"It's been hell," Volume
creator Mike Bithell says about working with his friend, concept artist Daz Watford
, over the past six years.
"You love it," Watford replies, laughing.
It's clear that they both enjoy working together, even though they admit to having disparate views on minimalism, concept art details and caricature styles. Bithell calls it "fun fighting," when he and Watford go back on forth on a character or set design, until one of them gives in and admits the other was right all along.
Watford describes the art of Volume
as reminiscent of classic American artist Norman Rockwell, realistic yet with details exaggerated in a cartoonish way. Bithell, on the other hand, notes the game's call-back to British heritage, with a skinny, smart protagonist instead of a hulking meat box, done up in monochromatic tones against a colorful environment. They both agree on the geometric roots of Volume
's art – diamonds. Even the rivets in the metal beams of Volume
's world are shaped as diamonds, rather than circles, Watford points out.
Bithell has an affinity for geometry, it seems, since his first game, Thomas Was Alone
, revolves around shapes as characters. Volume
is a different beast, with all of these diamond ideas incorporated into a vast, top-down, stealth universe with a distinct Robin Hood twist.
Yes, Robin Hood. Volume
stars Robert Locksley, the intelligent fellow Bithell mentioned, as he navigates dangerous areas with the help of an AI bot voiced by Thomas Was Alone
narrator Danny Wallace. Again, it's the details that make it a medieval, Robin Hood-inspired game, even though it's set in a 3D, futuristic landscape: Locksley's shirt has zippers in the shape of a cross on its front, reminiscent of templar knights, for example. The enemies resemble metal suits of armor, and they carry crossbows instead of guns – something that Bithell says no one noticed from the trailers.
"There's a real trend, especially in nerd media, of the skinny, smart guy being the hero, which I love," Bithell says. "It's something that I wanted to do more of. It's that kind of Sherlock
or Doctor Who
– Loki, not so much. He's sort of the bad guy, but still –"
Watford jumps in, "Everyone loves Loki."
Bithell, a self-proclaimed sci-fi nerd, inundated Watford with medieval design homework, including watching Game of Thrones
. Watford had never seen an episode, but now he's hooked and he's even reading the books, and that research helped craft the style inspiration for Volume
. One thing Bithell and Watford agree on is staying away from hoodies.
"The first thing that we had to do was remove the hoodie because the second you mix a stealth game with a character in a hood, very very quickly you end up in Assassin's Creed territory," Bithell says.
is a very different game than Assassin's Creed, of course – it's top-down stealth with a Clippy-like AI guide
, all tied together by Robin Hood. Surprisingly, it plays more like Hotline Miami
than anything else, Bithell says.
"Weirdly, the more it comes along, it's almost becoming a non-violent Hotline Miami
, which is really weird because Hotline Miami
is all about violence," Bithell says. "But just in terms of the rhythm, really – because they're very dangerous, the villains, and unlike Hotline Miami
you can't shoot them, so they're even more dangerous and immediately dangerous to you."
Watford has about a month of concept work left, he says, and then it's back into the freelance market. Volume
is due out this year, launching on PS4 and Vita first, and a month later on PC and Mac.