SUPER. HOT. Losing our virtual minds in SUPERHOT VR
 
 

One of the most visually arresting and innovative shooters of the past decade, SUPERHOT was a sensation from the moment it appeared on a web browser near you. Since those early days the team behind this ‘real time strategy puzzle shooter’ has found even more success with SUPERHOT VR, debuting today on Viveport.

As SUPERHOT superfans, we were thrilled to ask them some questions we’ve had on our minds for a long time. Szymon Krukowski, PR Manager and “generalist love spreader” for SUPERHOT Team, took time to talk from the team’s HQ in Łódź, Poland.

 

SUPERHOT began as an entry into the 2013 7 Day First Person Shooter game challenge. What came out of that?

The very first prototype of SUPERHOT was a browser game based on the (no longer supported) Unity Web Player. At the time this was the most efficient way to show a game to the widest audience possible.

SUPERHOT defined in one GIF. From the original prototype.

After the browser version went viral you went to Kickstarter to secure funding for the full game. Did you feel confident going into Kickstarter that you were going to get funded?

Of course we didn’t feel confident! Far from it. The whole Kickstarter campaign was quite a ride on an emotional level. On one hand we were excited about potential release of SUPERHOT and on the other, if we failed, this would show that there was no interest in our game. Fortunately, the community shared our excitement and the whole campaign was a success.

SUPERHOT Kickstarter stretch goals

SUPERHOT’s bullet-ridden stretch goals at the end of their Kickstarter campaign. Over 11,000 people backed SUPERHOT to more than $250,000 in pledges.

SUPERHOT’s visual style is very distinct. Was that partially because of the limitations on the initial prototype?

We knew from the very beginning that as a small team we couldn’t churn out AAA quality assets, so we had to do everything differently. The time limit and scarce resources [for the prototype] were actually very helpful in directing the art style of SUPERHOT. That is why our enemies are red, the background is white and black represents everything usable. You understand it from the get-go. This minimalistic and clear graphic style helped a lot in the process of designing clear clear-cut gameplay that our players would understand from the very beginning.There are no distractions, no unnecessary stuff to draw your attention to anything other than the gameplay. Everything serves the fluidity of the on-screen action.

Early artwork from the SUPERHOT Kickstarter.

Were there any specific influences that you’d cite on SUPERHOT’s art style?

I passed this question directly to our art dir Marcin Surma (AKA Xulm – @xulmmlux)

“There’s a lot of very obvious visual influences I could talk about but I’d like to spotlight some of the less obvious (and even less conscious) ones: Edward Hopper and Sawwa Brodski.”

'Nighthawks' by Edward Hopper

‘Nighthawks’ by Edward Hopper

Where did the core of SUPERHOT – ‘time moves when you move’ – come from?

Piotr Iwanicki – the brain and heart of SUPERHOT – is a fan of funky, Flash-based games of old. The sole concept of time manipulation came from playing Time4Cat, a Flash game about a cat that controlled time by walking. (Time4Cat is still able to be played online.)

After the Kickstarter was successful, was expanding the initial premise into a full game ‘easy’ in that you had a lot of ideas, or did you find you had to work hard to expand it?

The first few months of development were actually spent learning to make SUPERHOT. Changing a group of friends into a fully fledged team.

There were no problems with “expanding” the main idea. The hard part came when we had to let go of some concepts. Along the way we learned to resign from ideas that didn’t help the bigger picture.

Piotr Iwanicki, “the brain and heart of SUPERHOT”.

SUPERHOT has been described as an FPS, a strategy game and lots of other things. How do YOU define it?

Yeah, there has been a lot of different definitions. For me personally SUPERHOT is minimalistic, redefined first person shooter where the player is in charge of the action.

Honestly though I also fancy what gamechurch once wrote: “SUPERHOT is a game about porn.”

There’s a strong affinity for retro computing and gaming throughout SUPERHOT. What were the specific touchstones for you?

Yes definitely there is an influence. Most of us grew up still playing games on Commodore 64 and Amiga. These were truly iconic machines. Also the demoscene from the 90s was big on us, particularly on Marcin Surma – our Art Director. He is a big old school games aesthetic aficionado.

In the SUPERHOT artbook, Marcin Surma (in cartoon form!) breaks down some of SUPERHOT's visual influences.

