Hotline Miami is a 2D top-down action video game developed by Dennaton Games, a team composed of Jonatan Söderström and Dennis Wedin. The game was published by Devolver Digital and released on October 23, 2012 for Windows PCs. Hotline Miami is the final product of a development process starting back in 2004, when Swedish developer Jonatan Söderström (better known as cactus) began working on one of his many videogame projects called Super Carnage.
Cactus stated, in an interview with PC Gamer UK (Issue 247):
What was the original idea for Hotline, why did you want to make it?
JS: My original idea, when I made the first prototype called Super Carnage, was just to make the goriest game I possibly could, with as many weapons as possible. I was only 18 at the time so it was a pretty silly and incomplete idea.
Cactus was inspired by different games for this prototype, especially by a number of games from Japanese developer Ikiki, another prolific mass-producer of indie games like him. Hakaiman in particular, with its top-down style and gore grapichs, was one of the main influences (even for the enemies’ patterns and AI).
Cactus also stated that he really liked the game Nikujin (also made by Ikiki), featuring a naked ninja, because he gave him the feelings of possessing all the abilities from the beginning of the game, not acquiring them through the game but trying to master them from the start, as he said in the same interview with PC Gamer UK:
I really wanted to capture that feeling of always being outnumbered and having to master the controls and plan your actions to beat a level.
A beta demo of the game was released by cactus on gamermakergames.com forums. At that time (2006) the game looked like this:
This video comes from a livestream held by Nigel Lowrie, a member of Hotline Miami’s publisher Devolver Digital. The mechanics are there (2D top-down visuals, combat system, enemies behavior) but the game’s style is completely different. We can see a number of details dropped from the final game: starting from the weapons available, a lot of them (like the grenades, the flamethrower and the minigun) were cut because they didn’t fit the theme of the final game, according to the developers. In this prototype the character starts naked (a reference to Ikiki’s naked ninja in Nikujin), because cactus thought about a reward system based on what types of clothes and weapons you would equip through the game (for example, a bonus like a bulletproof vest would give you less points).
Images, Super Carnage (2006 build):
At this time there was no plot whatsoever, it was only a gameplay prototype. This build was shown to Dennis Wedin, with whom Söderström collaborated on the project Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf. Wedin is a big fan of top-down shooters, and he was very intrigued by the prototype so, as he recalled in a conference at Fantastic Arcade 2012 (all the quotes down here come from this interview):
I went back to my apartment for two weeks and just made all the basic animations for the game.
However, plot elements like settings, characters and overall style of the game were not influenced by videogames, rather than other types of media.
Drive, a movie by director Nicolas Winding Refn starring Ryan Gosling, was the inspiration for the main character, Jacket.
After we had been working on the game for a while, we looked at some clips from the movie and we realize that one of the scenes in the film, where there’s like the decisive moment where the movie can go one way or another. The movie goes one way, and I guess that the game is what would have happen if it had gone the other way. […] So, this is pretty much the basic set-up for each level in the game: you’re just standing outside with the mask on, and there are all these people inside that you are going to kill. And they are all assholes!
One of the first ideas for the plot and the storyline was based on the comic series Kick-Ass, written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita, Jr.
cactus: The codename we had for the game when we started working on it was based on Kick-Ass, because it’s about this people wearing mask and killing people.
Dennis: From the beginning the game was just only gonna be like six levels, or something like that, and the plot for it was that you wanted to be on this superhero group, and you had to do like a test for them to convince them that you can be in their squad. So that’s were all the disguise-thing come from I think.
The violence in the comic book was an inspiration for the enemies’ execution by Jacket.
The setting and the style of the game was then heavily influenced by a 2006 documentary directed by Bill Corben called Cocaine Cowboys, depicting the cocaine-flooded Miami of the 70s and 80s, where mass-murders and criminality were an everyday affair (which inspired other movies like Scarface).
A later build titled Cocaine Cowboy (in Russian text) was then created, and it features a notable resemblance with the final game. This prototype has 10 levels, some them are less-decorated stages from the final game. This video is coming from the same livestream of Super Carnage (Cocaine Cowboy appears after the first prototype).
However there are also a bunch of differences: there are no masks, yellow walls (where you can shoot through) are more used in this build, the character often starts in bathroom (like the old Super Carnage prototype, the door sound effect is also the same). The music of the stages is Lady (Original Version) by Chromatics which was supposed to be in the final game, but later cut because it was too expensive to license. Fun fact: using the spacebar to do the ground execution makes the game going back to the main menu. Also, Jacket is different from the final, the enemies use Jacket animations (we learn from the developers that in the beginning the enemies were going to have only shooting weapons).
Images, Cocaine Cowboys:
Last, you can notice something strange on the first Hotline Miami trailer:
The playable character here is the Pig Butcher, one of the protagonists of the sequel, Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. I don”t know if there was a plot change or this character was just a placeholder.
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