An Interview With Horace Creator – Paul Helman

Recently I played a game called Horace. Then, after finishing it, I played it again. And again. I’m still not certain I’ve seen everything the game has to offer yet – and still missing some of the achievements as well – even after around 65 hours of gameplay. It’s definitely well up there on my list of favourite games of all time, and given that the creator was available for interviews, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

1. Would you care to tell us more on how the development of Horace began?

Well, to start at the beginning, “There was the word.” No, seriously, essentially from the age of about 3 or 4 I have always wanted to make video games, well apart from maybe when I briefly wanted to make puppets for Star Wars films when I was around the age of 6. Due to the abundance of Video Games these days and the lack of puppetry in modern film making, I think I made the right decision!

Not to blow my own trumpet, I was quite a remarkable artist as a child so was able to enter the video games industry in 1994 when I was 17, ironically the first game I worked on was as main texture artist for Die Hard Trilogy because of course the films are rated 18! I worked on many decent games over the years but always knew I wanted to do something that was ‘mine’.
I’d had enough of the 4 hour daily commute to London around 2004-2005 so I started freelancing as a games artist from home. This allowed me more time to teach myself some coding and around 2012 I saw ‘Indie Game : The Movie’ and thought hang on, I can do that! And so I started working on what would become the first sections of Horace.
I’d got the ‘gravity shoes’ working really quick and to start with they were going to just be a powerup that you got later in the game but I had so much fun with them that I decided to essentially give them to the player from the start of the game. At this point it was 2014 and I was quite happy working by myself slowly making Horace, I didn’t mind if it took me a decade or two to finish the game. Then my Mum died.

This, unsurprisingly, devastated me and essentially, I threw myself into Horace as a coping mechanism. I realised that I needed help to finish it which is where Sean came in and eventually meeting 505 and doing the whole thing more properly and ‘professionally’.

2. I read that you hand-drew every cut scene in the game – how long did that take? Which was your favourite?

I honestly don’t know for sure how long it took! It’s quite easy to lose track of how long things have taken when you’ve been at it for 7 years! I can roughly get between 30 seconds and a minute of dialogue scenes done in a day but the more ‘dreamlike’ sequences easily took a week or two to animate, possibly more!
I’ll try not to spoil anything but either the scene early on when The Old Lady explains how ‘the leaves must fall before the blossom comes’ or the scene where Heather and the Robot are camping and talking about death are probably my favourite. They’re simple scenes but there’s a lot in there both in terms of themes of the story / game but also the characters themselves.
Of course, I had great fun animating things like the ‘Danse Macabre’ sequence and the various action sequences but it was always the smaller quiet moments that I enjoyed making and hopefully the players enjoyed seeing.

3. What made you choose 505 as your publisher? How involved were they with the development process?

I worked on Horace entirely by myself for the first 3 years, this eventually became the first 10-15% of the finished game. I had been working as a freelance games artist for around a decade so only had a couple of hours in the evenings or weekends to work on Horace, so it was quickly apparent to me that I would need to work full time to get something I considered ‘decent’ finished!
My coding has never been great, I was able to get Horace working roughly how I wanted but it was slow going so, in early 2015 I contacted my coder friend Sean Scaplehorn. We had both worked at dev studio ‘Picturehouse’ in the murky depths of the 1990s / early 2000s so shared a similar game ethos and so the ‘Team’ was born.
We took my demo to a developers conference called ‘Interface’ in that London and out of the 6 meetings we had, 3 publishers were interested. Out of those 3, Basically 505Games offered us the best deal.
505Games have been great, they’ve paid my bills, or at least paid me so I can pay my bills, paid Sean and basically left us alone to make a game! I know how rare that is to say in game development but they basically gave us Dean Scott as a producer who was great as a sounding board but essentially let me do what I wanted!

