Hell Yeah, a game about the prince of Hell is inspired by Ren & Stimpy, Pixar, and a boring meeting
Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
Camille Guermonprez, president and co-founder of Arkedo Studios, creators of Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit is eccentric. So are his studio’s games, and so is the studio. He wouldn’t have it any other way. “I hid a secret restaurant in Arkedo, so I could cook for my friends,” he told the Penny Arcade Report. “I almost had my own restaurant, but my wife said no, so what I did is I hid a restaurant in Arkedo.” He would then go on to talk about the benefits of organic fruits and veggies to a person’s diet and how just down the street was a lovely farmer’s market he frequented for his ingredients.
I gently reminded him that Hell Yeah! had just released on Steam. “Oh yeah!” He seemed almost disappointed we weren’t scheduled to talk about cooking.
Wrath of the frustrated developers
Hell Yeah! began as a joke among Guermonprez and his co-founder, Aurelien Regard. Guermonprez spoke of a frustrating, stagnant time with a publisher who didn’t seem to “get” the games Arkedo wanted to make. Arkedo has worked with Eidos, Success, and Southpeak Interactive in the past. He neglected to say who the publisher in question was, but he wasn’t shy about detailing his reactions.
“We kept promising after a not-so-great meeting we were going to make a game where we would lash out and be able to kill monsters. The next meeting we were promising each other there was going to be blood on the wall. The meeting after that, we decided it was going to be completely silly, and we were just going to have extreme fun,” Guermonprez said. “That was basically the thing. The whole frustration we felt during this period, we managed to turn it into some creative energy and made this game for our inner 12-year old.”
Guermonprez and Regard followed through on their joke and created a demo for the Game Connection, a sort of job-fair gathering of major studios and publishers. “It works a bit like blind dates: you have 30-minute slots in a very small area, you pitch your game, and at the end of the three days, you know if your game is going to have a publisher or not,” Guermonprez told me. He and Regard did get a partner, but not before asking for some allowances.
“We said, ‘We need to have nine months, without interaction with the publisher. We need to really be able to make a first loop of the game by ourselves, and then we’d love to have your feedback. But is it possible to have you leave us completely alone for the next nine months? And of course, we keep the IP because that’s what Arkedo has been doing from the very start.’” There was a pause. It seemed like a lot for an independent to ask. “SEGA said yes, and we ended up partnering with them.”
Give ‘em hell
Hell Yeah! is the story of Ash, the undead rabbit prince of Hell. Ash is meant to rule over the land with an iron fist, but he has a thing for rubber duckies. The paparazzi sneak some pics of Ash enjoying some… alone time with a duckie and soon he’s off to kill all 100 of the monsters who’ve seen them. The 2D game is as bright and colorful as Rayman Origins, but it fits more into the “Metroidvania” style where Ash acquires power-ups that allow him to backtrack and explore labyrinthine levels.
The game just released on Steam, but unless you have a console-style controller to connect to your PC, I’d recommend looking for it on XBLA or PSN instead.
Ash will get a spinning metal blade, a rocket launcher, a machine gun and more, and certain enemies are resistant to certain attacks or vulnerable to others, so you have to be aware of your surroundings and tactics. You don't want to waste the rocket launcher, which has only a few shots, on a swam of enemies. Instead, switch to the machine gun and spray in swathing arcs. Likewise, you can't use the blade on metal enemies. It never gets too complex or difficult, but the game definitely has a Mega Man vibe in how you approach enemies.
Things become fun when you face one of the game’s 100 monsters. You’ll have to whittle down their health however you can, and once you do the game will cut to a mini-game sequence. There are all manner of these, with crazy, over-the-top animations. In one, Ash jumps into a rocket that launches into the sky only to come crashing down violently into his target. In another, he steals honey from a robotic bee, then plants it on the monster, causing a swarm of angry mecha-insects to descend. There are some repeats, but not many, and it’s always satisfying to watch Ash’s bloody revenge.
Once you’ve defeated a monster, they’re banished to an island where you can assign them various jobs that affect the main game. You can assign monsters to the mine for example, and they’ll give you free bonus cash. Ash is a fair ruler, so you have to keep monsters happy to get the most out of their labor. If they get too sad, send them to the beach. It’s cute and funny, and it adds a layer to the game other than the “go forward, kill everything” game play of the main game.
Hell Yeah! loses appeal if you try to play for too long, which Guermonprez acknowledged. The studio likes to focus on smaller, more digestible titles, and that’s where their experience lies. Still, the game put a smile on my face and thanks to monsters never being too far apart from each other, it’s easy to jump in for 20 minutes, get lunch, and come back.
Hell Yeah! is the largest of the studio’s games so far, and was crafted by a team of 10: the six core Arkedo team members and several outside “extras.” Guermonprez said even that was too many people. In the future, the studio will be broken into two teams of three, that will compete against each other. The studio encourages friendly taunting.
Much of Hell Yeah!‘s appeal is in its humor. The crude designs of monsters – one is a pile of poop with a chainsaw sticking out the top – plus the demented nature of the story itself should be enjoyed by anyone who grew up with a love of cartoons like Ren & Stimpy.
Guermonprez said that show was indeed an influence, but there have been many others. “France is a very cool place because we are right in the middle of of Japan and the US, so you have the anime, you have the cartoons, you have the comics, you have the mangas, you have two different cultures, and we are right in the middle. We were fed all that culture when we were kids,” Guermonprez said.
Another major inspiration: Pixar. Try to picture Wall-E, but you know, in Hell. “When you watch a [Pixar] movie, and the kids are laughing, and the parents are laughing, and they’re looking at the same screen, but they’re not laughing for the same reason,” Guermonprez explained. He said that Hell Yeah! attempts to tell jokes that similarly work on various levels.
There are many languages in the world, but a smile and laughter are universal. “We have a common history as gamers,” Guermonprez said, “And that’s what brings us together. It’s a thousand times stronger than what separates us sociologically. I really believe that we are starting from so much common ground, especially indie guys who are generally avid gamers and have been playing for quite a long time.”
“We have been sucking up to the same tit, if I may, for years and years.”
One key principle was that the jokes not be aimed at anyone in a hurtful way. “Our goal was to lash out as much as possible, but at the same time, we tried not to be obscene or rude or offensive,” Guermonprez said. The odd style has led to some mixed reviews. “We’ve been getting 4s and 8s, mostly. Hopefully one day we’ll have a hit,” he said. Still, he didn’t seem too down about the fact. “The trip is much better than the destination, because we are doing the thing we want, and we are having tremendous fun doing it.”
Guermonprez counted off the studio’s priorities. “We’re based on pride, having fun, great food, and eventually making games.”