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Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard Interview

28 February 2009

Matt Hazard. It's a famous name that every gamer should know. Whether you're four or twenty-five years old, Hazard has probably indirectly changed your life without you even knowing. He is a myth, a legend, but most importantly, as he demonstrated to us, still a man. Thankfully, we had the chance to discuss this next step in gaming history, not only with Hazard, but with Brian Etheridge (Producer) and Dave Ellis (Senior Game Designer) of Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard.

Below is the discussion we shared regarding the upcoming Eat Lead game. For those of you who don't want to know the secrecy behind the development of Eat Lead and its upcoming brilliance, do not read past this point. If you're thinking "exactly who is Matt Hazard?", continue reading, but feel shame for not already knowing.

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PSU: It must be difficult to work with a character like Matt Hazard who has unarguably shaped the face of gaming over the last 20+ years. What was it like developing a title around such an iconic figure?

Dave/Brian: Despite his fame and his lofty position in the annals of video game history, Matt is awesome to work with. Once he was on board with the project, he pretty much did whatever the team wanted him to do. Matt is all about getting the job done, and doing it with a style. Even the…well, let’s just call it “the beer Friday photocopier incident”—didn’t sour the team’s deep commitment and affection for Matt. A half hour at the paper shredder and it was like it never happened. The team would love to work with him again if his busy schedule ever allows it.

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PSU: In 1983, The Adventures of Matt in Hazard Land was one of the premiere side-scrolling titles that changed the industry. How does Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard compare and differentiate from works of greatness like that one?

D/B: Every one of Matt’s games is historic in its own right—and moving into the next-gen realm is just the next logical step in Matt’s career. It’s tough to do a direct comparison of Hazard Land and Eat Lead, though. Back in the 80s, Matt (and he’d be the first to agree with this) was a little two-dimensional in his portrayal of action characters. Since then, he’s become much more defined. Today, Matt has much more depth and texture that he showed in his earlier works.

PSU: Eat Lead focuses its plot and story around overused gaming clichés. Was this a difficult path to follow while concurrently trying to make a cohesive game that isn't all over the map?

D/B: The story of Eat Lead is what makes the game’s premise cohesive. Because the backbone of the story is that this game is being hacked, it makes anything that we want to do not only possible, but plausible. The challenge was really to pick things that would have made sense for Matt’s history and the story we wanted to tell. For example, we could have done a rhythm game parody, but that wouldn’t have fit as well.

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PSU: A lot of gamers who are unsure about this title often refer to the gameplay mechanics as to why they're skeptical. Can you shed some light on what we all can truly expect on that side of things?

D/B: The gameplay has received as much attention and love as the story that people are excited about. Fans of shooters will get exactly what they’re looking for, but wrapped in a funny package. We really focused on making our cover system seamless, so I think that a lot of people will be surprised to see us doing some things better than some of the big cover-based games out there, and some things that they don’t do at all. If that doesn’t convince you, then let me tell you that the feeling of head-butting fools when you have the Maximum Hazard Upgrade is second to none.

PSU: Hazard is the originator of such great gaming moments like the Steamy Coffee incident and being the first character to ever jump in a video game. Does Eat Lead add any other revolutionary occurrences within the video game world that games of the future will probably include?

D/B: Jumping and sex-scandals were some big leaps forward in gaming, but on a serious side, we are hopeful that people will realize that you can have a game that is funny without sacrificing the gameplay. Everyone tells us, “funny is hard to do” and rattles off a list of games that made them laugh, but fell short on gameplay. We’re hoping that Eat Lead will be the first time we’ve pleased them on both sides of the spectrum.

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PSU: Will Arnett and Neil Patrick Harris of TV fame came on board to do the voice acting for the protagonist and antagonist for The Return of Matt Hazard. What was it like working with these two actors? Was it an experience as entertaining as the rest of us would assume?

