theHunter

"What's that daddy?"

It's my son, Peter.

"Shhhhh...." I chastise him. Without a beat, he shifts to a whisper. "What's that daddy?"

"It's an elk," I whisper.

He hops onto my lap, and for the next 20 minutes we work our way closer. The elk remains on the ridgeline, slowly working his way along a trail of moss that must be his afternoon snack. Peter points out the birds and butterflies. He giggles with delight as we crawl 15 feet from a Mule Deer not our prey. We are very quiet.

"Dinner time guys!" calls Jessica from the top of the stairs. "Shhhh..." respond Peter and I in unison.

Jessica tiptoes into the office. Looks at the animal on the screen. Looks at us.

"Why am I whispering?"

The reason we're whispering is that we are playing theHunter, a surprising game by British publisher Emote and Swedish developer Avalanche Games.

The premise of theHunter is simple, and indeed small. Grab a rifle and head out to a small island off the coast of Washington State to hunt deer. A simple web-based interface helps select a starting area, a character, and provides a paper-thin "mission" or two. But the island and its inhabitants are anything but simple. Avalanche has taken a very small piece of real estate and used every tool in its AAA-title arsenal to make it real. Not just real in the sense that it's well rendered, but real in the sense that it's logical and consistent. Wind flows along gullies from the beach. The calls of animals echo through canyons. Animals follow logical but not necessarily predictable paths through the landscape. And the animals behave like prey -- they smell you coming. They catch flashes of sunlight on binocular lenses. They hear everything.

While there are concessions to playability -- a GPS that doubles as a sound locater and tracking aid -- the game is fundamentally a simulation. Of hunting. Which means walking quietly. Stopping. Looking. Listening. Then walking some more. Initially, I expected to be bored. I told myself I would simply walk around until I saw something, consider it a game played, and move on. But once I started actually tracking down deer -- a process of identifying scuff marks, deer crap, and deer calls -- I began to understand the allure of real hunting. I was struck by a sense of calm and wonder at the world around me, combined with the thrill and tension of trying to outwit a creature in whose home I was a trespasser.

And at the end of that first half hour, when presented with a small doe in the crosshairs of my rifle site, I was deeply conflicted. Clearly the "point" is to pull the trigger, bag the deer, and get "credit" for the kill on the game's web-based leaderboard. But the importance of that one trigger pull after that half hour slow-motion chase surprised me.

A Different Way

The biggest surprise may be that the game exists at all. Avalanche Studios, the developer of the generally well-received 2006 third-person action game, Just Cause, hasn't had an easy time of it. Just last October they were forced to lay off half their staff as projects fell through. The team that remained has focused on only two things: delivering Just Cause 2 for EIDOS, and theHunter.

One game is a would-be AAA console title in a well-understood and well-served genre (third person, sandbox, rocket-launcher action game). The other a free-to-play, pay-for-stuff web/PC hybrid in a genre often used as an example of the lowest of lowest-common-denominator, WalMart discount gaming (the hunting game).

If that seems like an odd mix, publisher Emote would disagree. "I think [theHunter] grows into a treble-A title," said Emote's COO, David Rose. It's an admission that the game isn't where it hopes to be, eventually. But consider that the game has gone from zero to taking-credit cards in just 12 months, and that the core experience is completely free. What you pay for is the ability to hunt more than one species, with more than one weapon. But in no case are you paying for a AAA story-driven epic. "Instead of a game taking 3 years, perhaps coming to market dated. We can come to market that quickly and then respond to what people tell us they would like to see," insists Rose. "We're just using online delivery to bring games to people in a way we think is a little bit smarter."

But I worry the game won't break out of its niche. That its verisimilitude and languor will alienate all but the simulationist. Emote, for their part, get that this is a limiting factor. Through the intermediation of Skype, I can hear Rose shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "I think that concern will never go away, and never should," he says. "I'm relatively happy with the balance between the realism of hunting, and giving you something to do every 15 minutes. But for someone coming to hunting for the first time, that means slowing down, taking your time." And this is ultimately the hardest part. "You're not fragging 10 deer," he says. "Nor should you."

Indeed, it's unlikely that you'll even find 10 deer in the course of playing theHunter for a weekend, much less a single evening. Simply being quiet isn't enough -- this isn't a stealth shooter. Instead, theHunter demands that you learn the island, learn how to read the wind, learn how to hug gullies and see through the clutter of grasses and leaves to even find your prey, much less engage it. The game is in the chase, not in the shot.

Should.

