MCV ISSUE 944
THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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INDIES AT GDC What they’re showing, what they hope to achieve, and whether the show works for them
TEN YEARS ON FROM ARKHAM ASYLUM How Batman and his foes shaped Rocksteady
“All the old decisions need to be revisited”
Try Unity’s Project Tiny Scan the code to play instantly 03 MCV944 Editorial cover_FINAL.indd 1
05 The editor
Goodbye UK, hello Galar
06 Critical path
The key dates this month
10 Income stream Our market analysis
12 Ukie goes to GDC
Promoting the UK to a global market
Real life events from the industry
20 An Epic year
Our pre-GDC Tim Sweeney interview
28 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
20 36 Indies at GDC
Is San Francisco still the place to be?
44 Unity goes Tiny
How itâ€™ll reach the next billion devices
50 Seeking Asylum
Rocksteady on ten years of Batman
54 People powered
How RKG became an instant hit
58 When we made... Two Point Hospital
62 The sounds of... Cris Velasco
65 Creatives assemble!
CA debunks development role myths
66 Life on the Frontier How to bring dinosaurs to life
68 Casting the runes
Jagex on leading artistic output
70 Industry voices
Our platform for the industry
74 The final boss Craig Duncan
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“As a bonus: you’ll get to have a special relationship with an island packed full of Pokémon.”
TheEditor Goodbye UK, hello Galar In recent years, the long-cherished ‘special relationship’ with our transatlantic industry cousins often seems to boil down to a sympathetic debate on ‘who’s more screwed’. While Trump and Brexit once seemed neck-and-neck, I can’t help but feel that we’re edging ahead in this woe-is-me extravagaza. Trump appears to have been somewhat pinned back since the mid-terms, while Brexit is spiralling ever further out of control, with the no credible hand on the tiller. While I’m in the US I was seriously considering attempting a one-man political mission for you to take us on as the 51st state – a kind of grand inversion of The American War of Independence. I hold no political mandate for such a move, but then such technicalities seem a little old hat anyway in these times. Thankfully for us all, the Pokémon Company and Nintendo has since ridden to my country’s rescue with its recent Pokémon: Sword and Shield announcement. The games seem to reimagine dear old blighty as Galar, from the verdant fields of the south, through the industrial powerhouse of the north and up into the highlands of Scotland, except that the whole thing is packed with cute critters of course. A massive rebranding scheme, with a side-helping of high fantasy is exactly what the UK needs right now. So we’ll no doubt soon be renaming the whole country as Galar, and by doing so side-step all of our Brexit-related issues. If Galar wants to leave the EU it’ll have to have its own referendum. Fixed. Oh and as a bonus you’ll get to have that ‘special relationship’ with an island packed full of Pokémon. Just give us a couple of years to figure out the AR tech. Back in reality, it’s great to be back in San Francisco at the show with this bumper show issue of MCV. Our lead interview is with none less than Tim Sweeney, and at the other end of the business scale we’ve reached out to a range of indies who are showing their work at GDC this year. Also featured is Unity, with its exciting move into the world of instant games with Project Tiny. Then we have Rocksteady talking about its Batman games on the tenth anniversary of Arkham Asylum. Plus you’ll also find a wealth of developer-specific content from top UK studios towards the back of the magazine. We hope you enjoy the magazine, have a great GDC and please say hello if you see me around, it’s always great to get feedback and pitches. Myself, and many others, will be on the Ukie UK industry stand, drop by and see that despite everything the UK-Galar games industry is very much open for business. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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MCV Awards 2019 The Brewery, London
Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
It’s that time of year again, where we celebrate the creativity, ingenuity and hard work of the UK games industry – it’s the MCV Awards 2019. We’ve had a great year, with some huge releases and three console platforms firing on all cylinders, while PC continued to grow. We have 16 awards categories this year, to continue our efforts to bring a focused line-up and streamlined event on the night. And with over 50 companies and almost 100 shortlisted nominations, we tried to keep the shortlists both concise and competitive. We’re looking forward to seeing all of you at the Brewery on March 7th and would like to thank our sponsors and partners for their continued support: Amiqus, Bespoke Arcades, Frontier, GamesAid, Gamescom, Heaven Media, Little Big PR, OPM Jobs and Ukie.
March 18th - 22nd GDC 2019 Moscone Center, San Francisco
Yoshi’s Crafted World Yoshi is making a grand entrance on Nintendo Switch with Yoshi’s Crafted World, developed by Good-Feel, which was already behind 2015’s Yoshi’s Woolly World. More adorable than ever, Yoshi’s Crafted World allows for two players to explore its diorama-like world.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice Two years after Dark Souls III, FromSoftware is back with a brand new IP. Set in Japan during the Sengoku period in the late 1500s, Sekiro lets players embody a shinobi with extraordinary abilities. The single-player experience, published by Activision, will be launching on PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC.
The world’s largest game development-focused event is back in San Francisco for more sessions, roundtable discussions and handson with the latest games. And we’ll be there. GDC 2019 is expected to be as jam-packed as the 2018 edition, which was the most successful to date, with over 28,000 attendees, 750 lectures, keynotes and other talks, as well as 550 exhibitors. If you’re currently reading this in San Francisco: hi there, we hope the weather is nice! If you want to see what the UK games industry is up to, head over to the Ukie stand (Booth S649) – you can read more about that on page 12. You can also read our Indies at GDC special on page 36.
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Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 Massive Entertainment and Ubisoft are back with a sequel to 2016’s hit Tom Clancy’s The Division. Set seven months after its predecessor, The Division 2 takes place in Washington DC and, as is now customary, its DLC will be released for free to all players. The title is releasing on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Devil May Cry 5 Hideaki Itsuno is back for a fifth instalment in Capcom’s Devil May Cry franchise. Confirmed at Microsoft’s E3 conference last year, Devil May Cry 5 is a direct sequel to 2008’s Devil May Cry 4, ignoring 2013’s reboot by Ninja Theory. It’ll be coming in early March to PS4, Xbox One and digitally on PC.
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Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Mandie Johnson email@example.com Production Manager: Claire Noe firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVERTISING SALES Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher email@example.com + 44 (0)777 853 8431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8777
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What a month. I can’t recall the last time I had so little time to properly kickback and pick up a controller. Wargroove was my saving grace, with the perfectly-formed strategy title fitting into every little nook and cranny – those quiet moments on the train, on a plane and while the kids watch Ninjago for the umpteeth time on TV.
It’s been a quiet month for me games-wise. I did attempt to finish Pokémon Let’s Go, but my heart was elsewhere really as my gaming experiences were less digital this month. D&D monopolised my thoughts for the first time in a decade and oh boy do I love the eight hours sessions, the banter and the constant snacking and drinking! Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
There’s a lot to be tempted with at the moment, but right now my heart well and truly belongs to Far Cry New Dawn. While I thought Far Cry 5 felt a little *too* big in places, New Dawn is a smaller, much more delicious slice of huntin’, shootin’ and explorin’ in Hope County... Vikki Blake, News Writer
Seth Barton, Editor
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Pet: Elphie Owner: Viktoria Martusheva Owner job’s: Video editor, Gismart An adorable little fluff ball with a predilection for relentlessly licking random kids. Extremely adept at waking her owner from a deep slumber via furious nudging with her furry snout.
Pet: Oscar Owner: Andrew Parsons Owner’s job: Head of global content operations, Sony
Pet: Ponyo Owner: Brynley Gibson Owner’s job: Senior producer, Avalanche Studios
Oscar likes to feel he’s on top of the industry’s daily business. In reality he just convinces the team that his owner is busy when he’s actually just playing games!
Ponyo is Avalanche Studios’ office dog in Malmö, Sweden. She loves to welcome people to the office and needs hugs and belly rubs on a regular basis.
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Dream big. Work wonders.
Reach new heights with your career. We can help.
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Income Stream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
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Days Gone (PS4) Yoshi’s Crafted World (Switch) The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 (PS4) Final Fantasy VII (PS4)
The battle for Q1 continues Q1 2019 is far from over with big titles such as Devil May Cry 5, The Division 2 and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice yet to be released. Resident Evil 2 and Ace Combat 7 both made a big splash in January, while February was Kingdom Hearts III, Far Cry New Dawn, Crackdown 3 and Anthem time to shine. Not all of them succeeded. Kingdom Hearts III, having released at the very end of January, got off to a flying start, debuting at the top of the UK weekly charts to very good sales and smashing records, becoming the fastest-selling Kingdom Hearts game in the franchise’s history (see right, Pounding Hearts). It also topped the monthly charts for February. Mid-February, Far Cry New Dawn and Metro Exodus then went head-to-head. The former won the post-apocalyptic showdown, debuting at No.1 that week, but the latter actually stole the spotlight. Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus sold just ten per cent less copies than Ubisoft’s title and was actually No.1 in terms of revenue (see right, Into the Light). Crackdown 3 released that very same week and Microsoft’s title struggled at retail to say the least. It debuted outside of the Top Ten and had to settle for No.13 to underwhelming sales, which are down 89 per cent compared to launch sales for 2010’s Crackdown 2. Some of that will be down to the digital shift, with the title launching day-and-date on Game Pass, but most of it is likely due to the title’s troubled development journey, with players losing interest over time, plus a lukewarm reception. Finally, Anthem released on February 22nd, and we couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed at EA and BioWare’s new IP and its launch sales, which were averageto-low for a game so anticipated. But it’s worth keeping in mind that EA’s digital shift has been particularly strong so it’s likely Anthem did much better digitally. Its game-as-a-service nature also makes it more likely to be a digital buy anyway, especially since various trials and early access options were available digitally for the title prior to launch. But for now Anthem feels a tiny bit underwhelming. Of course you have to keep things in perspective: the title still sold almost as much as what Far Cry New Dawn and Metro Exodus combined sold on their Week One.
Publisher Sony Nintendo Sony Ubisoft Square Enix
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UK RETAIL CHARTS – FEBRUARY (UNITS)
01 TM LM 02 NEW 03 02 04 01 05 NEW 06 03 07 NEW 08 04 09 05 10 07
KINGDOM HEARTS III PUBLISHER: SQUARE ENIX
Title Anthem Red Dead Redemption 2 Resident Evil 2 Far Cry New Dawn FIFA 19 Metro Exodus New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Publisher EA Rockstar Capcom Ubisoft EA Deep Silver Nintendo Activision Nintendo
Source: GfK/Ukie, Period: January 27th to February 23rd
The Switch slows down Nintendo released its financial results for the nine months ending on December 31st 2018 and it seems like the Switch isn’t doing as well as expected. Switch hardware sales were up 20 per cent yearon-year, selling 14.49m units, but Nintendo has still revised its forecast for the platform, now hoping to sell 17m units by the end of its fiscal year, against the 20m previously announced back in April 2018. Despite this slight bump in the road, net sales at Nintendo overall were up 14 per cent compared to the same period in 2017.
Pounding Hearts Kingdom Hearts III - Square Enix Kingdom Hearts III shipped over five million units worldwide in just a week, becoming the franchise’s fastest-selling instalment in history. The milestone – which includes both physical and digital sales – was smashed on February 5th, just days after the game’s launch on January 29th. The highly awaited sequel debuted at the top of the UK weekly physical charts, selling almost as much as Resident Evil 2 did on its first week – Resi sold just six per cent more copies than Kingdom Hearts III at launch. Its sales were also up an impressive 363 per cent compared to the latest release in the series, 2017’s Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, and up 157 per cent compared to launch sales for 2006’s Kingdom Hearts II.
25m Apex vs Fortnite Fortnite is now officially so 2018, with EA’s free-to-play battle royale Apex Legends launching with a bang on February 4th, picking up over 10m players in just 72 hours of its debut release. It took Fortnite two weeks to pull that off. One week later, Apex Legends was boasting 25m players and two million concurrent players at its peak. Fortnite reached that peak after 16 weeks, but there’s still some way to go before Apex Legends can be considered a real threat to Fortnite and its current 8.3m concurrent players.
Into the light Metro Exodus - Deep Silver 4A Games and Deep Silver’s Metro Exodus broke records in the UK compared to previous entries in the series. Metro Exodus’ launch sales were up 47 per cent compared to Week One sales for 2013’s Metro Last Light, up 15 per cent compared to 2010’s Metro 2033 and up 20.9 per cent compared to 2014’s remastered collection of the first two entries, Metro Redux. It’s very rare these days to see a new entry in a franchise doing better than the previous ones at retail due to the infamous digital shift, making Metro Exodus’ performance even more impressive. It didn’t top the charts on its launch week but it’s still very much a win for the franchise.
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Ukie goes to... With Ukie celebrating its incredible 30th anniversary in 2019, we’ll be letting the trade body take over these pages of MCV this year. This month the team talks about their global trade programme and upcoming presence at GDC
Promoting the UK to a global market THE UK is one of the very best places in the world to make, sell and play video games and interactive entertainment. With the challenges of Brexit looming, it’s incredibly important for our sector to make sure that the rest of the world knows that this remains the case and that we help UK businesses reach crucial overseas markets and relationships. Our global trade and investment programme does just this for the UK industry. Some five years ago our members asked for increased support to reach international markets and we responded by establishing a trade programme. This expanding programme (open to Ukie members and non-members alike) continues to unlock the potential for companies with a combination of country pavilions at key trade shows, inbound and outbound trade missions, investment dinners and market data. The connections made between UK and international games businesses, as a result of our programme, have driven exports to new heights. The programme also showcases the outstanding quality and creativity of UK studios and businesses across the ecosystem which has led to significant investment in the UK. Our international trade programme continues to grow with £113m worth of business deals done last year by UK businesses on Ukie-produced stands at Gamescom and GDC. We’ve also helped to increase this kind of international investment through trade missions, introductions and other events. Earlier this year, we were delighted the Mayor of London committed a further three years’ funding for Games London, which we run in partnership with Film London, which now offers a mission to Slush and international investors coming along to the Games Finance Market every year. The UK has also seen the growth of UK esports, through events such as the successful ESL One in Birmingham, and this year we will be supporting esports as an integral part of our trade plans, including a new trade mission of esports businesses to the Intel Extreme Masters in Poland.
12 months of Ukie trade ■ 4,600
new business connections made ■ 200+ UK games businesses participated in the trade programme with 160 businesses exhibiting at an overseas show on a Ukie managed stand ■ 7,500+ people visited a Ukie stand at an overseas trade show ■ £113m worth of business deals done by UK businesses on our trade stands in 12 months – and over £500m since the trade programme was started by Ukie
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What do we do at trade shows? We run the official UK stands at Gamescom, China Joy and GDC. To give you an idea of what you can expect if you join us, here’s what we’ve got going on out at GDC next month Running from March 20th to 22nd 2019, the UK industry stand, run by Ukie is at the epicentre of the South Hall expo space –, the only place to be at GDC – and a magnet for international publishers, service companies, investors and developers. Our exhibitors gain access to flexible meeting spaces, marketing support and invitations to exclusive events. We also fund access to the GDC meeting system and the Meet to Match planning tool. The Ukie team manages the stand, meaning exhibitors just need to turn up with their meeting schedules and get to work! In order to maximise the impact of UK companies at GDC, Ukie also organises a raft of additional events and networking opportunities. On March 20th, we host the UK industry drinks reception supported by Jagex, Green Man Gaming and DIT. Over 350 guests will attend this leading networking event. We will also be announcing the winner of the UK Game of the Show for GDC at the drink’s reception. Supported by Fallen Planet Games and MCV, this award highlights the best UK developed, as yet unreleased game at GDC.
