, natural, and instinctive for everyone. At the same time, some difficulty was needed to make it enjoyable, so that's where the tactical side of the game had to come in.
We're still not sure if you can make something accessible, instinctive, and tactical at the same time, but from what you say it seems like we did it. Glad to hear that!”
The way the narrative plays out is certainly intense and quite harrowing at times. I can see some influence there from the likes of The Matrix, and even Metal Gear Solid as well. Are there any other notable influences for the story?
“Frankly, it's not like we could point to a certain element of the game and clearly say "yeah, this was inspired by X", but I can tell you for sure that our designers have mentioned the Videodrome movie as one of the inspirations and some people from the team seem to appreciate They Live, but it might've been just subconscious inspiration.
It's more about the themes, and themes (as we know) are not really exclusive to any work of art. Maybe just treat this answer as more of a recommendation to watch those movies because we like them, than a clear-cut reference list.
So, it's impossible to point out clear references for the whole game but I'm pretty sure you'll notice that some levels or secrets refer to popular culture pretty heavily, like, for instance, the Oldboy level. If you think you've spotted some reference - ask others if they feel the same!”
Continuing on the narrative side of things, the way it develops from level to level ramps up the unsettling atmosphere. The messaging around submission and releasing control is quite powerful. What was the creative process like for this?
“The process was hectic and full of ideas, frustration, cutting off the fat, adding some new stuff, cutting off some of the new stuff. Therefore, it was not unlike what creative process generally looks like. There was much deliberation about how far one can and should go to keep it tight, on point and striking, but not primitive. Much of the "for fun" ideas were thrown away, and many iterations were needed to agree on how the team wanted to perceive the SUPERHOT style, general paradigm behind our level design, and - of course - messaging.
In the end, one of the principles was to let the player answer the questions instead of handing answers. Did it work? We wouldn't dare to answer that for you. We sure hope it did though.”
The development of Superhot is quite the story, from what I understand - Developed during a 7 day challenge in 2013, to browser game, to full release and even a VR version. Could this type of success have been anticipated back in 2013?
“It was a ride for sure, but we totally knew that it would be... No, for real, no one even suspected SUPERHOT would ever end up where it is right now. The original team working on the title was, essentially, a couple of guys trying to make something fun and looking for people who might like the game and tell others this game was worth checking out. No one really expected anything remotely resembling what is usually called success, but they did their damn best to make the game itself worth recognition. And thanks to some smart decisions and unusual approach to the FPS genre that seemed pretty much stagnant at that point, SUPERHOT became what its title might suggest.
Of course, it was surprising and one might say there was a bit of luck in all this, but one should remember that luck alone means nothing - you need to foster it, steer it clear of any misdirections and make yourself and your game worthy of attention.
That's what we're doing up to this day and don't really plan on stopping anytime soon.”
I have yet to play Mind Control Delete, but from what I understand this is the most refined Superhot experience available yet. Is this indicative of future plans, this iterative? Or dare I ask, is there something entirely new on the horizon for the team?
“Couldn't say anything about anything new even if I wanted to because at the moment we focus our efforts on SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE and whatever game ideas we might have at this point - this will be a matter to consider after we have polished MCD to crystal clarity. MCD itself started out as an idea for a DLC - "a couple of maps, maybe", but then we weren't really happy with it, so it went through many iterations and grew to a size of a full game, a younger sibling of SUPERHOT, if you will. A younger, but beefier sibling, even. This time the goal was to really explore the possibilites of SUPERHOT gameplay, while still keeping in mind that it should be fun and feel natural - that's why we made sure that every ability and every hack you can get in the game has real impact on the gameplay and discussions about what's best should always be based on the player's personal style rather than some sort of mathematical comparison of what gives you 0.1% more efficiency.
With more levels, more powers, more enemy types, more little bits of lore and more in-game, level- or even progression-based story development, SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE surely will give you MORE and MORE of what you loved in SUPERHOT.
Some of those new elements are totally optional, though. You can complete the whole game without choosing any flashy new ability or reading any lore bits. If all you want is just more crystal people to shatter, you can do just that. You choose how to play MCD.”
With the pandemic affecting the world over, has this impacted the team's work? Has there been difficulty in adapting to regulations and guidelines in your work?
“Frankly, I wouldn't say that the pandemic has affected us all that much, thank goodness. We were able to work remotely pretty much without any bigger issue though some of us might have felt a bit of isolation anxiety, which is perfectly normal in such circumstances. That's why we did our best to stay in touch with each other, organised some online non-work, casual meetings, played some games together.
If you think of it, despite all its flaws, the Internet might be one of the biggest blessings of humanity ever. Getting through a pandemic like this without means of instant, safe communication had to be really terrifying, historically speaking. Nowadays, even if you need to stay within the same four walls every single day, it takes less than a minute to talk to someone on the other side of the world. Even if you're forced to be physically alone, you can make it so that you're never truly alone with yourself.
Oh, and about four or five people at the company who were already thinking of adopting a dog, did so. Guess we'll try and let the doggos meet each other sometime to safely bring them to the office one day.”
Lastly - "Superhot is the most innovative shooter in years!" - Personally I completely agree with this, I love the placement of this phrase in the game and the meta facet of the overall narrative. You can't Google "Superhot reviews" without seeing it come up. Have you found this phrase to have had an influence in the games and their popularity?
“It for sure had. What indeed started out as a meta joke, had become a meme and this is one of the things we didn't truly expect. Of course, it had been put in the game with a little bit of ironic dream that it might actually work, but again - none of us expected it to be that recognisable. If I may be totally frank with you - I don't think it would even be possible to foresee this. Some people say the line and the way it's used is a bit cheesy, and they're right! It was supposed to be cheesy, a bit ironic, to fit the narrative, to bring the narrative even outside the game, to the community.
And it did just that. However, it was a huge gamble, and not a very safe one. There was some risk to speaking to the player so openly, not only bringing the fourth wall down, but stepping outside the screen, metaphorically speaking, so we're glad it really spoke to people and became the shortest game pitch we could ever imagine. Simple as that.”
A powerful insight into the minds of one of the most creative teams out there, I would encourage anyone, whether FPS games are your jam or not, to check out SUPERHOT. Take an FPS, add a dash of intelligence, a dab of strategy and bam! There is an exciting future in store for the team and for this franchise, and I for one am excited to see what comes next!
All images taken from the Superhot page here
Be sure to sign up on the site for all things Casual, and create your own Casual Game Community profile.
Have a great content idea that would be perfect for CGC? Contact us here and we’d be happy to chat!