It's not just the pacing that breaks theHunter from its gaming roots, it's the attitude. TheHunter is pedantic. The game consists of two distinct experiences. The one in screenshots is the actual hunting. But the second experience is entirely browser based -- the game is even launched from a browser, which must be connected in order to work. While this serves as a pathway to some minimal community features like leaderboards and friends lists, its primary purpose is to act as the interface through which you plan and analyze your hunting.

While simple missions exist in the web-interface, there is no goal to the game beyond the experience of hunting. TheHunter is a pure sandbox game. But unlike the sandboxes of Grand Theft Auto and its many doppelgangers, bad behavior isn't rewarded. There is no 4x4 in which to trash the wilderness. There are no paint cans to mark your favorite trees. More than that, bad behavior is chastised. The simple tutorials, given through a web-interface character named "Doc," are concerned primarily with imparting an ethos of ethical hunting.

While this might seem like an oxymoron to an anti-hunter, it's not. I've spent most of my life surrounded by hunters and fishermen. To a fault, they take the idea of a "fair chase" very seriously, and there is no greater failure for them than leaving an animal wounded in the woods. TheHunter reinforces this. You won't be given credit for animals you kill, but fail to track and virtually haul out of the brush. Nor will you be rewarded if you take down an elk with your turkey-shot loaded shotgun. And if you should pursue these less-than-honorable activities, the virtual characters who populate the website will send you nastygrams, reminding you that you've screwed up and how to avoid doing so in the future.

This sense of right and wrong has permeated my time on the island. Not only the right-and-wrongness of how to hunt, but of my very presence there. It's ludicrous on the face of it that I should be concerned with the moral implications of shooting a virtual turkey. After all, how many nameless thousands have I slaughtered without conscience? Billions, in the case of strategy games?

And yet, after crawling on my hands and knees through the underbrush for half an hour, I find my trigger-finger hesitant as the gigantic elk meanders obliviously into the iron sites of my 30-aught-6.

Comments

pyjamarama wrote:
One other game that I recollect felling to some extent bad about killing was shadow of the colossus although they weren't exactly defenseless it felt somehow wrong of me to take them down.

It's a point, but I think the fantasy aspect divorced me from feeling bad about it, that and the fact that you didn't know they weren't bad guys until near the end.
Speaking as someone who doesn't have any ethical problems with hunting, but has yet to actually shoot a woodland creature (been out, but without luck) I did kind of feel the tug of killing a creature fired my first shot in this game, but I think that was more that I thought it was a bad shot and I had only winged my deer, leading to a slow and painful death. Turned out it was actually a pretty good shot, as it only went 30 or so meters, but still. It's bits and pixels for cripes sake, why was I upset?

wordsmythe wrote:
Minarchist wrote:
pyjamarama wrote:
It would be interesting to be given the otion to replace the rifle with a camera

you should check out Wild Earth: African Safari. Graphics can't really compare, but a fun game in its own right.

And you should check out our piece on Afrika/Hakuna Matata.


Thanks for the link, I'd love to check that out. Now I just need to find someone with a PS3.

adam.greenbrier wrote:
dumb_kid wrote:
LobsterMobster wrote:
Maybe I'll give it a shot just to see how it feels. After all, it doesn't mean I have to start killing REAL animals. :P

The meat in your super market comes from killing real fuzzy cute animals.

Which is why I don't eat them, either.

Oh you're one those people...

I thought you lived in the Springs and not Boulder!

bennard wrote:
Worth mentioning is that the Warden license offer expires at the end of the month, which gets you a license to hunt mule deer, whitetail, elk and turkey, plus extra weapons and equipment, where you will probably have to purchase those things separately in the future.

I think the 3, 6, & 12 month licenses will still give you all the animals and weapons. The Warden part means that you get a permanent elk license & 30.06 (even after your other licenses run out) and you get a free month with every new species and weapon whenever a new one is added.
On the ethics side of things, I've taken to only shooting does for missions, and bucks only if they've got nice racks. If I come across an animal I don't want to shoot, I'll go prone and try to crawl as close as I can for a good screenshot.

Podunk wrote:
If God didn't want us to eat animals he wouldn't have made them out of meat.

IMAGE(http://questionthedogma.com/blog7/meat%20is%20murder.jpg)

This is the kind of game where I wish I could choose an "alternate" path. Something like that Pokemon Photo game where I could choose to be graded on how good my photos of wildlife are rather than how impressive a kill I made as an option. Not because the "hunt" (of either sort) is the big deal, but I love to explore virtual environments like this, and would like to be able to do so to achieve my own ends. Particularly when they have gone to such great effort to create such an immersive environment. Wonder if they'd consider adding that as an add-on pack?

Regardless, enjoyed playing a bit of the game, and a lot of that was due to the article here. Thanks for introducing me to it.

dumb_kid wrote:
Oh you're one those people...

