The Man Behind The Hat: An Interview with Hyroglyphik Games

Socrates Sotos talks about Hyroglyphik Games’ upcoming hat-based platformer.

King of the Hat

If you haven’t seen King of the Hat, it’s a game where up to four people are put in an arena and you eliminate your opponents by jumping on their hats. If someone steps on your hat, you die! You can throw your hat as a weapon or throw it to safety before someone jumps on it. There are many different ways you can use your hat, which makes King of the Hat a dynamic, skill-intensive game.

King of that Hat’s booth at EGLX 2018 had a small crowd of excited players taking part in four-player free-for-all matches. I was part of the crowd for a while, and I had a lot of fun trying out different characters and strategies. During the excitement, I stepped aside with Socrates Sotos, one of the three developers at Hyroglyphik Games, to ask him some questions about the game’s history. He was excited to go into detail about the Kickstarter, future plans for King of the Hat, and more.



TIGW: So what inspired you to create this kind of game?

Socrates: So basically we had no inspiration for this. We literally started with a random Game Jam game and the game was you try to jump on each others’ heads. So we made the game and it was kind of like a small game jam with not a lot of games, and by the end of it we were like, everyone was crowding around saying, “This is so fun, lets make this game! It’s great!” And then, like a week later we played it again. And we were like, this game sucks. We got to do something about this.

So we started adding a bunch of random mechanics. So we were like, what if instead of jumping on your head, you jump on some sort of weird thing that’s like attached to it, and it moves to the side, so we did a thing like 20 ideas in 20 minutes, what you’re jumping on. Are you jumping on a head or are you jumping on a self-destruct button, or are your guys like astronauts who have a globe, and if you get stomped on you suffocate. One of them was if you jump on the hat you like shrivel up and die. We were like, that’s hilarious.

Then we started coming up with a bunch of characters. We were like, what if the hat moves on the head and that’s what makes it harder to jump on, and you can move to one side and miss the hat? And people were like, still not fun. Alright, what if, if you run fast the hat will fall off? And people were like nah, this sucks because I never understand why my hat’s falling off. So then we were like, what if you could throw the hat to avoid getting hit? And people were like, it’s kind of cool but I don’t understand why I’m throwing my hat. Then we were like, what if you could throw the hat and hit people with it, knocking their hats off? And then that’s how the game happened. This happened for about two months when we messed around with ideas.

TIGW: I took a look at the Kickstarter page for the game. I was amazed by all the incentives. Do you think a lot of people were really excited by the incentives?

Socrates: We actually got a lot of people. I think we maxed out on the color schemes. I think we maxed out all the skins, and three characters. There were actually a couple people who were about to buy the washing machine but then didn’t, last-minute. But I think the thing that’s cool about the incentives is that we’re looking to be able to give the community the opportunity to express themselves in the game. Right before we had done the Kickstarter we went to Smashcon, and the people at Smashcon were super chill, and a lot of the support came from them. So it’s really good to know that they’re going to be able to appreciate the game.

TIGW: I like how many of the incentives gave people the opportunity to meet the team personally.

Socrates: Yeah, exactly. A lot of them we’ve already met. I don’t think a lot of them met us personally, but a lot of them worked with us to make features for the game. We had the incentive to make new color schemes, so we could work together to make a new color scheme. Or make new skins, or we’ll make a skin for a character with someone. And then making a character completely, where we design mechanics and flesh out a full character. There’s also design a level. So there was a lot of cool stuff where we get to work with people. But it’s not just meeting, you know?

TIGW: So what’s your favorite character from the incentives?

Socrates: We’re still working on the rewards. But my favorite character that’s actually in the game right now is Captain Hat. Because I love kind of how basically he’s really short but he’s got a huge hat to overcompensate.

TIGW: When I played the game, it seems like a few characters are more powerful than others?

Socrates: Which ones did you feel were very strong?

TIGW: The princess. And actually, I thought Captain Hat was a bit weaker than the others.

Socrates: Yeah, he’s hard to use. But I find that as a character I really like him. His playstyle is not the strongest. Definitely the strongest characters in the game right now are like Princess Kiara.  Zoe is pretty strong if you know how to use him correctly. Cole is insanely strong, the yeti. He basically has a cool technique where he hover-baits. So you wait in the air for the other guy to throw and then you hover just at the right moment to block his attacks. Chris does a mean Forest. (Note: Chris Day is another developer of King of the Hat who was also at the booth) He’s super good with Forest the old man, he’s got two hats, so he’s really good at controlling his moves with them. King of the Hat

TIGW: I haven’t had a lot of time to experiment with a lot of characters, so a lot of them seem the same.

Socrates: OK cool. That’s something that we’re trying to get away from. There is a lot of stuff that’s very movement-based, and then we’re also trying to add more very specific mechanics. So, for example, Cole has the hover. So his second jump is a hover and if you try to hit him while hovering he has armor. Zoe, in general, takes no knockback. Captain Hat is twice as fast when he’s not wearing his hat. Dark Birthday’s hat grows four times bigger when you throw it. Birthday has a great personality. That’s his special. And uh, I’m trying to think of the others. Washing machine falls the fastest. And he’s also a washing machine. Which is kind of funny.

TIGW: Where did you think of the idea for the washing machine?

