Interview: Jim Rossignol On Sir, You Are Being Hunted

By John Walker on March 30th, 2012 at 3:00 pm.

Hot drinks!
Once in a while in this job, you get to speak to a hero. A developer whose work you’ve always more than admired – perhaps even had your life changed by. But today I spoke to Jim Rossignol about his new game, Sir, You Are Being Hunted.

RPS: Hey Jim, who I don’t know, tell me what on Earth Sir, You Are Being Hunted is all about.

Rossignol: Good morning, strange journalist. Your questions are very clever, but I shall attempt to answer them all. Starting with the one you just asked. Sir, You Are Being Hunted is about three things.

Firstly it’s about having a big, open, sandbox survival experience. It’s a first-person game that emerges from our interest in open ended experiences. We don’t want any scripted events or linear story stuff going on in there, and so much of what’s going on in that world is freeform and AI “life” driven. It’s about exploring, gathering up what you can carry in your inventory, choosing your path, and your strategy. All encounters in Hunted will be dynamic, and it’ll be down to the player to figure out how best to take on the robotic hunters. That could mean running away, it could mean trying to confront them violently and dying horribly.

Secondly it is about pseudo-aristocratic tweed-wearing robots. They smoke pipes, drink tea, and carry shotguns. They are hunting you, for some reason, across a recognisably British landscape.

Thirdly it is about Big Robot, my little development team, exploring AI behaviour. The key motivation for the game was that we want to make games in which enemies fight each other, and you – creating the kinds of worlds that feel believable because they’re going on without revolving directly around the player. I think first-person games are generally best when they simulate something independent of the player. This is our first step into that kind of technology.


RPS: So you’re in a position where you can now make games with complete freedom. Why have you made this game?

Rossignol: Because, I suppose, the freedom is actually sort of illusory. We are still constrained by not having much money, or many people. We wanted to make something that followed our lines of interest, but also explored territory that we think need to be looked at in game dev: dynamic combat, survival, exploration. And to do that all in Unity, with minimal assets and development time, was the challenge we set ourselves. The design we came up with for Hunted was the best solution to all those desires and constraints. Also, for the past year we’ve been working on a game for Channel 4, which is an educational puzzle thing called Fallen City. Sir, You Are Being Hunted is sort of an antidote to that, because it has guns and robots in. Both games, though, are set in distinctly British environments, and both have tea-drinking in, so the studio influences are clear.

RPS: As you started exploring ideas of freedom in games with Lodestone, were you encountering the reasons so many try to avoid it? Has that influenced SYABH?

Rossignol: We were certainly encountering the feature-creep issues that so many developers work hard to avoid in their games. Lodestone is a terrain engine developed by our programmer Tom Betts, which we can use to make infinite landscapes. Actually infinite. We wanted to play with that idea and see how it might work as a game world. A purely generative space on an unimaginably vast scale seemed like a fun idea, but yes, there were some development issues related to that. Breaking it down to smaller tasks seemed like a good idea, and so we’re exploring the idea of factional AI fighting both themselves and the player in an open landscape. Hunted is a full-blown project, but it is also about finding out how to make specific things within a game world.


RPS: So why the British aristocratic theme? What concepts are you looking to explore with this?

Rossignol: I like the idea of developers using local themes, culture, and mythologies in their games, just as GSC did with Stalker, Chernobyl, and The Zone. In that same way we want to create a game that echoes the silly sinisterness of our upper classes, the peculiar spooky kitschness of our sci-fi history, and the bleakness of Britain’s countryside in winter. An early reference made by my design chum James Carey was the Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, where an aristocratic chap systematically kills his very English relatives to inherit their titles and money. It’s funny, of course, but very dark. That’s the kind of thing we want to pull off.

RPS: Does the game come more from a desire of something you want to say, or something you want to play?

Rossignol: Both! I want to say “this kind of game is interesting and fun”, and then go and make it so that people can play it. I think the great disappointment of my career as a games journalist has been how often I say “this type of game is AMAZING” and then never see it attempted again. (Stalker, Eve, PlanetSide all being good examples of games that have only had one or two imitators in a decade of games, and in PlanetSide’s case it’s a direct sequel.)


RPS: Are you able to shake off the critic’s voice as you develop, and allow yourself to create without worrying about how it will be received? Or is it a bonus?

