The Flawed Character: Hyper Light Drifter

by Brooks Weaver. 0 Comments

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We have all been there.  We work hard on something only to have it not work, or we hope for something to happen that never does.  Life is tough, but the challenges that we work through make us who we are.

What about the books and articles that we read or the movies and shows that we watch throughout our travels?  As with our own characteristics that we may find undesirable, don’t we identify with the flawed characters that grace the screen and page regardless of whether they are fictional or nonfictional?

Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader, Charlie Sheen – these are all ‘characters’ that, on some level, we identify with because we understand that they are struggling with something.  That ‘something’ is either due to their own harmful tendencies or from outside sources – both of which must be overcome to truly move forward.

Our identification with flawed characters means that, deep down, there is still some fight in us – no matter what we are going through.  We understand that whoever we are reading about or watching has been thrown into a situation, kind of like what we deal with on a daily basis, that they can either accept or fight back against in order to make a change.

In regards to videogames, flawed characters are everywhere.  Agent 47 (Hitman), Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid), Marcus Phoenix (Gears of War), the Cloth Person (Journey) – all of these characters, as they are all fictional, are experiencing both an external and internal conflict that must be resolved in order to reach the “thrilling” conclusion of the game.  I mean without a conflict to resolve, why do we play videogames anyway?


Crowdfunding has become a norm these days when it comes to gathering funds and, more importantly, generating interest from the community for projects that range from making a new gadget to publishing a novel.  Videogames, in particular Independent (Indie) Game Developers, are no strangers to this mechanism.

Games like Broken Age (Double Fine) and Mighty No. 9 (Mr. Keiji Inafune) have helped to pave the way for hundreds of independent games to get the funding (and then some) that they need to bring their interactive greatness to life!

One game, and in turn one developer, that has also made an impact in the ‘crowd-funded indie game’ world is Hyper Light Drifter – developed in Los Angeles, California by the four-person crew otherwise known as Heart Machine.


Concept drawing of “The Drifter” from Hyper Light Drifter.

The main character, the Drifter, is a fragile, but lethal being who has his own flaws.  Although Heart Machine is not revealing what at this time, when the game is finally launched we will see just why the Drifter must traverse the various landscapes and vanquish the numerous enemies in order to reach the end of his journey.

As the game is moving along with it’s development, I caught up with the indie developer to get their thoughts on game development, design and flawed characters.  This is what I found out:

>>The Creator(s)

W2W: What is your name and what do you do for a living?

HM: Alex Preston.  I am the Lead at Heart Machine.  We are developing Hyper Light Drifter for multiple platforms.

W2W: How did you get into your current profession?

HM: I one day decided that I wanted to make games.  So I found a partner, sat down and developed, with his support in our spare time, the first version of Hyper Light Drifter for about a year before the Kickstarter campaign launched in September, 2013.

W2W: When designing characters and landscapes, what approach do you take; i.e., do you travel or do research online to find inspiration, etc.?

HM: I haven’t been able to travel much in recent years due to extreme health problems, so I draw my inspiration from all of the amazing media out there: animated films and shows that I hold very dear by studios such as Ghibli, Disney, Bones, and Sunrise; amazing classic games that defined my childhood like the Zelda series, the Diablo series, and any number of Squaresoft RPGs; the plethora of talented illustrators who post incredible work online on a daily basis – it’s inspiring and breathtaking the amount of truly beautiful work that’s available for anyone with access now, and it will only get better as we continue to share and learn from one another’s works.


Mosaic of some of the landscapes that you will traverse in the game.

>>The Drifter

W2W: When you create characters (for games or otherwise), what process do you follow to bring them “to life”?

HM: I typically have a defining characteristic in mind, whether it be their motivation for accomplishing a goal, the goal itself, or something as simple as their greatest and most identifiable faults.  Flawed characters are always the most relatable creations in fiction, since we as people often find solace and comfort in another’s plight, usually in order to lessen our own pain, or guilt, or feelings of regret through common ground.  It’s a way for the mind to release some stress and tension, to potentially forgive one’s self.

W2W: How do you migrate that artwork into a playable character; i.e., software, techniques, etc.?

HM: Through a variety of custom methods that involve a toolset we are actively building to interface between our Art pipeline and our Development (Dev) platform.  We use lot’s of Adobe products, and GameMaker Studio is our development environment.

W2W: Where did the idea first come from to create The Drifter?

HM: I can’t nail down a specific time, as I’ve been forming this character in my mind through sketches, prototypes and accumulated experiences for years now.  He represents and is derived from a very personal component of my own life experiences, diluted and refined into a form that’s appealing and seems to resonate with a larger community, which makes me incredibly excited and happy.


Sketches of “The Drifter”.

W2W: How has that initial idea changed over time to become the Hyper Light Drifter; i.e., actual look-and-feel of the Drifter, and the weapons that the Drifter uses?

HM: The biggest evolutions was the leap from a more standard swords-and-armor era to something far future and fairly unique in it’s representation of possible technology, including his gear and weaponry.

W2W: How does sound influence the design and movement of the Drifter?

HM: Massively.  It’s as important as any of the animation or underlying mechanics, as it add that intangible bit of impact and feedback our brains crave.  Sound design is such an under-represented component, and I feel it’s crucial to a great interactive experience.

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>>Landscapes of Hyper Light

W2W: How do you approach creating landscapes for games?

HM: I typically have an idea in mind for a very specific frame I want to show – a sunset, a massive tower, a spiraling stairwell, a destroyed monument – resolve the frame and build a level around that.


The Drifter takes a moment to rest by a campfire.

W2W: When designing and creating the levels for HLD, what process do you follow to do so?

HM: It’s an organic process right now.  We have a theme for a section, and we build scenarios and quests that make sense for that theme, as well as, the general environment that you’ll be traversing and interacting with.  We try and build everything as tightly as possible within these bounds.

For more information on Hyper Light Drifter and Heart Machine, check out their website (where you can pre-order the game) and their Development Blog on Tumblr.

Thank you for reading.  You can find Brooks on Twitter for more links to articles on the interactive entertainment industry.


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