I thought you lived in the Springs and not Boulder! :D

Don't tell them I'm here, or they might run me out of town!

rabbit wrote:
I'm thankful for the game if for no other reason than that it's made me think about this very issue.

It could be that real hunting is something that more people can conceive of doing than real killing of other people. I've seen a similar argument for sex vs. violence. More people can personally relate to virtual sex than virtual violence.

Not saying I agree with either argument, just putting them out there.

NaweG wrote:
This is the kind of game where I wish I could choose an "alternate" path. Something like that Pokemon Photo game where I could choose to be graded on how good my photos of wildlife are rather than how impressive a kill I made as an option. Not because the "hunt" (of either sort) is the big deal, but I love to explore virtual environments like this, and would like to be able to do so to achieve my own ends. Particularly when they have gone to such great effort to create such an immersive environment. Wonder if they'd consider adding that as an add-on pack?

I think you may have missed some of our discussion. To wit:

Vega wrote:
adam.greenbrier wrote:
pyjamarama wrote:
It would be interesting to be given the otion to replace the rifle with a camera

I second this. I'd play it then, because as it is I'm just not comfortable with the hunting.

I felt the same. I'm far from having any desire to shoot any kind of animal unless my life depended on it. But after thinking about the millions of humans I've "virtually" shot, stabbed, blown-up, etc. shooting some "virtual" deer isn't all that bad. Well, the deer aren't actively trying to kill me, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, there will be a camera in the game soon and the speculation on the forums is you may be given missions to go photograph the various animals. But even now you aren't forced to do any shooting. You could just go out with your binoculars and go sight-seeing and try to track some animals. You can take screenshots using PrintScreen and alt-tabbing out to paste into whatever graphics app you use if you want to "photo" something.

And, further:

wordsmythe wrote:
Minarchist wrote:
pyjamarama wrote:
It would be interesting to be given the otion to replace the rifle with a camera

you should check out Wild Earth: African Safari. Graphics can't really compare, but a fun game in its own right.

And you should check out our piece on Afrika/Hakuna Matata.

Good read, I was however waiting for a "No daddy, you killed bambi!" type line to emerge but alas no. Sound interesting though, I've never hunted before. It would be interesting to see what the experience is sort of like, and see if in the end I would be willing to pull the trigger.

Hey this has noting to do with left for dead. You tricked me you rascally rabbit.

I might give it a go but to be honest I really don't like the idea of hunting animals. People sure. Don't know what it is.

NaweG wrote:
This is the kind of game where I wish I could choose an "alternate" path. Something like that Pokemon Photo game

I wouldn't mind a Pokemon hunting game.

Craymen Edge wrote:
NaweG wrote:
This is the kind of game where I wish I could choose an "alternate" path. Something like that Pokemon Photo game

I wouldn't mind a Pokemon hunting game.


Or chocobos.

Craymen Edge wrote:
NaweG wrote:
This is the kind of game where I wish I could choose an "alternate" path. Something like that Pokemon Photo game

I wouldn't mind a Pokemon hunting game.

Do you get to shoot that punk Ash with a high powered sniper rifle?

Podunk wrote:
If God didn't want us to eat animals he wouldn't have made them out of meat.

He would have made them out of brussel sprouts?

Funkenpants wrote:
Podunk wrote:
If God didn't want us to eat animals he wouldn't have made them out of meat.

He would have made them out of brussel sprouts?


And tofu.

Great write up, thanks rabbit

Excellent article Rabbit.
I'm enjoying this game quite a bit, and think that everyone should check it out just for the beauty of it alone.

So I went on my first hunt. First impression: No in-game Controls menu to invert mouse? Really? Suck it up, give it a chance.
I headed north from the default starting position and followed one of the roads until I came up to a clearing with a platform. After I realized that it was going to simulate sitting in a platform at 5:07 am in the morning with yawn-inducing accuracy I jumped back out and started stalking the edge of the clearing. Sure enough... half-way along the tree line I heard a mooing and the game gave a little jingle to let me know that this was significant. 10 minutes of crawl-stalking later I saw an 80 something Doe... suddenly outlined in Predator Red. I watched it wander around the edge of the clearing for a little while and figured why not. So I took the shot. Then came my trouble... How do I lift the damn thing? Every now and then it would outline with white, but no further prompts showed up. Lots of little rainbows over droppings and tracks and such, but no other hint as to how to get my jerky back to the boat. So I quit, Doc shot me a nasty e-mail telling me that I needed to use my HunterPDA thingamajiggy to confirm the kill. Say what? Does that thing even have buttons? Anyway... looks fun enough. Time for bed.