Finally, Ukie is also organising an exclusive investment dinner at GDC connecting UK studios and businesses to leading overseas investors, publishers and others who can help your business grow. All our trade shows offer a similar range of opportunities to UK games businesses. We’ll soon be planning our popular Gamescom stand – so keep an eye out for our early bird rates. Businesses on the 2019 GDC Ukie stand include: Amiqus (sponsoring our coffee cups), Anara Publishing (Midlands Engine), Big Ideas Machine (Big Games Machine), ChilliConnect, Cubic Motion, Datascope, Dead Good Media, deltaDNA, DiT, GameBench, Genba Games, Green Man Gaming, Hi-Rez, Hollywood Gaming Ltd (Midlands Engine), Humain (N.Ireland Screen), Improbable, Jagex, Midlands Engine, Northern Ireland Screen, Pixel Toys (Midlands Engine), Playstack, Reality Games, Red Phantom Games (Midlands Engine), Sounding Sweet Ltd (Midlands Engine), Spirit Ai, Terra Virtua, Testify (N.Ireland Screen), Testronic, Third Kind Games (Midlands Engine), Tower Studios (Sociable Soccer), Well Played Games (Midlands Engine)
Meet the Ukie team
Here, we’ll be introducing a new Ukie staffer every month
London Games Festival
Sam Collins, head of commercial and membership Sam leads the international trade programme at Ukie and has considerable experience in connecting UK games businesses with valuable partners overseas. If you are looking to grow your exports, contacting You can email him at Sam is a great place firstname.lastname@example.org. to start.
Good luck to Games London (our programme which runs in partnership with Film London) with the upcoming London Games Festival! This annual event was created to celebrate games culture and generate games business across the country. London Games Festival features 12 days of activity including the Games Finance Market, EGX Rezzed, the Now Play This exhibition, BAFTA Games Awards, industry talks, cosplay parade and more.
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Real life events from the industry YORKSHIRE GAMES FESTIVAL 2019 The third edition of the Yorkshire Games Festival, which took place in February, was the most successful to date, with 7,700 attendees across the entire festival, with paying tickets for the talks section up 43.8 per cent from the last festival. In partnership with BAFTA, the event kicked off with the Young Developers Conference, where Media Molecule, Impact Gamers and Unity gave talks and workshops aimed at inspiring kids to make games. The Game Talks featured, among others, Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail (pictured, right) giving a talk about the realities of indie development. The Let’s Play weekend then allowed attendees to go hands-on with the latest games while aspiring devs could head to the BAFTA Careers Bar.
Motion Twin’s Steve Filby talked Dead Cells at the Yorkshire Games Festival
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INTERACTIVE FUTURES Leamington Spa hosted its first ever Interactive Futures Games Festival last month, with over 1,700 people gathered at the Spa Centre and Royal Leamington Spa College for three days of talks (hosted by the Gadget Showâ€™s Jordan Erica Webber (1)), workshops and showcases. Sega Hardlight, Playground Games, Codemasters and Ubisoft, among other smaller indie studios, were in attendance and so was Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Jeremy Wright (2).
Pictured right: Jagexâ€™s communications director Rich Eddy and freelance video game journalist and game industry event curator Will Freeman
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will be an Epic year The biggest game in the world, a digital store that could rival Steam and an incredibly powerful and popular game engine – all from one company. With so many treasures under one roof, Epic has the tools to reshape the industry, if it can make them work together. Tim Sweeney talks to Seth Barton
here’s been a lot of change at Epic over the last 12 months, and CEO and founder Tim Sweeney believes that change will continue – and not just for Epic but the whole of the games industry. “I think the game business will change more in the next five years than the past ten,” he predicts. “The last remnants of the old retail model of gaming are falling apart, and the biggest successes are fast-moving indies and fast-moving big competitors – exemplified by Fortnite and Apex Legends. All of the old decisions need to be revisited.” And Epic is certainly doing its part to revisit those “old decisions” in every part – division not being a word that Sweeney is keen on – of its business. Unreal Engine just embraced AR with support for the new Hololens 2, Fortnite’s Battle Pass continues to lead the way in service games, and of course the Epic Game Store looks set to grow and grow, thanks to its revenue share model and influencer-friendly aspect. THE STORE THAT GIVES MORE The store is Epic’s newest and most intriguing innovation, though it certainly
didn’t appear overnight, with Sweeney stating: “We built the technology long before we had a business model supporting it.” That business model came thanks to Fortnite: “It accelerated everything by bringing in the large audience of engaged gamers required for a successful storefront launch, and the e-commerce economies of scale for an 88-12 per cent revenue-sharing model,” says Sweeney. That split famously makes it far more generous than Steam’s – or Google or Apple for that matter – 30 per cent take. But its key competitors haven’t been rushing to react to that aspect, Sweeney tells us: “Other stores on open platforms have been slow to respond so far.” It’s not just the revenue split that’s helping establish the Epic Game Store, though, with titles such as Metro Exodus and The Division 2 choosing the store over Steam. “Ubisoft supports our model and trusts us to deliver a smooth journey for players, from pre-purchase to the game’s release,” Sweeney says. But delivery is only half the deal, so is Epic offering financial incentives, above and beyond the superior revenue split, to games which move exclusively to the store?
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GAME DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE
March 18–22, 2019 San Francisco
VIRTUAL REALITY DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE
March 18–19, 2019 San Francisco
Pictured left: Fortnite continues to engage huge numbers of players though competition is growing
“Yes, we’ve worked to ensure it’s genuinely worthwhile for developers to move to the Epic Games store,” Sweeney replies openly. That’s because Battle Pass has given the company one hell of a war chest, or as Sweeney puts it: “Fortnite’s success has given Epic significant latitude to help developers.” And it’s helping developers that’s the driving thought behind the launch of the store. A goal that tallies well with the company’s engine business, and a rare example of developer-centric thinking, as opposed to the pure consumer-centric thinking of most publishers and platform holders in today’s games industry. “We’re giving game developers and publishers the store business model that we’ve always wanted as developers ourselves,” says Sweeney. That makes good business sense, as it’s with developers, on the supply side, that the opportunities lie to shake-up the status quo. “It’s nearly perfect for consumers already… There is no hope of displacing a dominant storefront solely by adding marginally more store features or a marginally better install experience. These battles will be won on the basis of game supply, consumer prices, and developer revenue sharing,” Sweeney reckons. Give developers a bigger share of the pie and they can be more profitable, invest more in their titles, cut prices for consumers, or all of the above. Matthew Karch, CEO of Saber Interactive, developer of World War Z, recently made a public statement to this effect: “We chose the Epic Games Store because we believe it’s the best deal for players and developers… Building games is costly, and so to receive 88 per cent instead of 70 per cent means we can invest more into making World War Z,” he revealed as well as announcing
a price drop from $40 to $35. “We are thrilled to be able to share the developer-friendly benefits of the Epic Games store with you all.” It all sounds great, so now the store just needs to open its doors to more developers. “The Epic Games Store team has been working with developers around the industry to identify prospective titles. In this early phase, we are starting with a small number of carefully selected games based on consistent quality across a wide variety of scopes. Throughout 2019, the store will open up more widely,” Sweeney tells us.
OPENING UP THE LENS TIM SWEENEY recently appeared onstage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to announce Epic’s support for the next-gen HoloLens 2 headset, where he focused on its open platform commitment. “We’re witnessing the birth of an entirely new generation of technology with augmented reality and HoloLens,” said Sweeney. “I believe AR will become the primary platform of the future for work and for entertainment.” Committing support for what remains the most exciting and business-viable AR headset is important, but native Unreal Engine support shows that Microsoft is keen to make the headset an open platform. “AR’s going to have such an intimate and powerful role in our lives that we’ve got to establish clear ground rules respecting everyone’s rights. This means open platforms, open ecosystems and privacy protections which put the user first. And that is exactly what Microsoft is launching here today,” Sweeney said. “We will support HoloLens as an open platform and we will resist anyone who tries to build a walled garden around our lives!” he stated boldly, inline with his sentiments on open platforms as a whole. HoloLens support is up and running now, and coming to all developers in May.
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He goes on to explain that what we’re seeing presently is the “50-game version of the Epic Games Store” and that the “250-game version” will be “significantly evolved.” Not only will it integrate the social and matchmaking systems that the company has built for Fortnite but Epic is also thinking more radically. The store is also already looking to the future in one respect, forwarding creators and influencers as the answers to discovery problems. “We believe the ultimate vector for players to discover new games will not be our storefront but creators, which is why Epic’s ‘Support a Creator’ program is integrated into store operations,” says Sweeney, adding: “Viewership of creator channels has greatly outgrown any storefront. In Korea and China, the primary game distribution vectors are social: WeChat, KakaoTalk and QQ, rather than storefronts. As with the twists in Fortnite’s evolution, one shouldn’t necessarily project the Steam or App Store paradigm onto its final form,” he cautions. BREAKING DOWN WALLS It’s such thinking, as much as that revenue split, which is set to shake-up the industry in the long term. That said, Epic’s clout via Fortnite is already shifting entrenched positions, most notably in Sony’s change of heart when it came to crossplay on PlayStation 4. But even with that victory he’s still keen to effect further change where needed. Sweeney has long been a supporter of open platforms, and is keen to reiterate that to us: “We believe that all general computing platforms should be open platforms. Windows, Mac, Linux and Android are all open platforms. We’d love to see iOS open up as a platform, as it’s the lone remaining holdout, and this creates some uncomfortable implications around editorial decisions, national government censorship demands and a lack of economic competition in digital goods.” He does note that “iOS is technically open in supporting userdirected software installation” on the enterprise side. It’s only Apple’s own terms of service that prevent publishers from using it for consumer software. “A few edits to one document would open up iOS completely for everyone and be a great outcome for all.” That said, iOS continues to defend its walled garden. While on Android, Fortnite simply bypassed Google’s own Play Store. “On Android, Fortnite is one Google search and a few screen taps away,” Sweeney is keen to point out. “Our data clearly shows that
“We believe that all general computing platforms should be open platforms.”
players who want to play Fortnite have no trouble finding it. The audience we do lose are players who are looking for any new game, and would have discovered Fortnite through Google Play’s storefront and Top Ten lists had it been there. That audience we’ll have to build over time through our supply-side initiatives.” One place where Sweeney was recently keen to talk up the importance of open platforms was this year’s Mobile World Congress, where he appeared onstage to announce Unreal Engine support for the next-gen HoloLens 2 (see Opening up the Lens on page 23). As we’re speaking just before GDC, the other shiny new features for Unreal Engine 4 were still under wraps. With Sweeney only able to hint that “major initiatives underway include digital humans, optimised workflows for code and art and online service integration.” Still, we had a few questions for him that he could address before the big GDC keynote. With Unity’s recent adoption of C# as its main language, we wondered if there was any similar plan to introduce such a language in Unreal to bridge the gap between Blueprints and C++. “This is a topic we discuss quite a lot,” Sweeney replies. “There may be a place for a scripting language on par with C#, Lua, or Python. The challenge is in the interoperability boundary between scripts and native code. What has worked so well in Unity with C# has never proven scalable to triple-A games building on top of an engine with full source and adding new C++ side features.” That makes sense, but the high-end nature of the engine can make it hard for developers outside the triple-A space to find qualified users. A certification system might help here, we suggest, but Sweeney says that although Epic has discussed such a scheme, there are no plans at present. One thing that there must be plans for, but which Sweeney can’t comment upon, is the upcoming next-generation of console hardware – with Microsoft rumoured to be making some initial announcements at this year’s E3. More hardware in the market to address, likely with full backward compatibility to the previous generation, will certainly be a boon for the flexible yet powerful Unreal Engine come 2020. More immediately, a key area in which the engine is set to expand this year is online services: cross-platform logins and profiles, a new voice comms service, parties and matchmaking, cloud saves, achievements and trophies. With all this to be integrated across Unreal Engine, Epic Game Store and of course Fortnite – it’s easy to see why Sweeney is opposed to the word ‘division’ in his business. It’s through such joined-up thinking that Epic today has more fingers in more pies than ever before, and with that comes partners – with numbers set to explode over the coming months as the store expands. “Epic succeeds when our partners succeed. Our whole business model is built on supporting this thesis,” says Sweeney. It’s a simple statement, and one made by many, but Epic looks to have an enviable mix of assets to support that thesis now and succeed like never before.
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Sumo Digital has made a few senior hires recently. Industry veteran DEAN TROTMAN (1), formerly at Sega and Codemasters, joined as commercial director. Meanwhile, CHRIS SOUTHALL (2) – who also comes from leadership roles at Sega and Codemasters – will be applying his expertise in producing free-to-play and mobile games as studio director at Sumo’s new Leamington Spa mobile studio. Last but not least, DEEPTHA VIJAYAN (3) has been appointed as studio director of Sumo’s India studio in Pune.
PHILIP OLIVER (4) and ANDREW OLIVER (5) – co-founders of Radiant
Worlds, which is now Rebellion Warwick – have departed Rebellion to set up their own video game consultancy business, Game Dragons. Philip Oliver said: “We’re delighted with what the Rebellion Warwick team has achieved over the last year, and we are confident they’ll continue to flourish. But we’re both looking forward to this next chapter and we’re excited to get started.”
Bandai Namco has appointed a new EMEA PR, communications and events director, WOUTER VAN VUGT (6), based in the firm’s French office in Lyon. He’ll be overseeing and creating global communications strategies for titles including The Dark Pictures Anthology, Jump Force, Ace Combat, Tekken and Dragon Ball. He will be reporting into
“I’m excited to shape the incredibly talented engineering team into a world-class technology organisation.” Lincoln Wallen, Improbable
Herve Hoerdt, SVP of digital and marketing. After an eight-year absence, Volition founder MIKE KULAS (7) has returned to the studio as general manager. Kulas was at Volition – which he originally founded 18 years ago as Parallax Software – until 2011. Since then, he’d spent time working at Revival Productions on Overload, the spiritual successor to Parallax’s Descent. TOM GOLDBERGER (8), formerly at Ubisoft and Red Bull, is now communications director for Athlon Games, parent publisher of a number of studios, including Splash Damage and Digital Extremes. Rovio Entertainment has appointed JON HOWARD (9) as its new head of communications and PR to drive the company’s communications during the Angry Birds tenth anniversary year. He formerly was lead PR product strategist at Nintendo of Europe and most recently head of PR and influencer relations at Flaregames.
Women in Games WIGJ has appointed a new four-person executive board, consisting of Dovetail Games’ chief people officer GEMMA JOHNSON BROWN (10), Abertay University’s RUTH FALCONER (11) (head of division, computing and mathematics, at the School of Design and Informatics), plus Women in Games’ CEO MARIECLAIRE ISAAMAN (12) and founder and COO DAVID SMITH (13).
Wargaming and Riot Games veterans JERRY PROCHAZKA (14) and LYNN STETSON (15) have created Ganymede Games, a new independent studio based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It will focus on creating “games that are easy to get into, and easy to get out of.”
Former EA and Activision executive MICHAEL CONDREY (16) has joined 2K to lead its new
Silicon Valley studio as president. Condrey cofounded Call of Duty studio Sledgehammer with Glen Schofield back in 2009. He left in February 2018 to take up “new executive duties” within Activision. Keywords Studios’ company CORD Worldwide, an audio services provider to the games and entertainment industries, has appointed ALASTAIR LINDSAY (17) as head of audio. He joins from Sony Interactive Entertainment where he led a global team of composers, music supervisors, sound designers and audio programmers as head of audio. Improbable has appointed ex-Dreamworks Animation and EA Mobile CTO LINCOLN WALLEN (18) as its new chief technology officer. Wallen’s hire will see current CTO and cofounder Rob Whitehead focus on developing SpatialOS and other Improbable technology as chief product officer. Meanwhile, Improbable’s former chief creative officer, Bill Roper, has announced that he will be leaving the company for a new role at indie gaming studio Author Digital. Wallen said: “I’m excited by the chance to shape the incredibly talented engineering team at Improbable into a world-class technology organisation.”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 28 | MCV 944 March 2019
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Abigail Flores, QA technician, Ustwo Games process from start to finish. It’s so cool for me to see how a doodle on a post-it note can transform into an exciting new feature or puzzle. I am the only QA technician in the company and this has given me the freedom to take on additional responsibilities outside of my role that help me develop my skills as a games designer. My colleagues are incredibly supportive of my ambitions and I am constantly provided with opportunities to learn from the experienced designers, programmers and artists on the team.
