At E3 2019, Mike Bithell sat down with us to talk about his team’s upcoming game based on the hit action franchise, John Wick Hex.
Before I played John Wick Hex, strategy games were absolutely not my cup of tea. However, once I picked up the game I was blown away by how fun and fast-paced Mike Bithell and his team were able to make it. So I was happy when I got to sit down and chat with Bithell himself for a few minutes at E3 2019 and discuss just exactly what the game has to offer and what it was like bringing the franchise to PC and consoles.
Tanner Pierce: So what did you think of John Wick Chapter 3?
Mike Bithell: I hated it I thought it was terrible. [We all collectively laugh] No, it was awesome. I loved it. It was a weird relationship though because we’ve been working on this [game] for more than a year, so me and Ben [Andac] have been flying over to LA every six weeks and we actually got to read the screenplay before they started shooting it. I sat with Chad [Stahelski] while he was editing it, we got to go to the premiere, and I saw a rough cut of it around 3 or 4 months before it came out. By the time of the premiere I had basically either read it or seen it like 3 times, so getting inside that process has been weird, but I do love it. It’s very weird. It’s like watching a kid grow. It’s been fun.
TP: Speaking of that process, what was your reaction to finding out that you’re making a John Wick game?
MB: Dude, I still don’t believe it. Ben [Andac] came to me because he knew I was an action movie fan. He asked me “what would you do with a John Wick game?” I thought I was having a conversation with my friend about bullshit, but it turns out I was being auditioned. I said “well, you could do a third-person shooter that would make a lot of sense, but the problem is that with a third-person shooter, you playing the game is not going to fell like John Wick being a badass. You need to have time to think and make choices, so you know what Ben it’s probably a strategy game.” I had not realized Ben had been brought in by Good Shepard Entertainment, who were working with Lionsgate, who told him to go find someone who’s going to do something interesting with John Wick…[But] for me, it wasn’t real until we announced.
TP: So, John Wick is obviously an action movie. Strategy games are kinda known for being slow. So what was the most important thing to get right when you’re translating John Wick for a strategy game?
MB: What’s funny about that question is that you’re about five months faster to come to that realization than I was. Because the idea that turn-based games are very deliberate and slow was something that I was aware of but not something that I was really thinking about when I first started. The original prototype was actually turn-based. It was XCOM with one character and it sucked. It was the worst version of what you imagine when you think of a John Wick strategy game. It was slow, it was deliberate, and you’d do your move and then you’d watch as five guys would just take turns to shoot John.
It was weird enough and it was interesting enough that Lionsgate wanted to do it and Good Shepard wanted to do it. They saw something in it but it was very much like a “you need to do a bit more work on this, Mike.” And it was actually when we went and showed it to a guy [at Lionsgate] named Jason Constantine who’s the Executive Producer on the franchise and I demoed it to him and he was like “that’s great Mike, thank you. I have one question: why is John constantly waiting while other people shoot at him. John Wick doesn’t wait. He gets on with it, he doesn’t wait his turn.”
I was showing him other strategy games and I was like “in this genre, it’s turn-based” and I’m doing this and I’m just thinking “I’m an idiot. I’m explaining to this guy why my game sucks.” So I went back home, we as a team sat down and that’s where that whole timeline idea came from and THAT was when it was a John Wick game.
TP: So you guys have done a few games here and there, but this is kind of your first licensed game…
MB: It is as an indie. Years ago I was doing Nickelodeon games for like the Wii, but that was as an employee of a company.
TP: So what’s the big difference between working on something like Thomas Was Alone or Volume and something like John Wick Hex?
MB: It’s probably the collaboration. Ultimately, the process is the same: you have an idea, you make a bad version of that idea, and then you keep fixing it until someone makes you release it. That’s ultimately how all this works. But I guess the difference is when you’re making something that’s just completely your own, you are making all those decisions for yourself. Here, with something like this, because you’ve got loads of other people, it means you [have] all of these voices who are experts coming in and giving you thoughts. And what was amazing was about it was that they are always right. That process of kind of constantly judging how successful we were being was really vitally important.
TP: So, if someone could come away from your game, they’ve rolled credits and they’ve just finished it, and they could get one thing out of it, what do you want that to be?
MB: I want them to go and watch the movies again and have a better idea as to why John’s doing things. Because the whole game is about getting into the mindset. I love the idea that someone’s going to go back to the movies and be like “I understand why he throws his gun now.”
TP: And that was a really cool option to see in the game. I was like “oh, that’s perfect…”
MB: And working out why he’s doing things because it just can’t be a QTE, it can’t just be something we force on the player just so it looks like John Wick. It has to be the outcome of a gameplay choice.
John Wick Hex is set to be released sometime in the near future on PC and console, although the exact date and platforms have yet to be announced.