I’d be the first to tell you that we’re in a golden age of gaming right now, with Nintendo on top form with their latest releases, indie games gaining more support than ever, and the current generation looking very promising. For the longest time, however, I’ve felt that there’s been something missing.

When platformers entered the 3D generation with the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, we saw a new and exciting era of “collect-a-thon” games. Super Mario 64Banjo-Kazooie, and Spyro the Dragon are prime examples of games that not only offered challenging precision platforming, but encouraged the player to explore the beautiful worlds they crafted. Bar some examples few and far between, it often seems like this genre has become non-existent since that time.

That’s where Jonas Kærlev and the dedicated team at Gears For Breakfast step in. With their current game in development, A Hat in Time, they’re aiming to bring back that wonderful, exploratory experience. To do so, the crew are taking inspiration from the very best: MarioBanjo, and even Zelda. Unlike those other two franchises, Zelda is of course an adventure series, which made me curious.

A Hat in Time screenshot - Hat Kid

Jonas was incredibly kind enough to take some time out of his development schedule to answer some questions I had about the game, and what exactly about Zelda inspires him. Throughout our pleasant discussion, I learned that he’s not only a talented developer with a creative vision, but a delight to talk games with, and clearly passionate about what he does and the video game medium.

If you’re new to A Hat in Time, stick around for the interview below and see just why you should be excited. If you’re already an avid follower of the game’s progress as I am, Jonas also shared some new details of the development process, gameplay and plot!

How is development of A Hat in Time coming along?

It’s going great! We’re getting pretty close to being halfway done, and that’s a huge milestone for us. A lot of the 3D art is done and it’s mostly just scripting the different scenarios that is left.

The most striking thing to me when I first saw the game was that beautiful, colourful, cartoony visual style. It’s certainly unique, but did Wind Waker influence your decision to go with a cel-shaded style at all?

I think Wind Waker certainly set precedence for how cel-shading should look. It would be dishonest of me to say that it had no influence at all, given how big a part it has played in the history of cel-shaded games.

When we launched the A Hat in Time Kickstarter, we were aiming for a cel-shaded style, simply because it allowed us to be kind of lazy with our 3D models; seams in the models would be less visible, texture detail could be reduced, etc.We used it as a tool to aid our low budget. After the launch of our Kickstarter, we realized we could now go beyond this and put additional time and care into the production. For that reason, A Hat in Time is no longer cel-shaded!

Our refined style can be broken up into three parts: hard shadow-casting, gradient shading and outer highlight.

A Hat in Time - Shader Breakdown

Character from “Chapter 4: Sand and Sails”

The gradient shading uses an exponential boost, which makes it look somewhat sharp, which matches the hard shadows well. This entire combination gives characters a very plasticky feel, but it provides a single character with a wider array of colors and shading than normal, which fits A Hat in Time’s use of color and shading. It also aids in adding depth to characters, making them stand out from their environment. Sorry for going on a tangent, as a programmer I love to talk about technical aspects!

Not a problem, it’s fascinating! “Chapter 1: Down with the Mafia” has bright blue skies and a sea setting, also similar to Wind WakerHow does it compare to, say, Windfall Island?

Mafia Town, the location in which Chapter 1 takes place, is inspired by Santorini, Greece! It’s close to the water, and this has carried over to Mafia Town as well. I believe Santorini is also what inspired the island layout of Isle Delfino from Mario Sunshine? I’m not sure on that one.

A Hat in Time - Mafia Bully

Mafia of Cooks from “Chapter 1: Down with the Mafia”

Windfall Island has a great feeling to it, it feels very alive and habitated. We try to provide the same feeling with Mafia Town, but it is slightly more difficult when the majority of the Mafia look the same! Though Mafia Town has a very sinister feel to it. People getting beat up on the street… you don’t see that in Windfall.

Your Kickstarter page says, “Think Banjo-Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario 64 all in one!” The Banjo– and Mario-style platforming is clear to see, but are you able to discuss specifically what elements of Zelda that A Hat in Time builds upon?

Zelda is very puzzle- and combat-oriented, while Mario and Banjo are very puzzle- and platforming-oriented. For A Hat in Time, we wanted to include both; give Hat Kid both the ability to be flexible in her platforming, while still being able to pack a punch. Our goal is to provide a good synergy between the two, so that they don’t feel like two exclusive parts!

I think a good example of this is our hookshot upgrade, an item Hat Kid obtains in “Chapter 2: Subcon Forest”. It allows Hat Kid to hook to the ceiling and swing across gaps. We allow the player to swing directly from one point to another without touching the ground, or jump down a pitfall only to use the hookshot at the last second — it’s very dynamic. We find this works well with the platforming aspects. While swinging, Hat Kid can also swing into enemies, dealing lots of damage!

This changes significantly how players approach a situation, as they can now choose to swing into enemies instead of simply running at them.

A Hat in Time - Hookshot swing

Hookshot Swinging in “Chapter 2: Subcon Forest”

The protagonist, Hat Kid, is a time-traveller. Would you say that her magic hat is similar to Link’s ocarina?

