E3 2019: John Wick Hex’s Mike Bithell Talks Lore, Storyline, Working with Chad Stahelski

The John Wick films are masterpieces in the action genre. Despite their high returns at the box office, however, publishers in the games industry have yet to develop any games based on the IP. That changes with John Wick Hex. Developed by Bithell Games with input from the John Wick crew, Mike Bithell not only aims to give players a John Wick game, but provide one that’s authentic to the films. At E3 2019, we got to sit down with Mike to learn more about John Wick Hex and how it’s different from other licensed titles.

[Hardcore Gamer]: When does John Wick Hex take place in the storyline? We have our three films, so how does the game tie-in?

[Mike Bithell]: We’re a prequel. I can’t talk much about the story and cast at this point. What I can say is that the game is a prequel and takes place before John and Helen met.

When people picture John Wick they’re thinking about all the crazy action. They’re probably thinking that a John Wick game would be a third-person shooter. That’s not the case with John Wick Hex. What made you want to go with the adventure and strategy genres?

I wanted to make a game that actually felt like John Wick. It’s very easy to take a license and say it can be a third-person action game. I thought John Wick deserved something more original and interesting. There are things about the movies I love that I wanted to turn into something original. I love the lore and world building and fight choreography. The way the action follows logical rules makes the world feel so special. So, I wanted to take that and find a way to get the player to think like John Wick. Nic [Tringali] (Game Designer on Hex) and I sat down to think about how to do that, and we came up with something we thought was true to what John Wick is.

Our policy, with licenses, has been that we’ll do it, but only if we can do with it what we want to. Our pitches for licenses are always out there, but no one would ever want it. For John Wick, we had an idea that made sense in our heads, we sent it in, and Lionsgate said yes. We were honestly kind of surprised.

How are you integrating the lore into the game? So far all we’ve seen are gameplay segments. Are we going to get to visit the Intercontinental?

Sadly, we can’t talk to you about that at this time. All I’ll say is that I agree that that stuff is very important to the lore.

Something we noticed while playing is that you’re shying away from typical gameplay tropes. For example, when you walk over a gun you don’t get additional ammo. What made you want to get away from some of these tropes?

Because that’s not John Wick. We always come back to the movies and ask if it makes sense in the context of the world. For me, the movies are our let’s play. If our players are playing brilliantly like in the film, then that’s the way the game should work. There’s always a sense of internal consistency and logic with the films that we want to follow. We worked with the director, Chad Stahelski, and wouldn’t dare show him anything that’d break the world’s logic. If you just ran over a gun and picked up the bullets that wouldn’t work. We actually showed him a build of the game without fog-of-war and he replied, “John Wick cannot see through walls.” I was like, “that’s a really good point.” That’s how we ended up with fog-of-war. Having access to the people who made these movies helped us make this feel like a true John Wick experience.

Were you surprised with how hands-on Chad wanted to be with the game?

All of Lionsgate were involved and I think everyone is taking this seriously. I feel that they’re incredibly proud about what the game is and are passionately excited about it. Chad has an insane attention to detail and they don’t want me to mess it up. So, no, I think they care about it in the same way I care for it. It’s amazing.

I don’t know if you got to play with a lot of the different moves, but most of them were created by the film’s stunt team. I sat with them and showed them some of the animations. They were tough and said what the moves were actions John Wick had never used before. So, they had me stand up and showed me some moves we could film and use for the game. It was really cool.

After watching Parabellum, do you think there are any moves in there you could use?

I think there’s lots. We’re really lucky in that we didn’t have to wait to watch it. We got to read the screenplay ahead of time to help us write our own script. So we knew where they were going with the story and lore so that we wouldn’t contradict it.

Parabellum had quite a few awesome vehicle and horse chases. Any chance we’ll get something like that in Hex?

Sadly, no. I’m not sure how it would work. We’re keeping combat on the ground for this game.

What about environmental interactions? John Wick does like to improvise in his fights. Can players interact with the environment to defeat their enemies?

This was a massive design conversation for us. You’re right that John Wick does do that, but the honest answer is no. There is some level of interaction in that you’re using the environment to take cover. However, the biggest issue we found is that, when you do environmental interactions in a game, it usually boils down to finding an item and then pressing a button to do damage. We couldn’t find ways to give the depth we wanted to environmental interactions. We’ve managed to make guns and melee so interesting that environmental interactions would have stuck out. I wasn’t happy with where it was going, so we refocused our efforts elsewhere.

Obviously, this game is coming to PC and Mac as you have already said. However, you also mentioned that it’s coming to consoles. Can you tell us which consoles John Wick Hex will launch on?

Unfortunately, I can’t say at this time. Only that it’ll come to console at some time. It’ll launch on PC and Mac first.