How did you break into games? I didn’t take the most direct route into games, with A-levels in science, a diploma in illustration, and a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies, before completing a Master’s degree in Games Design. But I’ve been told that’s what made my application stand out and helped me land my first role in the industry: in quality assurance at a triple-A company. What’s your proudest achievement? I used to struggle with sharing my ideas and opening myself up to criticism but in 2017, I took the leap and uploaded Moonlight Fortress to Itch.io. I created this game over three weeks as part of a university project. My short, unpolished survival game became featured on the front page of the site and received far more attention than I had ever anticipated, reaching thousands of people around the world.
What’s been your biggest challenge to date? Last year, I decided to work full time on developing Moonlight Fortress into a full game. Without external deadlines to stick to or colleagues to challenge me, my focus was on trying to create a beautiful and detailed pixel art world and this meant that I frequently had to extend the timeframe I had set for myself to complete the game. I now understand why most games have a production team to keep them on track! My experience with this project has emphasised the benefit of working collaboratively with others. I am now working on this game in my spare time with a friend who motivates me and together we have created what will be far better experience for players. What do you enjoy most about your job? At Ustwo Games, all areas of production happen in one space so I get to see the whole
What’s your big ambition in games? One day, I’d like to creatively direct a cooperative game for players who want to play games to relax, free from stressful objectives involving time limits or combat. From my own experience, I have found that games can be a powerful tool to bring people together. I’d love a game of my own invention to be an experience that creates wonderful memories for friends and family to look back on together and encourage those who may not consider themselves interested in games to pick up a controller and join in. What advice would you give someone trying get into games design? Don’t be afraid to show your work to others! It can be really easy to let the fear of receiving a negative response prevent you from seeking feedback. After sharing my work with the internet, I learnt so much about what players enjoyed or found frustrating about my games. Player feedback has definitely made me a better designer because I can use their experiences to inform my future design choices.
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Alexis Argyriou, lead level artist at Ubisoft Annecy, tells us about the importance of learning by yourself and what type of studio you should target for your first job
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I am the lead level artist at Ubisoft Annecy, so I’m responsible for the team of artists working on maps, environments, and everything else related to the game world. In the past few years our jobs started to be very specialised: level art teams now include texture artists, lighting artists, 3D props artists, environment artists... My job is to keep this department running: I need to minimise dependencies between artists, manage deadlines, expectations and deliverables, balance the workload and keep my team satisfyingly challenged every day. My job is also to represent the art team in management meetings to discuss budgets, staffing and co-development situations. I often start the day with the lead level designer, discussing how we could make the map better by using each other’s skills for art and design. In fact, we are promoting this attitude within the studio: designers and artists
“Learning from my failures made me able to handle pretty much any situation.” are sitting right next to each other, cooperating and sharing feedback. This iterative back and forth is the secret to all best game levels. I do not have a typical day – and I love that. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I have a degree in 3D Art for Games, but some of my team do not have degrees at all. Nowadays all resources necessary to land a job in the industry are on the internet. If you are willing to spend a lot of hours learning by yourself, watching tutorials and working a lot on your art, your portfolio will improve.
For a first job, I always suggest looking for a newish, mid-size studio with big ambitions. I started in such place, and I had the freedom to experiment with all the over-the-top, way too complex levels my mind could think of. This freedom to try and fail, and most importantly to learn from my failures, made me able to handle pretty much any situation afterwards. Growing through the hierarchy in game art is surprisingly not so correlated with your artistic skills. As a lead artist you are judged by your teams’ ability to deliver high quality content on time. Your job is to facilitate their job. It’s good to start working on your communication skills early on! Lastly, curiosity is king. Try to understand all facets of game development. Talk to programmers, sound designers, animators and 3D engineers: they all have bits of knowledge very useful for your career. What opportunities are there for career progression? Lead artists can continue their career in two very different paths: either they choose to develop and express their artistic vision by becoming art directors, or they follow the appeal of management and production by becoming art managers. This is a big career crossroad for lead artists. Art directors can then mature their vision to encompass all creative fields, not only artistic, and become creative directors. On the other side, art managers’ sphere of influence will eventually grow outside of the art department – they will have a more multiskilled and central role to support the production. They could become production managers or producers.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 30 | MCV 944 March 2019
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28 DAYS LATER Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the amazing new job! What inspired you about Codemasters to go and join them? Thanks! Codemasters is one of most recognisable game developers in the UK and a world leader in racing games. I’ve been a big fan of the company from a very young age and didn’t have to think twice when I was presented with an opportunity to work on an exciting new project in Cheshire. I still chuckle a little bit each morning when I log in to my PC and see my name under the Codemasters logo. What’s the culture like at Codemasters Cheshire and what’s your experience been like fitting in? Although I’ve only been here for a short while, it already feels like being a part of the family. It’s hard to pick what’s more impressive; the kindness and friendliness of everyone I’ve met, or their technical prowess and creativity. The desire for excellence goes beyond the product we are building, and also applies to the work atmosphere in the studio. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? I’ve previously worked as a developer support engineer in Sony’s London R&D office, where I had the privilege of working on several great products (PS Vita, PS4 and my favourite, PSVR), as well as helping numerous developers with their titles. I’m hoping to bring a few new ideas and work processes into the mix and help to develop the best possible racing game, while avoiding any potential pitfalls along the way. What will working at Codemasters do for your career? Codemasters in my mind is the NASA of racing games, constantly striving to make things better and push the boundaries. Being a part of a supportive, inclusive team focused on perfection will definitely help develop my skills to the limit, and a little bit beyond. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in this industry? It can be a bit intimidating starting out in the gaming industry, however, working with like-minded people on a product you love is extremely satisfying and rewarding experience. There are definitely easier jobs in other industries, with less of a learning curve, but statistically you spend more time in the office than with your loved ones, so it makes more sense to me to work on something close to your heart and with people who you get along well with. Another bonus point: game developers are extremely sought after, so investing in your skills and finding a good recruiter can go a very long way.
Name: Tino Zuvela Studio: Codemasters Cheshire Job Title: Core tech programmer Education: BSc Computer Science
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Iterating for better Amiqus’ Liz Prince discusses how the industry can expand the talent pipeline in order to become a more diverse and inclusive environment WHEN I think about practical steps we can all take to build more gender diverse and inclusive workplaces in games, I put the focus on activities in four key areas – attraction, selection, development and retention of women. Each is as important as the next and through this column we hope to provide some guidance across all disciplines, starting this month with attraction. At our G Into Gaming event at Codemasters earlier this year, part of the discussion was about the recruitment pipeline, the timeline in which talent could impact the industry workforce and the opportunity at each stage to positively influence gender balance. To build a broader and longer term pipeline we need to work together on initiatives to engage with and attract potential talent in some key areas such as people working outside of games who have relevant skills in other sectors, young people prior to moving into further education and school age children choosing subject options. Engagement in these talent pools would enable us to build the pipeline, respectively, for 12 to 24 months, three to five years and ten to 15 years ahead. It’s worth highlighting a report from Accenture published last year which revealed that although 84 per cent of young people in the UK believe that many jobs in the future will involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known as STEM — UK girls believe that STEM jobs lack the creativity they seek in their careers. The study also suggested that 60 per cent of girls aged 14 or over wish they had studied STEM subjects for longer, with around 30 per cent of those ultimately realising that they had limited their career choices. Clearly, there is a job to be done here in talking to younger girls about the options they have in the games industry. And we need to talk to them before they make choices about what subjects they pursue. Leaving it until they reach university is far too late.
SO WHAT CAN THE INDUSTRY DO? Every studio can take positive action to open their doors to show students – particularly young women – what a career in games actually looks like. Hosting open days for these students to show that working
in games is great, that the industry is inclusive and welcoming, will underline our collective efforts in attracting more diverse talent. In the 2018 report, parents and teachers agreed that children need guidance from businesses to visualise the career options that STEM opens up, to make these subjects more appealing. Large or small studios alike, we can all make connections with local schools and regularly invite a group of girls for a studio tour and a short talk. This has to be a consistent commitment, an investment in the future not only for your studio but for the industry as a whole. If every studio took the time, think how many girls could be seeing a games studio and igniting a passion for a career path in our industry! The same is true of pre-university choices. There are lots of disappointed tutors when the relevant courses are so heavily biased towards males, and this will continue to happen until we all take time out for positive action. Expanding our pipeline is possibly the most crucial element in the industry’s mission to be a more diverse and inclusive environment. The industry is an amazing, exciting, fun place to be. We need to ensure that our future employees – in particular, young women – know it.
Putting The G Into Gaming is a pro bono initiative founded by and in association with recruitment specialist Amiqus. To find out more email G-IntoGaming@amiqus.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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GDC Marie Dealessandri has been on the hunt for indie developers going to GDC and gathered their thoughts on their reasons to attend the biggest dev event of the year. So why are indies going to GDC and is San Francisco still the place to be? These up-and-coming studios give you the answers
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BLUE MANCHU Where they come from: Canberra, Australia Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs
Blue Manchu’s Void Bastards
Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? We’re mainly at GDC to show off our new game, Void Bastards. It’s a synergistic thing because some of the team are also going to the conference anyway. How many of you are here at the show, and how big is your studio? Two of us will be going out of a total studio of six.
Are you just here for the expo, or will you be attending talks at the conference too? A bit of both.
Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? The game will shown at the Xbox press event prior to the show and at Day of the Devs. Microsoft invited us to their press event and Day of the Devs sounds like a lot of fun – we haven’t been part of it before.
Do you think the show is good value for money? It can be since the benefits of making connections and meeting people can be extremely valuable. Most of the cost for us is travel (from Australia or the UK) and accommodation.
Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? We’ll be meeting with anyone who wants to look at the game! Hopefully some press but also want to get reactions
Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC? I’d like to see it move around and not always be in San Francisco. I hear Sydney’s nice at this time
from other devs.
Jon Chey, game designer and programmer
BRAIN & BRAIN Where they come from: Fayetteville (AR), USA Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? We try to attend GDC every year to have meetings with publishers and platform holders, attend talks and awards shows, and be inspired and energised. But the best part is simply seeing friends from all over the world. We’re showing a new game at GDC this year, Wooden Nickel. It’s a narrative adventure set in a frontier town of the great, remorseless Old West. How many of you are here at the show, and how big is your studio? We are a husband-and-wife studio, and both of us are at GDC. Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? We’re honoured to be part of Double Fine’s Day of the Devs showcase. It’s an amazing opportunity, and run by some of the best people in our industry. Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? We’ll be meeting with platform holders and publishers,
Brain & Brain’s Wooden Nickel looking to secure resources for the rest of development on the game. Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference? We have Expo Plus passes to the show, so the talks we can attend is limited. We’ll largely be exploring GDC Play and the IGF pavilion. Do you think the show is good value for money? We do. The Independent Games Summit pass in particular is a great value. Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC? We used to call San Francisco home, so we love having a reason to go back every year. But it’s also a great city, and home to several studios. Seems like a good fit.
David and Brooke Condolora, Brain & Brain’s founders
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CHUCKLEFISH Where they come from: London, UK Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs Why are you at GDC? And what are you showing here? Chucklefish is bringing Hidden Layer Games’ super atmospheric platformer, Inmost, to GDC, which is coming to PC and Nintendo Switch. It’s quite a dark narrative-driven game, with puzzle elements and a beautiful pixel art style, where you follow three playable characters within one ghoulish interconnecting story set across two worlds. Andriy and Alexey, the Lithuanianbased developers of Inmost, are very passionate about the game world and interweaving story they’re crafting, so we can’t wait for more people to get their hands on it! How many of you are here at the show, and how big is your studio? This year we’re bringing our whole studio (17 of us in total), following the successful launch of Wargroove in early February, as an opportunity for the whole team to meet other developers and attend talks. Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? We’ll be showing Inmost at Double Fine and Iam8bit’s fantastic Day of the Devs event! We brought Eastward by Pixpil and Pathway from Robotality to the Day of the Devs event in November, which was a great event and good visibility for both titles, so we’re looking
Katy Ellis, marketing strategist at Chucklefish
Hidden Layer Games’ Inmost forward to this one too! The teams at Double Fine and Iam8bit are a lovely bunch too. Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? As a London-based studio, GDC is a great chance for us at Chucklefish to catch up and connect with our US-based partners and developer friends. Getting to speak face-toface, go for a drink and show off our awesome catalogue of upcoming in-house and published games, is invaluable, so GDC is always an event we look forward to as both a development team and a publisher. Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference? Some of our team will certainly be attending a few talks – it’s always great to learn from the experience and gather nuggets of wisdom from other developers. I’m personally looking forward to hearing the Sokpop Collective’s talk on their wonderfully crazy endeavour to release new quirky indie games on a subscription service every two weeks. If you haven’t played any of their games yet, I’d thoroughly recommend Llama Villa on itch.io!
HIGH TEA FROG Where they come from: Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK Where to find them at GDC: ID@Xbox Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? It’s our first ever GDC, and we’re exhibiting Cake Bash. It’s a party game where you fight to be the tastiest cake. How many of you are here, and how big is the studio? Two out of three of our core team are attending, so we’re a really tiny studio. After working together at Ubisoft for several years we founded High Tea Frog in September 2017, and this is our first major event. Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? We’re showing our game at the ID@Xbox stand. It’s a great opportunity for us as Microsoft have covered the exhibition fees. To fund such a great space ourselves just wouldn’t be possible at this stage. It’ll be good to meet some of the people behind ID@Xbox in person too!
Laura Millar, artist and director at High Tea Frog
Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? Originally we were looking for a publisher, but we recently signed a deal that we’re really happy with! Now we’re looking for press and influencers who’d like to try the game – we’ve been focusing so much on development that we haven’t given
High Tea Frog’s Cake Bash marketing and PR the attention it deserves, and we understand how important visibility is for a new indie game. It’s always great to get new perspectives on your work too – smaller events in the past have always given us such valuable feedback that we’ve changed and improved features almost every time, so we’re really excited to see what we can learn from GDC. Do you think the show is good value for money? As I haven’t been before it’s difficult to say, but as a small studio it’s an inaccessible price point. If there was a really interesting talk, we’re more likely to pay for GDC Vault access where we can watch videos – it’s cheaper than a pass, and you don’t have the issue of having to choose between two relevant talks scheduled at the same time on different tracks. Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC? I think anywhere with sea lions is great by default! San Francisco is an amazing city, though I can definitely understand why it’s too expensive for many people. This year there has been quite a few grants to help people get here, but I think there should be more publicity around these options.
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Hexecutable’s Consume Me
Where they come from: New York, USA Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs ng here? Why are you at GDC and what are you showi ant import have I alk, microt a give will I I’m at GDC because excited to business meetings and dinners to attend, and I am Consume Me. see old friends and make new ones. My game is studio? How many of you are here, and how big is your It’s two people and both of us are here. did you Where are you showing your game and why ? choose that option option Day of the Devs – I didn’t choose the option. The chose me.
hope to Who are you meeting with and what do you achieve in attending the show? I hope to pet some nice dogs in the park. ing talks Are you just here for the expo, or will be attend at the conference? ndent I will be part of a microtalk session (under the Indepe tics of Games Summit) called Put a Face on It: The Aesthe and there. Cute. I will also probably attend some talks here
Do you think the show is good value for money? For folks in similar financial situations to me and AP [Thomson, the other half of Hexecutable], paying for your own pass is nowhere near good value. I simply wouldn’t be able to afford to attend if I didn’t have access to a free pass. to Do you think San Francisco is a good place hold GDC? and it is No. San Francisco is an extremely expensive city y a pretty also located in the United States which is alread inaccessible country for many people. The only nice thing about San Francisco is the weather. Anything else you’d like to add? I hope to meet lots of cute dogs!
