Welcome to Hanwell is a brand new indie horror game to hit our computers. The town used to be a safe haven from the monsters that roamed the streets, but this is no longer the case. It’s now up to you to protect yourself, whether by fighting back, or running for your life. Today we talk to Nathan Seedhouse, the developer of the game, to find out just how he created a vast world with horrors around every corner.
1) How many people worked on the game? What challenges did you face, not having the big team of people many developers have to hand?
Just 3. There was me, the sole developer, Niall Voice who created 3D props for the game and James Elsey, our composer. Animation was the biggest development challenge I think, since we didn’t have nor could we afford to hire an animator. I just had to do it myself by driving poses dynamically and using/combining animations already made and available. The overall biggest challenge though was getting enough people to care about the project. Especially in the early days.
2) What inspired you to make the switch from film-making to game creation?
It just kind of fell that way, Epic released Unreal Engine for free and I saw an ad so decided to try it. Six times, I tried and gave up six times but on the seventh I forced myself to keep going, it’s daunting at first but I really wanted to do it. Also, the cost of making even a short film is quite high, much lower than ever but still relatively high. I love making films but really, you need money from the start, even if it’s a few hundred quid to feed your crew and pay for their travel, which is generally expected of the director. That’s on top of whatever £1000’s you already spent on kit. After which you upload to YouTube for a few hundred views, I did this because I love the process, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t afford it.
3) What differences are there between storytelling through film and through a game?
Anticipating your audience. In film there are some easy tricks you can pull to make sure the viewer is looking where they should be, in a video game, especially a nonlinear exploration style game like Welcome to Hanwell, this becomes a much more interesting challenge. You have to anticipate absolutely everything a player would potentially do. The story can even be bypassed altogether if that’s their choice. This would need anticipating as well, so if a player decides to do this they will still have fun. I did this by running a number of systems that would cause stuff to happen based on what the player is doing – this leads to fun little “micro stories” that form and are told naturally.
4) Hanwell’s a creepy town, and has already been widely likened to Silent Hill. Did the series provide some inspiration? Did any other games, or films, influence you?
Absolutely, Silent Hill was the single biggest influence to the game early on, but as we progressed we unintentionally introduced aspects of games like Resident Evil, Dead Space, Evil Within and Outlast. I think, or at least hope, despite all the inspiration we drew from various horror games, that we managed to create something that feels fresh, especially with the very limited resources we had available.
5) How do you strike a balance between making the player hide, and giving them the chance to fight back? Many games will opt for pure combat, or stealth, but not both.
At first, it was purely a hide and seek sort of game, there are these crawling crisped up girls that roam Hanwell and attack viciously on sight, this was terrifying, but got very old quickly. I did some research and a lot of players were discussing how they were tired of hide and seek style horror gameplay anyway. So, I introduced combat. I found this fun but it killed the tension of these things being around while ever you had a weapon. After this we introduced different types of enemies that made this combat mechanic a little more varied with different approaches to different scenarios. But we were still missing the thrill of running from something. Enter The Brute. He was our stalker AI that is ever-present in the world and can show up at any time. You cannot fight him and if he catches you it’s game over. I think this completed the package, both combat and a persistent threat of this guy showing up.
6) Cubed was created in Sheffield, so we were delighted to see Leadmill, a cultural landmark, appear in Hanwell. Why Leadmill in particular? Is there more than a bit of Sheffield in Hanwell?
My artist Niall works there. I asked if he wanted any specific easter eggs in the game and he said Leadmill. That was it. We’re actually working on the interior to add as an update, so I’m sure there’ll be some creepy stuff going on in there. There’s also some Hendersons Relish in the game, obviously.
7) Welcome to Hanwell is a really tense, visceral psychological thrill-ride, but it’s also an open world in which players can forge their own story. How did you come to build a world that manages to tick all those boxes?
By subtly making the player do what they should be doing. We communicate that they need to be somewhere, but how they get there is up to them. When they arrive, and enter the building they were heading for, the gameplay switches up and it becomes a much more linear game. The environments are still very open indoors and we still encourage exploration, but there is an A point and a B point and you need to move between them. As oppose to being outside where there are C, D, E, F and G points. In any order.
8) What have you learned from a creating a game from scratch?
The skills I picked up are too many to say, we’d be here all week. As for game design overall, I learned that it’s difficult. But not as difficult as you’d expect, so I’d definitely encourage anyone interested in it to just give it a go.
9) Do you have any plans for future games – perhaps a return to Hanwell?
People with a Vive or Oculus VR headset will be almost literally stepping into Hanwell very soon. As for other stuff, I don’t know yet, I want to try something completely different, something less ambitious definitely, but something no less fun.
Welcome to Hanwell is available now on Steam. You can find the game at: