The following article is based around an email interview conducted by our team with Rob Hewson from Dark Energy Digital. For the uninitiated, Dark Energy Digital is currently developing Hydrophobia based around the HydroEngine.

Many games begin with a dream; Hydrophobia began with a PHD.

To follow the beginning of Hydrophobia’s creations one must start with Huw Lloyd, R&D of Dark Energy Digital. Described as brilliant by colleagues, Huw sought to put his PHD in Astrophysics to use, attempting to succeed where other had constantly failed: creating lifelike water in a video game.

Water presents some unique difficulties to developers. Both simultaneously clear and reflective in nature, the appearance itself is hard match. But even if one could nail what it looks like, water isn’t solid object; it’s a liquid. It takes an entirely different branch of physics to properly represent movement.

And that’s where the HydroEngine comes into the story. Dr. Huw Lloyd and Dark Energy over a three year period of development created an engine they feel can accurate model water and other flowing objects for the first time. This entirely dynamic process allows for different effects each time based on the situation. The engine also interfaces with solid body engines, such as Havok, allowing for lifelike, floating debris.

According to Rob Hewson, “HydroEngine is the only true fluid dynamics engine in the games industry, period. So it was more a case of Huw’s team presenting the company with this revolutionary technology which no other developer has and saying, here you go… make a game with this. As you can imagine the rest of the team were blown away, [it] took a while for us to get our head around what we were seeing but then the ideas started pouring in.”

And that’s when the story of Hydrophobia truly begins to flow.

More than a mere Tech-Demo

When you have something revolutionary, such as the HydroEngine, it needs to be showcased. However, the team at Dark Energy Digital was not content producing just a mere tech demo. And that’s where the idea for Hydrophobia was born.

As Rob Hewson put it: “HydroEngine came first. Our R&D Director Huw Lloyd, who has a PhD in Astro Physics, believed he could succeed where others have failed and create a true fluid dynamics engine for games. He was absolutely right, and the initial demos really fired the imagination of the rest of the team. The concept for Hydrophobia developed afterwards, we wanted a game which would showcase this incredible technology but were not willing to do a mere tech demo – we wanted to use the opportunity to really push boundaries and create something memorable.”

Hydrophobia obviously places a large emphasis on water, as players will take on the role of Kate Wilson, a systems engineer, on board the Queen of the World, a city sized luxury ocean vessel. Simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time Kate will face her demons as see fights to survive a bombing of the Queen by Neo-Malthusians.

They sought to create dynamic combat that would never feel the same twice. Featuring what the team has dubbed “Flow Combat,” players will be presented with a unique experience the likes of which have not seen before. Or at least, that’s how Rob Hewson describes it.

“Take the old gaming cliché of oil barrels, in Hydrophobia when you shoot one it blows a hole in the wall through which water pours, carrying oil fires into you [sic] enemies and setting them on fire. Perhaps you prefer to hack into the CCTV network and remotely open a door behind an enemy to sweep them off their feet and send them downstream towards you before you finish the job. Maybe you will flood a room and then shoot down some electricity cables to fry you [sic] enemy or just blow the crap out of everything until the entire environment flood and you end up in bullet time style underwater combat. It’s dynamic, it’s emergent and it’s never the same twice.”

Not intended to see life on Xbox Live Arcade

Believe it or not, Hydrophobia was never intended to see life on Xbox Live Arcade. However, the platform became increasing convenient for the team as time passed. Rob Hewson explained it to us like this.

“In truth, Hydrophobia was originally conceived as a retail title, it’s been designed from the ground up as an AAA action adventure. However we are a relatively small team and didn’t have an endless budget and we soon realized that conventional editors would not provide what we needed. So we built our own game engine and editor from the ground up using bespoke procedural technology to make the process of making games much faster and more efficient. This meant instant updates from editor to game world, allowing us to build and play seamlessly. It meant a centralized server concept so everybody in the company always had the latest game state and could work in the same areas at the same time. A side effect of all this procedural technology was a massive reduction in filesize footprint, and XBLA had evolved as a platform so we thought hang on – we can do this as a download title without sacrificing scope or quality.”

The World behind Hydrophobia

When it comes to plot details, no developer wants to tip their cards too early. Such was case with Hydrophobia developer Rob Hewson. He did however share with us the detailed back story that has gone into Hydrophobia and believe it or not, it’s based around an economist…

“The game is set in the near future when the world has become massively overpopulated and there are not enough resources to go around (in line with real life UN projections). This results in conflict and famine around the world, and in this climate two opposing political viewpoints have emerged, Progressive and Malthusian.

The Queen of the World is a colossal super ship built by the Five Founding Fathers, mega corporations at the Progressive end of the spectrum who want to research scientific and technological solutions to increase resources and feed the world.

The city sized ship is also a haven to the wealthy elite who live in exile from the world’s problems. Malthusians meanwhile follow the theories of Thomas Malthus, who wrote in 1798 that population will allows expand beyond the capacity of resources, so increases resources just makes the problem worse in the long run. They want to control the population, but at the extreme end of that spectrum you have the Neo Malthusians, fanatics who want to bring about global genocide and return the population to sustainable ½ billion worthy souls following the gospel of Malthus.”

She just wants to survive

It seems now in days, any time a game features a female protagonist; developers must brace themselves for the question of why they choose the route they did. Rob Hewson felt his team succeeded in creating a real, human being.

“We wanted to get away from the ‘beautiful but deadly’ stereotype which seems to dominate female game characters. Kate takes a lot of inspiration from Ripley in the first Alien movie for example. She is not an all action heroine, she doesn’t want to save the day; she just wants to survive. She is flawed and vulnerable, but ultimately she will have to face her demons and grow as a character as she realises that surviving means taking a stand and fighting.”

Cryptic Thanks

We’d like to offer a big thanks to the entire team at Dark Energy Digital, specifically Rob Hewson for taking the time to chat with us about Hydrophobia. When asked Rob if there was any last thing he’d like to share with our readers he gave us the following message which we have yet to be able to decipher. Maybe you will have better luck.

“We love to hear from players who want to discuss the game and technology with us, so anybody who finds there [sic] way to through the security protocols at www.queenatsea.com can get in touch with us directly”