Sean Murray, founder of Hello Games, is a very honest and forthcoming man when it comes to talking about the original Joe Danger. One specific thing that has bothered him about the original is the game's level editor, bluntly telling me that it was an afterthought. "The original we had a level editor but it was something we didn't do very well. It wasn't a feature for us like it would be for LittleBigPlanet or whatever. We just started off as four of us to make this game and we never really made a game on our own before.
The weird thing was, normally about 2-5% of people supposedly use in-game level editors," Sean continued. "So we were like it's not that big a deal. The original Joe Danger, the level editor is, I'm kind of embarrassed by this, used a lot. We have stats for it, but we can't see what those levels actually look like, but even now like everyday there's about 60 levels made."
Sean told me there's no real reason for those people to create any levels. They can't be shared, and there's a clunky interface for the PlayStation 3 version to create something. Yet over 160,000 levels were made in the first couple of months of the release of Joe Danger.
"That was absolutely gutting to us. You can't imagine what that feels like, to know that people are doing that and you just haven't supported it. They can't share it, you can't see it, you can't get to them and you're like if only people could see these."
So for The Movie, the team went back to the drawing board to make a really simple, slick level-editing tool that will let anyone easily design and share their creations with everyone on Xbox Live.
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Sean gave me a live demo of the level editor and I have to say it's extremely impressive. The editor is completely live with Joe racing down the track. At any point you can pause the action, and drop in anything from the over 1,000 items that you can choose from. Sean equated the system to playing with toys. You can seamlessly move things around, place stuff wherever, and the items also use physics so they're not just static items if you're making the item fall from the sky. You can also place down NPCs that you'll be racing against, and they all have path finding. So all you need to worry about is placing them into the map, and the game will take care of the rest.
It's very easy to design your dream course as you don't have to do guess work since you can build as you go. For example, you can place down a ramp, watch Joe launch over it, pause the action to see where Joe's about to land, and then place an item at the landing spot.
You can also create a level that can go on for hours, literally. While there is a limit to how many items you can place, there doesn't seem to be a limit to how long the levels can be. So far the longest level created by the QA team at Hello Games is 15 hours. It's not that great of a level, Sean tells me.
Once you're done, you can upload the level for all to see and play. Players can rate creations, and you'll be able to filter through the choices by top rated, rising stars, most popular, and so on. The level editor will also automatically tag your level based on what you've done for those looking for specific stuff to play on. Sean again equates what they're doing with Joe Danger: The Movie as Nintendo style, that this is what a level editor by Nintendo would be like.
And it's a damn good thing it's so easy to make a level as the team has tossed a ton of stuff out. "We try these things out, we'll take them to a show like this, we'll watch hundreds of people play through it, and if they like it it'll stay, if they don't we'll go back and think what went wrong. We throw away so much, so so much, like a horrible amount."
There's about a hundred levels in The Movie, which accounts for about 10% of the total amount of levels the team has created for the game since they started the project. "At [last year's] gamescom, we had 50-60 levels, and we threw away everything but about 3 or 4.
Have you ever played a game and gotten stuck somewhere, or not being able to find the health pack, or the key or the whatever. You just think how did no one spot this? Everyone would have this problem, how has this game been released? So we avoid that by just coming to a show like this and watching. We get about a thousand people a day at the stand, and you just see people hit the same problem over and over again and you have to fix it. You might be totally in love with an idea, but if everyone else hates it you can't deny that."
Still, Sean and the team have hung on to some of their favorite levels that didn't fit by creating the "Deleted Scenes" mode. All 50 levels are open from the start in this mode, and you can play through them however you want. There's a ton of different ideas that were played with in here, and it's a way to see all the different things the team experimented with in the game.
Before moving on, I just had to ask Sean if this year's gamescom has made them make any more cuts or changes. Sean told me that they only changed some small things in a few of the levels as they were seeing lots of people run into the same problem over and over.
"We're at that stage in the game where we're not supposed to be changing anything, [yet] we're still changing stuff (laughs). We were here last night just after everyone had gone making changes to levels and uploading them to the new build. We're totally obsessed with the game."
Joe Danger: The Movie should be out sometime this September for Xbox Live Arcade.