Hexecutable’s Jenny Jiao Hsia
LANDFALL Landfall’s Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
Where they come from: Stockholm, Sweden Where to find them at GDC: Day of the Devs Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? We’re at GDC this year to participate in the Day of the Devs as well as do the usual business stuff. We’ll be showing our game Totally Accurate Battle Simulator – it’s a wacky physics-based tactics game that we’ve been working on since 2016. How many of you are here, and how big is your studio? Our studio consists of 13 devs and six of us are attending the conference this year. Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? We’ll be showing it as part of Day of the Devs, we’ve always wanted to participate and this time we were asked to, so why not! Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? Since we are self-published, we are meeting a wide variety of people and companies important to distributing our games as well as strategic partners for the future.
Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference? Some of us are here to attend the talks/expo and some of us are here to party and network. Do you think the show is good value for money? Yes and no. There are certain things you can only get at GDC in terms of meeting the international community of developers and business contacts. In a lot of cases this has covered the cost of the trip for us but if we were in a more financially strained situation we would have to think more about the cost vs value. Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC? No, it’s extremely expensive to go and the city is very unsafe. Not much of what makes GDC worth attending is the city itself, it’s the people and a lot of the people who we come here to meet are opting out this year because of the cost and the safety risks.
Hanna Fogelberg, Landfall’s CCO and community manager
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PLAYFUL SYSTEMS Where they come from: North Haven (CT), USA Where to find them at GDC: Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs, Experime
ntal Gameplay Workshop
Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? I’m here to show my game competitive local-multiplayer painting game, Sloppy Forgeries. How many of you are here, and how big is your studio? It’s just me. I’m currently exploring including another programmer on Sloppy Forgeries’ development. Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? I’m showing it at the Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs, and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop. Why? Because they’ll have me! Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve at the show? I’m looking forward to meeting other independent developers and small publishers. Mostly, I’m looking forward to meeting all of the other devs showing at Indie Megabooth, Day of the Devs and the Experimental Gameplay Workshop.
Playful Systems’ founder Jonah Warren
Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference? I’ll be attending the conference as well. I’m looking forward to the indie and educators summit.
Playful Systems’ Sloppy Forgeries
Do you think the show is good value for money? I don’t think I can answer that question. This is my first GDC and Indie Megabooth provided a ticket. Do you think San Francisco is a good place to hold GDC? It might be nice to mix it up. Anything else you’d like to add? I’m a full-time professor of game design and development at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut — so may be somewhat atypical amongst the indie devs showing in these exhibitions.
RED PHANTOM GAMES Where they come from: Leamington Spa, UK Where to find them at GDC: Ukie/UK stand, DIT/Midlands Engine Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? I’m attending mainly to show a new game to publishers with the aim of building a partnership to bring it to market in 2020. How many of you are here, and how big is your studio? Only one – currently, Red Phantom Games is just me. However, I work with independent contractors and service providers, often drawing upon the wealth of local talent in Leamington Spa. Where are you showing your game and why did you choose that option? The game is not announced so it’ll be shown privately – though, as a sneak preview, it’s an arcade-action vehicle combat game! I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the DIT/ Midlands Engine trade mission which fits nicely with my project timing and means I’ve got space on the Ukie stand to hold meetings.
Richard Ogden, founder and director of Red Phantom Games
Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? I’ll have an early demo and pitch deck with me. A publishing deal would be the ultimate goal but, being realistic, I’ll be happy to make initial
trade mission contacts and build interest with a view to pitching fully later in the year.
Red Phantom Games’s unannounced arcade-action vehicle combat game
Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending conference talks? Time permitting, I’ll be attending talks and looking round the expo. I found last year great for inspiration and motivation as well getting up-to-date on some current thinking. Do you think the show is good value for money? I appreciate it’s expensive, so any business or individual must make their own evaluation as to whether it’s worth the spend. Last year was subjectively worthwhile for me. This year will hopefully bring more concrete and measurable value given the focus. Pro tip: volunteer to get bumped off your flight back and receive a voucher to cover most of next year’s cost! Anything else you’d like to add? It’s the 20th anniversary of my first visit to GDC. I’ve not been every year but it’s so interesting to see how much games, technology and the industry have grown and changed.
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TALESPINNERS Where they come from: Cardiff, UK Where to find them at GDC: Welsh Pavilion Why are you at GDC and what are you showing here? We’re mainly at GDC to meet people: old friends, existing clients and potential new clients. We’re also looking forward to hanging out with the folk on the Narrative Summit; there’s a particularly vibrant community of games writers at GDC and they’re a lovely bunch of people to spend time with. How many of you are here, and how big is your company? Two of us are here, myself and Cash DeCuir. We have four permanent staff, and a varying number of freelancers who work alongside us. Where are you showing your service and why did you choose that option? We have a stand as part of the Welsh Pavilion. Our company started out in Cardiff, and we’ve always had a lot of support from the Welsh Government; without them, it’d be difficult for us to have such a central and well-supported space. Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? We’ll be meeting with developers who’re interested in help with their story and narrative; these could be teams in the very early stages of development who need ideas, teams who are nearly
Talespinners running a story workshop for Ustwo finished and need editing or voice support, or teams who are in that horrible place somewhere in the middle where nothing in the story seems to quite hang together and who need someone else to make sense of it. Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference? We’ll be at the talks. I’m part of a panel in the Independent Games Summit, talking about co-op teams. Talespinners is cooperative, whereas we all used to be lonely freelancers. The co-op model offers many advantages for working in the gig economy, and is a model which is very unusual in the US, hence the interest. Do you think the show is good value for money? The summits have always felt vastly overpriced to me, effectively shutting out many small indie companies or freelancers. I think that’s a great shame.
Ian Thomas, partner and founder of Talespinners
THIRD KIND GAMES Where they come from: Leamington Spa, UK Where to find them at GDC: Ukie/UK stand Why are you at GDC? And what are you showing here? As participants of a UK trade mission this year we’re focused on business development opportunities primarily, but GDC always has so much to offer through conference talks and the myriad of networking events throughout the week. We’re showcasing the talents of both Third Kind Games and the games we’re passionate about making, as well as the Leamington Spa games dev cluster that we and many others at GDC are proud to represent. How many of you are here, and how big is your studio? Three of the team are here following on from the SXSW Gaming Festival in Austin, Texas. We’re a ten person studio founded by senior management and developers from Activision and are currently growing the team to support our projects. Where are you showing your games and why did you choose that option? We’ve exhibited at the expo in previous years and had a great experience showing our game to GDC attendees. This time around our projects are in the early stages so we’re keeping everything under wraps until the time is right. Who are you meeting with and what do you hope to achieve in attending the show? Through the trade mission programme, network connections and the event itself, we’ve got meetings with a wide range of
people to talk about our vision for incorporating blockchain technology into our games, and hopefully forging a future partnership on the way. Are you just here for the expo, or will be attending talks at the conference? In between meetings, we’ll be checking out the expo for sure, but may have to rely on the awesome GDC vault to catch up on the conference side of things once we return home. Do you think the show is good value for money? I do think it’s good value – while the cost of attending GDC can be high for some developers, the conference talks and B2B meetings around it are extremely beneficial. I’d certainly recommend looking at what support is on offer from local government authorities and trade associations. Anything else you’d like to add? Come say hi to us if you see us around the Ukie stand or reach us on Twitter @thirdkindgames! Third Kind Games is the lead developer of Blankos Block Party, a blockchain-powered party MMO game from Mythical Games.
Tim Dunn, director and co-founder at Third Kind Games
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UNITY: TINY IS GOING
TO BE HUGE
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Unity democratised game development with over millions of regular users, now with Project Tiny it’s re-engineering its technology to bring interactive entertainment to the next billion devices. Seth Barton talks to the team
nity is used for an incredible range of applications already. Across console, PC, web, mobile, AR and VR, with content that ranges across every type of interactive experience from critically-acclaimed games, to education, to real-time visualisation for innumerable business applications. It’s everywhere. Well, not quite. The Unity editor might lower the barriers to creating all of this, but to date it’s not been suitable for making the most lightweight of games. Games that load instantly, games that are way smaller than your average webpage. Games that could reach a billion browsers and beyond that, could run on the most modest of internet of things (IoT) devices. That’s the big aim of Unity’s Project Tiny – to bring interactivity and the Unity editor to new frontiers. So MCV travelled to Unity’s headquarters in Copenhagen once again and broke out its best magnifying glass, in order to see the latest iteration of the tiny technology and learn about its huge potential. THE BEST THINGS COME… Unity first talked about Project Tiny under the name Unity for Small Things at last year’s GDC. But its come along a huge way since that initial demo, as Nikoline Høgh, UX design lead, demonstrates for us. Høgh brings up what looks like the usual Unity editor onscreen, but it’s actually Project Tiny, she explains: “It’s not a separate install as such. It’s a package.” And like Unity’s many other packages you simply download it to enter the mode. Høgh loads up a project. It’s a pretty smart-looking match three game with a cool dino-rampage theme called, appropriately, Tiny Arms. “So I’ll hit play and what we’re going to see is that it’s gonna launch immediately in the browser,” Høgh says. It pops open a new Chrome tab and loads the game as fast as you could possibly expect – you can try it for yourself using the QR code opposite. Speaking of QR, another couple of clicks and a code appears on Høgh screen: “We can also test it directly on our device.” We scan the QR code and in an instant the game loads up in our browser and we’re playing. Høgh takes on the role of content creator and starts to make changes in the Project Tiny version of Unity. With a few clicks she changes the game’s launch screen background and makes the ‘Play’ button twice as big. When she’s done, the changes are instantly implemented.
“So I think this kind of speaks for itself,” Høgh smiles confidently. “As a content creator, for me to be able to see this on a device, look at it, see how it feels, and then quickly be able to iterate this way is invaluable.” It’s easy to imagine a team quickly iterating different versions in a design meeting, and engaging with those on numerous target devices. All with the ease of use, the power, and the familiarity of the Unity editor. The version we’re seeing is creating development builds. The final builds will be smaller still. But even today Høgh proudly tells us that they’ve “got a runtime here which is just around 700 kilobytes. That’s really small for an actual working game.” We’re later told that the impressive little hack-andslash title Tiny Knight (pictured on page 48), when packaged as a single-file HTML game, is also just 750 kilobytes. Out of this around 200 kilobytes are the runtime and game logic, the remainder are assets. And things can get tinier still: for a basic runtime that can handle 2D sprite rendering, some basic animation and simple UI, it’s just 125 kilobytes. “That’s smaller than most most image sizes,” says Høgh. “That’s very, very small. And this is what’s going to really enable our developers to get access to all of those platforms that right now Unity can’t hit, but is going to be able to hit in the future.”
Pictured above from top: Nikoline Høgh and Brett Bibby
MASTERS OF THE TINYVERSE Before we get into target platforms and possible uses, we’d better introduce three more key members of the highly-experienced team which has been responsible for scaling Unity down to function at this scale. Vlad Vukicevic, the team leader on Project Tiny, is best known for creating WebGL, the key standard for 3D graphics on the web, while at Mozilla. Martin Best, senior technical product manager for platforms also worked at Mozilla in a senior role, bringing both WebGL and WebAssembly to market, both of which are utilised by Project Tiny. Alongside them is Etienne Whittom, lead engineer, who has been using Unity professionally for eight years, developing tools and optimising workflows for the platform. Best explains the core thinking about the move to smaller things: “End user patience on waiting for content on existing mobile platforms is decreasing. As the mobile industry ships higher and higher end phones, so too increases the number of lower end phones on the
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Pictured above from top: Vlad Vukicevic, Etienne Whittom and Martin Best
market. This is widening the range of potential hardware our users may want to target. Alongside these trends, we see an ever growing catalog of new consumer products looking to build visually rich user experiences.” It seems like the target for Tiny is likely to shift as hardware and internet speeds improve. But Whittom doesn’t see it that way around: “Tiny is about enabling developers to create experiences on any platform, and most of our efforts are platform-agnostic.” Vukicevic adds that “developers will simply choose newer, or more feature-rich modules to use. This lets developers adapt to what Tiny means for them – someone targeting emerging markets with low cellular bandwidth will have a different definition than someone wanting to develop a title for locales with nationwide 5G adoption. We want to put the choice in the hands of developers, rather than make the choice for them.” Best chimes in: “The common thread we are addressing with Project Tiny is to empower developers that want to instantly deliver content to mobile devices without install or run their content on resource constrained devices. The ability to run experiences, such as ads or games running in social apps are strong initial use cases.” And while Tiny has its own editor, for Unity’s engineering team it shares core technology and a core philosophy with the changes being made elsewhere on the platform, Vukicevic explains: “One of the foundations of Project Tiny, as well as Unity’s overall data oriented approach, is the idea of modularity – we’re building functionality divided up into modules that the developers can choose to include based on their needs.”
Bibby draws a bell-curve of development cases, and demonstrates that Unity today largely covers the large middle hump, “the core of games development,” but not the very high-end of triple-A or the very small end of web games. So for the last few years, it’s had teams re-engineering the core of Unity in order to better serve the full range of use cases. But they quickly “came to the realisation that they were actually kind of solving the same problem,” Bibby reveals. And the solution to that problem is modularity. Taking what you need and leaving out what you don’t. Whether that’s in order to squeeze your experience right down in size, or to streamline your runtime for the highest performance. Bibby makes an analogy to cars. At present Unity is like a fully-loaded family car, with all the additional options you could want. It’s very flexible, but it’s never going to serve as either a go-kart (that’s Project Tiny) or a Formula 1 car (that’s triple-A). You can strip stuff out of it to try and make it lighter or faster, but it’s never going to really work as either. What you need instead is a modular set of components that you can build any kind of car you need. Høgh provides some detail on how this works on Project Tiny: “It all comes down to modular runtime, strip out everything else that you don’t need. It’s opt-in, so you have a core that you need, and it’s a very, very small core and then everything on top of that is something that you show intent for: ‘I want this, I want this, I don’t want this, I don’t want that’. And in that sense you can actually customise what you get instead of having a lot of things that you’re not using.” Bibby adds: “And then our tools can tell you when you’re trying to use something that is outside what you defined. It’s all about surfacing that control… It makes it easier to tailor make the editor for different experiences and different industries as well. If you can imagine someone coming in and needing Unity for a very specific purpose, we can set them up with the right tools, and not with a lot of things that they don’t basically need. So it ties in really well with a lot of our other strategies.”
“Tiny is about enabling developers to create experiences on any platform.”
MAKING IT MODULAR If you’ve been following recent developments with Unity, then this will all sound very familiar. And that’s because Project Tiny’s technology and engineering philosophy is deeply integrated with work being done across the Unity ecosystem. Brett Bibby, VP of engineering, explains how “historically Unity entered from sort of a lower end,” with it being a simple 3D game editor for Macs. “And as we added more and more features we moved up and that’s great,” he continues. “We initially covered very nicely the low-end use cases but what’s happened is as we’ve been adding more and more to the product we’ve become very centered [in the middle] but then there’s a layer of functionality that is very difficult for us to reach right at the small end.”