Rossignol: Oh, God, no, it’s horrible. Not really because I care about how it will be received, but more because I can’t stop worrying at what we’ve made, even when I can’t do anything about because of money or technical constraints. I’ve always known how difficult it is to make games – I tried to make them as a teenager and then spent a decade listening to developers tell me how tough it was. Now that I am actually making them I am suffering under how tricky it is, while at the same time tearing it apart under critical scrutiny. It’s an excruciating Catch-22. Ultimately, though, making stuff is harder than simply writing about stuff, and the difficulty makes the results more satisfying.

RPS: How many DRMs will your game include?

Rossignol: When we’ve worked out what the most controversial DRM solution is, we’ll use that. I was thinking some kind of red hot robotic desktop hook that removes the eyes of legitimate users, but leaves pirates unscathed?

RPS: Do you think, if left to your own devices, you’d accidentally make STALKER?

Rossignol: I wish we had the resources to make something as full-on as STALKER. We’re going to make something much lower fidelity, and a little more sketchy and weird, I think.

RPS: What would you give your game out of 10?

Rossignol: That’s a trick question, isn’t it? You know very well that I only mark out of 12,000! Or hands. Robotic hands.

RPS: Thank you for your time.

No release date yet, but Jim promises regular development updates over at Big-Robot.com.

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87 Comments »

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  1. Jams O'Donnell says:

    So, 10/12000? That’s really not very good. Pull your socks up, man.

  2. McDan says:

    I don’t know who this Rossignol character is but I like the way he does words and stuff. The game sounds excellent, though I’d like to hear more about the gameplay yessir.

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      I think he wrote a book, though I forgot about what … something about his gambling life? It was something like that.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Qazinsky says:

    From the descriptions, it sounds alot like something STALKERish, and that’s a good thing, recently replayed them all in backwards order, great games.

    This sounds really good on paper, really looking forward to see how it turns out.

  4. Jockie says:

    The concept is clearly awesome, very interested to see how it develops.

    I’m curious about character development, i.e. will there be ways to develop your character into being an expert at running away, or at shooting robots in the face, or is it more purely about using the tools at your disposal to survive?

    Also, as a sandbox game, will it be an open ended ‘how long can you survive?’ ala Zomboid etc, or will there be narrative elements to explore?

    Either way, tea-sipping aristopath robots are one of my favouritist things, even if I can think of no previous examples.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      ” is it more purely about using the tools at your disposal to survive?”

      Yes, it’s simply about exploring and finding the things you need to survive. There is going to be an overall arc to the experience, though, and you can engineer a final escape from the island to complete the game.

      • Cooper says:

        Any plans for any RPG-ish bits? Or will it be in the “you are what you carry and what equipment you use” category?

        (Fingers crossed for the latter…)

        • Jockie says:

          That’s kind of what I was asking in a roundabout way Cooper and thanks for the reply Jim.

          I’m sure if you ever have a need for beta testers and the like, you’ll have a horde of willing recruits. I hear there’s some kind of archaic and quintessentially English PC gaming webazine, where this sort of thing might be quite popular…

        • Jim Rossignol says:

          “you are what you carry and what equipment you use”

          That’s the plan.

      • HexagonalBolts says:

        This looks amazing Jim, best of luck! I can’t wait to here more about it. Consider it pre-ordered!

      • FunkyBadger3 says:

        What? An escape to… France?

        I, sir, would rather die buried beneath the rusting carapaces of my enemies.

        • canonfodder says:

          Damn straight, none of this fleeing the island nonsense. I will stand and fight. (and then die)

          Also I imagine there are no other non hostile NPC’s?

        • Jim Rossignol says:

          An escape to a Britain where you are not being hunted by toffbots.

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      Bluerps says:

      Will all the factions be hostile to the player, or will it be possible to interact with some of them?

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      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      A-Life is a fascinating tool to build into a game. It’s omission is one of the few things about Stalker that disappointed me.

  5. deke913 says:

    They had me at tweed wearing robots who drink tea. Sign me up.

  6. Blackcompany says:

    Open world/sandbox with a genuine struggle for survival and dynamic encounters requiring various, circumstantial strategies in order to survive?
    .
    Sign me up, please.
    .
    Call it nuts, but…I think I will likely play the hell out of this game. I have said for years that one of the major problems in gaming is that the player only ever gains. Loot, levels, gold, skills. You just keep taking from the game world, with no sense of genuine risk to counter-balance the constant stream of rewards. Oh, you might die…but you will only do it if you screw up, not because others came looking to challenge you.
    .
    But this game…this game looks to fix all that. Definitely interested.

