Kenshi’s creator Chris Hunt: “Making games is the only thing more fun than playing games.”
Kenshi is shaping up to be a great game, and despite its early stages it’s already looking like it may win many hearts. The sheer scale of what the developer, Lo-Fi Games, has planned is truly staggering, and I for one happen to be very excited about what the future holds. Below you will find an interview with Chris Hunt, the man behind this ambitious title, maybe you will find it intriguing.
Before I bombard you with questions, for the sake of our readers who may not know about your game – what is Kenshi?
It’s kind of like Skyrim, but with an entire squad of characters, and then on top of that a full RTS base building side to it with fortifications, research, and crafting.
How do you see the game in the future – what features would it have to possess to become the game you want it to be?
It would need a better atmosphere. A more solid feeling that the environments are real places. Weather, storms, creatures and an ecosystem. A kind of world where you have parts of the map that are full of towns, and other parts where no man has ever dared to tread, places of legend and adventure.
I want the other factions and people to play more active roles. I want guys to wander up to your village and demand you pay their faction taxes or tribute, with threats and bullying. I want the player to get pushed around and bullied by the other factions in-game until he is strong enough to stand up for himself. And then he will be able to set greater goals like exploring new parts of the world, or waging wars on other factions.
In the FAQ, you say that the Strategy Roleplaying Game (SRPG) genre has never been done right. What would be in your ideal SRPG?
There’s not a lot of that sort of game, but what I felt they all needed was deeper characters. SpellForce was one. You had like 3 or 4 main characters who had traditional RPG qualities and stats, but then you just churned out nameless cannon fodder characters who were weaker than everybody else. What I really love in a game, is when you can take one of those little nameless weak characters under your wing and train him up until he’s the strongest character you have, because then he was a character that I chose, all by myself, and worked on until he grew. As opposed to being given a pre-made character that’s already kinda stronger than everyone else to start with. What fun is that? I don’t like being told what to do or how to play. If a game gives me a character without my input, I get annoyed and put him in my suicide squad. Like if I’m playing X-Com and it gives be a free sergeant, I’m all like “I want a rookie! I cannot love a Sergeant!”. If someone tries to give me a quest in Skyrim, I scream “NO!” at the screen and run in the opposite direction, then find that NPC’s house and steal all his silverware.
So you don’t believe an SRPG has ever been done right, but do you have a favourite – one that has perhaps come close?
Original War was the only good one. It was simplistic, and obviously low budget and rushed, yet it still had something. It was like your typical RTS except you had a set number of characters for each mission, and they all had names, faces and stats. Any character could do any job – soldier, engineer etc, and you could build their skills.
In one of your blog posts, you say that the player isn’t moved by the death of an AI teammate “because he’s just AI”, and that the player must be shown what is going on in order for them to feel empathetic. What do you think the best way would be to go about doing this?
It’s like what I said above, if you want a player to be empathetic towards a character, the only real way is to make it HIS character, one that he chose, equipped, trained and raised. That’s why XCOM is so fun to play on ‘Ironman’ mode.
You mention ‘dynamic events’ in the FAQ, what sort of scenes can we expect in the future?
You can’t expect them, they’re unexpected. It’s the purpose of dynamic events, not even I know what will happen and every player should have a different experience. A dynamic event is the opposite of a scripted event, it’s where things just happen as a result of various interacting forces. The tricky part is making enough noise in-game about events so the player knows whats going on. So if bandits threaten a village, they need to run around panicking and talking about the future bandit attack so that the player can get wind of it.
It’s all down to how many AI actions I can put in. For instance, if I just give the AI the ability to capture slaves, it adds slaver raid events to villages, but it also means the player can get captured by them too. Then if I also added to the AI the concept of revenge/rescue squads, a village might send out a rescue squad to save its captured people and free you in the process. I could go further and add the concept of legalised slavery in certain areas, so that the rescue attempt earns retaliation from law-enforcement, which could in turn spark a war.
All the different possible interactions multiply together as I add more, and the biggest challenge will be creating a world that can sustain itself, without erupting into world war and wiping everyone out. But then again, maybe that would be cool as long as it didn’t happen every game. Players are already experimenting and starting wars between the AI factions.
Towards the end of my first semester as a student at university, I found myself low on money and living on super-noodles. Were you in a similar situation when you started working on Kenshi?
Yeah before release, I spent the entire six or so years working as a part-time security guard. I worked two nights a week for minimum wage, and just got by on that. I just got used to it, I didn’t bother with luxuries. I had a hand-me-down phone and a free ex-write-off car with a missing window. I was plenty happy doing what I loved and pursuing a dream. You don’t need money to be happy, you just need a dream.
What was the hardest thing for you when you began working on the game?
Nothing, it was the easiest thing I ever did. Everything else before that was hard, dead-end jobs and time lost to RSI. Making games is the only thing more fun than playing games.
Are there any games in particular that inspired you to begin working on Kenshi?
I could list all the good ones and go on about X-Com, but the games that really inspired me were the disappointments. You know when you see an announcement for a game, and it seems like your dream game! You can’t wait for it, you imagine all the things you’re gonna do, how you’re going to play it – then it comes out, and you play it, and it’s the most disappointing piece of dumbed-down mindless trash ever. Or maybe just not what you expected.
Every time that has happened to me, I became a better game developer, and gained more inspiration to work harder. “Fine!” I would bellow, shaking my fist at the sky, waves crashing on the rocks behind me, “If none of you goons can make a proper game, I’ll do it!”
There’s a game that needs to be made, everybody knows it deep inside and it’s what we are searching for every time we buy a game. That one game that finally fully satisfies everything. It’s probably a totally different thing for different people, but this one is mine.
What about notable developers?
The old guys, from the before time. The guys who made the great originals, and invented genres. I don’t really remember developers much, only their games, although I am a fan of Brian Fargo.
Did you ever cry yourself to sleep at night in fear of there being no room in the market for a niche game such as this?
You are thinking of me as a business man, someone who makes a product to fill a gap in the market and make money. I’ve never cared about all that, I just made this game because I wanted it, and if loads of people don’t like it, screw them. I think that’s the best attitude to have if you want to make something great, because you’re not trying to please everyone or tone things down.
But I’ve been 100% confident since day one, because I know there are other players with the same tastes as me who will enjoy it. I was confident enough to gamble my entire financial future on it. As good as I am, I’d never be able to get a “proper job” as a programmer, on my resume I’m just a 30 year old security guard with little work experience or education. Nobody would employ me now. I tried once in fact. I went for some boring programming office job that I was planning to do for just a few months to save up some money then just leave, but they saw right through me.
Given your recent success launching on Steam ‘early access’, have you considered hiring more staff to ease your ever-increasing workload?
Yeah I plan to of course, but the hardest part is finding the right people. I have a freelance art studio working for me already, and I had to go through about 50 applicants just to find them. So art is not a problem, and I just got a sound designer too. The bottleneck is programming though. How do you ensure someone is good enough before you hire them? Hiring artists is easy, because you just look at their pictures and can instantly see how good they are. Programming is complicated, and hard to test people on. If you hire someone who’s not very good you will spend more time explaining things to them and instructing them to make it worth doing at all. Worse still, if you get someone really bad they can do damage, mess up your code and make mistakes. And it’s not an easy thing to start working on this vast complicated project that somebody else made, it would take ages just for a new programmer to learn their way around the code and get their bearings, and tons of my time to teach them.
But yeah, I’ll find someone eventually.
For anyone interested in Kenshi, you can find the game’s website here and a trailer below for the curious.