Hi-Fi RUSH Interview: Tango Gameworks Director on the Studio’s New, Not-Horror Game

Hi-Fi RUSH Interview: Tango Gameworks Director on the Studio’s New, Not-Horror Game

Hi-Fi RUSH, one of the biggest games announced during Xbox Developer Direct’s live stream last week, was Tango Gameworks’ rhythm-action game. The surprising title, which was released on the day of the livestream, became an overnight hit thanks to its colorful visuals and satisfying rhythmic combat.

IGN spoke to Hi-Fi RUSH director John Johanas to explain why Tango – best known for horror games like The Evil Within and Ghostwire: Tokyo – chose to go a more colorful route this time around. , and how he pulled off one of the biggest games. surprises of the year.

IGN: My whole timeline is about Hi-Fi RUSH. I’m curious, when did the development of Hi-Fi RUSH start?

John Johanas: It was actually right after The Evil Within 2. I realized that and as we were wrapping up we knew that Ghostwire [Tokyo] was the next game the studio had already begun working on pre-production. Just from a personal perspective, I felt like I needed a palate cleanser.

And when you develop a game with other team members, you talk about other games that people like. When we play games in our down time, we are talking about action games. I had this idea in my head for a while, but being this studio known for horror, in my mind, I’m like, “Oh, that will never get approved.”

I kind of wrote this really quick pitch about this idea of ​​how good it feels in trailers and movies when the hits land in rhythm and it just feels like the action is so much more satisfying . What if we could do that in an action game? And then just the idea of ​​rhythm action – and it’s all in sync with the music, but it’s not a rhythm game – sparked a spark in the meeting.

It’s the most anti-Bethesda game you could imagine, as we show the ideas where the visuals would look like a throwback to the cel-shaded look of the PS2, Dreamcast, and early Xbox era. I was like, “You’re probably not going to accept this, but I just think it’s a really cool idea and I have a really good idea of ​​how it could work.”

My boss [Shinji] Mikami-san said to me, “That looks really cool. This all sounds really hard and I don’t know if it will work, but why don’t we try to prototype it? That’s actually when it started in late 2017.

Being this studio known for horror, in my mind I’m like, “Oh, that’s never going to be approved.”

IGN: Tango is primarily known, I think by most people, as a horror game studio. There were lots of rumors about what your next game might be, and when the project was finally revealed, it was this bright and colorful action brawler set to the beat. What does it mean for a studio like yours that you are branching out in this new direction?

John Johanas: Well, I would say that was always the intention in a way.

If you look at the studio’s original vision, it wasn’t made to just make horror games, it was made to foster new ideas and support new developers. But we haven’t assembled a team to create the ultimate horror game. Just like Mikami-san himself, he created action games. He also has a habit of going beyond these limits. We didn’t think we had to be limited or we had to be limited by this image that we have of being a horror studio.

I think it was important to just show that we can do something more than [horror] and doing it well, I think that was the most important thing because it’s something we’re very adamant about.

If we want to do it, we have to show people that we can do it and do it well because we can’t go out and fail our first attempt at something different. That must be good. A lot of time and effort has gone into this. I see people calling it an independent release or something, or a small project and from my perspective, I spent five years on it, so it wasn’t small.

Hi-Fi Rush – Xbox Dev Direct

IGN: One of the things I want to talk about is that Hi-Fi RUSH isn’t small. I played it, and you can see that every cutscene matches that beat. How difficult was it to pace both cutscenes and in-game action?

John Johanas: The short answer is extremely, extremely, extremely difficult.

The long answer is basically we need to change the way our animation system works so that every animation you do, whether it’s a bit early or a bit late, will still, basically, be interpolated so that it lands on rhythm. We have to create this new animation flow and people would make these cool animations, but we would find that it doesn’t look like – hitting the beat or things like that. It was constant trial and error. Fortunately, as we progressed through development, most of us figured out what was needed to do this, which helped.