  7. Cooper says:

    “game developer is developing a game”

    This isn’t news!

  8. Ian says:

    How did you and Jim possibly meet, John?

    What an unlikely encounter.

    • Phantoon says:

      Based on the intro, I was assuming John was going to follow up with “Jim does not inspire me. In fact, he still owes me five pounds.” or something of the sort.

  9. The Godzilla Hunter says:

    Just one question: how many pixels does it have? All the pixels, or just most of them?

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      Qazinsky says:

      You see that teeny tiny little black square on your screen in the upper right corner?

      That’s the pixel I got, and if you want it back, you’ll put $500 in an envelope and put it in the full dumpster behind your house, or you might just start getting corners sent to you in the mail…

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      We are not talking about the pixels at this stage in the marketing strategy.

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        Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        At least you could release some of the pixels in exchange for Facebook “Likes”. Maybe 1 pixel per 100,000 Likes. Collect the full set!*

        *Full set is 65,536 pixels.

      • DrGonzo says:

        Ooh but you need retina pixels nowadays, because that’s the best amount of pixels. Retina pixels.

  10. Soon says:

    What kind of sadist creates robots with a predilection for tea, yet gives them no mouth? Or is this the driving force behind their murderous intent?

  11. Mattressi says:

    Wow, this interview made me have a read of their blog: it’s bloody brilliant! If they can pull off what they say they’re trying to do (having AI wandering the landscape with a purpose, rather than just being scripted in, for example), this could actually be better than Stalker – especially with the first Stalker’s poor attempt at A-Life.

    The DRM sounds good. You may also want to make every game asset a microtransaction item: “want grass? Pay 97.34 genericpoints. Want the player character model? 723.89 genericpoints” etc. Then, only sell the genericpoints in increments of 100,000, for 1000 quid.

  12. Utgaardsloke says:

    I really like the setting you guys have chosen. To play on your own cultures’ uniqueness is a sound principle!

  13. sneetch says:

    I wanted this the moment I saw the first screenshot. I’m amazed at how off-putting it is now when I see a realistic man in a realistic uniform with a realistic gun crouching behind a realistic wall while other realistic men shoot at him.

  14. Berzee says:

    This is kind of like Dr. McNinja’s dinosaurs-rule-the-earth-and-pay-humans-to-wear-jetpacks-and-fly-around-so-the-dinosaurs-have-something-to-hunt alternate future.

    Kind of.

  15. Eukatheude says:

    This might just be the best game ever. If it isn’t, make Sir, you are being hunted 2 when you’ll have enough resources.

  16. mod the world says:

    What’s next, game devs starting to write their own game blogs?

  17. Muzman says:

    Sounds groovy. I probably wouldn’t mind if it was just a couple of robots hunting you if it was well done enough.

    How hunt-y will it manage to be? Do you have to, say, avoid scaring the wildlife in case that draws attention to your location?

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    MajorManiac says:

    This looks truly superb.

  19. frightlever says:

    Anyone remember Naked Prey?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060736/

    Almost identical premise, except it’s set in Africa during late colonial times. Great film

  20. DocSeuss says:

    I am interested, but I have a question:

    The AI blog post thingamajig says you’re using Finite State Machines. STALKER uses something a bit different (GOAP, first introduced in FEAR). Have you guys considered using GOAP? It’s apparently really easy to implement but significantly better than the alternatives.

    The example its creator used in his GDC talk was something like “in NOLF2, we added a behavior where characters would turn on lights whenever they entered a dark room. This took a long time [a full team, a couple weeks, I think?]. With GOAP, one guy could have done it in like an hour or something.”

    • sneetch says:

      Doesn’t GOAP itself use a FSM and A*? I think the complexity in NOLF2 was due to the complicated environments and the interactions they wanted with those environments rather than anything else. What Jim’s team seems to be doing is much “simpler”.

  21. HothMonster says:

    I love game worlds that appear to give 0 fucks as to whether you are there or not. This sounds like one such game world, which excites me.

    Also being a critic and a developer I am sure you are familiar with the importance of time-to-box and therefore I expect hunted’s time-till-crate(i believe that is the British version of the measurement? or is it bin?) to be <1.0sec

  22. jonfitt says:

    The aesthetic puts me in mind of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting music-video/short-film.

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    Cyrano says:

    This sounds a bit like an adaption of bits of The 39 Steps, but with murderous well dressed robots instead of German spies. I cannot understand any way this can be a bad thing.

