During the Xbox Digital Broadcast at Tokyo Game Show 2023, White Owls’ iconic Swery (Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die), and Goichi Suda of Grasshopper Manufacture (Lollipop Chainsaw, Shadows of the Damned), announced details of the upcoming Hotel Barcelona, a brainchild of the two creators.
The title and genre of this game were already out in public, unexpectedly announced at an event four years ago – but the fact that two popular game creators with a huge following were planning to work together attracted the most attention. My personal fantasy was of a dual-personality agent protagonist wielding a beam katana, and my expectations for the game only grew.
In the last four years, we’ve heard very little more, and as those years passed by without any announcement, I almost gave up and wondered if the game really was in development.
The fact that we got not only got confirmation of Hotel Barcelona’s development through this year’s Xbox Digital Broadcast, but a gameplay reveal and an appearance from the two creators has brought back the feeling of anticipation and hype; we had to hear more about it. Xbox Wire immediately contacted Swery to hear more about the long awaited game.
To lay out the groundwork, can you tell us how the project for Hotel Barcelona launched?
Swery: It all started when I was a guest at a talk event hosted by Suda-san called “Travis Monday Nitro 2”, which was held in Shibuya, Tokyo in October 2019. At the event, we talked about creating a game like this together. At that time, we also announced the title: Hotel Barcelona. It initially was merely a vocal agreement between the two of us, where we just said “Let’s collaborate!” without much thought put into it. We weren’t sure if we were really going to commit or not.
But shortly after that, I got together with Suda-san again, now at an event in Canada at the end of October 2019. There, Suda-san gave me his firm commitment, mentioning he’d like to “pursue that opportunity seriously”. We worked out the plan and details in one fell swoop over dinner, together in Canada.
Was the framework of the game created then?
Swery: We had already announced back at the event that we wanted to make a horror themed, side-scrolling action game with the title Hotel Barcelona, so we started discussing ideas while keeping that in mind. We came up with the idea of taking in concepts and creating the atmosphere you would find in horror movies, while the protagonist would delightfully defeat serial killers from across the United States. And all of that would happen in a place called Hotel Barcelona. The general framework was decided on right during that time, and I worked with Suda-san to put it all together into a proposal.
As far as I can tell from the trailer, there seems to be an abundance of weapons.
Swery: The melee items, such as an enlarged surgical knife, are your main weapon, and the long-range items, such as a shotgun or Molotov cocktail, are your subweapon. You will go on missions equipped with each of these weapon types. Weapons are basically obtained from treasure chests that drop during missions. There are, of course, differences in appearance and performance.
Hotel Barcelona, the place where all the action takes place, is an integrated leisure complex, featuring facilities such as a casino and camping ground around the hotel to create a single, living world with seven smaller worlds inside.
Due to the fact that Suda-san and I are making the game, the worlds each have some twisted tricks, and each of them has a serial killer boss. The objective of the game is to somehow defeat the boss, and clear the seven worlds.
You mentioned that the boss characters are inspired by movie characters, but do you have a character in mind for each boss?
Swery: The bosses are not a tribute to any single character. They’re more like an embodiment of a subgenre of horror films. For example, there are many subgenres of horror, such as slasher movies, zombie horror, summer camps, babysitters, and so on. We came up with the idea of our bosses through the tropes that each subgenre has built up over their time.
Tell us more about the Slasher Phantom, which seems to be one of the game’s main pillars.
Swery: The Slasher Phantom was of my personal ideas to incorporate into future action games. This was brought into Hotel Barcelona because I thought it would be a great match.
Simply put, the player’s past character will move as it did in the last run automatically, while still retaining all hitboxes. Something close to this would be the ghost feature in racing games, but with hit detection; it will feel like you are fighting with your past self. You can hold up to three Slasher Phantoms, which will help your adventure in each level.
You might then think, “If I have three Slasher Phantoms with me all the time, all the levels will be a piece of cake”. I assure you it is not that easy.
Each of the seven worlds consists of several areas to be cleared, and the boss appears in the last area. When you clear an area, you can choose a power-up, which may restore your health or increase your attack power. However, if you get hit and are sent back to the beginning of the area, you may find it appealing to chose a different route than the previous one, say to increase your attack power. When you do so and choose a different route, the Slasher Phantoms will reset completely.
As you get used to the game, you will gradually be able to beat the bosses without the assistance of Slasher Phantoms. We are making adjustments with the goal that you will find yourself getting better at the game itself, as the player gains experience.
─Where did the idea for the Slasher Phantom come from?
Swery: While there are many death loop games that make you start over from the beginning when you are hit and downed, I have always wanted to make an action game that would embed the looping into its “action” aspect well. My thinking was to focus on carrying the action itself into the next loop, not the items and EXP. The result was an idea of looping the actions of your past play alongside the current player character.
From what I’ve seen during tests, the less good you are at action games, the more the player will value the Slasher Phantom. I had the impression that these players were really struggling in situations where they had to decide between recovering health and keeping their Slasher Phantoms.
Hotel Barcelona is being developed by the team that worked on The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories, and at the start of development, I told them that Hotel Barcelona was a side-scrolling, battle action game, and didn’t discuss anything about the Slasher Phantom system. Since the team had experience developing side-scrolling games but not combat-focused action games, my first goal was to make sure we had a good feel for the game. When it began taking shape, I then asked the team to add the Slasher Phantom system in.
I found the visuals to be very intriguing. What were some particular points you took great care with?
Swery: We started with the difficult task of incorporating the best of both worlds, which would mean figuring out what makes both our games iconic from a visual perspective. First of all, as a common characteristic, we identified that we both like to create games with animated expressions. So, at first, we tried to use the art style of D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die with the inclusion of shaders that created abstraction. However, the characters were too small to be expressed well through this art style, so we decided to use ray tracing and added glistening effects, but this time, the frame rates became unstable. In the end, we mixed the colors and atmosphere of Japanese animation along with the expression of shadows in a typical ’80s Hollywood horror movie to create what we have now. We make an effort to keep the frame rate at a steady 60FPS, especially because it was an action game, and also at the same time, had to develop an art style that people had never seen before.
Speaking of animations, that transition when entering the boss fight looked very interesting.
Swery: We asked animation artist Saho Nanjo (who has recently created music videos for popular anime and artists) to create them. Cool hand-drawn animations will be played when each boss appears, so please look forward to them as well.
You’ve mentioned that Hotel Barcelona’s launch is in 2024, but when do you envision it becoming available?
Swery: The framework of the game is ready and the amount of content is also comfortably ready. 2024 is definitely the year, but the true game-making process begins here… Speaking of action games, it all comes down the balance of the gameplay. It really depends on how long it takes to get that right.
Lastly, please give a few words to the users who are looking forward to Hotel Barcelona.
Swery: First of all, thank you all for your interest in Hotel Barcelona. This game is a collaboration between two creators, myself and Goichi Suda. Although it may look like something out of the ordinary, we have created a challenging and rewarding action game together. The game is being developed by White Owls with the team who created The Missing, and we are proud to present it to you. Please look forward to playing it.