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[Interview] A Hat in Time dev talks five-year development, Switch port, and what’s next

Posted on September 23, 2018 by in Interviews, Switch eShop

We recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jonas Kaerlev from Gears for Breakfast, the studio behind A Hat in Time. We had a terrific discussion about where it all started, the Switch port, the studio’s next game, and more. You can listen to the full 30-minute interview below or feel free to read the shortened transcribed version.

Transcribed version of the interview

You started development on a Hat in Time in 2012, and released in 2017. What was that five-year period like? How much did the game change along the way? (0:46)

It was quite a difference because we started out just making A Hat in Time as students who didn’t really know anything about how to make games, and so we sort of learned along the way and you can tell that… if you compare the early Kickstarter video to A Hat in Time’s final build, a lot has changed. Not only has the quality skyrocketed, also the game itself has taken on a completely different form, in a good way…

You’ve described A Hat in Time as a GameCube love-letter. Where exactly did that inspiration come from, and what made you pursue creating a 3D platformer? (1:41)

Back when I started making A Hat in Time, the latest Mario game was Mario Galaxy. I love Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine a lot and I thought those games take an interesting approach on a certain level kind of feel. I wanted something similar, but I could tell the Mario franchise was going in a different direction. So I felt the only way to sort of relive that is to try it on my own…

For A Hat in Time that was our foundation (Mario Sunshine, Wind Waker, Banjo Kazooie, Psychonauts), but we took a lot of different approaches to how we do things, and I think that has paid off immensely. No one would really say that A Hat in Time is close to either Mario 64 or Sunshine but definitely you can tell the inspirations are there…

As of July, A Hat in Time has sold over 500,000 units. Tell us about your original expectations compared to where the project ended up today. (5:09)

… Most indies are just hoping to break even, right?. We just hope that we can continue to make the next game.

We said ‘Okay, if we get 9,000 sales to match our Kickstarter budget, that’d be outstanding,’ right? And then we made half a million sales. It blew out minds.

… Turns out that a lot of people do care! So we were able to scale it up and make this huge game. A Hat in Time is huge, it takes like 10 hours minimum to complete the game and the new DLC adds a lot, lot more hours to that. In fact, I would make that claim that in the new DLC, not many people are going to be able to finish that. There’s so much content and it’s very difficult.

* Additionally, Jonas anticipates that no one will even finish the new DLC within a month. That sounds like a challenge!

Gears for Breakfast previously said that A Hat in Time wouldn’t be released on Switch. What changed over the past few months to make it possible after all? (8:34)

The Switch appeared kind of mid-development of A Hat in Time, right? At that time it was kind of too late because you have to design the entire game to fit the platform. If you don’t design around it, you’re going to have performance problems and other issues as well.

… After we shipped A Hat in Time on consoles, we were looking at the Switch and we were seeing, we tried this before and it’s an immense amount of work because it’s an entirely new piece of hardware, the tools are all new – there’s nothing carried over from the Wii U. The engine we’re using doesn’t support it at all, period. The engine we’re using is Unreal 3…

… at that time we had dropped all hope. We were looking at it and we had so many issues, and it was just way out of our expertise. Then we were approached by Humble, who published the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of A Hat in Time, and they said, “Okay, we might have found some developers who might be able to assist you in this.” … We had very low hopes for it, just because we knew how big of a task it is. … These developers gave us such an immense help that we would never have anticipated before.

We got some assistance from developers who were more expertise than us and they were able to assist us with getting it up and running on the Switch. So I realize now we look quite the fool that we said ‘no’ and now it’s a yes. I think that also just ties into us evolving as developers.

A Hat in Time is built in Unreal Engine 3. Thus far, we haven’t seen many games on Switch created with that technology. What needed to be done to ensure that A Hat in Time would work well on Switch? Are you working with any external developers; which I believe you mentioned earlier as being Humble Bundle? (14:03)

Yes, that’s correct. I think we’ll talk more about this at launch. But yeah, Humble helped us connect with some very helpful developers.

… It’s been interesting, very insightful and a learning experience to upgrade the engine, Unreal Engine 3, and allow it to not only run on modern systems but also run with modern fidelity.

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