Maneater developer on making a deep, non-meme shark game

Untitled Goose Game was solid and charming, but it made for a better Twitter video than an actual game. Games starring animals tend to be a magnet for those “fun for 30 minutes” type of experiences. With that history, it was hard to not look at Maneater as some sort of meme game, but with a bloodthirsty shark instead of a mischievous, asshole goose. But the game is an actual RPG, which is something the studio at Tripwire Interactive has had to deal with since its unveil. We sat down with John Gibson, CEO, co-owner, and co-founder of Tripwire Interactive, to speak about overcoming that moniker as well as how the team approached making such a drastically different experience.

GameRevolution: This is a shark game and there aren’t a lot of those. How did you come to the conclusion that a shark game was the game to make?

John Gibson: A big part of it was really wanting to make some very unique and to take a genre that people know — the open-world action RPG like Far Cry and Breath of the Wild — and do it in a completely different way so it was really fresh again.

ALSO: Maneater is not the Untitled Shark Game you’re looking for (it’s better)

A lot of people have this fantasy of doing things you can’t do in real life and so many people are fascinated by sharks. I think even we underestimated how fascinated people are with sharks. It just seemed like something really interesting to tackle.

Maneater developer on making a deep, non-meme shark game

GR: It seems like most animal-focused games are mainly meme games. But it seems like you wanted to go into Maneater and make a meaty game from the get-go. Is that accurate?

JG: That is accurate. One of the challenges and why we’ve talked about it a lot is there is huge buzz around the game but there’s this undertone of people asking if this is a meme game. Is it just a gimmick? With any marketing and PR plan, you don’t want to spill all the beans out of the gate. So it’s been exciting to show people that there is a depth of experience here. There’s diversity of evolving your character and a 10 to 15-hour RPG here with side quests and main quests. And it’ll be something fun to play five to 10 hours in and not just 30 minutes in.

GR: Underwater levels tend to have a bad reputation and this game is mostly in some sort of body of water. How do you make an underwater adventure fun?

JG: It is hard. And for the overall landscape of the open-world action RPGs, there are a lot of games we can look at. But for the actual combat, there is almost no reference or place to start. We had been making shooters for 20 years and honing the craft of making shooting monsters and enemy soldiers feel really good.

And we were maybe a little cocky in the beginning thinking that this shark game would be easy. How can biting people as a shark not be fun? But we found that it was not instantly fun. The shark would just statically bite and oftentimes miss its target and it didn’t feel solid. Some of it was in the animal kingdom, but one of the things we took inspiration from was fencing and the idea of lunging at your enemy and parrying. When we started to apply that to the combat, it started to become really fun.

And then we took it to another level and tried to figure out how to make wildlife combat fun. Like it was fun for me to attack something but we had to make it engaging to fight with another fish. When it started out, it was just two fish going up to each other and biting until one died. And that was no fun.

So we looked back to games of the past and likened it to Punch Out where each person that you fought had different tells and timing you had to use. And then we looked at modern games like Dark Souls and added depth and tactical elements, which is where it found its footing.

Maneater is not the Untitled Shark Game you're looking for (it's better)

GR: Your shark can breach, wiggle onto land, and grow armor, which are all outside of the realm of reality. What did tapping into fantasy give to the game?

JG: Part of it is wanting the game to have depth so that you can enjoy it 10 hours in. Part of it was tailoring the evolution to how we were seeing people play the game.

Some people loved to ram and bite things. So that is the bone armor path and we made tools so they could take that even further. Some people wanted to race in the world and get 10 enemy fish to face them and battle them all. That’s the bioelectric path, which is about crowd control. Some wanted to be more stealthy, which is the vampire path.

But we wanted to have fun with it. Like where could we take this? It’s not just a shark. It made it interesting to be able to take it into different, wild places.