DOT TO DOTS More specifically Project Tiny embraces Unity’s move to C# and the Entity Component System (ECS) that we discussed at length in issue 933, last year’s GDC edition of MCV. In short that’s a shift to data-oriented design,
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with the new Burst Compiler providing a highlyperformant executable for the target platform, be that an Xbox One X or a web browser. Initial versions of Project Tiny used TypeScript, but the project is rapidly transitioning over a C# environment. “C# is Unity’s main language, and while originally we weren’t sure we could add support while keeping to our size goals, we’re now confident that we can,” says Vukicevic. “While TypeScript is a great language, we want to give our developers a consistent ecosystem, and make sure that their knowledge can scale regardless of what their target is.” Whittom explains that the team “shipped a first preview version of Project Tiny in December, mostly to gather user feedback around ECS and the Tiny use cases. ECS really changes how you think about game development, and getting it right requires a tight feedback loop.” And through that loop the team has “really learnt a lot from the user feedback we’ve received both from our public preview users, and our alpha users in the months before,” adds Vukicevic. “The data-oriented approach is very different, and it’s been very important for us to learn how to best present it to developers in a way that both makes sense and is approachable. Since last year’s GDC, we’ve made many improvements to both the core data-oriented APIs as well as the functionality available in Project Tiny in direct response to user feedback. “This year is about adding support for C# to Project Tiny, transitioning to a unified Data-Oriented Technology Stack (DOTS), and about moving 2D support out of preview. We’ll also talk about our plans for 3D for the small games use case. With DOTS, we’re excited to be able to offer Unity developers one approach to developing content, whether they’re building a 256KB instant game or a triple-A title at massive scale.” TARGET PLATFORMS But while the engineering behind Project Tiny stretches across the whole spectrum of possible devices, right up to high-end games consoles, the project is still sharply focused on bringing Unity’s toolset to bear on devices at the bottom of the ladder. Those platforms and use cases are incredibly varied. But even if the IoT devices and playable ads in browsers aren’t your thing, there are plenty of more creative opportunities here for core Unity game developers. Bibby provides some examples: “So even if I made a PS4 game, how cool would it be to land on the game’s home page and have a playable snippet or vignette of the game? Or how about I want to build some side stories to my game. I just want to do an instant loading media thing but I want to be able to use stuff I already have to do that.”
Pictured left: Play a genuinely tiny game of Tiny Arms instantly by simply scanning the huge QR code on the previous page
The idea of say a 30 second demo of Overcooked, which could be imbedded in webpages as a playable advert, and invariably ends up with your whole kitchen on fire has a lot of appeal. Project Tiny could take the core appeal of your game and give it huge reach. Of course, there’s also messenger games, web games, even playable game adverts within games. Vukicevic continues: “We want Unity content built with Project Tiny to be able to go everywhere. Giving developers the tools to build without limits is our main goal, but making a great game is only the first step in getting it in front of players. Like all Unity projects, we’ll continue to add features that will help developers to create, operate and monetise their games” And then of course there’s the ever-growing Smörgåsbord (or ‘det kolde bord’ as we’re in Denmark) of IoT: “We love the fact that there’s choice in the world, from wearable clothing to smart refrigerators, to obviously web everywhere across all kinds of devices,” enthuses Bibby. TARGET USER But Unity isn’t just targeting certain kinds of hardware with its new technology, it’s targeting a whole swathe of potential new users as well, Høgh explains to us: multimedia designers.
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of Unity he points out: “Our tools are built to enable developers to make one game, and deploy it on any platform with minimal effort.” Vukicevic adds: “The Unity Editor experience is more advanced than anything else available in this space, and we will expand the types of content that can be created using that tooling, including 3D. We’re also bringing a new development approach that will give creators the foundation to scale from small games to big, seamlessly, using their existing knowledge.”
Pictured above: Tiny Knight is a great little game, which weighs in at a mere 750kb
“People working on smaller experiences, typically in the past it would come through Flash, though today it’s more like hacking something together with various bits and pieces. And that’s a space that’s really interesting for us to look at,” says Høgh. Bibby continues: “We have features like timeline and we can configure Unity to look roughly like a Flash experience already. We have the ability to manage the different media elements within that but what we haven’t done is brought those features into Tiny yet. So I think our goal would be a year from now you would be able to do this demo, and make a Space Invaders in just ten minutes.” But while trying to entice multimedia designers, Bibby is also thinking that many current Unity users will be able to sidestep hiring just such skills: “Over the last few years if you wanted a playable ad you would hire a designer, you’d give them the game and they might borrow some assets or they might recreate them. “You pay them: ‘Here’s say twenty grand, go make me a lightweight version of this’. And all because it turned out playable ads performed better than display ads,” he says, recreating the scene that many in games development have experienced first hand. But with Project Tiny, a Unity-based studio could easily do that work for itself, Bibby explains: “It’d be really nice if I could create a branch of this repo, switch myself into tiny mode, opt into the pieces I need, dragand-drop my way there in the Unity that I know. And I’ve got a game. Most of the users that are on the [Project Tiny] preview are those types. They were studios that were saying: ‘We don’t want to pay an agency so we’re gonna do it ourselves’. And they were hacking things together internally and saying ‘I wish Unity would do this’,” he exclaims – and soon it will. There are other game engines for the web of course, Whittom admits, but none of them have the flexibility
PREVIEW SCREENINGS Early indications from the TypeScript preview version have been positive the team tells us and they are pushing ahead to deliver a C# preview version to all Unity users soon after GDC. “Apart from switching to C#, fixing bugs, and improving the overall architecture, we’re working on the public API for editor extensibility, on system visualisation, on scene/prefab data management, and on the UX around ECS relationships. User research helped tremendously when it came to identifying and prioritising these tasks,” Whittom tells us. “The reaction has been generally positive,” says Best. “A big part of what we hoped to learn via the Tiny preview is focused on users’ experience around ECS and what we can do to make things easier for them. We have established an active community on the forums that have been great sharing their experience. “Other than the list Etienne [Whittom] mentioned, features like more advanced UI and animation tooling are high on the wish list,” Best continues. “3D is also something developers are really asking for. Once C# is in preview, our focus will be on adapting to what we have learnt and polishing things up for release of our initial 2D features set.” And that request for 3D is on the roadmap, Vukicevic informs us: “We have a plan to add 3D and AR support later this year… We have a team exploring 3D already. Much of the work is defining exactly what capabilities a Tiny 3D renderer should have, because it’s not going to be the same as extremely high-end desktop graphics! We want to make sure that it can support the types of content that developers want to create today and in the next few years, and that there is a clear and easy upgrade path when those needs change.” Best finishes up: “I’d like to say a big thank you to our early adopters that are helping us during the preview, it’s of real value to the team to hear your thoughts so keep them coming. Those of you that haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, I’d encourage you to come learn more on our website. We hope you’ll give it a try and let us know what you think.”
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Its been ten years since Rocksteady was committed to Batman: Arkham Asylum, one of the greatest superhero games of all time. With the team now working on gaming’s best kept secret, Seth Barton looks back at the Batman trilogy and how it defined the studio
ooking back to 2009, the year of Batman: Arkham Asylum’s launch, the age of the superhero as a cultural titan was just beginning. Recent years had featured such cinematic flops as Spider-Man 3, Hancock and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But things were looking up. Iron Man had hit it big in 2008, opening the door to the Marvel Cinematic Universe we know today. Meanwhile Christopher Nolan’s Heath Ledger-powered The Dark Knight was garnering highbrow critical recognition for the genre. Superhero games meanwhile remained undervalued and under-resourced. The previous decade had seen little of note – Neversoft’s Spider-Man way back in 2000 being the last stand-out exception – with just the usual half-hearted movie and TV tie-ins. Thankfully, Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum had no such licensed baggage to carry. MANY BATS IN THE BELFRY “The most important thing for us was creating a vision of Batman that works in the context of video games,” Jamie Walker, studio director at Rocksteady, begins. “Stories in TV, movies, and comics, all need to flow and develop in ways that suit their respective media. Likewise, video games need to have their own style that fits with how people are experiencing them. We were very lucky to have the freedom to focus on making a Batman story that works in its own medium.” That is to say a Batman game that was free to create its own Dark Knight, not be hamstrung by someone else’s interpretation and narrative. Although with Batman, more-so than practically any other superhero, that creative freedom has to respect, or at least understand, the many decades of Batman stories and interpretations that came before it. “Even when we started working on our pitch for the game that would become Batman: Arkham Asylum, there was already 60 years of history to go through. In the beginning that felt quite overwhelming!” Walker admits. Though all that source material obviously has its upsides too. “Once we decided on the broad strokes for the story we wanted to tell, it was liberating to have all these great moments to reference from the comics, movies, TV, and more. “All of that research turned into the subtle references and Easter Eggs that ended up populating the world, which I think helps to make it feel more detailed and alive. Plus, we love reading comics and watching TV, so it’s probably the easiest part of the job!” he exclaims, instantly making millions of fans green with envy. And Walker is very much one of those fans, he tells us: “I worked in a comic shop early in my career, so for me personally it was like
walking with giants being able to make a Batman game.” The studio as a whole was drawn along too, he adds: “What really struck me was how the excitement and awe rippled across the studio: it quickly became clear that we had a lot more Batman fans on the team than I thought! “That ended up being very important for the project, because we wanted to create something that felt completely authentic and having lots of expert perspectives on the team really helped with that. One of the great things about Batman as a character is how so many different people connect with him, and that wide range of perspectives on our team really helped to inform the design once we started prototyping.” FULLY FOURMED Sefton Hill, Rocksteady’s creative director explains how the key gameplay elements for Arkham Asylum, and its Rocksteady-made sequels Arkham City and Arkham Knight, were present even in the first pitch the team sent to Eidos back in 2007. “Mechanically, the structure that would come to define the trilogy was pretty much right there in the original pitch. We had the idea to focus on four key elements that for us represent Batman’s approach,” Hill tells us. “First, the way Batman traverses through the world, using his cape and grapnel gun. Second, the idea that Batman is the world’s greatest detective, which was an aspect of the character that we felt hadn’t really been explored much in earlier games. Third, a combat system that would feel choreographed, cinematic and rhythmic. Back then I was a bit obsessed with Yuen Biao’s movies,” who choreographed fights and action scenes for Jackie Chan’s greatest hits, among many others. He continues: “The way those fights are structured creates a real sense of power, of one man taking on a group of thugs. It felt right that Batman should be able to deal with bad guys in a similar way. “Crucially for us, it needed to be simple to pick up and play,” Hill adds. “It shouldn’t be difficult for players of any level to reach the stage where they really feel like Batman.” A sense of empowerment that the game undoubtedly achieves. “The last of the four components was drawn from the idea that Batman was able to stalk his prey and take down armed thugs by being smarter and more prepared than they were. That became the invisible predator system,” Hill concludes. Arkham Asylum, and its sequels, then blended those four gameplay pillars to great effect. Though it’s notable that it’s the games’ locales that are forwarded in their titles. Most game characters have environments that are devised around their protagonist’s capabilities but Rocksteady’s take on Gotham’s madhouse, and later the city itself,
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remains a masterpiece example of anchoring a character within their own world.
Pictured above from top: Jamie Walker and Sefton Hill
ARKHAM’S INMATES Batman, possibly in part due to his lack of traditional superpowers, is defined as much by his enemies as he is by his abilities. And while there’s generic thugs aplenty to takedown in Arkham Asylum, it’s the boss battles that really stand out, drawing on the character’s arguably unmatched lineup of villains. Even after sharing his life with Batman for a decade, Hill focuses on the bad guys: “Having Batman inside your head is strange enough, but I think it’s the villains who stay with you. The DC Universe has this amazing cast of villains, each with their own personality, motivations, style, strengths and weaknesses. “The ecosystem that the Dark Knight exists in is one of the many reasons why he’s such a great character to work with,” Hill continues. “As a game designer it was particularly rewarding to explore those relationships and how they can create tension for the player.” He goes on discuss a particular favourite, arguably the best the series has to offer, though there are many contenders: “My favourite has to be the Mister Freeze fight in the Gotham City Police Department building in Arkham City. Thematically, I think that fight really captured the idea that Batman understands that he can’t always beat his opponents head-on, and sometimes needs to be strategic to win. “The great thing is that some players described their approach to that fight as being creative and improvised,
while for others it felt methodical and structured. Both are valid interpretations of Batman’s methods, and it’s great that those different elements came through for different types of players in just that one section.” Speaking of Arkham City, while any team relishes the opportunity to improve upon its first outing, that’s more of a challenge when your debut franchise title was as complete and well-rounded as Arkham Asylum. “I think the amazing team here was happy with the success we had on Asylum, but it’s impossible to work on a passion project like that without thinking of ways to improve or expand on it,” Walker explains, though the switch from a largely linear story to an open world was a more ambitious one than most game series ever attempt. “Getting the chance to make a bigger world, with more villains and more tension was very inspiring. We certainly felt the pressure of Batman: Arkham Asylum’s success, but we also had a clear plan on how we wanted to push the envelope,” Walker recalls. Hill then adds: “For Arkham City, we wanted to tell a more action-orientated Batman story. That was a conscious choice, and we loved the idea of expanding the personal conflicts between Batman and The Joker into full-blown faction warfare, as the supervillains and their criminal gangs vie for power.” Fans and critics seem divided on whether they prefer the more linear Asylum or the open world City, but both are held in equally high regard, an incredible feat given the two-year turnaround that Rocksteady had between the titles.
Pictured right: Rocksteady’s staff on the studio’s 14th birthday late last year
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And the team’s ability to advance plan for City was limited, as a sequel to the first game wasn’t a definite until late in the process, Hill explains to us: “Late in development on Arkham Asylum, we decided to add a hidden room that would hint at the next game in the series. That was long before we had approval on making a sequel. Looking back, I suppose it was a bit of a shot in the dark. So as a team, we definitely had ideas for where we wanted to go with the series, and it was brilliant when we realised the game was successful enough that we would get the chance to make a sequel and to develop those ideas further.” CITY LIVING To our knowledge there are no real secret rooms at Rocksteady’s north London office. Though given the secrecy around the team’s current project – we weren’t allowed to visit in person for this interview – you could consider the entire place top secret. We ask Hill whether working under such conditions is rather like having your own superhero alter-ego to protect? “Secrecy comes with the territory in our line of work,” Hill replies. “Our fans know that we won’t start talking about our projects until we’re ready. That said, the fan theories are always very entertaining: it’s amazing what people will come up with and try to pass off as insider information!” After that comment we certainly won’t be throwing our own DC-related speculation into the mix, though we do expect to see something of the team’s latest work in the near future. Coming back to the studio, it’s a shame we can’t visit, as it’s undoubtedly one of the few, large non-mobile studios in London. “I suppose we are fairly large by London standards, but compared with other triple-A studios we’re actually very small!” Walker clarifies. “London is a big part of our identity here at Rocksteady. It’s difficult to quantify, but I think the creative culture that we have in this city has been enormously influential in shaping our output and approaches over the past 14 years. London is a very cosmopolitan city, and our team is from all parts of the world – I love how many different nationalities and walks of life we have and believe that diversity helps shape what we do.”
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The team at present looks to be an ideal size, large enough to create a triple-A game without spiralling out over multiple locations, Walker tells us: “Right now we’re just under 200 strong. Even at that size, we still have our dev team all on one single floor, and no one has an office, which suits our approach: we’re a single-project studio so it’s important our team can all feel that closeness and connection. “We’re always looking for amazing people to join our team, which we see as a family, and we pride ourselves on being a great place to work: we’ve won a few awards for our studio culture over the past 12 months and are always working hard to improve every facet of Rocksteady.” If the final product of that hard work can live up to the quality and consistency of the team’s Batman titles then we should be looking at a huge hit. As we go to press, the team has just advertised for brand artists to undertake marketing work, so if you fancy getting a look at the studio’s next game before everyone else, you know where to apply.
Pictured above: Rocksteady’s north London office
“It’s impossible to work on a passion project like that without thinking of ways to improve or expand on it.”
