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Posted October 4, 2015 by Peter in EGX
 
 

EGX: Interview with Roel Ezendam (Action Henk)

Action Henk logo
Action Henk logo

Action figures don’t age too well. Maybe their trend ends, or the technology in their kung-fu grip becomes too outdated, or perhaps they just get lost in a deep toy box. How does this fall from grace affect the toy? If Action Henk is anything to go by, it become mid-life crisis time.

Released earlier this year on Steam, developer RageSquid is working with publisher Curve Digital on ports to console formats, and at last weekend’s EGX expo Games Fiends got to try the Wii U version and speak to developer Roel Ezendam.

“He used to be this really cool action figure back in the day, and now he’s sort of…” Roel pauses to find a dignified way of putting it. “… he’s in a bad spot.” This bad spot involves having gained an impressive if worrying paunch, but when challenged by an old nemesis he sets out to prove he’s still the fastest toy around.
Action Henk screen
The game’s levels are a series of racetracks, running, jumping, buttsliding (the technical term, it turns out) and – in later levels – grappling your way to the finish line as quickly as possible. Each level has times set for bronze, silver, gold and rainbow medals, where you can set your goal and chase the ghost of a par time for each. “The ghosts are definitely an important part of the game,” Roel explained. “They also show you how the game is done, you [set the medal you're after] and they play the level in a different way.”

They also show what he describes as “subtle tricks”, ways that the game’s physics are used. “Tricks like ‘if you jump off an angle you gain this extra speed’, ‘if you make this jump then you’ve got enough speed for the next jump,’” – or a way of reaching alternative paths, which I notice myself missing on a regular basis – “and it can really add up [...]. So that’s really the whole point of the game, slowly getting better, and getting back to old levels and realising how much you’ve improved.”

The console ports are still in development, with things to tweak – Roel apologises for the loading times at one point, mentioning it as something specifically being looked into right now. A priority across all the versions will be maintaining a sense of speed (“the frame rate is super-important”, Roel says), which is large part of the appeal, and here he specifically credits Curve Digital for their work in the console ports.

The PC version has generated a community of racers, and the desire to keep a community feel seems strong for him. “The leader boards are definitely, will always be in there, that’s the most important part, and friend leader boards so you can see the scores of your friends” – or strangers of course, as I’m told how even the developers have been left standing by some of the players on Steam.
Action Henk screen
I’m introduced to another member of the RageSquid team, Roan Albers, who among other duties also recorded the track ghosts for the rainbow medals, which involve near-perfect runs. However… “nowadays there’s people on the leader boards that I can’t even dream to catch up. These subtle tricks they have… wow, it’s just amazing.”

I ask Roan how it feels to see players get something out of the game beyond what the developers expected. “I like it, I like to see people coming up with new stuff because I can learn from that stuff as well. It’s also like seeing people motivated into your creation, it’s an amazing feeling, people are really dedicated to beating your score, or beating someone else’s score.”

Hopefully there will be ways to directly compete as well. “We’re looking at how we want to do multiplayer, but we definitely want to have multiplayer for the consoles as well,” Roel tells me when I broach the subject. “If you’re on the couch and stuff, that works really well for the consoles. So we’re just looking into those possibilities as well. In that sense it’s still work in progress.”

The Steam version of Action Henk is currently available and has a very positive rating from players; the console versions are expected to be released early next year.


Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.