If you’ve never heard of the name Arkedo before, you certainly will after the month is out. This small, humble French indie studio cut its development teeth on a series of incredibly creative games - JUMP, SWAP and PIXEL. But now it is launching its biggest and most ambitious project to date: Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit.
This colourful, madcap platformer is impossible to ignore - controlling a skeleton demon bunny called Ash, you must traverse through the many layers of Hell to inflict pain on those that took indecent photos of the anti-hero in the bath. With his rubber ducky. You inflict pain in a number of extravagant - and gratuitous - fatalities, leaving a near-constant torrent of cartoony blood and guts in your wake.
I was able to sit down and have a lengthy chat with Arkedo co-founders Camille Guermonprez and Aurélien Regard. We talk about the studio’s beginnings, its experience with SEGA, double-entendres and the studio’s change from a boxed-product company to one that is now focused entirely on the digital space...
SPOnG: Hell Yeah! is the biggest game you’ve ever developed as Arkedo. You guys started out making PSN and Xbox Live Indie games - did you learn anything from your experiences there, that worked its way into Hell Yeah!?
Well, making those games was more about reassuring ourselves about whether we could achieve what we wanted on the big screen. Aurélien and I met in our first company, back in 1999. We made mobile phone games back then - you only had one line of text, black and white, 8x8 pixel size.
Because we made games to those limitations, we were always afraid that we would come to a level of incompetence - that we’d tackle a screen that’s too big for us, which would result in an experience that sucks. We love to fill the screen with cool things and have the right balance, in every game.
SPOnG: So you wanted to take that further with the establishment of Arkedo?
Yes, Arkedo was born because we wanted to work on a bigger screen, but having been made aware of our apprehension, we started with low-risk titles on XBIG and PSN.
The philosophy behind the Arkedo Series was simply to pick two guys from the studio and get them to make a game in 30 days. We’d then release it and see what happens. It was very high working constraints. The only game we didn’t make like that was PIXEL
, which we developed with Pastagames. Pastagames actually shares an office with us - we’re roommates.
But yes, working on the Arkedo Series on PSN and XBIG helped us to be more confident with ourselves, which certainly helped for Hell Yeah!
We were also able to use those games as a portfolio to show our work to big publishers, and to demonstrate what we can achieve in 30-day cycles with two men.
Because we had only worked on Nintendo DS games and mobile phone games beforehand, we needed the experience from the Arkedo Series to be able to train ourselves, so to speak.
SPOnG: And one of those publishers you approached with this portfolio was SEGA, no doubt.
Well, we worked for months on Hell Yeah!
first - it was a very small portion of the game but almost final build quality. SEGA had heard of us anyway, because I kept bugging them every year with different projects! I kept telling them, ‘yeah, so you probably won’t buy my game, but here’s this year’s project.’ [Laughs]
But when we showed them Hell Yeah!
, we said to them, ‘OK, do you trust us to make the rest of the game as wacky and zany as this small portion?’ They said yes and they wanted it right there and then. They left us alone for eight months after that. Completely alone - not even a phone call. They just wanted us to do our thing, which was brilliant. The whole game took 18 months to make, so they met us at the halfway point.
SPOnG: It’s interesting to hear that putting personal constraints on yourselves has helped you refine and pinpoint the gameplay style in the way that you have with Hell Yeah! Was this the case for the art and design as well? Was that quite challenging?
I don’t know about it being particularly challenging in terms of pressure, but... certainly it was very fun. Perhaps the most fun I had was drawing the different monsters in the game. Being as creative as possible with a game like this - and this is a big game for us - is fantastic. Our previous games have been quite small, so it means a lot to us to be able to go wild with it.
See, the philosophy for design at Arkedo is that... as we are always funding our own games, we want to see our money get used for the things that we want to do. So we really want to be able to spend as much time being a developer and making the bloody game, and no time at all doing the other stuff that comes with being a company.
It’s a weird situation with Hell Yeah!
, because the first games we made were completely funded by us, right up til the end. With this game, SEGA came in at the vertical slice stage - but they said, ‘We know you, we trust you, go ahead and do your thing.’ Usually we have to have that sort of freedom, but with a much higher constraint in terms of finances and time.
I’m glad to have someone like Aurélien here because he can focus on the creative side of things under such very tight conditions, and always put something awesome out. I like to have great people work and do their thing in a room, and put reality outside the door. When you come into the studio, you’re just focused on your game.
No putting on a tie, or asking a publisher what they felt about the build two months ago and integrate their feedback into the next one... because if you’re doing that, you’re not producing your own work. You’re just trying to make stuff that fits and appealing to the masses.
It’s like colours - if we said we had a ‘bright yellow’, it might not be appealing to those who don’t like bright yellow. The problem with that is, if you have many important people with money putting their own colour into the pot, in the end you just mix it up and have grey or brown. You can’t be small and brown. It’s not possible.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our massive Arkedo interview, only on SPOnG!