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    tomeoftom says:

    I am so, so keen for this.

  25. Sarlix says:

    But can you talk to the robots?

    Looks excellent so far, good work!

    • HothMonster says:

      Ohh yes, I want a “beg for my life” button and then a chance the robot will have an empathy defect and allow me a head start before coming to kill me again. Of course you can never trust a murderous robot so I also want a chance that he is lying to me and will shoot me in the back as soon as I try to move away. Also I want cupcakes, and a raise.

  26. terry says:

    Loving the visual style of this, Large Robots. Where’s the channel 4 game though? It is early 2012 already!

  27. Torgen says:

    When do preorders open up?

  28. Skabooga says:

    Lodestone is a terrain engine developed by our programmer Tom Betts, which we can use to make infinite landscapes. Actually infinite. We wanted to play with that idea and see how it might work as a game world. A purely generative space on an unimaginably vast scale seemed like a fun idea, but yes, there were some development issues related to that.

    As fun as randomly generated landscapes sound, it seems like you have made the right choice.

  29. Urthman says:

    Have you considered making it free-to-play and selling players more hats for the robots? Or additional varieties of tea?

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    fupjack says:

    You are planning to make something like Stalker but more “sketchy” and “wierd”? That is a very high bar you are setting there.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Well it’ll be nothing like as big, or as detailed, or as many assets. No hi res textures, or scripted events, or story, or human NPCs, or companions…. it’s inspired by those games, rather than trying to be them.

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    Tom De Roeck says:

    Probably too early, but, mod support afterwards?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Unlikely, I’m afraid, but we might be able to add some elements that are user-tweakable.

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        Tom De Roeck says:

        Thats surprisingly candid of you, as modding makes or breaks the game for some people.

        • Berzee says:

          I am not sure on this, but I have gathered that Unity isn’t exactly the easiest platform to make mod-friendly games with.

      • YourMessageHere says:

        Please do. At least make things reskinnable and such. Games like this are much more immersive if you make them your own.

  32. Dances to Podcasts says:

    With the tories in power and their current policies, the class war theme seems very… now. Intentional?

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    felisc says:

    Will there be one hidden robot shaped like John Walker ? will it cry ?

    • Torgen says:

      It won’t cry, but the others will remark on what a terrible repairer it is.

  34. Maldomel says:

    So where Do I need to insert my money to get this?

    Sounds fantastic, and I’m not just talking as the RPS fanboy here, but also as the robot that loves tea and human hunting.

  35. buzzmong says:

    Will the Smash robots, 70’s K9 or even Marvin have a cameo? Important questions.

    • Bob says:

      If K9 makes an appearance he’d say “Hello Master” then shoot you with his laser.

      This game has piqued my interest. Is there any idea for a price yet?

  36. Ruffian says:

    “RPS: How many DRMs will your game include?
    Rossignol: When we’ve worked out what the most controversial DRM solution is, we’ll use that. I was thinking some kind of red hot robotic desktop hook that removes the eyes of legitimate users, but leaves pirates unscathed?” –
    Hardest I’ve loled in weeks, seriously.

  37. DestructibleEnvironments says:

    This game is very, very british. I’m a bit scared, guys. Be gentle. :(

  38. YourMessageHere says:

    This does look superb in so many ways, but one thing I’m really interested to see is how the whole ‘Britishness’ thing turns out. National identity is something that’s really hard to have a balanced idea of when you come to your own country. Foreign ideas of your own country often bear no relation to reality, but things that represent your own country to its inhabitants are often incomprehensible to foreigners, or at least take a lot of learning and context-gathering. I’ll be super impressed if you can pull this off without descending into cliche (EDIT: aggravating cliche, at least, rather than cliche done intentionally for laughs – I fear too much of that will really undermine the sense of place, though), yet still coming across as quintessentially British to those who reside elsewhere.

    Loving the idea of British landscape being a central part of this, and for my money that’s a good sign that you’ve got a decent chance of pulling it off. From those screenshots, a lot of what you’ve got is very Britishness-evocative, especially the sky, the church, the dry stone walls and the wind turbine, other things (the lake shot, aside from the church) look rather generic.

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    The Sombrero Kid says:

    The important thing about games like stalker isn’t the complex systems they implement it’s that they don’t really explain those systems. So like a xenomorph they feel more realistic because you fill in the blanks yourself, hope jinns games batiks that aspect