Cutscenes were a huge undertaking. Our cinematic director, Jun Watanabe, and I talked a lot about how we can do that, how we can do that in the stylized stuff. We had a script and we had a BPM and we put everything on a click track and animated. I would estimate that it took about three times longer than it would take to do a normal cutscene.

IGN: You mentioned the cel-shade art style, the return to old platforms. You look at a game like Hi-Fi Rush and immediately think of some of the other classic cel-shaded games like Jet Set Radio. Why go the cel-shaded route?

John Johanas: It really stemmed from this idea that it felt a bit like a throwback game – throwback but not retro. We also just wanted to remind people that games are fun. I was like, whatever we do, we want it to break out and be remembered like those games you mentioned.

Internally [at Bethesda]some people had played it and they were talking about it among themselves… They were like, “Have you seen that game they’re playing over there?”

IGN: Let’s talk about the music. Do the music choices in the game reflect team preference? Is Mikami-san also a fan of Nine Inch Nails?

John Johanas: Surprisingly, very early on, the team was like, “John, you can choose the music. There are tons of conflicting opinions about music and I know sharing a playlist is almost the most embarrassing thing you can do. It’s a weird “open your diary” kind of thing.

But I felt like we were going in a certain direction, and like I said, it was a weird personal project for me, so I wanted to pick music that I grew up listening to or that reminded me of a time when I was really having fun playing games or things that stuck with me.

I wanted something that almost felt like the late 90s, early 2000s, if that makes sense, because that’s that era I was talking about, that Dreamcast, PlayStation to Xbox era. A bit of a throwback there, but also kind of an exposure to maybe some artists that maybe even younger generations don’t listen to.

IGN: We did a great interview with Phil Spencer and one of the interesting things he said was that the shadow drop for the game was Tango’s idea.

John Johanas: Tango won’t take credit for it, it will be the idea of ​​the marketing team. They passed it. We knew Hi-Fi RUSH was a very big change from what we had done before, but we also knew we had something very special from the start.

This is not a horror game from a horror studio, so there may be some initial “maybe” questions. When we considered the idea of ​​a shadow drop, we thought about letting people decide for themselves and play along, basically. Because we got a lot of reports when people first saw the game internally, they were like, “It looks fun. I want to play it now.”

Maybe we weren’t trying to give people the wrong idea, make them think, “Oh, that’s a lesser thing,” or something like that. We could show them right away. We were very confident about the product we had. I think it worked for our title.

I think it was important to just show that we can do something more than [horror] and do good

IGN: I think one of the benefits is something like Xbox Game Pass where people with the subscription can just dive in. Has this also been taken into consideration?

John Johanas: Oh yeah, that was absolutely part of it. Again, if you’re going to ask someone to buy something in a drop shadow you’ll probably have a lot of skepticism, but the fact that Game Pass exists allows people to almost, what you would say is a demo theoretically . But this is not a demo, this is the full game. They can just play and they can almost naturally talk about the game, talk to their friends, tell them how cool it is. It’s kind of what we were hoping for because internally we knew it was something special.

Internally, people kept talking about it. In fact, that’s how it was built within Bethesda. I think it’s a whole different story on how a game like this could come out of Bethesda, it’s because internally some people had played it and were talking about it among themselves… They say to each other : “Have you seen that game they’re doing there?” There’s this weird sort of viral positivity to playing this game and Game Pass was just a great opportunity to leave something that maybe a little tricky to integrate or maybe people can be skeptical, lose that skepticism immediately by simply playing it.

So far, from the feedback we’ve seen, people seem to really understand what we’re trying to do. We even saw there was some skepticism in the launch trailer. People were like, “I don’t know…” And then people were like, “No, wait. I just downloaded this. You have to try this, you have to see this. It’s kind of exactly what we were hoping for, but thanks to the marketing and PR team for making it happen.

Matt TM Kim is IGN’s Senior Features Writer. You can reach him @lawoftd.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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