4. Was there any part of Horace that you wanted to put in, but couldn’t find a reason or logical place to put it?

To be honest, nothing really! There are plenty of ideas that I’ve had that may or may not make it into a prospective sequel, lots of time travelling and other fun adventures. But I think we’ve got in essentially everything that I had originally planned out six or seven years ago!
There are a load of extra songs that I had written for the rhythm mini games but to be honest they weren’t as good as the ones that made it into the final game.
Similarly, there’s probably a good 40 or 50 rooms in various states that didn’t make it into the game, I tended to just slap down as many ideas as I could to try and see what was and wasn’t fun. Again, these rooms didn’t make it in just purely because they weren’t as good as some of the rooms that are in the finished version of Horace.
As I’m sure you can tell, when it came to Horace I threw in everything including the kitchen sink (well, at least a few toilets!). The main plot should take even a seasoned platformist 18 to 20 hours to get through, pretty much anything and everything I’d thought of for the last 7 years made it in!

5. The story in Horace is surprisingly long. Every time I thought I was coming to the end of the game, there would be another five or six hours of content waiting for me! How long did it take you to complete the story?

As you can probably tell by my long-winded answers, I like to waffle on! Actually, that’s not completely true but I certainly think video games can be an incredible form of expression, both creating them and playing them!

I think the initial script took about 3 months to write and then I tweaked as I created the scenes themselves. The synth voice I used, while perfect for the character often had trouble pronouncing words so I would have to either adapt the script to words that flowed better or literally have to try to edit the sounds of the words and spell words out so it could read them more clearly, ie. ‘nan oh bots’ for ‘nanobots’ etc.

6. Given 505’s expertise around console gaming, and the fact that Horace plays better with a controller, will you be looking to port this to consoles?

Horace is very much suited to a more ‘big TV with a gamepad controller’ setup so consoles would be the obvious next step but for now we’re concentrating on the Steam release, with patches etc.
The problem with having with such a small team, if you can call 2 people a team! Even with 505 Games’ great QA department, it’s very easy for myself or Sean to miss things so we’re still trying to plug a few leaks at the moment!

7. What did you find the most challenging about Horace?

The game design! While I had plenty of ideas, making everything work logically with the complexity growing and sitting in the narrative was a constant struggle! Balancing also became a nightmare, the game is huge so making sure there were enough shields and restart points throughout was a huge headache!
The story had spiralled out of control pretty quickly, I’d tried to keep the amount of characters as low as possible but I still ended up with loads to keep track of. This wasn’t too much of a problem until I came to animate scenes with 10, 15 or 20 characters in it. When everyone was moving or talking and showing various character traits it became pretty tough trying to keep everything making sense.
But I suppose I just bit off too much to chew! Writing, animating and directing cutscenes with a total screen time as long as 3 Hollywood films on top of 15 or so hours of gameplay was always going to be a challenge!

8. Are there parts of the game that you, or any of the team there, struggled to complete?

As I say I had taught myself coding to start making Horace that was very much an uphill struggle at the start! I was having to literally read coding guides and references just to find out how to make the specific elements of Horace work!
But even with Sean on board we were still only a 2 man team so it was still hard going, especially when we were trying to do things like link the whole game together. It would take us days and when we had bugs or issues we’d essentially have to start again!
And of course, when it came to the final fixing of bugs it was ridiculous. We had a full team of awesome testers provided by 505Games but as there were only the 2 of us fixing things, that felt like we would never be ready for release! We had literally thousands of things to fix in a few months leading up to release!
Basically, and I’m sure people already know this, making games is hard!

9. I did notice a few “Coming in Summer 2019” doors dotted around the game, will there be any other DLC for Horace?

Well, again I don’t want to spoil anything but there is a strong possibility of some additional content coming for Horace! One thing that I can say is there are no plans to introduce additional paid content right now, any potential content updates in the near future will be free for all players.

10. Finally, how many lives did you lose if/when you completed the game? I think I was around 1800…! But I am rubbish at platform games.

I’m around the 800-900 mark. I’m not amazing at Horace, I know what I’m doing but I’ve only ever played through the entire thing somewhere around 7 or 8 times, I’m usually taking notes etc, as I go so a full play through can easily take me a week!

There is a guy at 505Games QA that can complete it in 100 lives on the dot though!

I had so many more questions I wanted to ask, but sadly a lot of them would have contained spoilers, so I thought better of it! Horace is available on Steam (via Humble Bundle) for a tenner, and I think that if you’re a fan of platformers, you’ll find Horace will take up a place in your heart. It’s a terrific game.

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