Jonathan Ross on making games, breaking embargoes and unskippable tutorials

JonathanRoss

Most people are aware of Jonathan Ross’s love for games, though it may come as a surprise to learn just how big a part of his life they are. We’ve arrived at the unassuming office of his Hotsauce production company in Camden to discuss his new iOS venture – an endless runner named Catcha Catcha Aliens – but the conversation ends up being mostly an exploration of Ross’s gaming past.

Over the course of two hours, he digs out a Neo Geo, two Atari Lynxes, and a Divers 2000, a Japanese TV set shaped like a space helmet with an in-built Dreamcast, on which he enthusiastically demonstrates the bizarre penguin racing game Pen Pen Tricelon. He references a broad range of titles, from Vib Ribbon to Ni No Kuni, Magician Lord to Thomas Was Alone (or Johnny The Jumping Candle Game, as he affectionately refers to it). He occasionally disappears into anecdotes, or gets tangled in tangents, at one point talking for ten straight minutes about a range of subjects before abruptly stopping and asking “sorry, what was the question?”

Hotsauce Interactive’s first title is auto-runner Catcha Catcha Aliens, which was developed by a small team over a period of nine or ten months. Ross met his “point man” Georg Backer when asked to voice a character for Fable III, which Ross inadvertently revealed on Twitter. “The next day I got a message saying Peter [Molyneux]’s not crazy that you mentioned it,” he recalls. “Well, maybe he should tell me not to fucking mention it!”

Backer deals with the day-to-day running of the studio, as one of a team of four full-time staffers. Programmer Guy Simmons and artist Dominic Clubb – both ex-Lionhead – work alongside Ross’s son Harvey who assists with coding and design. The roles are relatively flexible, however. “We all throw stuff in,” says Ross. “I wouldn’t come in and say, here’s a script I’ve worked on and I want you to polish it. Everyone can make any suggestions, so it’s quite freeform.”

Ross says he’s been playing games “almost since the medium began”, so what made him decide to start making them? “It was something we’d been thinking of doing for a while,” he admits, “but if you’re not involved in the industry, you don’t really know what it takes [to make a game], so we needed to have someone who’s professional and knows other professionals. I don’t think we could have done it without Georg’s knowledge and expertise. I don’t think someone who’s got a lot of experience in one field can just walk into gaming and go ‘I’m doing it’. You need people who’ve got that experience.”

Catcha Catcha Aliens shares a strong resemblance with Temple Run – your avatar runs into the screen, swipes helping them leap over or slide under obstacles, or take turns at high speed. In fairness, it’s a comparison Ross is only too happy to make. “I loved the idea of Temple Run, and [wanted to] do something different with it. And so we came up with the idea of a chasing game, and that’s a fundamental difference. It might have a lot of the mechanics of Temple Run or Zombie Run or Granny Run or whatever, but as far as I know ours is the only one where you’re chasing things and catching them. It’s a different skillset, really.”

The mellifluous tones of fellow app lover Stephen Fry greet the player as the game begins, though Ross suggests “the only reason we did that is that we decided I would voice a character and I’m not that in love with my own voice”, though an update has curtailed the introduction, as feedback from players suggested it was taking too long to get to the game. The tutorial, too, has been streamlined. “[People] don’t want a long introduction, or a long explanation, and I think with any kind of storytelling there’s a strength in brevity.”

We venture that this might be more of an issue with the mobile market than for home console gaming, and Ross seizes upon the opportunity to air a few grievances. “But even when I’m sitting at home playing games, when I pick up Call of Duty I do not want to go through another fucking sequence that tells me how to point a gun. Or tell me what to do with the [thumb]stick to look up in the air. I’ve done that fifty times before. I don’t need to be shown how to do that.”

“They don’t say when you go to see a movie ‘okay, let me just explain to you: what you’re about to see isn’t real’. We are still at that stage where people are somewhat cautious about the level of awareness and the experience that people have as gamers, and you don’t need that. It’s like another game I played recently – Dishonored. The intro to that is four times longer than it needs to be. And you can’t skip that! You have to walk, and it’s like: fuck, I know I’m chasing a little girl, just let me get to the bit where I get to kill someone.”

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