D/B: Having Will and Neil work on our game really opened our eyes as to how real of an experience you can create when you have the right people behind it. When we were all reading the concepts and designs, there was still a good amount of uncertainty as to whether or not the humor would be as funny as it had been to us when were just throwing ideas around in meetings. When the first line came out of NPH’s mouth (his recording session came first), there was no more uncertainty. When we started to get Will’s lines back in the office, we all smiled and nodded at each other. Then, when the first temp cutscene was put together as an example, it was like Gob was doing some magic right before our eyes.

PSU: We're aware that Master Chef makes an appearance. Can you give us a couple of examples of some of the funnier clichés and references made within the game?

D/B: I’m not sure if you’ve seen the footage of the Altos Tratus fight, but in this battle Matt squares off against a giant, sexually ambiguous JRPG character with a sentient sword. Altos still uses text boxes, like most Japanese RPGs, so Matt has to push a giant X button to advance the conversation. That’s my personal favorite, but General Neutronov, your stereotypical rogue Soviet general who wants to reinstate communism and just happens to be in possession of a stolen nuke, is a close second. There are clichés all over the place and trophies also fell victim to our sense of humor. People will feel like their laziness has finally paid off when they see “Take 5!” appear on their screen the first time they pause the game.

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PSU: It's no secret that Eat Lead will appeal to a mass market of gamers who are able to understand the concept behind the title. Was there ever a concern during development that perhaps some gamers may just not get it?

D/B: Making sure the humor had broad appeal was one of the first things we addressed. I mentioned before that we were worried that people wouldn’t laugh as hard as we did when we were tossing ideas around. Luckily, with Dave Ellis’ writing, there are 3 layers to the humor. On the top is the general comedy writing that will make anyone shy of Satan laugh. You don’t need to know games to get the jokes on this level, you just need a funny bone. Right beneath that are the gaming clichés. These are the jokes that anyone who has played a video game will get. Then there’s the ninth circle… I mean the third level. These are all of the jokes that our lawyers had to review. These are core-gamer-only jokes that are found hidden in the dialogue, textures, credits, trophies, and anywhere else we can squeeze them in.

PSU: The marketing done for this game through websites like The Real Matt Hazard and Weapons of Matt Destruction were great ways to get your product to the people in the viral sense. Did you guys have a lot of fun in making sure these viral campaigns got the point across that Eat Lead isn't meant to be some serious shooter that is supposed to redefine a genre?

D/B: We are still having fun doing the viral promotions. Just yesterday we did our third installment of our Facebook webcam interviews. (http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages ... 7973712398) These are short comedy bits that we post to get people to come check out the page.

Other than the Facebook page, we also made a Flash game that harkens back to Matt’s 8-bit days. This small slice of heaven was made by a group of Matt Hazard fanboys back on the Apple IIE when they got bored of playing Oregon Trail… or at least that’s the story. You can check it out at: http://www.matthazardextreme.com. All of these things are being done to build up the belief in the back story. More than anything, it amazes us when we do an interview and the interviewer asks us, “How is this different from Matt’s old games?” with a totally straight face. When that happens, we know we fooled them.

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PSU: If you can get Matt Hazard to answer this question himself, that would be great. We'd just like to know what it's like being Matt Hazard and knowing the entire industry has you to thank for where it is today.

Matt Hazard/D/B:
We just called Matt on his iPwn (that device on his left shoulder). Here’s what he had to say…

“I gotta say, I’m super comfortable with it. Back in the early days, I kinda got embarrassed when people said stuff like, “you’re defining the industry” and “your games make other peoples’ games look like total crap.” After 20 years, though…I can see that they’re just plain right. I mean my games WERE the cornerstone for about half the genres out there. For example, back before I made third-person games the norm, the industry was moving toward second person games. Seriously. Can you imagine that? Controlling the guy that controls the guy you’re playing in the game? That’s just weird, man! But I set ‘em straight. And if people are grateful for me being that kind of visionary…I’m cool with them complementing the hell out of me. I’m nothing if not a good winner.”

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We'd like to thank Matt Hazard, Dave Ellis, and Brian Etheridge for taking the time to answer our questions and inform our readers of what to expect come the game's launch next week. 


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