Socrates: So for the washing machine, we had a lot of characters with a lot of really complicated animations. And I was like, I really want to add a new character to the game, but I don’t want to do a super long animation. I really want to do a quick character, but I want to have a new one. So I went to see Chris and I was like, wouldn’t it be sick if we had a cardboard box character in the game? And Chris was like, nope, don’t like it. And I was like, no man it would be sick! Cardboard box character: one animation! It’s just a cardboard box! That’s it! And he’s like, I don’t like it. And I was like, what about a washing machine? He was like, I’d have to see it. That night in two hours, I made the art for Washing Machine. We brought it to a convention the next day and people were just loving it. So I was like, okay it was a good victory.

TIGW: What unexpected challenges did you meet during development?

Socrates: For unexpected challenges, we didn’t really have an artist on our team when we started. So a lot of us had to fill in the gaps. Chris ended up learning how to do effects. I had to learn how to do character and level art and really learn colors. Then we had to do a lot of concept art for the characters. So it was really a team effort when we had to learn how to do art altogether.

TIGW: How did you do that?

Socrates: Very slowly over time. If you look at early versions of our stuff, you can really see the progress. If you just look at these two posters, the first one was done, I think, four months before this one. On the second one you can see the colors are much more vibrant. And the first one has much more of a charcoaley black. You can also see that Birthday’s hat is super tiny compared to the other one. And then Kiara’s face looks like, I don’t know, not the same. I don’t know, although Fat Cat is nice. Also if you look at our Kickstarter videos, and then look at the game now, there’s a huge increase in the quality of the artwork, because we literally redid all the art.

TIGW: So on $20,000 on Kickstarter, you have online multiplayer planned?

Socrates: We ended up getting $13,000. So we didn’t actually reach the stretch goal of online multiplayer. But we’re still planning to add it anyways, because I think it’s a core feature of the game and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

TIGW: Is there a real financial barrier for online multiplayer?

Socrates: I think with a game like this we’ve done some market analysis. We found that games without online multiplayer that are just local tend to do a little worse in terms of sales than games that have online multiplayer. Because generally people don’t have four friends around all the time. Sometimes, they want to play alone. Sometimes you’re just chilling at your house by yourself to play a game, and if the game doesn’t allow you to do that, then obviously you’re going to play a different game.

TIGW: Yeah, a lot of people have more online friends than ever.

Socrates: Yeah. I think people are getting more connected. Because we have cool conventions like this one. And then you get to meet people from all around the world, and you make friendships. And we’re all gamers. It’s just nice to be able to play with somebody online. And you have that connection through a game, you know?

King of the Hat

TIGW: so is there a lot of hype for the game? I know the game has won a few awards.

Socrates: Yeah, maybe just perceived hype, I have no clue. But we have up to now won three audience choice awards, and a finish contest, and one award for best multiplayer. We’re doing the best we can. And it’s super flattering, because we weren’t expecting it at all. We’re kind of random, new people. We didn’t really expect something super huge for this, and the positive reception that we’ve been getting is the reason why we’re pushing so hard to make the game even better.

TIGW: Do you think the awards might turn into sales?

Socrates: We can’t be sure. It’s hard to predict because a game like ours really does well at a convention, but usually conventions aren’t a good predictor of sales because like I said, people want to be able to play the game alone at home. So if they can’t play alone at home, it’s probably not going to sell as well.

TIGW: So what else are you doing to push the product?

Socrates: To push the product? I think right now the number one goal is to make a solid game. There’s a lot of things we want to polish up. And we’re going to add a lot of content to make something that feels like a full experience. And then beyond that, we’re going to keep going to as many conventions and shows as we can and make sure to get the word out. We’ll be doing a closed beta in about September. And we’ll be doing our launch in February.

TIGW: Are there any gameplay improvements coming in the next few months?

Socrates: Yeah. So a lot of the things we’re going to be doing is fixing the jank. The weird aspects, like unperceivable weirdness. For example, sometimes, when two hats hit each other, one of them will go through the other. It’s kind of inconsistent. There’s some others, like if you throw your hat up in a corner, it kind of goes through the map. So we have to fix that as well. Another thing that’s not super good is if, sometimes if you’re hitting somebody, they’ll bounce off a wall or ceiling, then they’ll stop being stunned and kill you. Which is one of the least good parts of the game for me. What we want to do is get rid of all of these small things that are not letting the field be everything that it can be. And after we have that, we’re going to move toward adding cool features like, for example, something like chickens in the level that you can stomp on, or some mine carts you can ride in and hit, and they can become dangerous too so you can hit people with them.  And then some cool level mechanics like that.

TIGW: So you can blow up the chickens?

Socrates: Yeah, exactly. Right now there are some birds in one of the levels. They have little hats and they fly around. We want to have some more wildlife, as well as more mechanics like lava, wind, and ice. Just little things to note.

TIGW: Do you have bosses planned?

Socrates: Oh man. There’s a lot of things we wish, but we’re not sure if we can get to it. Sometimes we just make crazy shit up. We say okay, what if there was a boss? It’s a boss who swallowed his own hat, so he can never die, so you have to go into his stomach to kill him by stomping on his hat. But yeah, things take time, so it’s hard to say what’s going to be possible. Right now we’re really focusing on a core game of everything you see here at the show, with no bugs, tight controls, online multiplayer, some form of one-player mode, and a different variety of level mechanics.

TIGW: So what’s it like here at EGLX?

Socrates: Pretty lit! It’s pretty awesome. People here are super chill, and also people here are pretty competitive, so it’s awesome to see how they push the game. We also have a bounty on Chris’s head, so if you can beat Chris right now, you get a hundred dollars. And so some people have been challenging him. It’s free to enter, if you win you get a hundred dollars. Some people have been challenging him, so far nobody’s won. But we’re kind of hoping that somebody will. Because for us, it’s important to find out what’s the maximum skill in this game that’s possible.