Co-creator of Hotline Miami and Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, Dennis Wedin Interview with Timothy Courtney

Interview Published: 04/02/2016

Timothy Courtney interviews Dennis Wedin, an indie game developer and cofounder of Dennaton Games. He's the co-creator of Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, Hotline Miami, and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number.

Timothy Courtney: Where did you grow up, and what kind of things did you like to do as a child?

Dennis Wedin: I grew up in a small town on the east coast of Sweden, called Västervik (translated Westbay in english). I was a typical nerd as a kid, playing video games, role playing games, warhammer and drawing. I also played a lot of basketball, skateboarded and did some graffiti.

What was the first art you remember creating when you were little? Can you describe it?

I remember spending an insane amount of hours drawing Go-bots and Transformers when I was really young. One drawing of Cop-tur (a helicopter Go-bot) is still very clear in my mind (full figure no real pose just standing there) so I guess it would be that one, not sure if it's the first though.

You had a couple years of art school. Where was that, and what was that experience like for you? Do you think it had a positive effect on you?

I went for two years to an art school located in a forest in the middle of nowhere. They mostly taught us the skills to paint, which I sadly don't do anymore as it requires a lot of space, so most of the stuff I learned is lost by now. But my teacher had a major influence on me when it comes to picking colors and finding color balance in a design or a drawing. The biggest effect it had on me though was giving me the courage to move out of my parents house, and my hometown, and start taking care of myself. That experience lead to me moving to Gothenburg, so you can easily say that if I hadn't gone to art school my life would look very different today.

I believe you had gone through a break up before you started working on Hotline Miami. Did working on the game help you work through that pain, or did that pain help you work on the game?

I did and I think I'm gonna answer yes on both your questions. Working on the game helped me take my mind of the break-up, helped me find myself again and helped me reconnect with all the things I used to love doing/watching/hearing/reading before the relationship.

At what point when you first talked to Jonatan Soderstrom about possibly working with him on the rough top-down prototype he had, which would evolve into Hotline Miami, did you get really exciting about the potential? Did you think it was going to be nearly as big as it turned out? What were you thinking at the time?

I loved it right from the start! I played his prototype for quite a while (even though it was just one level) and that was the most exciting part, making a game that we loved to play ourselves. We never really thought about what anyone else would think, we just wanted to play it and to do that we had to make it. Seeing that so many more also wanted to play it is really cool of course but it didn't influence the creative process at the time.

You're working with Jonatan on more games. What's the workflow like? What is a typical day like for you on a productive day?

We collaborate on everything and we talk a lot during the days, thinking out loud. At the same time we have our responsibilities, me doing most of the graphics and Jonatan doing code and we trust each other in that role so we don't need to keep constant track of what the other is doing all the time as we know it will be amazing at the end.

When did you first start getting into music and playing guitar? How did you learn?

I began playing bass at age 13 when me and two friends decided to start a band. We learned to play the instruments ourselves. It took a while but we got the hang of it eventually (like last year or so;).

Were you in the band GO! with fourteen O and if so, did you help write George Orwell's Collection of Hidden Cameras?

Yes I was, I wrote the music and a lot of the lyrics. For that song though I only wrote the music, not really a fan of political poetry/lyrics myself, rather write/listen to personal subjects.

What age did you first start singing, in front of people? How did you get into that?

I started singing after I split up with GO! with fourteen O (where another guy used to be the vocalist). At that point I wanted to do it all by myself without any bandmates so I had no choice but to pick up the mic. I think it took around 3 months before I sang in front of anyone.

Do you think you'll tour around with FUCKING WEREWOLF ASSO? Is that something you're planning for the future?

We have done 5 tours with FWA in Europe since the start in 2008 and we are hoping to do more. Next up is a quick weekend tour in Russia.

KEYBOARD DRUMSET FUCKING WEREWOLF is a trippy game. It looks like you were having a lot of fun during the making. How did that game come about, and how long did it take to make?

I had been carrying around an idea for a while where I wanted the band to have some kind of music video game where you play one of our songs. I had started hanging out with Jonatan and his brother and I knew he made games so I asked if he wanted to make this game for my band. He said yes but on one condition and that was that I made the graphics. I had never done pixel art before or animation but Jonatan taught me the basics and we took it from there. It took around 3 weeks to finish it and we felt that we had a really cool chemistry between us and that lead to us wanting to make more games together (which lead to Hotline Miami).

You seem to like a strong title. Some people believe that's a big thing, and I've heard others say it's not except that it shouldn't be too serious. I've heard quite a few different theories on it. How important do you think a title is, specifically for a game, and also for music? What do you think makes a good title?

I've always had a thing for bandnames and song titles and I have a book that I've been carrying around with me for a couple of years now that is filled with just that, but that might just be me. I do feel that a strong title has become more and more important as more and more content is screaming for people's attention. I mean, people don't even bother to watch a trailer or listen to a song anymore unless something speaks to them within the first couple of seconds. A strong title could be just the thing that manages to keep them watching/listening. What makes a good title I have no idea, but some cool words doesn't automatically mean a cool title. That is for sure. It's very important that it rolls nice and easy off your tongue. If you sound like an idiot trying to pronounce it, you've already lost.

Aside from music and games, what activity or hobby are you into?

Well, of course I like to consume what other people are creating so I play a lot of games, watch movies/series, read comics/books. I also love skateboarding and working on/driving my car.

When you're designing a game, you're thinking about how the player will feel, among other things. What are some of your core design principles, and what are you going for in general? What do you keep in mind while designing gameplay?

We want the player to have to invest themselves when playing the game. Both time and skill when it comes to difficulty but also investing thoughts and ideas to create an understanding of the story. Both story and gameplay needs to brutal at the beginning but not punishing for the player. We don't want to send the player back to the beginning if they die too much or let the game tell them what is happening because they got it wrong. You have to trust that the player can figure it out and that there is nothing wrong if some of them don't.

You'll use controversial language and imagery in your games. Do you battle yourself with self-censorship ever? If so, what's that like for you?

No, if we feel that it needs to be in there because it makes the game better then it stays.

In film, a writer can create the most degenerate characters to be depicted, and people have overall accepted that. However, in games, if you design an equally degenerate character who does awful things, people don't want to see it. There seems to be a different scale which it's judged on, and most people will say something like that doesn't belong in games. With some of your characters, I see you going against that tide. Is that a realization you've had before? What was your thought process when doing controversial things like Parvo, based on a serial killer, and what people have come to know as the rape scene in HLM2?

Film is a much older medium and because of that it has come much farther in terms of story telling and themes. Me and Jonatan are much more inspired by stories in movies and books then from other video games, where the story usually is riding quietly in the backseat. We both love movies that leave a lot to the viewer to figure out by themselves, something that keeps you up at night or in a discussion with your friends because you want to understand. We never wanted to be controversial, we just wanted to tell a story that we felt was interesting and that didn't treat the viewer as an idiot by explaining each and every step that is happening on the screen. I think games will eventually get to the point where movies are right now, just needs time and people trying new things.

What are you most excited about for the future of indie games?

I really wanna play Cuphead!

Where should people go to follow you and your work?

Fucking werewolf can be found over at facebook or bandcamp. Dennaton Games has a blog we use once in a while or follow me on twitter.

💘 Interview by Timothy Courtney

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