A Hat in Time - Adult Hat Kid

Ha-ha, not at all actually! Her Hat is entirely cosmetic. The aspect of time travel is brought in by the Time Pieces; small fragments of time that are scattered across the world.

However! Very similar to Ocarina of Time, Hat Kid’s adult counterpart will play a significant role. We haven’t
quite spilled the beans on this aspect quite yet, but we hope to be able to showcase it very soon!

[Pictured right: Hat Kid as an adult]

Who would win in a fight between Hat Kid and Link?

A few wall jumps by Hat Kid and Link wouldn’t be able to catch up — she’d take him out from a distance! Unless he has his Ocarina and can rewind time… in which case that’s a pretty uneven playing field.

Speaking of fighting, would you like to see Hat Kid in Super Smash Bros., if given the chance?

That’d be crazy! I’d love it! I don’t think people would be too happy about an obscure character like her being part of a big series like that though.

What is it about the N64 era that you adore, from a developer’s perspective?

The N64 is the first time exploration became a part of gaming; previously you were limited to two dimensions. While secrets were possible with those limitations, the sensation of discovery really sparked for me with Mario 64. The fact that you could drain the water in the castle exterior was mental at the time! And who hasn’t tried to climb back into the waterfall in that game? It was all very new and very cool.

“We want to re-capture that feeling of discovery and secrets.”

They don’t do that much anymore. Mario has moved onto doing “A-to-B” kind of games, starting with Mario Galaxy and the New Super Mario Bros. series. Those games are great, but we want to re-capture that feeling of discovery and secrets!

As if your game couldn’t impress me enough, you managed to collaborate with one of my favourite composers of all time. What has it been like working with Grant Kirkhope*?

Grant’s amazing to work with! A really swell guy, he copes with our nonsense and that takes quite the man. Both him and Pascal Stiefel, our primary composer, are working on the soundtrack and what they’ve done so far is amazing!

[*Grant Kirkhope is an experienced video game composer, providing soundtracks for many acclaimed games such as Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark.]

Can we still expect a 2014 release?

We’ll have to see! Right now we’re headed in that direction, but you never know with these things. Especially in the polishing phase I think we might just gush and spend a lot time adding all sorts of neat things.

As I recall, you were determined to do everything you could to make a Wii U port happen. Is there an update on this that you’d be able to share at all?

“Good games make you feel, and  Majora’s Mask certainly achieves that. We hope to do the same in A Hat in Time.”

Unfortunately not! We had plans to be open about that process, but some sites have jumped the gun and ”confirmed” the release on our behalf when we just mentioned we had some news… now we’re afraid to share anything about it! We don’t want to mislead people into thinking it’s going on a console that it isn’t, so now we’re remaining silent on that area until we can confirm it 100%. Sorry!

Understandable! Hypothetically, if you were to create a Wii U version, have you considered making use of the console’s unique functionality? For example, touch control, gyro sensor, off-TV play and so on.

Yes, I would make it so I could program the game while in my bed. It’s easily my favourite feature of the Wii U GamePad… being able to game while laying extremely comfortably. For actual functionality, we think it would be cool to have our co-operative play split between TV and GamePad. I’m not really a fan of touch controls; it’s so annoying when your hand has to leave the analog stick!

What is your personal favourite Zelda game, and why?

I love the dark themes of Majoras Mask! Shane, one of our two concept artists, and myself are very big fans of things dark and twisted, and it shows in particular in our designs for A Hat in Time‘s second chapter, Subcon Forest. Good games make you feel, and Majora’s Mask certainly achieves that. We hope to do the same in A Hat in Time!

A Hat in Time - Vanessa

Queen Vanessa holding Hat Kid, from Chapter 2: Subcon Forest

Do you have a favourite character, dungeon, and/or section from Zelda?

I really liked the Sacred Grove from Twilight Princess because it was pretty much what I wanted to see in a Lost Woods remake, in particular with the inclusion of Skull Kid!

What other games do you enjoy?

A lot of different games have been inspiration for aspects of A Hat in Time. Psychonauts is a game I really enjoy, and the desire to create A Hat in Time certainly also stems from that game! Another obscure game is Wario Land 2 for the Game Boy… it’s part of the reason why we have “Chapter 3: Trainwreck of Science”! I’ve also been enjoying Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze recently, it’s a very good game.

With the Kickstarter campaign over, what can newer fans do to support A Hat in Time?

Consider taking a bite of our alpha release! It’s available right now on the website’s pre-order page. And if you’d rather wait it out until the game is done, consider checking us out on Twitter and Facebook, where we post new content weekly; lots of concept art, screenshots and more!

As Jonas says, you can follow and support A Hat in Time on the game’s official Facebook and Twitter.  You can also follow updates on the official website, and also find the developer Gears For Breakfast on Twitter.

Oh, and if you want to see the game in action (and why wouldn’t you at this point?), I strongly recommend checking out the alpha trailer below. Even as a half-developed game, it’s already looking incredible!