In the SUPERHOT artbook, Marcin Surma (in cartoon form!) breaks down some of SUPERHOT’s visual influences.

At a trade show in 2015, SUPERHOT Team refitted a Commodore computer to act as a PC keyboard for demos.

Ironically considering we’re talking about the VR version, the original game has a VR element in the plot. Coincidence…?

Everything was a part of a greater scheme.

When you originally decided to create a ‘true’ VR version of SUPERHOT – and not just have it as a plot/framing device – did it immediately suggest itself as a whole new project?

We knew that there would be quite a bit of work with redesigning SUPERHOT for VR from the very first test levels. We never assumed that it was going to be a simple port because Virtual Reality is a vastly different animal. We had to rebuild the game from the ground so that the experience would remain equally tantalising or be even better.

Concepts for how the original 'VR within a game' headsets might look like in SUPERHOT.

Concepts for how the original ‘VR within a game’ headsets might look like in SUPERHOT.

What are the most obvious changes from SUPERHOT to SUPERHOT VR? What did you have to ‘lose’ and ‘gain’ to make the VR version work?

The simple act of moving in VR space forced us to change our approach towards designing levels.

They had to be more compact, filled with action, we tried to encourage the player to move but within a certain space. From the very beginning we knew that we didn’t want controller based movement. It felt very awkward and took away from immersion. Hence, we made the levels smaller and tighter and put in pyramids used for teleportation between stages.

Dodging bullets, SUPERHOT VR style.

Dodging bullets, SUPERHOT VR style.

One of the really obvious but fun changes was having a truly immersive representation of both of your hands. SUPERHOT’s basic mechanics lend themselves very well to the sense of being in control.

I remember how mind blowing was the very first time I threw a gun and caught it mid-air.

Is the process of designing a level for SUPERHOT VR different than the desktop versions? Are there different considerations?

VR gives the player more freedom and therefore the way they interact with the world is vastly different. You can’t really use the same “tricks” to guide the player’s eye somewhere. They can move freely. Well, freely within the limitations of cables and their room.

As I said earlier we had to bring more action to the player so that they wouldn’t have to look for it. Levels are tighter, designed for short bursts of fighting. Spawning points always have some sort of cover for the player as constant threat doesn’t give them time to move too much.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered while building the VR version? What did you discover that you didn’t expect at the start of the process?

That SUPERHOT VR doesn’t suck.

Do you have a favorite part in SUPERHOT VR?

Easy.

The “New perspective” achievement where you need to finish the game lying on the floor.

Testing the ‘New Perspective’ achievement for SUPERHOT VR.

We had most fun with testing that one.

Are there any plans to expand the VR version further? You’ve got SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE in Early Access; do you think that could come to VR?

Honestly for now we are focusing on MIND CONTROL DELETE but at the same time we never really left VR. If there is enough interest in MCD we might try recreating something similar for VR.

SUPERHOT VR

 

This is kind of a silly question but I have to ask, as it’s used differently: SUPERHOT (one word) or SUPER HOT (two?)

SUPERHOT. That’s the best question ever.

Where did the ‘SUPER / HOT’ audio cue originate? It’s very distinctive – almost a trademark of the game.

It’s Piotr’s own voice.  Ever present, lingering in the back of your head.

We got some requests regarding an option to remove it from the game but that would be like cutting off wings from a butterfly.

SUPERHOT VR

Penultimate question: are you able to talk about what’s next for SUPERHOT team? Will it always be SUPERHOT or do you have ambitions to go elsewhere, do something different?

Most of the team is deep in developing SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE.

At the same time though we are working on a few prototypes. Some of those are really hard to call games even. Piotr is always doing something on the side. He doesn’t stop. It is almost compulsive.

We love to experiment, create stuff that is engaging for us.

Honestly though let’s finish MCD and than see what happens.

We leave the final question to the ‘people also asked’ section of Google, which produced this gem: “Is super hot a vr?”

I think that V R SUPERHOT.

Thanks for talking with us, Szymon!


SUPERHOT VR is now available on Viveport for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. The original SUPERHOT and SUPERHOT: MIND CONTROL DELETE are available on Steam. The SUPERHOT Artbook – from which a number of images in this interview were drawn – is available to download at https://superhotgame.com/thanks/