Hotline Miami: how Drive, drugs and Smash TV influenced one of the most intriguing games of 2012

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Hotline Miami is the brainchild of indie developer Jonatan Söderström (who goes by the alias ‘Cactus’), and graphic artist Dennis Wedin. Söderström’s output of free indie games is prolific – he’s made over 40 – and experimental, covering everything from shooters and racing games to an “erotic space adventure with a deep moral message”. Söderström and Wedin previously teamed up for Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, a heavenly slice of WarioWare-esque madness that fuses Söderström’s penchant for reaction-based play with Wedin’s vibrant visuals as you guide an Eskimo-werewolf through a gamut of bizarre minigames.

It’s one of the most keenly anticipated indie PC games of 2012, and as a follow-up to our Hotline Miami preview, here’s an extended interview with Söderström and Wedin about the games, films and ’80s pop cultural touchstones that influenced the game’s development.

How did the project come about? What was the moment of inspiration?
Dennis Wedin Ever since we finished Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf we’ve been talking about doing something more, because we felt the collaboration between the both us worked really well and was a lot of fun. To get some inspiration we looked through some of Jonatan’s unfinished games and this top-down action game caught my attention and so I went home and sat there for a week or two and designed the basic visuals.

Jonatan ‘Cactus’ Söderström We were mostly inspired by each other’s visions for this project – Dennis by the tough arcade style and flow that my prototype presented, and me by Dennis’ visual identity that I felt my demo lacked.

How long have you been developing it? Have you been working on the title full-time?
JS We’ve been working on Hotline Miami for about six months and it’s just been us two when it comes to creating the actual game. We’re working with many musicians as well, trying to find the perfect songs to set the right mood for the game. Looks like we’ll have a roster of artists ranging from friends to musicians we’ve been fans of for years. There will be an announcement about it soon, we’re pretty stoked about it.

DW We’ve been working in my apartment full-time since June. It’s not the best idea to develop a game during the summer because you’re missing out on a lot of social things, but we are trying to have one day a week when we meet friends and just do other things, like skateboarding and drinking.

Why choose PC for a game which seems to be inspired by console?
JS PC and Mac is the easiest option for us since we’re using platform specific development tools. The game also works really well with mouse and keyboard controls, although we’re gonna have support for controllers as well for everyone who prefers playing with analogue sticks. Our publisher Devolver Digital has also mentioned console possibilities, but nothing definite so far, so we’ll see what the future brings. Would be cool though.

What tools did you use to design the game? What have been the main challenges?
JS We’re almost entirely using Game Maker to design the game, which does have some drawbacks performance wise, but so far it feels more like the boundaries set by the game engine have only made the game better. It really helps keep the game design clean and focused, and forces us to think a lot more about what we put into the game since resources are limited and we can’t just cram everything in there all at once.

A game with a retro aesthetic, in the age of Flash games and super-cheap iOS titles, could be a tough sell to consumers. How have you tackled the lack of longevity posed by a game with a retro vibe?
DW We don’t really want to label the game “retro” in the same way that a lot of other titles might. There’s no consideration for the system limitations of older consoles, and we are trying to make the graphics a mix of different things that we like, both modern and retro. We don’t think a game with a retro vibe necessarily has less longevity than something modern. We are aiming at making the best game we possibly can make, and are trying to take decisions that will make the game feel timeless in its craftsmanship, even if it will be associated [with] the ’80s and pixellated graphics.