Jeff Pobst of Hidden Path Games Talks Future Plans and Racoon Lagoon

Games developer gives insight into how the industry has changed and talks future plans for Virtual Reality Games

Late last week. Hidden Path Games released a brilliantly cute resource management games titled Racoon Lagoon in which the player is the caretaker and caregiver to a bunch of animals on a fantasy island. It’s a game that also has a huge social aspect because you can visit the islands that other players are developing. This is just one game that the company has released for the new Oculus Quest and we are sure more are to come.

I was recently lucky enough to be able to have a bit of a Q&A with Jeff Pobst of Hidden Path Games who was kind enough to answer some questions. You can read what he had to share below.

SciFiPulse: First off. Would you mind giving us a little history about Hidden Path Games and how you became involved?

Jeff Pobst: Sure thing.  Hidden Path Entertainment was formed in 2006, we’ve been making games and entertaining people across multiple genres, platforms, and formats for more than 13 years now.  The founders had each been making games at various places in the game industry before joining a consulting group at Microsoft for the Xbox platform where we helped titles take advantage of the power of the Xbox and helped launch Xbox LIVE and Xbox 360.  After working together helping other people with their games, we decided to head out on our own and entertain players directly.

SFP: Hidden Path games have a lot of people on the team that have AAA experience in the creation of video games across different formats. Is there a core desire in your team to kind of break away from the bigger games and rethink or re-imagine games for all the newer formats that are emerging. Things such as VR?

Jeff Pobst: Actually we love AAA, we love AA, we love all types of games, and so as a studio we built a design-first culture that focuses on really understanding and at times deconstructing game designs so that we can do our best to create the most fun possible in an available budget and time.  We’ve had opportunities to work on world-class shooters, strategy games, tower defense games, platformers, adventure games, and now an open-world social sim for the whole family in Raccoon Lagoon on the Oculus Quest and Rift.

SFP: As a gamer myself and a pretty old one. I’ve noticed in recent years that the market has sort of become saturated with Fifa, Assassins Creed, and Tomb Raider. Which is all good, but have also noticed a decline in other genres and styles of games that I remember playing as a kid back in the 80s and 90s. Stuff like Track and Field, Desert Strike, and of course Pitfall. As a developer of newer titles. Can you ever see there being room in the modern market place for some of these older titles?

Jeff Pobst: From the 80s and 90s, the “triple-A” games of the time had budgets in the low single digit millions of dollars.  In that range, literally anything was possible, and games of all types and genres could be made and find a reasonably sized audience.  Today, the budgets we call “triple-A” for games are in the tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions of dollars, and when making a game of that size, the audience required to make that work is much, much, larger.  Consequently, you’ll see more focus on the types of titles available because only a subset of games can reasonably reach that large an audience.

Because of that, we’ve seen the rise of the “indie” game movement.  Games with again, budgets in the low single digits of millions of dollars that often can find an audience that make that game development profitable.  As the marketplace becomes more and more crowded though, it’s hard for any game regardless of budget to find its audience and let them know about it existing, Its hard for game developers out there, and each one is looking to find that right formula of entertainment, fun, appeal, and audience size required that allow that game development to work out well.

Defense Grid II is one of Hidden Paths real-time strategy games.

SFP: From viewing your website. You already have a nice variety of games across different formats. But a pretty big story for you guys was Defense Grid II, which was partly developed thanks to a hugely successful Kickstarter Campaign. Would you mind talking about what you were aiming to achieve with that game and what improvements you tried to make over the first game?

Jeff Pobst: The original Defense Grid launched on Steam in 2008 and reached audiences slowly, but consistently and kept selling well over time.  That allowed us to consider making a sequel, and we ran a Kickstarter campaign to help achieve that.  The Kickstarter got us part of the way there and let us build new DLC for the game, but it was an investor that came on board afterward’s who believed in the game and helped us get the full sequel underway.  After that, a publisher joined on to help us bring the sequel not just to PC, but to consoles as well.  It included much more graphical fidelity, a new set of puzzles and items to solve, and a larger variety of ways to solve the levels the way you wanted to – Defense Grid is a game about having a balanced system and giving you many different ways to come up with your own custom solution.  With Defense Grid 2 giving players even more options allowed players to grow and change over time in the way they’d build up their defenses.

