Becoming the Baba Yaga: Q&A With Mike Bithell, Game Director of John Wick Hex
Tick tock, Wick.
Winston and Charon have been taken by a man named Hex for reasons unknown. It’s time for you to take them back.
John Wick Hex launched this week on the Epic Games Store! We were excited to speak with Game Director Mike Bithel about the project: the combat, the potential easter eggs, and what it was like bringing this prequel story to life.
Q: Hello Mike! Your work on projects like Quarantine Circular and Thomas Was Alone speaks for itself by way of masterful narrative design and storytelling. What was it like, putting your own spin on such an established and beloved franchise like John Wick?
A: It was awesome! We worked directly with the creative team behind the film series, so we had access to the way they thought about Wick and how they created John’s world. On top of that we have Lance Reddick and Ian McShane, reprising their roles as Charon and Winston from the films, so they brought their own insights and perspectives. Then we built on that world with our own story which hopefully gives players a slightly different perspective, and adds a cool new villain, Hex, played by the dastardly talented Troy Baker.
Q: What’s it like writing for a strategy game as opposed to something more narrative, like a classic RPG? Do you approach anything differently?
A: For all my games I usually start by writing a script, and for convenience I usually format that like a movie script. Which is funny, because while that usually helps center the ideas of the type of levels we need to make and other possibilities, in this case it was really helpful because we were working with a Hollywood studio and it was a language we shared.
Writing for a strategy game isn’t that different from other genres. The gameplay is wildly different between a text adventure, a puzzle platformer and whatever other genre you can think of. But ultimately, the building blocks of story: characters, arcs, turns, meaningful events… they transcend genre. In Wick’s case, that world is built on a classical foundation, and that’s fun to play with.Q: John Wick Hex was created in close cooperation with the creative teams behind the films. Does that mean that this story is considered canon in the John Wick universe?
A: I prefer to think of the game as a legend, a story in that world. John Wick is a character as much defined by the stories told about him as the reality. I think nailing things down too much would eat away at the mythic nature of the world. Let’s see how folks like it, I’d be honored if the movies ever draw inspiration from anything in our little game.
Q: Wick has a very distinct fighting style. How did you capture the unique feel of such tactical combat and gratuitous violence in a turn-based game?
A: Well, if you watch the special features on Parabellum you can see me train (not well, but I tried) with the stunt team working on the films. That was fun! We went about capturing the feel of the movies by breaking down every scene and John’s moves across the series, working with the stunt guys to extend things as needed for the specifics of the game context. After players finish a level, choosing every move John makes, they can watch everything strung together as a replay. I can’t wait to watch streams and videos, seeing how players finish the levels their way.Q: Are there any fun easter eggs that Wick fans should be on the lookout for while playing Hex?
A: If I told you, you wouldn’t have the fun of spotting them.
Q: We hear you were allowed to read the script for John Wick 3 while working on the game. How cool was that??
A: Are you kidding? This project has been one long dream come true in terms of getting behind the scenes access as a fan of the franchise. Being able to read the script for 3, sit in the edit room, and see first-cuts helped shape a lot of the ideas for John Wick Hex. In a weird way, I think the third movie and Hex share some themes, likely because they got lodged in my head and wouldn’t budge. It’s another example of how this unprecedented collaboration has helped us make the best game we could.
Now it’s your turn to become the Baba Yaga.
Check out the walkthrough, dive in to John Wick Hex this weekend and experience this fast-paced, action-oriented strategy game.