PEOPLE POWERED New YouTube channel RKG is an instant hit, with its three creators pivoting away from IGN while sticking to the formula their fans love. Seth Barton catches up with the newly-launched gaming channel to understand their appeal and take stock of the sector as a whole
eaving the brand that you help build you is a tricky decision for anyone, but when you’re content creators on YouTube, striking out on a small budget, and you’re leaving millions of subscribers behind with your former employer, you need to be very confident your core fanbase is going to come along with you. RKG’s three co-founders, Daniel Krupa, Gav Murphy and Rory Powers, were confident though, and with good reason, as Patreon donations have quickly amassed to an impressive $26,983 (£20,639) a month – and rising – since the channel’s early January launch. PREPARE TO DIE RKG, and its headline show Retry, was born out of a show the trio came up with while working for IGN: Prepare to Try. Krupa explains the initial concept: “It started with a very simple conceit: could someone who has never played Dark Souls before finish it before Dark Souls 3 came out? It was a challenge, filmed under pressure. We were putting out four episodes a week
for three weeks. We were like Coronation Street. But in retrospect we also realised we’d made a show about our friendship, about how it can get you through terrible frustration and disappointment. That seemed to create a deeper connection with people. “Originally it was intended to be a one-off project,” Krupa continues. “But the response was something else. I’d never experienced anything like it in my time at IGN.” And so the trio continued making the show for a further three years. “This incredible community of viewers built itself up around the show and we felt like we weren’t serving that community as well as we should have been because of all the different responsibilities we had at IGN,” Murphy recalls. Krupa adds: “So, knowing the audience was there, we decided to make it our full-time jobs. We didn’t really see it as a risk. I didn’t. I saw it as an opportunity to build something exciting together.” Murphy continues: “I saw leaving IGN as more of a ‘calculated leap’ rather than a risk. It became one of the most popular shows that’s ever been on IGN and
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although we’ll always be massively grateful to IGN for giving us that platform, people tuned in to see us mucking about and having a laugh together, so our hope was that they’d still do that, regardless of whether we were on IGN or our own channel.” It’s a sentiment that other ‘in-house’ creators – be they employed at publisher, platform or publishing houses – have shared with us. While grateful to the brands that gave them exposure, they wonder if they can strike out alone and how much of their audience will follow. Where then does the power lie between the brand and the creator? Powers replies: “It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the creator. More and more these days we’re seeing individual online personalities outperform major companies and I think a large part of that comes down to personality and authenticity… And that’s where some of these bigger companies fall flat. “I don’t doubt that creators and companies can definitely benefit from working together, but it’s also important for those companies to develop their own
internal talent. Without a strong voice or identity, all you’ve got is a million followers with nothing to say to them,” Powers continues. Krupa agrees that such companies need to have their own voice which persists: “Something which remains and is passed on when people leave.” He adds some advice for them: “I’ve read sites and watched channels for years, regardless of staffing changes, because I like the underlying style or approach of the site. Sites with strong identities seek the qualities out in new hires, and cultivate them. “I think publishers should think about what they want their sites to be, what they’ve been traditionally recognised for, and what they can do that independent creators or influencers can’t. I’m aware of the commercial pressures for established brands to play the influencer game but I think they should have more confidence in what they can offer that’s different,” Krupa advises. And of course, there are scenarios when those big media companies can really shine, he adds: “We were part of huge E3 productions at IGN, which are
Pictured above from left to right: Rory Powers, Gav Murphy and Daniel Krupa
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phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it. You can create something with incredible production value and beam it to something like 20 platforms. The advantages of working somewhere like that is you’ve got a big team of talented people who can pull off something like that. You can also attract big sponsors who want to align with that sort of thing.” But despite the huge gulf in resources between publishers and some influencers, it’s incredible that they are still competing for the same audiences, and a lot of time it’s the lone influencers that are winning. “This is why the internet is the greatest medium in the world, because the girl streaming games in her bedroom on a £40 webcam can outperform a company streaming from a massive studio,” exclaims Powers. “YouTube was built by everyday people creating videos from scratch and I think that’s why a lot of viewers connect with the look and feel of a low production video,” he continues. “To people who grew up on the internet, sometimes a super polished, high-tech video can actually come across as cheap or tacky. It feels like TV trying to do internet. Like your Dad trying to floss.” AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION Murphy believes that it was the contrast of relatively high production values, and the off-the-cuff warmth of its hosts, that made Prepare to Try stand out to begin with. “The show did look a bit nice and sparkly and like a professional-ish IGN show but then when you got into it, it was just three idiot friends taking the piss out of each other and trying to make each other laugh. The feedback we got from people was that while IGN was producing this high-end entertainment coverage, there
was a genuineness to us that they weren’t finding in a lot of other places on the site.” Powers adds: “We took the piss out of each other, we let our shields down and shared embarrassing stories – too many sometimes – and we really poured our heart and soul into every episode. I think the audience really connected with that.” And it’s that “genuineness,” that authenticity, that has allowed the trio to successfully strike out on their own. “Our audience has definitely come with us,” Krupa tells us. “The first episode of Retry has 89,000 views and growing, our first livestream had 2,300 concurrents. That’s all pretty consistent with what we saw at IGN. So there’s definitely loyalty there, and we were able to bring them with us, but I don’t necessarily think that means those people stopped watching IGN.” Of course there is a downside: “What we’ve lost in IGN is the infrastructure of a massive company behind us,” Murphy notes. “We’ve built a rinky-dink studio in my spare room and it looks and sounds exactly like that and although that’s doing my head in from a producer’s point of view, our audience loves it because it shows that we’re starting this from scratch and while we might not be able to afford a nice studio or the best mics, hopefully people see that we’re exactly the same show that they loved at IGN.” PLAY IT AGAIN SAM The Let’s Play genre is among the most dominant on YouTube. The term covers a myriad of different styles of course, with Prepare to Try, and even Retry, sitting at the top end in terms of production. “Most Let’s Plays get filmed and chucked up on YouTube with minimal post-production but that’s never been the case with us,” Murphy explains. “We meticulously plan out everything in each episode with the hope that each one has a nice rhythm from the build up of exploring an area to the huge celebration of beating a boss – it’s not a case of syncing the gameplay to the camera footage of us and boshing it out. “We also add in extra vlog-style footage from our lives so if we refer to something like: ‘We absolutely should not have got that drunk last night’ we’ll cut to footage of us hammered on a dancefloor at 3am the night before. It might not sound like much but it really helps set it apart from other Let’s Play style shows and the audience feels like they’re part of the show with us,” Murphy continues. Krupa adds: “I think some Let’s Plays can feel quite disposable. But we put a lot of time and planning into ours. We approach them as if we were making a series. We talk about episodes and think in terms of seasons, and we know that’s how a lot of people watch it, too. The numbers on Prepare To Try continue to grow, because people
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rewatch seasons as if they were on Netflix. They have their favourite episodes and characters, which we’ve created.” PUBLIC PATREONAGE And that fanbase definitely values the content that the trio is creating. In retrospect Patreon was certainly the right choice for the channel, and its creators were always dead set on that approach, with no plans to take on the kind of paid-for marketing work that supports so many creators and influencers. “We were very fortunate that the few sponsored Prepare To Try shows that we did at IGN were done with absolutely no interference from publishers… But if doing sponsored content was our sole revenue stream, you might find yourself making something that you’re not really into and I can’t really see us ever being in that position at RKG,” says Murphy. “For me those are two very different paths,” agrees Krupa. “We chose Patreon to maintain our independence. Having the direct support of our audience gives us the freedom to make exactly what we want. We now also have a budget to realise some of the ideas we’re developing. We might still work with clients to host their events when it’s a game that we particularly love, but Patreon means we can always say no if it’s not quite right.” Murphy elaborates on why Patreon is such a good fit for the team: “Part of the reason we wanted to do any of this RKG stuff in the first place was because we saw this amazing audience that loved our thing, that were just shouting out to support us, so Patreon seemed like a way of making our audience feel like they were really coming on this journey with us.” But who are the channel’s backers compared to its viewers? “From YouTube analytics I can break this down into gender and location, but more anecdotally, from the events we’ve put on over the years, it’s a diverse group of people from all walks of life,” Krupa explains. “Different ages, different countries. There’s students and teachers, kids, and there’s a lot of couples who watch our show together. Our backers are a passionate subset of that overall group, who have the means to financially support us.” And Murphy is keen to add: “It was really important to us that even if you couldn’t chip into the Patreon, that nothing would change – you’d get the main show on Saturdays as if we were still at IGN.” And Murphy loves the audience that they’re bringing with them: “One of the best things about our audience is
the overall positivity that exists because of the nature of the show. While I’m loathed to use YouTube comments as an example of this, nothing on IGN gets the kind of love in the comments that Prepare To Try got and that has carried over to Retry,” he proudly tells us. “There’s a sense of welcoming and friendliness to our audience that you don’t find in a lot of places online and we’ve always been immensely proud of that and always do our best to cultivate a community with as few arseholes as possible.” PREPARE TO SUCCEED Keeping the arsehole count down is a worthy ambition, but it’s not the team’s only one, as they each explain. “For me personally it’s all about growth,” Powers tells us when we ask about the channels goals. “We’re incredibly lucky to be in a position where we can focus solely on creating amazing videos for our community, and while we’ll always keep producing our signature long-form Let’s Play shows, I’m really excited to try new things and fully embrace this opportunity we have to make whatever type of content we’re passionate about.” And Krupa certainly isn’t obsessing over the metrics: “There’s no number assigned. The ambition for me is pretty simple: make things we’re proud of and that our audience would like. We were in the numbers game for a long time, and obviously I want our videos to be watched and enjoyed by as many people possible. But having the direct support of our audience through Patreon, removes the need to chase numbers.” And if there is growth, it has to be the right sort of growth Krupa adds: “I’d love to see the community grow, welcome in new members, but not at the expense of it losing its identity. For me, the most important thing is satisfying those people who already support us. If we do that, we’ll continue to grow at the right pace.” Murphy concludes: “I’m hoping that once the channel is properly ticking along we can start putting time into making the bigger projects we never had the time or money to make at IGN. I think there’s something about our chemistry together that is really special and I’d love to see what happens when you stick a bit of production budget behind us and let us take this dynamic that we’ve developed over a period of years and take it to a mad level. “That’s down the line though and for now our focus is making sure that the 2,000+ people who support us on Patreon feel like they’re getting their money’s worth to the point where they stick around for a good long while.”
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When We Made... Two Point Hospital
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working Marie Dealessandritogether, takesyoua could looktellbehind thebeginning scenes from the very thatat the development of Two she Point roots in Theme was aHospital, character thatfrom peopleits would really gravitate toward.” Hospital to how Lionhead’s difficulties sped up its creation Quillyou really should becomes anever fully fleshed out character with UI to how underestimate the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she TALKING Two Point Studios’ co-founders, lives her life in hertofamiliar setting. It’s a three strangely intimate it feels like there twoway ghosts watching us during feeling, and one whichare gives to joint apprehension thethe entire conversation. Not new, scaryunfamiliar ghosts, no. Two as both player and Quill enter areas. benevolent a reassuring, proud smile “When you go ghosts throughwith Mousetown and you see Quillon their faces. names Bullfrog. run through thereTheir and you seeare thatLionhead she has and a hometown, Because the story howtown Two maybe Point Hospital the feeling of her leaving it, of that being inwas made is you alsomore a story how Themesays. Hospital danger, gives of aabout bond,” Alderson “If waswas made Bullfrog Productions 22there years ago that part left by out, you wouldn’t feel like was a story that’s deeply with muchand to fight for. Everything thatintertwined we’ve done, theLionhead’s mood closure in Quill 2016. settings, taking from one area to the next and letting Molyneux founded Bullfrog – he you rest Peter and take in this environment… It’sinall1987 supposed was joined Gary Carr that in 1989 and byyou’re Mark to exaggerate andbyaccentuate mood that Webley in 1992. Both Carr and worked feeling. It all ties back into how you areWebley connecting withon Theme Hospital as project leaders, with the game Quill and her world.” meeting huge success. In 1997 Webley left Bullfrog and co-founded Lionhead with Molyneux. Carr SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS ended up joining them inthe 2003. Collaboration was key during development of Moss, not just within the team but with the and helpBen of external Fast forward to itself, December 2014 Hymers playtesters. were often brought feedback enters People the game – having workedinattoRare and on
Pictured above, from top: Two Point Studios’ Gary Carr, Ben Hymers and Mark Webley
Creative Assembly, he joined Lionhead as creative engineer. That final move set events in motion for the three of them – Gary Carr, Ben Hymers, Mark Webley – to create Two Point Studios. “The idea [for Two Point Hospital] probably stems back from many years ago when Gary and I worked together at Bullfrog – we worked on a few games together but we really enjoyed Theme Hospital,”
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish Webley the game, what would be“We the thing you’d Mark starts explaining. had athat bunch of fix?’ “Those help it’d bring playtester into their comfort ideas like ‘Oh, beacool after Theme Hospital tozone, because one wants to play something people put do Themeno Prison or Theme Resort’ but it that just never a lot of careI left andand loveGary into and happened. left –then Garyturn didaround Muckyand Footsay ‘ThisI came is whatupI didn’t like about We it’. So it takes a little while and with Lionhead. kept crossing socially to get thewe playtester comfortable, and weand found and then were together at Lionhead we that just kept finding different todo askthat theone same question means saying; ‘Oh, we ways should day’.” you eventually the really“Igood theas fourth or Ben Hymers get continues: don’tstuff haveafter nearly much fifth time you it. guys, I was never part of all of that experience asask these “I don’t think anyone in because our studioI was has ever a early Bullfrog stuff but it’s only made 12 years gamehelike this, so“But I think it’s important that trust the old,” laughs. I loved the sound of you it and I joined You at trust playtesting make sure–that aprocess. small team Lionhead thatand Garyyou was leading an you allow yourself some time and freedom trywe something incubation team doing prototype work.toSo worked and thendoing keep going. Try something branch out, together some sim-like gamesnew andand I was struck but also your experience from games with aweuse working with Gary, as he’d donethat theyou’ve art on made before andFrom you’ll there be fine. long having Theme Hospital. weAs sort of as hit you’re it off I guess. fun too! We enjoyed Gary thought it’d be playing nice to Moss start something throughoutagain.” the entire By thatand point, Lionhead hadhelps.” been acquired by process I think that really Microsoft. Gary Carr takes over: “We tried to hit it off with Microsoft but Fable Legends was just so all consuming and it was really difficult to convince Microsoft at the time to make them think about other things Lionhead used to be good at doing. “My incubation team just wasn’t looking likely to get a project into production. [Fable Legends] was taking up a lot of the resources and it was looking less and less likely to happen. So I was out of the door pretty much
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“To be honest we didn’t think Sega would be interested,” Webley says, before Hymers adds: “We ended up getting in touch [with Sega] because when I left Lionhead I went to work at Playsport on Motorsport Manager – Playsport being signed by Sega. And it’s Christian [West, founder] there who suggested it would be a good idea for us to talk to Sega. He put us in contact and as it happens they were already having discussions about the kind of games they wanted to publish.” Webley continues: “We went in, we did our presentation and Dean Trotman [then commercial director at Sega] said: ‘You won’t believe this, a week ago we had a meeting where we said: wouldn’t it be great to have a game like Theme Park in our books?’,” he laughs before adding that they “got lucky” really. Carr adds: “There’s always luck, we’ve all made games in the past which have been just as much effort and love and passion and haven’t done as well. This is the reality of development. There is an element of luck.” And that’s how Two Point Studios was born.
and then Ben…” He turns to Hymers before continuing: “You weren’t happy, you went to do incubation and you thought you were going to be out of the door.” Hymers smiles and nods. Carr and Hymers started prototyping ideas – that’s when Carr decided to talk to Webley about it all, who continues the story: “Gary and Ben’s idea was: it’s 20-odds years since Theme Hospital, there are still people who love that game and it would be cool to bring it up to date as a kick-off for a studio. “There was always a clear vision of these little sim games that we wanted to make, harking back to the culture of Bullfrog which was a lot of small teams, a lot of easy communication. We didn’t have a designer back then, because we designed the game, and we didn’t have producers because they hadn’t been invented yet,” Webley laughs. Carr continues: “So that’s when we got together. But then the next challenge was: how do two 50-years-old guys and a 30-year-old guy start a company?” THERE’S ALWAYS LUCK It’s now March 2016 – the games industry is in shock as Microsoft announces it has “decided to
cease development on Fable Legends, and [is] in discussions with employees about the proposed closure of Lionhead Studios in the UK.” Carr, Hymers and Webley meanwhile were lucky enough to have left the studio before its sad fate started to unravel and were already going full steam ahead with their project of launching a new studio. “At this point, a lot of people were doing crowdfunding, Kickstarters and that was a new world, at least certainly to me and Mark,” Carr says. Hymers adds: “That’s the kind of thing I was suggesting early on because at the time there were quite a lot of big successful Kickstarters, usually for retro games and reboots or remakes. It seems like a very popular thing to do.” The three associates started discussing it with other industry figures – Gavin Price at Playtonic, who had just successfully crowdfunded Yooka-Laylee, and Team17 boss Debbie Bestwick for instance. They suggested that the golden age of crowdfunding was maybe already over. Enter Sega, just as Carr, Hymers and Webley were now looking for a publisher for their Theme Hospital spiritual successor.
