When thinking about a game adaption of the incredibly popular John Wick films, Bithell Games might not be the developer that first comes to mind. Co-founder Mike Bithell and his team are known for emotion-tinged platformers, old-school stealth adventures, and interactive narrative stories. Appropriately so, Bithell Games chose an unexpected target for its John Wick mission: a turn-based strategy that feels like a mash-up of XCOM and SuperHot.
We sat down with Mike Bithell after playing his new game for the first time, and dove into how he secured the project and ultimately convinced Lionsgate to go along with his vision. John Wick Hex will launch on PC (exclusively through Epic Games Store first) and MacOS, and does not yet have a release date.
GameSpot: Were you approached, or did you approach someone to make a John Wick game. What was the first idea for the project?
Mike Bithell: They were like "we need Thomas was Alone's creator to reinvigorate projects." [Laughs] No, it was interesting. So basically Good Shepherd, who's the publisher, and Lionsgate movies, they were already talking about doing something with John Wick. Lionsgate's whole thing with John Wick is they still see it as the weird Indy movie that did good. It's growing and doing so big so they specifically want to do interesting John Wick games, they don't want to just do straightforward person action kind of things.
So not recreate the movies?
Well, they want to recreate the movies but with creativity. The thing with third-person shooters, just as an aside, is that I'm a clumsy idiot. When I play a third person shooter, I can be in a suit but I'm going to be just running around aimlessly firing. It's not John Wick.
So, going into that strategy thing, lets you do the whole think-and-react thing and work your way through a space. But to go back to your answer, they were thinking: how do we do this more interestingly? They bring in Ben, who is the producer, and they say, "go find something to do this," basically. And me and Ben, just a couple of weeks before, watched John Wick around my place--we go way back--he was like, "what would you do with John Wick?" And I said a strategy game, because to me that's the only way to capture that character. Completely expecting that to be the end of the conversation.
But he got back to me and said, "well, make a prototype and see if it's fun," and it just went from there. And when Lionsgate saw it, they were super into it, they loved the idea of doing something like this with [John Wick]. The turning point was when I showed it to a guy called Jason Constantine, who's the executive producer on the John Wick franchise of Lionsgate. The whole of this most important meeting, I'm in a room that looks like something out of Entourage. Lots of glass, they love glass [laughs]. And I'm at one end of this table, he's at the other, it's very scary and I just demoed this game, which at that point, was kind of this XCOM with one character kind of thing, like what you expect from [Hex] until you play it.
And he said, "Why does John keep waiting? Like, John Wick does not wait his turn, he just fights". And I was like," Jason, the turn-based strategy games, that's how they work". And I literally load up YouTube and put one of these kinds of games up on the screen, and I'm like, "look they're waiting..."
Did you show him Mario + Rabbids?
I showed him everything.
That's funny to think about.
I was like, "they're waiting their turn, it's fine". And about halfway through that sentence, I am explaining to an executive why John Wick is letting people shoot him in the face. It's just gone terribly wrong. And I went back from that trip and just got chatting to Nick over there who's the lead coder and co-designer, and was like, "we can't do turn-based John Wick. This sucks. It's just not how you capture that gameplay". And that was the point where that timeline you saw came from and we called it timeline strategy, I don't know if that's what we'll end up calling it, but that's lovely.
And that idea of making it, giving you the time to think through a choice, but also making it so that everything's concurrent and everything's coming together nicely. So it becomes a game about finding your chance and you're not just letting everyone shoot you in the face. What's really cool about it and what excites me about it is that as you get more and more acquainted with it and understand it's systems more, it gets faster. It moves at the speed you think.
That was the moment where it all started to come together. We kept collaborating throughout the process, working with Chad, the director of movies, who came up with fog of war. I credit him entirely for that.
But that's what's fun, that was what was so cool with Chad, because Chad doesn't play video games but he obviously gets everything about fight choreography and how you tell a story through an action scene. And working with him, with those different languages, finding where the overlaps were, that was so much fun.
What sort of rope has Lionsgate given you to build on the John Wick mythology? And where does Hex sit on the timeline?
Mike: They've been awesome. They're really good collaborators. They give us the freedom to make the choices. Ultimately, it's similar to how we design our own choices. They've given us all the information so that we don't come to them with stupid ideas. Very short version. It's a collaboration and we've definitely pushed some things in interesting directions, you're going to be surprised by some stuff, stuff I'm not allowed to talk about right now, but there's some stuff in there that will be cool and surprising. But yeah, on the whole the focus for us has been to expand their universe in a way that's respectful. And they've responded well to that.
I can't think of a time they told us not to do something we want to do. Just, we've asked for things that are cool, and they've gone, yes. And Hex takes place before Helen.
So it's during John's time as a prolific assassin?
That could be a logical answer to the question, but I can't give away any details about that right now.