There was no shortage of promotion for HOB at PAX East. The mysterious red-hooded protagonist could be seen on Pinny Arcade collectible pins, in teasers on the screens that deck the halls, and even in living cosplay color. I’m skeptical when it comes to marketing, so I feared the possibility of a sophomore slump after the Torchlight series. I’m pleased to say that our conversation with Allen Fong of Runic Games gave me confidence that this game will live up to the hype.
Runic Games, previously known for Torchlight and Torchlight 2, will release HOB on PC and PS4 later this year. This single-player, puzzle platformer is meant to be an immersive exploration-driven experience. Allen described the world of HOB as a “very Darwinian struggle” in which the player encounters creatures and plant life that can be used for resources, or left alone. If unchecked, some populations will grow large enough to take over an entire area. The silent hero’s journey isn’t as simple as good versus evil. Rather, HOB invites the player to unwrap the layers of a mysterious world.
Fans of some of the games that inspired HOB (such as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus) will enjoy the hauntingly beautiful landscapes. What looks like the sleepy ruins of stone palaces can be scaled and moved with the character’s powered-up glove to reveal a vast network of underground machinery. Within minutes, the player will discover that this machinery can be used to re-arrange the surface world. When I mentioned aesthetic similarities to the film Castle in the Sky, Allen said that the artists did draw some inspiration from Studio Ghibli– he pointed to the sprites’ resemblance to the tree spirits in Princess Mononoke. Creatures were inspired by combinations of real-life animals.
As far as the soundtrack goes, don’t expect any voice acting. The story in HOB is driven by exploration, not dialogue. Matt Uelman (Torc) composed the music. His work for this title, from what we saw in the demo and trailer, strikes a balance between serene and eerie. Much of the development of HOB, Allen shared, revolved around balance. Finding the right combination of combat, puzzle-solving, and exploration was a labor of love for the Runic Games team.
It’s easy to see that a lot of creative energy went into this game. As an example, the backgrounds are just not flat, pretty wallpaper. Like Dark Souls, HOB‘s environment is fully immersive, so if you can see it, you’ll be able to access it later. As I was talking to Allen about the effort and thought that went into HOB, I could see that he’s proud to be part of this project. When a toddler (exasperated parents in tow) wandered into the interview area, Allen smiled and handed him a patch. From what we saw, HOB will be a title to talk about this year, for new and seasoned gamers alike. I can’t wait to explore more.