THE SILLY LITTLE THINGS For what was going to be Two Point Hospital – which ultimately launched in August 2018 – a lot of the development process was fed by very informed decisions. Two of the three founders had two decades of experience after all and a lot of Theme Hospital translates over to Two Point Hospital. And, by the way, if you’re wondering why it’s not called Theme Hospital 2, it’s because EA owns that license. “It was very Bullfrog, the idea of having humour in the game, breadth and depth. And certainly a lot of the latter Bullfrog games were very accessible,” Webley says. “I think taking a subject matter like running a hospital, which is a stupid idea, and turning it into something which was good fun to play, which had a longevity to it – we learnt a lot from that,” he smiles. Ben Hymers could bring another very valuable opinion to the table: his experience of Theme Hospital as a player. “For me as a player, the things that shine through and that stick in my memory are just the little details that make [Theme Hospital] this fun, polished game,” Hymers says. “Because I wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate the depth of the simulation, it’s all about the silly little things like people knocking on the doors
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before they go through them and, at the time I didn’t appreciate how complicated it was, but the stuff that Gary and Mark have done with making sure props line up with hands and people actually sit in chairs and things like that. It sounds stupid but it’s all these little things that really makes it feel like a living little world.” And there’s a good reason why Bullfrog was so details-oriented back then, Carr explains: “We had absolutely nothing to show off about,” he laughs as Webley mentions that they “were doing pixel art when everyone was moving over to 3D.” Carr adds: “We had Edge Magazine coming round and literally ignoring us because we were horribly old fashioned and doing things that were very last generation. So we were trying to show off in any way we possibly could with our limited skills and that was trying to make everything super detailed so the small personalities, opening doors, closing doors, scratching heads, sitting down, little bits of interaction. We were trying to punch above our weight in character. Because the subject matter was hospital and illness we needed to make it feel more palatable so we did that with charm and comedy and that’s how we sold what was, at that time, a rather unusual subject matter.” And the team made sure Two Point Hospital was developed with the same attention to detail, Hymers continues: “We kept that streak of making things charming but of course using the technology of today to do more interesting things. Back then characters wouldn’t really interact with each other. They would walk straight through each other. But now we have characters that look at each other, do silly things like dance competitions in the hallways. So hopefully we kept that charm but made it more modern.” Mark Webley and Two Point Studios’ designer Ben Huskins (who worked at Lionhead from the first to the last day of the studio) also came up with the trait system to push that attention to detail further, trying to make the experience unique with every gameplay session.
“If certain personalities meet other personalities they may react completely uniquely,” Carr explains. “So somebody who’s flirtatious may have a completely different reaction to someone who is shy or grumpy. So you can play [Two Point Hospital] for hours and hours and suddenly see a completely unique scene because you’ve never had that situation. The idea has been implemented by the code team into something that makes it feel alive and unique so I’m really proud of that. “Also, on the art side, we wanted something that wouldn’t date very quickly – if Two Point Hospital is around for even half the time Theme Hospital did, it will have done amazingly well. We wanted to make a style of rendering which didn’t feel like it was technology driven, but more hand crafted. It’s a very claymation looking art style so it feels handmade which is what the first game felt like.” What was crucial to the entire team was that Two Point Hospital felt innovative and not dated. “The game feels, to me, quite fresh and of course it has a nostalgic element to it, we’d be lying if we didn’t recognise that, but it does still feel fresh, it feels like it’s a nice face to go back to,” Carr says. Two Point Studios comprises about 15 people – about half of them are industry veterans while the other half is new blood. Webley explains that this new blood was instrumental in making Two Point Hospital feel original. “The approach was always going to be more modern, the art style was always going to be up to date, it was always going to be 3D. We’re not just developers, we’re players of games as well,” he adds. “Things like Prison Architect, which is artistically nothing like our game but their approach to market was: get something out there in Early Access and then keep developing. And that’s what we thought we could maybe do. Let’s get something out! Then other games like Cities: Skylines – brilliant game! And you kind of think: ‘There’s some good ideas in there, let’s steal them!’,” he laughs.” So I think we’re just influenced by the games we play as well.” The three co-founders mention two other examples of how they embraced a more modern approach with Two Point Hospital: the idea of “continued
“We had Edge Magazine coming round and literally ignoring us because we were horribly old fashioned and doing things that were very last generation.”
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development”, with at the time of writing 11 updates provided to the title, and Steam Workshop support, with Carr saying: “It’s not only adding Steam workshop. We’ve done it in a way that feels like the game UI. We’ve tried to make it feel seamless, so that people who wouldn’t normally use something like Workshop would be encouraged to use it.” LAYERS ON LAYERS That leads us to talk about the UI in more details as this is obviously a crucial element of any sim game. Webley immediately says in a laugh they probably “underestimated just how much work the UI was going to be,” focusing first on getting a playable version of the game out of the door as soon as possible. He explains: “On Theme Hospital we had a row of icons at the bottom. And this was all done by hand. So first implementation had maybe six icons across the board. And then you kind of realise you need another one. And then you put another icon and then you’re like: ‘Oh, hang on, we need another one!’. We didn’t really know what we wanted.” On Two Point Hospital as well, the team wasn’t sure that they wanted. But Carr knew what he didn’t want: “A lot of PC games, especially in strategy and simulation, have these very small icons which look incredibly complex. The original Theme Hospital was kind of very easily readable, chunky and accessible UI that didn’t intimidate people. It was kind of the same thing we were trying to do with the gameplay – make people think it’s easy to use and then further down the bottom it gets more and more complex and if people don’t want to do that they can still play the game. If they want to get into all the management and simulation details, they can, they can dig down into the UI. So we had this idea to try and reproduce that. We had loads
of people involved – it was possibly the most work the whole team got involved with.” Webley concludes saying he’s happy how the UI turned out: “The vision certainly was to make [Two Point Hospital] accessible and easy to play. And we always had this idea of: make it accessible but deep. Get to it nice and easy and then put layers of polish on it.” And the studio is certainly not going to stop there as the game has had great success since launch. “The big picture for the studio is Two Point County. So we’re building this bigger idea of different subject sims that coexist within a world. But right now we’re enjoying just working on this game because it still feels like we’ve only started it five minutes ago,” Carr laughs. Finally, there’s another reason to keep working on Two Point Hospital – and that one is much more personal. “We were happiest making [Theme Hospital] – even Ben would talk so fondly about playing the game at the other end of the experience,” Carr says. “We just liked to recreate the fun of being in the industry because as gaming studios get bigger, you get promoted into very boring jobs. “Mark and I became director-type people. Mark was the founder of Lionhead but I was on the leadership team so we were just spending all our time making performance reviews and making sure we’re not spending too much money – all these kinds of crappy jobs that you do when you get promoted out of the fun stuff. So it was important to try and reinvent a bit of the highlight of our careers and I think we’ve done a reasonably good job at recreating our heyday. “And I’ve had an absolute blast – two years and I still come into work with a smile on my face, feeling really happy and hopefully it’s the same for everyone and they have fun making this game. And that’s how it should be – what’s the point of making games if it’s not fun?”
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The Sounds of... Cris Velasco
actually look at you. And even with that little bit of work, with the help of the animation and really smart designers and engineers, with everybody working Every month from now on, you we’ll discuss the together, could tell from the veryunique beginning process that she was a character that people would really gravitate of making music for video games. This month, toward.” Marie Dealessandri dives into the musical universe of Quill really becomes a fully fleshed out character with composer Cris Velasco, who’s behind the soundtracks of the help of the game’s strong world-building. As an Fortnite, Darksidersinterloper 3, Resident Evil 7, Bloodborne, Mass in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not Effect 3, Borderlands 2 andwatching God of through her eyes, but as an observer as War she III lives her life in her familiar setting. It’s a strangely intimate feeling, and one which gives way to joint apprehension as both the player and Quill enter new, unfamiliar areas. “When you go through Mousetown and you see Quill run through there and you see that she has a hometown, the feeling of her leaving it, of that town maybe being in danger, gives you more of a bond,” Alderson says. “If that part was left out, you wouldn’t feel like there was much to fight for. Everything that we’ve done, the mood settings, taking Quill from one area to the next and letting you rest and take in this environment… It’s all supposed to exaggerate and accentuate that mood that you’re feeling. It all ties back into how you are connecting with Quill and her world.” SAME QUESTION EIGHT WAYS Collaboration was key during the development of Moss, not just within the team itself, but with the help of external playtesters. People were often brought in to feedback on
the game and asked questions about their experience – even if most of these questions were actually very similar. “External playtests were mostly about ‘Okay, how do people feel when they play? Do they like it or not like it?’,” Alderson explains. “At the end of playtest we would ask the same question eight different ways. The question is really ‘What didn’t you like?’, but we would ask it differently: ‘What pulled you out of the experience? What took you out of the headset? If there’s one thing you could change what would it be? If you had two weeks to finish the game, what would be the thing that you’d fix?’ “Those a playtester into their comfort do zone, How earlyhelp in abring game’s development process because no one wants to play that people put you usually start working onsomething the score? a lot of carewith and every love into and then turn to around say It’s different project. I’ve had wrapand up entire ‘This is(composing, what I didn’t revising, like aboutrecording, it’. So it takes a little scores mixing) in awhile to get That’s the playtester comfortable, and we found in that week. rare though. I’m normally brought fairly finding ways to from ask the question means early. I’lldifferent have anywhere twosame months to a year on you eventually some projects. get the really good stuff after the fourth or fifth time you ask it. “I don’t anyone indo ouryou studio has ever made a What typethink of material request from a studio game like this, soto I think it’sthe important before starting write score?that you trust the process. You trustbyplaytesting you sure I’m very inspired visuals, soand I like tomake at least getthat you allow yourself some time and freedom try something concept art and screenshots if they’reto available. A video and then keep Try something new and branch out, of gameplay is going. even better. Best case scenario though is but also your experience thatbuild you’ve when theuse developer can sendfrom me games a working of the made before be fine.it As as you’re having game. Then I and can you’ll experience forlong myself. I feel like my fun too! We enjoyed playing best scores are written this way. Moss throughout the entire process and I think that really helps.” Do you work closely with the sound designer(s) of the game, to ensure there’s cohesion between the score and the sound effects? Not very often actually. Sometimes, when the audio director is also the one doing the SFX, we’ll have discussions about how to achieve a solid balance. That’s why it’s nice for me to play a build of the game though. Even if the SFX isn’t implemented yet, I can make an educated guess at how they’ll function. A good
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way to test this out is through unfocused attention. When I finish a cue, I’ll play it on a loop in my studio for ten to 15 minutes while I do other things. It becomes background music to whatever else I’m doing. If something starts to stick out and call attention to itself (in a bad way), I get rid of it. Does your approach differ between writing for a triple-A title vs an indie game? My approach is always to just write the best music I can for whatever project I’m working on. The only real difference I’ve noticed is that triple-A titles tend to feel more ‘Hollywood’. And that’s not a bad thing! I adore movies and film scores. Indie titles seem to be more open to experimentation. This can be a breath of fresh air actually after working on a bigger title.
Pictured above and below: Darksiders 3 was one of Velasco’s latest projects, giving him the opportunity to write “a symphonic work based on the seven deadly sins”
“trick” is to make sure the music has its ebbs and flows. That will create natural space so you’re not at risk of stepping on each other’s toes.
Do you feel like game soundtracks get the same recognition as film scores? If not, why this difference? If they did, we’d at least see our own category for the Grammys. I’m not complaining though. Game music has a huge following. Our fans are extraordinary and extremely passionate about this music. I’ve participated in sold out concerts of game music all over the world. Games tend to be seen as “something for kids” still though. At least for most people. This unfortunately puts the scores further down the totem pole in terms of recognition. I have no doubt this will change over time though.
What are the typical challenges of writing for games as opposed to more linear narrative forms? I think it’s much more difficult to write a game score than TV or film. There are many reasons why, but I’ll give you one main one. In a game, you’re very likely to hear the same piece of music for an extended amount of time. Sometimes that same music will be repeated throughout the game if they need to fill in some spaces. So how do you write music that serves the game, sounds great, but doesn’t get annoying? That’s the biggest challenge in writing for games I think. My own
What was the most inspiring game world you worked on, which aspect did you most want to bring into your score and how did you reflect that? One of my latest projects, Darksiders 3, was a very satisfying and inspiring game. The antagonists are all based on each of the seven deadly sins. Back when I was studying music in college, I always had aspirations to write a symphonic work based on the seven sins. It never came to pass though. Darksiders gave me the opportunity to realise my dream and at the same time I got to work on this very cool franchise. Win-win! Do you have any tips on how can developers best help composers to make music for their game? Too much micromanaging is what can turn a project from an exciting creative endeavor into a “job”. I absolutely encourage and expect feedback though. What’s helpful for me though is of a broader nature. “This should be scarier” or “we need a sense of urgency here” is better for me than getting too specific. That always runs the risk of a piece feeling contrived after all is said and done.
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The team at Creative Assembly helps us debunk some common development role myths This month, Ellie KoorlanderLester, lead VFX artist, clarifies the changing role of VFX for us
GAME VFX is a spectacle, but it is more than just decorative and illustrative. It represents key ways to communicate to the player, to build anticipation and create moments of wonder that keep players engaged and intrigued. VFX should support the narrative and enhance the atmosphere of the game world. For a VFX artist, key considerations for creating ‘good’ effects are composition, timing and how to integrate seamlessly with the artistic and design direction of the game. Across all disciplines, the introduction of game models that are on-demand, with regular updates, have led us to rethink how we
“Game VFX is a spectacle, but it is more than just decorative and illustrative. It represents key ways to create moments of wonder that keep players engaged and intrigued.”
approach production and planning. We are now preparing for not only the art work we need to create in production, but the development and advancement of tools to support artists and designers throughout the team. We have always done this on a small scale, however the emphasis has shifted. Making our tools more intuitive to enable an artist to create more variety in their artwork in the same amount of time is empowering artists to refocus on creativity. In VFX, and technical art specifically, we are designing tools to make simple yet time consuming processes automated in a smart way. Technical artists are looking at procedurally placing assets through tools to optimise workflows. We are also introducing shaders that drive vertex animation for models in VFX and the environment. This opens a world of possibilities for the detail we can add to enhance the gameplay experience. It’s an exciting challenge. Player expectations are also constantly evolving, and in turn, we constantly look at creating the most visually appealing and engaging experience while still working within the confines of technology. In a game, we will have hundreds of particle effects on screen at any one time and we need to manage this effectively to not reduce the overall quality of the gaming experience. Over the last few years we are seeing more VFX artists from the film industry looking to move into games. Creating VFX for games is more focused on the illusion of simulating reality rather than the finer details. We have to think of the key elements that, for example, read as an explosion with limited particles and texture resolution. These techniques are easy to adapt for experienced VFX artists. Those who do successfully transition are able to demonstrate their skills in a package like Unreal or Unity. There are various reasons for this shift from film to game, but as games evolve and there are more and more possibilities for what we can achieve, game VFX is creatively a very exciting place to be.
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Life on the Frontier
OVER the years, Frontier has made creature animation a speciality. As far back as V2000, for the first PlayStation, Frontier was working with inverse kinematics systems to animate the game’s arachnid enemies around the environments. Elements of that system found their way into the creatures from A Dog’s Life for PS2, and those learnings took us forward to Kinectimals, Zoo Tycoon and our most recent release, Jurassic World Evolution.
