It’s certainly not every day that a developer announces they’re making a new game set in the universe of Hellboy, Mike Mignola’s long-running supernatural-action comic series. For Patrick Martin and Adam Langridge, co-founders of U.K.-based game studio Upstream Arcade, it was a dream come true.
“I remember back in the mid-noughties when I was at Lionhead, I was always dreaming of making a game in the style of Hellboy,” Langridge told Polygon. “It’s been percolating in the background for a long time and leaped out more than once, particularly with our previous game, so it’s a real honor and a privilege to have finally made it happen.”
That previous game was West of Dead, a twin-stick roguelike shooter where players assume the role of an undead gunslinger who journeys through the depths of purgatory hunting wendigos, witches, and all sorts of other nefarious supernatural oddities. That game shared a lot in common with Mignola’s distinctive art style, particularly in its emphasis on stark lighting, jagged shadows, exaggerated silhouettes, and muted color palettes; so much so, in fact, that when Martin and Langridge were speaking with various publishers early on in West of Dead’s development, they were offered the opportunity to work on a Hellboy game proper.
“While we were working on that game, we got to speaking to Good Shepherd Entertainment,” Martin told Polygon. “They took a look at the visuals for West of Dead and went, ‘Hmmm, have you ever thought about doing an actual Hellboy game?’ at which point we obviously melted completely at the prospect and got busy working on a pitch with them.”
In the midst of finishing West of Dead, Upstream Arcade pitched its idea for a Hellboy roguelike brawler to Dark Horse Comics, who gave the team permission to begin production. “We were completely blown away by the opportunity and really thankful to Good Shepherd for getting the deal sorted.”
After work on West of Dead was completed, the team immediately started on Hellboy Web of Wyrd. Creating a game in the established canon of the Hellboy comics, with its vast and tangled timeline of events stretching back to thousands of years before the beginning of Hellboy’s own adventures on Earth, would be a daunting task for anyone. Luckily, Martin and Langridge knew exactly where they wanted to set the game. “As part of our pitch for Hellboy Web of Wyrd, we identified an area in the timeline of the comics [where we] felt that there was a little bit less known about him,” Martin says. “We didn’t want to replicate a story that had already been told, and we didn’t want to mess with the timeline or spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read the comics.”
That decision led the team to set Hellboy Web of Wyrd in the late ’80s, with Hellboy being dispatched by the BPRD to an abandoned occult mansion in Argentina known as the Butterfly House to recover a lost agent and investigate the source of a psychic disturbance. What he finds is the Wyrd (pronounced “word”), an alternate dimension that spans across all space and time and that’s populated with a host of supernatural threats.
“The editors at Dark Horse were very good at guiding us into what was available and what wasn’t,” Martin says. “Mike [Mignola] himself was very encouraging. He’s happy to admit that when it comes to Hellboy, the comics are for him, the films are for the film people, and the games are for the games people. He said, ‘Hellboy is like my baby who’s grown up and gone to college,’ and he can’t quite tell them what they want to do anymore when he goes off to do these things. Because of that, it allowed us to shape a story that works with the game that we were trying to make.”
Part of that freedom in shaping the story for Hellboy Web of Wyrd was casting someone to play their particular rendition of the character. When it came to the decision to cast Lance Reddick in the role, Martin and Langridge credit their publisher for making the connection. “There are already certain voices that the public readily identify as Hellboy,” Martin says. “Good Shepherd really realized the opportunity here to make this game’s Hellboy our version of Hellboy, and they hit on Lance Reddick as a choice early on. I can’t really speak to the process because we weren’t too involved in that, but we were just in awe. Mike got to meet him as well at the recording sessions; I think they hit it off very well.”
For Martin and Langridge, Lance Reddick’s performance as Hellboy was an essential part of differentiating their take on the character from past incarnations. “The description that I always think of with Hellboy is that he regards dealing with werewolves and really scary stuff a lot like a plumber looking at a blocked sink or something,” Langridge says. “He’s always grounded, a little bit worn out and slightly wry. Lance’s take on that was just absolutely spot-on. We’re really happy we got to have him as our Hellboy. I think he brought his own flavor [to] a lot of the key elements of the character.”
Reddick’s death this past March was a shock to both fans and colleagues, including the team at Upstream Arcade. “It’s very hard to talk about him in the past tense because we’ve been hearing his voice so long during production,” Martin says. “I feel like a part of him sort of lives on through his performance. It was a privilege to work with him.”
Correction (Nov. 14): A previous version of this interview stated that Lance Reddick’s death was due to heart disease, which has been contested by the actor’s family. The article has been edited to remove this detail.