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Building bridges from one screen to another

Headup’s Mark Aldrup on the Bridge Constructor series, streaming and gaming’s cross-platform future

Headup, a small development and publishing team founded in 2009 and based in Düren, Germany, is the force behind some of the most acclaimed indie games on Hatch, from platformers like In Between and Toby: The Secret Mine to rogue-lite RPG Pixel Heroes and point-and-click adventure The Inner World (which is coming later to the platform). Perhaps most of all, the firm has made its name with the breakout Bridge Constructor series of physics puzzles, developed by Austria-based ClockStone and published by Headup.

All told, Headup has made or published games with more than 70 million players altogether, across every platform you can think of on console, PC and mobile. An important content partner for Hatch, I met up with Chief Technology Officer Mark Aldrup on the sidelines of Gamescom for more details on what makes the company tick, how they pick their projects, and what they make of the new reality of streaming games on demand.

As you’re CTO I’ll start with some technology questions. I think most of your games, at least the ones on Hatch, are built in Unity. Do you have a particular view on game engines?

Internally, we’re mainly using Unity. But it’s just because we have the most experience with that, and we’re a small team. But we’re not restricted to only using Unity; we’re also looking into possibilities with Unreal and also CryEngine. We see that all of them have really good specs.

We’re starting to see a lot more major, mainstream cross-platform games than we used to, even across mobile and console. What is Headup’s platform strategy?

We try to bring our games to all platforms that the games can work on. We really love that nowadays you can basically put every game on every single platform. As a small company, we tend not to like projects that need the latest high tech specs. So we focus on the content of the game. Especially with engines like Unity or Unreal, it has gotten really easy to bring games to multiple platforms. Sometimes it’s just a matter of pushing a button to change the platform and deploy.

You’ve worked with pretty much every platform there is. How is Hatch different?

Hatch is giving a new opportunity for players, It’s this different concept where you stream the games to your device. So it opens up your mobile to really new types types of games. That is what we love.

Streaming as an idea isn’t so new, but I think when the first companies tried it, it was way too early. The Internet connections weren’t reliable and the technology wasn’t really there. But nowadays, it’s not only Hatch, but also other companies are starting to do it again and I think the technology is really getting there. Streaming is going to be pretty big because it just makes sense. It’s easy and you don’t need the latest and greatest hardware all the time. We really like the concept.

But on mobile especially, what Hatch is doing is really new – it’s one thing to stream to consoles but on mobile Hatch is pretty much one of a kind. And it’s working really well. When I first tried it, I was very surprised how well it works on a mobile connection, not only on Wi-Fi.

Mark Aldrup

Let’s switch gears to content. Headup has a very strong record of creative excellence across its catalog. There’s a consistency there that makes me want to know more about how projects are selected and run.

We’re not focusing on any kind of genre, but we try to build good relationships with our external teams. We have different teams that we have done several titles with. When we see that cooperation works well and we’re a good fit with the development team, we try to build on success and create more titles with those teams. That’s basically what we’re doing.

We also try to have this really cooperational thing with the development team. It’s not like, “we are the publisher and we tell you developers what to do.” We try to really work together on the title, and if we sign a title that a development team has already been working on, we tend to give them the creative control over the project. So we’re not trying to press them into any decision that they don’t like. In that case, the creative process should be with the development team because it’s their game. We try to help them and give feedback and so on. But in the end, they make the decisions how the final game is going to look.

The Bridge Constructor series has evolved into a franchise, but it also seems like something of an outlier in the Headup catalog. Are there plans to develop other games into bigger franchises or are you focusing on Bridge Constructor?

We’re still obviously focusing on Bridge Constructor because it’s working so well. And with Bridge Constructor Portal, which we launched last year, we’re super happy with it and we’ll definitely keep building on that. But if we see that there’s an audience for sequels to other portfolio games and the developer wants to do it – as was the case with The Inner World 2 – then it makes sense to build on success. We would love to have a hand in creating more franchises.

Do you have a favorite game in the Headup portfolio?

That’s a tough question. It comes down to personal taste. I really love point-and-click adventure games, and I’m a huge fan of the old LucasArts adventure games. So I think I would say The Inner World and The Inner World 2.

Thank you. Any parting thoughts?

Thanks for the interview!

Any time!