Hi all, great article and interesting discussion. I should mention that behind my Squirrel alter-ego I'm Dan Seamans, Producer at Emote Games on theHunter.

So many people have mentioned their reaction to killing the animals in the game, which I'm really pleased with as it suggests people really are engaging with the hunting experience at an emotional level. Off the back of this it's clear that many people would like a camera as a way of providing an 'alternate' play style. Good news, a camera is going in to the game via today's patch, along with a few minor fixes. We have plans to add missions around the camera, so alternate play modes like photographing the wildlife can become as rewarding as hunting.

Remember it's also worth contributing via the official forums as the future direction of theHunter isn't completely fixed. We obviously have some really cool ideas that we're working on and will really add a lot to the experience, but we also listen to the community and steer the game based on what players want.

Happy hunting!

So, while there's no little in-game keymap, if you go to the website there are several pretty simple tutorials in the help menu and a keymap. The game is FAR from complicated.

Thanks for the update, Squirrel!

Wait, when do we get to hunt squirrels?

Well, first off, I couldn't find a deer last night, in an hour of play. I kept coming across new / old trails, and hearing them, but I couldn't find them. Not sure what I was doing wrong.

Second, on shooting animals... In games like Oblivion, or WoW, or other similar games, where the obvious objectives were well beyond killing the innocent animals, I've always felt bad about and avoided killing the innocent animals. If I ever come across a deer in this game, I doubt I'll hesitate to kill it, since that's the objective. I could not say the same thing if I ever actually went hunting, though. Even when I go fishing, we keep nothing. They all get tossed back.

Rezzy wrote:
No in-game Controls menu to invert mouse?

This is the only thing preventing me from trying the game right now.

Certis wrote:
Wait, when do we get to hunt squirrels?

Will that be with cars?

Squirrel wrote:
Good news, a camera is going in to the game via today's patch, along with a few minor fixes. We have plans to add missions around the camera, so alternate play modes like photographing the wildlife can become as rewarding as hunting.

Aaand that clinches it. I'll be back after work for another trip into the woods.
No inverted mouse is annoying, but just like the PS3 controller... sometimes it's worth fighting it.

NSMike wrote:
Well, first off, I couldn't find a deer last night, in an hour of play. I kept coming across new / old trails, and hearing them, but I couldn't find them. Not sure what I was doing wrong.

Second, on shooting animals... In games like Oblivion, or WoW, or other similar games, where the obvious objectives were well beyond killing the innocent animals, I've always felt bad about and avoided killing the innocent animals. If I ever come across a deer in this game, I doubt I'll hesitate to kill it, since that's the objective. I could not say the same thing if I ever actually went hunting, though. Even when I go fishing, we keep nothing. They all get tossed back.


Best way to track a deer is to walk around upright until you come across a trail or hear one, then crouch to actually track them. If you're standing up while tracking them, it's pretty much a given that they'll see you before you see them. Sometimes the deer are just jerks though.

Stengah wrote:
Sometimes the deer are just jerks though.

And here we have our motivation for shooting those punks. They had it coming!

I don't have any problems shooting at a deer, but I'd LOVE missions based around the camera, because stalking for a clear shot is much easier than stalking for a clean photo. A telephoto lens can only do so much to cover for bad lighting, framing, and motion. I say bring on the "12 point buck + doe silhouette against a sunset" mission.

Uhm... will the deer hump? Now there's a photo op! (cue link for that picture of the three deer humping thing that was on the Internet a few years ago)

One of the nice things about theHunter being a 'live' product is that we're dedicated to adding new content and improving the experience that's already there. As such I can state that we're already working on additionl control options (like inverting the mouse).

My top tip for hunting, not that I'm the expert, would be use your binoculars, and use them often. I've taken to scanning the edges of woods or clearings from afar, and often, during my hunts. You'd be surprised how many times you'll spot a deer you didn't know was there.

As for running over squirrels in cars... that's just mean!

Squirrel wrote:
One of the nice things about theHunter being a 'live' product is that we're dedicated to adding new content and improving the experience that's already there. As such I can state that we're already working on additionl control options (like inverting the mouse).

My top tip for hunting, not that I'm the expert, would be use your binoculars, and use them often. I've taken to scanning the edges of woods or clearings from afar, and often, during my hunts. You'd be surprised how many times you'll spot a deer you didn't know was there.

As for running over squirrels in cars... that's just mean!

Hey Squirrel, thanks for joining us over here. And yeah, the insta-patch of new content is awesome and appreciated.

help get thehunter on steam through greenlight.

http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfile...

awesome game that's been spotlighted on gwj before...

thehunter + steam = growth in popularity = more updates and more fun.