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The origin and future of frozen time FPS hit SUPERHOT, and the positive crunching behind it

Creative director Piotr Iwanicki of the virally popular SUPERHOT, the "time moves only when you do" FPS, discusses the game's origins and mechanics, the jam experience behind it, and the future ahead of it.

John Polson

September 16, 2013

9 Min Read

superhot thumb.pngSUPERHOT, the first-person shooter created initially for the 7DFPS and later refined, has been on fire this week, catching the attention of players with its "time moves only when you do" mechanics. IndieGames caught up with creative director Piotr Iwanicki to discuss SUPERHOT's origins, the mechanics, the jam experience behind it, and the future ahead of it.

Firstly, why the name "SUPERHOT"?

These are two positive keywords. They are intense. And they sound great as a mantra. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. It's not a by-the-book game title, but I've heard people repeat hypnotically those words after playing the game. I think we are onto something. It sticks with you, as it sticked with us.

What inspired SUPERHOT?

We love games of all kinds, and as we were brainstorming the idea for an FPS game, I remebered a brilliant Flash game, Time4Cat. We thought that it would be fun to see this same idea as an FPS game. Simultaneously, we discovered a great video clip for Biting Elbows song "Bad Motherf!#$er". We figured it would be great to combine Time4Cat with "Bad Motherf!#%er". That's how SUPERHOT was born. What was changed from the 7DFPS version and why?

The 7DFPS version was very rudimentary, and the presentation was broken. At the 7DFPS deadline, we had 3 levels on 3 different computers, and merging it was a challenge beyond our exhaustion. Then, our programmer Kuba came up with a brilliant idea: LETS MAKE THE GAME EPISODIC, with each level being a separate Unity Player. It was exacly what we needed, and this idea allowed us to publish something for the 7DFPS. But fundamentaly, it was a hacky system that confused a lot of people. Fixing that in the new version was a our biggest improvement.

Your mechanic here is different than "bullet time" where the player gets to move faster than the computer, in a sort of heightened state. And yet in SUPERHOT, the player can still manage to overcome a lot of people here, with only the advantage of spatial awareness. Do you think, in that way, Super Hot is more challenging or rewarding than "bullet time" sequences?

I think that we've taken a more playful approach then the classical "bullet time". We don't have any special special device that slows time for 10s and then recharges for 30s. We weave the time control mechanism into the very fabric of SUPERHOT. It makes the player feel more in control and more in the flow of doing the crazy bullet dodging, that SUPERHOT is all about.

Why does the tackle kill cause a lot of blood to spill like a bullet kill? Is it the same blood splatter?

From the shape of the blood splatt it seems to be a Basic Instinct style ice crusher. But it's there mainly because the takedown didn't feel powerful enough. Added the gun splatter - task closed and we can go to more important stuff like enemies shooting throught the walls. It was a crazy week...

Why do enemies have unlimited ammo?

It's a great question that can be aswered by a our backstory. You see, in the year 2030, when the robot overloards that started the chroma-delution revolu... nope, just kidding. We just wanted to make things simple. When the your actions revolve around shooting Red Guys in slow motion, you can accept a certain level of game-ness. It's not like we have auto-healing wounds after 10 seconds in cover, anyway.

Why isn't sound frozen in time here?

The world would be silent. And though they say that silence is golden, we prefer the silver roar of bullets flying right beside you. That fits our fantasy better. The current way the sound works in the game is often praised by our audience, and although it is not work technically nor scientifically corrent we will probably stay with it being a creative fiction provided by reverbs and other live processing effects.

What mechanics were cut during development, and will they ever make a comeback?

Oh, come on. We really have time for cutting! Most of the stuff we made, made it into the game. One thing that we miss though is the Ballroom level which started with a fall through the glass ceiling, with broken pieces of glass flying everywhere in slow motion. Even now I'm exited talking about it and we surely will want to return to this idea. Doesn't it sound like a coolest thing?

Any neat photos of the game or sketches for the game's art?

We didn't make any! It just didn't fit into our workflow and skillsets. We iterated directly on the looks of in-game footage and I think that we got something quite unique as a result.

What are the backgrounds of the main developers behind the game?

We're bunch of friends from the post-industrial city of Łódź - pronouced like "would you" without the "u" - right in the center of Poland. Each one of us is a skilled developer, though our skill vectors are an erratic field pointing in many directions. Blue Brick is our company, where we do electronics, we do statistic applications, we do scientific research with local Technical University, but we also do flash games and web development. For the last Ludum Dare (Theme: Minimalism), we invited even more people to our office and had a crazy time. 7 Day FPS was a great opportunity to repeat this kind of inspired craziness. You know - take a week off and work like crazy on a non-profit project. That's Blue Brick style.

What Flash games do you make?

Blue Brick is a collective of people and the stuff we do as a group blend with stuff we do individually. You can browse some of the games made by me on Kongregate. Be sure to check out Rektagon, our homage to Terry' Cavanagh's Hexagon.

When was the extra work done for the game (on the job or spare time)?

Let's face it, our initial version of SUPERHOT did one thing good and one thing only. It did the "time moves as you move" well but it wasn't too good of a game. But even that attracted a lot of attention. We decided to prepare a better version for the Developers Showcase at the local gamedev conference WGK [and won the showcase]. We worked mostly after hours, but our hours are crazy irregular anyway so we didn't see much difference.

Overall, what was your 7DFPS experience like?

Man, it was a 7 Day FPS Challenge. It was a 7 Day story of an Epic Struggle. A game was forged, but also ourselves were forged into better people. We observed each other in a state of extreme crunchy exhaustion, still working on our shared dream. In this state people are reduced to their basic selves and you see them how they truly are. What we saw in each other during these days was good. The clarity you reach, when you're working near your physical limits. That alone was worth the weekly vacation. Also, on a funnier note: part of the 7DFPS group were two guys still in their High School years. Their sheer enthusiasm was overwhelming. I only told them that MAYBE they could help if they prove to be helpful - and BANG - next day they send their first models in Blender, then more models, then even more, and more and more. Always better and better. They learned Blender like that, just because they wanted to make a game and wanted to be useful. When rest of the crew approached learning Blender we were biased that it's a difficult piece of software, that it does't work as expected that the inferface is complicated for the newcomer. Maciek and Rafal (the High School guys) just didn't knew that. They understood that they need to learn it and they just learned it. WOW. In the end, all of the small items in the game are made by them. It was such a great experience and I'm having a great time even talking about it. It's something that every game developer should live through. Fantastic time with fantastic people, doing our best work so far. I hope to do more of this.

It seems your grueling crunch had positive outcomes. AAA crunch often has a negative connotation, though. Is crunching just crunching? How can indie and AAA devs learn to crunch effectively, heathily?

It's a difficult topic in general. If you want something to be great, you think about it all the time and want to work non-stop. When you see all the people around you working with similar values, it feels great. It's a natural state: a group of people working like crazy to make something great for others to appreciate. That's how the good things are created. But I imagine this work ethic and striving for excellence can be abused in a corporate environment.

If you were to develop this further, what will be the next steps?

We don't feel that we already have to make a jump to SUPERHOT equivalent of Portal 2 Gels. We are still happily jumping through our Portal 1's. We have so much to deliver before we can go further! Possibilities are endless, but taking first thing from the stack: think about huge explosions in slow motion. We're so excited!

Will you create a larger game for commercial release?

With all the SUPERHOT buzz I guess we are obliged to deliver something more. It's a rare situation, where we happened to discover something both damn fun and fundamentally unique.

[SUPERHOT is now on Steam Greenlight.]

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