Hello Games, best known for the controversial-but-eventually-beloved No Man’s Sky, has been working on a few other games. Just last week, the developer released The Last Campfire, an adorable adventure/puzzle game in the style of The Legend of Zelda (but without the combat). But that’s not the only project Hello Games has been working on. Last week, Sean Murray, the studio’s founder, spoke with Polygon about the team’s desire to keep making new, non-sequelized projects, including a title Murray describes as “a huge, ambitious game like No Man’s Sky.”
Hello Games’ shift to a smaller project like The Last Campfire (now released on all consoles, PC, and Apple Arcade) may seem surprising given the success of No Man’s Sky. It’d be predictable for the team to pivot into exclusively making larger titles that promise the world. But Murray said that when he founded the studio, it was just him and three other guys making the game they always wanted to make.
“I had worked at EA before I started Hello Games, and we’d just done lots of sequels,” Murray told Polygon. “Everything that I worked on was the sequel to something. I found that a bit of a depressing thing in some ways. It was part of the reason for moving.”
Upon leaving EA, the studio’s first project was Joe Danger, a unique arcade game about a stunt racer, created by a team of four people. It ended up being so successful that, ironically, they went ahead and made a sequel: Joe Danger 2.
“I had a little bit of a midlife crisis [after Joe Danger 2],” said Murray. “That’s what started No Man’s Sky, you know, I felt a panic. I knew as a studio I wanted to do the game that No Man’s Sky became eventually, but I was like, what if I never get to make that and what if we just keep doing the next thing and the next thing and life moves on. I was starting to think about having kids and stuff, but I was just like, maybe this is it? Maybe I just find myself on this treadmill forever?”
And so Hello Games decided to make something big and weird and ambitious that could still work within its small studio structure. For much of No Man’s Sky’s development, the team was just six people, expanding to 15 by the time it shipped. Still, it was a tiny team considering the buzz around that game.
Hello Games is now 26 people. Just three of them made up the team behind The Last Campfire. The rest of the team is split. One chunk of the remaining 23 is continuing to support No Man’s Sky with updates. The other chunk is working on Hello Games’ next “big” project.
Murray isn’t offering up much in the way of specifics, preferring to keep the next project under wraps for now. He does, however, have thoughts about lessons learned after the chaos of No Man’s Sky’s launch and whether he’d do anything differently for this new project.
“There is this poison chalice or deal with the devil that I think any indie game developer would find actually a very difficult choice, right? The choice that we had with No Man’s Sky where if I was to go back again, I would find it very difficult to know what the right path was. Where you will have incredible interest in your game, you will have a huge amount of excitement for it. But you will be in a rocket ship, launching towards the sun, and you will be building that rocket on the way up.
“And there is an excitement and a craziness to that. Where we’ve ended up with the game, where we have hundreds of millions of hours played and a really happy community and all of that kind of thing, you know, I’m OK with that deal that we did, right?”
But Murray admits that there was definitely a toll taken on his team in terms of their mental health after the blowback of the launch. “That was a very, very hard process and I wouldn’t want to put anyone through that again,” he said.
Thanks to the success of No Man’s Sky, Murray says the team can be a little more chilled with smaller releases like The Last Campfire. “We’re in a lucky position that this has been mostly a creative endeavor … It’s very different if you’re an indie studio who is so reliant on how people will perceive your game in the first 30 seconds.”
So would Murray prefer to follow that same, chill tempo for the team’s next big No Man’s Sky-sized project? Would it be better to just shock everyone with a surprise launch out of nowhere? He’s not so sure.
“I think about it a lot and I don’t know where I come down on it. There is a really positive thing about talking about your game a lot. Where you get people interested in it who wouldn’t have played it otherwise. We see that with No Man’s Sky. We appealed to a huge amount of people, a lot of whom wouldn’t have known about the game otherwise, right? If we’d stealth-launched it or whatever, some of our biggest fans would never have heard about it.
“So it’s very difficult. But I look back, having done a lot of different press opportunities and things like that. And I reckon about half of what we did — and a lot of where we had problems, I think, where we were naive — we didn’t really need to do and we would have had the same level of success, you know? And that’s my own personal take. Right? A lot of opportunities were put in front of us, and we were told that they were the right things to do and I look back and I’m not sure that they were super, super important to the overall outcome kind of thing.”