SFP: You’ve recently started developing for Virtual Reality Headsets and seem to have a bit of a hit on your hands with Raccoon Lagoon. What other titles do you have in the works for VR. Especially for the new Oculus Quest, which is like the working person’s headset?

Jeff Pobst: Thanks!  We’re really excited about Raccoon Lagoon’s launch and having such a fun portfolio of VR titles.  Brass Tactics, Witchblood, Defense Grid 2, Access Code, Hypercade and now Raccoon Lagoon each offer many different players something fun in an immersive tailored VR experience.  We’re excited about the new Quest headset and love to see players adding the wireless freedom to full tracking in VR.  It’s really exciting.

Racoon Lagoon is an open world with a huge social element

SFP: Having played Raccoon Lagoon for a few days now on my Quest. I’m really enjoying the taking care of business element to it. Looking after the islanders by gathering things to help them create an island paradise. The gameplay style puts me in mind of a really cute Age Of Empires or Populace and any number of the PC and Mac God Games of the past. Was that the goal with Raccoon Lagoon?

Jeff Pobst: Oculus is our publisher and we’ve had a wonderful relationship with them so far.  When we started talking about the possibilities for a new title for the Quest headset, we talked about many different genres.  In the end, we focused on bringing a new open-world experience to the Quest that would be fun for the whole family.  Inspired by games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, but bringing that immersive experience of “being there” in first-person, we wanted Raccoon Lagoon to be something new and fresh with gameplay and experiences that players already understood but now got to experience in a whole new way.

SFP: Are there likely to be any updates or DLC for Raccoon Lagoon and if so how much more do you think you could add to what already seems like a great world. The evil devil inside of me would like to have the ability to create earthquakes and volcanos and such? Or would you rather keep the game family-friendly?

Jeff Pobst: I think the great thing about the opportunity that Oculus gave us with Raccoon Lagoon is that there is a ton of content in the game.  It’s much larger than people may even think.  There is the main story quest and a ton of side quests and experiences, but even after the main quest storyline is complete, a whole set of new quests unlock and the game can go for quite some time.  Oculus really gave us an opportunity to put a lot of game content into a VR title, and that doesn’t always take place.

Brass Tactics is a VR game that was inspired by Age of Empires

SFP: I noticed that you guys have developed the reboot of Age of Empires, which I still haven’t got round to looking at yet given that I only have a 2012 Macbook Pro, PS4 and Oculus Quest. What plans do you have for Age of Empires? Will you be doing a console or VR Headset version. Because I wasted most of the 1990s playing those games?

Jeff Pobst: We worked with Microsoft some time ago to bring back the original Age of Empires II to Steam and modern PCs and we released the Age of Empires II HD Edition.  Since that time, other developers have picked up the baton for Microsoft and added additional content, DLC and new features.  There’s a ton of Age of Empires II HD content now available on Steam and even more is coming to the Age of Empires franchise in the future.  That said, we’re watching it as players just like you and have been focused on other projects since we completed Age of Empires II HD.

SFP: Aside from what you have on show at present on the website. Are there any other projects that Hidden Path have in development that you can talk a little about?

Jeff Pobst: Our goal at Hidden Path is to make exceptional entertainment for players regardless of the budget, platform, or genre.  We always have something new cooking, but the best time to share something about a game with players is when players can engage with it more, see images, and better understand what will be coming.  Right now it’s way too early to be talking about any upcoming projects, unfortunately.

SFP: Thanks for taking the time out to talk with us. I’ve really enjoyed that chat.

Jeff Pobst: Thanks so much, we’re thrilled with the reception that Raccoon Lagoon is getting and can’t wait to see all of the things players do and customize in the game.

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth. In the past few years he has written for 'Star Trek' Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics. Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net You can contact ian at: ian@scifipulse.net
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