Developers from Frontier talk about their latest work as the studio celebrates its 25th anniversary this year This month, principal animation programmer Oliver Powell explains how the studio brought dinosaurs to life in Jurassic World Evolution There are a great many layers coming together to form the final lifelike motion of Jurassic World Evolution’s dinosaurs. Dinosaurs of different sizes, weights and shapes needed to navigate player-authored environments convincingly, while also fighting one another, hunting, sleeping, eating and generally feeling alive. As a member of the animation code team my role was to co-design and implement the systems to achieve these goals with strong collaboration from animators and technical artists. We work with Frontier’s in-house Cobra game engine which gives us the freedom to create unique technologies you wouldn’t typically find in an off-the-shelf game engine. In this piece I’ll talk about the major systems we developed, and delve a little into the experience of working as an animation programmer at Frontier. Each dinosaur has a large range of bespoke hand-keyed animations from our talented animation team. These include sets designed for the first fundamental game system – a locomotion system that blends animation to achieve the dynamic range of speed and curvature you find in game. This system is fed a stream of points from navigation code running a full flow simulation which it then converts into smooth paths fed by choices of animation that take dinosaurs from A to B – a topic our navigation and locomotion programmers could easily write a separate article about. We layer partial and additive animations on top and out of phase with locomotion to reduce repetition and add flavour. Subtle claw twitches, head shakes, small sniffs or a full roar make the creatures come to life. The dinosaurs focus on their targets with a headlook system that procedurally twists bones up the neck to point the head in the right direction, using the physics engine to provide weight to the motion and lead with the head. My particular challenge was related to Jurassic World Evolution’s terraforming. The challenge was to allow dinosaurs to convincingly move across player-authored terrain, planting their feet correctly no matter how rugged players choose to make it.
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We created a procedural foot-planting system with inverse kinematics. The feet are lifted in arcs to avoid ground intersection and arrive aligned to the ground with legs carefully shaped by constraints tuned by our rigging team. As each foot takes a turn in contact with the ground, the rotation and height of the body follows emphasising the weight supported at any given time. Quadrupeds have their own mode of motion, aligning their bodies so that each leg isn’t over-compressed or extended, with longer necked dinosaurs keeping their heads held upright and level with the horizon. Bipeds can pitch up and down into slopes with less emphasis on roll. Some dinosaurs can walk on all fours then stand up to sprint so the system was expanded to blend between movement types. Terrain can be raised and lowered directly beneath a dinosaur and the creatures adapt immediately. This was one of the most dramatic outcomes of designing a relatively stateless system, meaning on any given frame the final pose of the dinosaur could be calculated. Finally you’ll notice there are ragdoll physics in effect on long tails as they drag along the ground or when dinosaurs are airlifted or tranquilised. Animation-driven ragdoll rigs were tuned to keep dinosaurs’ iconic shapes, stiffening some joints and loosening others. This had to blend seamlessly with the other system layers, a challenge solved through customisable states and transitions within our own motion graph. Putting these pieces together took the focused effort of a whole team.
“Doing a good job is as much about visuals and emotion as it is about correctness and precision.” Fortunately we have a fantastic team of animators here at Frontier, with graduates sitting side-by-side with veterans from the PlayStation 2 era. Everyone works closely and comments with good feedback. As coders, we stand on the shoulders of giants with a long legacy of expertise and experience from our previous games. Animation programming at Frontier often drifts towards the more artistic side of game development, as doing a good job is as much about visuals and emotion as it is about correctness and precision.
In Frontier’s Jurassic World Evolution, each dinosaur has a large range of bespoke hand-keyed animations
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Casting the Runes
AT Jagex we have a tier of directors who sit across art, design and programming to ensure quality across the business by specialist function; we also assist with mentoring and training and help guide development. While these roles are relatively new to the business, they have been pivotal in introducing new processes and other improvements at a studio, function, team and individual level.
Jagex’s developers visit us from Runescape’s Gielinor to talk about their latest adventures This month, Daryl Clewlow, senior director of art, provides some hard-won advice on how to lead an entire studio’s artistic output
While there are very few places you can ‘learn’ art direction as a craft on its own, there are resources available to take learnings from, such as recorded GDC talks, roundtable discussions, and published interviews. These are useful for mapping out essential workflows and processes and to cross check how you accomplish objectives against them. Often the presentations and interviews are too perfect and don’t show the trials and tribulations of achieving the result. They won’t tell you how to evolve an art style from scratch, how to correct and nudge your journey through prototyping and pre-production or, more importantly, give guidance on leading a team to reach a shared goal. Learnings will come from being in the trenches with your team. Be prepared to learn as you go in the early years and improve from every game development cycle and mistake – of which there will be many. Get used to having team members expecting you to instantly know what to do every step of the way, and pearls of wisdom to fall from your mouth that will fix even the most horrendous artwork. There is an expectation that you understand multiple art disciplines and have the ability to feedback at a craft level, as well as being a line manager. Both of which require repeated exposure on the job and to multiple game development cycles.
FIRST DIRECT-ING Art directors are either freshly hired or promoted from within a team to spearhead visual direction. If you’re lucky, you’ll work with an experienced mentor or a studio art director – someone that you respect and can guide you along the way, support your decisions and be a second set of eyes on your work. If you’re in this position, gleam as much information as you can and don’t be shy about it. If you are in a smaller studio, you’ll be learning through your own experience and using your best judgement to guide a project forward (see above for learning). Get connected with other art directors, be it online or in person at conferences and events, as one-to-one conversation is the fastest and most effective way to learn. But you have to be proactive.
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TOP TIPS SITTING IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WHEN I join a team or studio as art director, I’ll put the following key points in place to make any team efficient and effective: ■ Work with your team and lead them. Don’t dictate. ■ Align the team with your vision – communicate, present and feedback. ■ Get into a rhythm of doing ‘light touch’ morning rounds with those you work with most after stand ups. ■ Train your team to be confident and independent visual decision makers. ■ Ensure the roles and responsibilities of your leads, seniors and generals are clear and understood. ■ Have vision, set high-level goals and guide the team to deliver against them. Don’t get sucked into answering the questions you have set the team yourself. ■ You don’t have to be a master of everything – you’ve hired specialist team mates, so lean on them and trust them to answer the questions with you.
Both time in the role and repeated hands-on game development will be your main training ground. At a soft skill level, be sure to get regular feedback from those you work with; if you can get 360-degree feedback on yourself, even better. Using those soft skills is at least 50 per cent of a director’s role.
VISION DIRECT If the ‘easier’ part of being an art director is setting a visual direction, then getting the best from your team can be the hardest part. When you want to get your team behind a project and make it a reality, you need to
“Learnings will come from being in the trenches with your team. Be prepared to learn as you go and improve from every game development cycle and mistake – of which there will be many.” engage with team members and empower them to ‘add’ to the vision – taking your personal vision, and making it a shared team vision, of which you, as art director, will shepherd. Over a career there are very few occasions where you can build your team from scratch. More often than not, you’ll inherit an established team, or join a freshly-formed team with varied levels of seniority and skills to deal with. Very rarely will you have your dream team from the get go, but as art director, it is in your control to level up those around you and create one. As a young art director, one of my big learning curves was adapting to putting my trust in the team and letting go of absolute control. It took time to adjust to that approach but it improved my upfront communication and my ability to set expectation for projects and deliverables.
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Shackled to the booth William Barr, BillyGoat Entertainment
MCV gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
Ask 90 per cent of indie video game developers to describe their greatest fear and they’ll tell you it’s either clowns, creepy Japanese dolls sending them messages on social media or dying alone. However, their second biggest fear will most likely be having to stand awkwardly demoing their game in a loud, imposing convention centre to their peers, press, publishers or, worst of all, the general public. Being trapped for up to 12 hours a day (often for as long as a week!) shackled to a booth you can’t leave (lest you be forced to hastily locate the nearest GameStop to replace a pair of wireless controllers) would be bad enough. But your sole purpose for being there is to willingly allow other human beings to judge your game and, by association, you. It’s horrific, and I haven’t even mentioned the air conditioning that your booth has invariably been positioned under, thus ensuring your sweat is perpetually ice cold. That is, of course, if you have any moisture remaining inside your body as your lips turn to sand paper and your throat dries to resemble the surface of the Sonoran Desert (somewhere you would rather be, in many ways). Then there are the diseases being carried from all four corners of the globe, incubated in the bodies of hapless hosts preparing to shake your hand, touch your stuff and simply respire in a vicinity closer to you than you’d feel comfortable allowing an intimate sexual partner. But I digress. Back to the judgement, because that’s why you’ve spent all this money getting here! Obviously, the build you’ve brought to the show is missing features that
another 15 minutes in the departures lounge would have allowed you to include. Try to look at this positively though, missing features helps craft conversation when you demo your game. It gives everyone that plays the opportunity to continually point out that this really cool feature would be really cool. Questions like: “Is this art final?”, “Where am I supposed to be going?” and “Can I talk to you about our new blockchain platform?” will slowly chip away at whatever confidence and feeling of self-worth you felt you had that morning prior to leaving your suspiciously affordable accommodation in the stabby end of town. Every so often, however, somebody sits down (while you stand, of course, despite your agonising feet) and they like what they see. Their face contorts into something resembling a grin. Their teeth, instruments you are familiar with simply for their ability to crush and tear biological matter for sustenance, become visible. Sometimes, they even produce laughter, and not because they’ve observed some amateurish flaw in your programming but because they are having ‘fun’. This is the worst situation of all, you’ve tricked them, you’ve conned this poor, innocent, impressionable individual into thinking that you are a competent human being with talent and purpose. Have a great show. William Barr (no, not that William Barr) is the director of BillyGoat Entertainment. Currently they’re making some game about a guy and a goat screaming on booth N3037 called Supermarket Shriek.
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Why 5G plus cloud gaming is the next big opportunity Javier Polo, PlayGiga
Much like music and movies in the past, gaming is now moving swiftly to the cloud as 5G promises to create new game experiences and enables the old dream of gaming anytime, anywhere, on any screen. But even more so than with 4G, when it comes to getting consumers to adopt new network technology, telcos need a credible and appealing use case to underpin their sales pitch. For 4G, that was streaming video and faster browsing. For 5G, gaming via the cloud is being talked up as one of the ‘killer apps’. Thanks to 5G, ISPs, developers, publishers and even e-stores will be able to offer to their customers a gaming subscription service with the same quality as a high-end console, but accessible from any TV or PC, and even mobile devices. That’s because as well as much higher bandwidth and download speeds, 5G will also have much lower latency than 4G – meaning that streaming games become a possibility. Cloud gaming providers, such as PlayGiga, have been collaborating with leading telcos and tech giants like Intel to research 5G performance for streaming virtual reality games. Such developments could assist games publishers, who face two key strategic issues: how to keep expanding their addressable market and how to keep customers engaged and loyal. According to data collected by Steam, 53 per cent of users don’t have PCs with the local processing power to run many of the latest games. Cloud gaming removes this barrier, thus vastly increasing the potential audience. In the existing industry model game distribution is a bottleneck that is largely controlled by the platform holders. The ability to stream games to any reasonably capable computer can get rid of the bottleneck and so address a much broader audience. EA was one of the first major publishers to talk about cloud
gaming and invest in their vision. They decided to acquire Los Angeles-based Gamefly in 2018 to give them a head start. Since then Google, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon have announced their own plans. All these moves have put pressure on the rest of the industry. Companies without the ability to buy an existing player or build out their own technology are badly in need of a way to get some kind of foothold as streaming services gain traction. If these publishers don’t keep up the risk is that more powerful tech giants will disintermediate them. Cloud gaming also represents the first big opportunity in some time for a brand new service that telcos can offer to their subscribers, adding gaming as part of a bundle deal – much the same as how you might be offered a TV package alongside your home broadband. Most of the existing solutions may find a niche audience, but they are unlikely to appeal to the mainstream simply because they are targeted at more hardcore gamers. They are not something that families will subscribe to, or which will appeal to the kind of person who only wants to play the occasional blockbuster. That’s why telcos have such a great opportunity to work with publishers to really get cloud gaming into the mainstream. The telcos have the infrastructure and the experience in selling subscription services at a huge scale, but they need great content. Meanwhile, publishers which have invested tens of millions in developing great games have now the opportunity for a whole new way to get their content out there to a huge new audience – and new revenues as a result. Javier Polo is CEO of PlayGiga, which has developed a proprietary technology so telcos, publishers, media companies and retailers can offer customers a cloud gaming solution.
“According to Steam, 53 per cent of users don’t have PCs with the local processing power to run many of the latest games.”
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Northern stars: UK games beyond London Kathryn Penny, Science Museum Group
Wander into a gift shop in pretty much any major city across the UK and among all of the trinkets designed to reflect the local area, you’ll typically find a few surprising outliers. A tea towel, a fridge magnet or a mug emblazoned not with images of the place you’re visiting, but rather proudly displaying the word ‘London’. You can be hundreds of miles away from the British capital, but somehow you’ll still manage to find merchandise wrapped up in the iconography of this oh-so-famous city. For tourists, it’s somewhat understandable that much of the rest of the country – from Land’s End to John O’Groats – can be seen as something of an extension of the capital. For us Brits, London’s role as the UK’s flagship city should not come as a surprise, either. London is a bona fide powerhouse, with an influence that spans multiple sectors and industries, including games. Its infrastructure means events, expos, much of the media and trade associations alike are inevitably rooted in or around the capital. It all means that, whether you like it or not, it’s hard for the rest of the UK to get the attention it deserves. That was certainly in our minds when we set out to create the very first Yorkshire Games Festival back in 2016. Yorkshire as a whole is certainly not short of noted games developers, both past and present, and at the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford we’ve long fostered a close relationship with the leading lights of this region’s games scene. Yorkshire’s games history and heritage means it’s no surprise a chunk of the museum is permanently devoted to retro games and consoles. With the festival, however, the focus is firmly on the future. The aim has always been to inspire the next generation – the students, the new professionals and the families.
Building on a previous (and fundamental) part of the festival that put the spotlight on local games in development, the newly branded Northern Games Showcase did the same job in 2019, but widened its focus to cast an eye on games developed across the entire north. Why the expansion? Because the developers who came to the previous editions told us it was a vital way not only to get consumer feedback on games still in development but also because of the chance to interact with gamers. For five days at least, the press and public alike come to Bradford and sample what the north of the UK has to offer. That has really made the difference, enabling developers to iterate and evolve their designs based on immediate (and typically passionate) interactions with gamers. One of the games showcased at a previous event – Sigtrap’s excellent roguelike Sublevel Zero – has gone on to hit PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with a Nintendo Switch version also now in development. As you might expect, we’re looking for future showcases to be even bigger, hence the expansion to cover the whole of the North of the UK. After all, there’s more to the UK than just London, more than tea towels with sketches of St Paul’s Cathedral on, or pencil sharpeners shaped like the London Eye. What could be more British than playing a game whilst drinking a nice cup of Yorkshire tea? Kathryn Penny is a member of the UK’s Science Museum Group’s senior management team and serves as the director of the Yorkshire Games Festival. If you’re a studio from the north of the UK and you’d like to get involved with the next Yorkshire Games Festival, contact jack.wentworth-weedon@ scienceandmediamuseum.org.uk.
“There’s more to the UK than just London, more than tea towels with sketches of St Paul’s Cathedral on, or pencil sharpeners shaped like the London Eye.”
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GETTING GAMES IN SHAPE FOR MOBILE Geraint North, senior director, client and machine learning tools at Arm discusses why now for the launch of the new Arm Mobile Studio and what a difference game optimisation makes to mobile Mobile developers understand very well that the success of their most compelling games and apps hinges on the size of audience that can play them and how long they can play for. With this performance issue in mind, Arm will launch the Arm Mobile Studio at the Game Developer Conference in San Francisco, its first suite of tools targeted at helping Android developers analyse the performance of games and apps effectively for prevalent mobile devices. The Arm Mobile Studio will enable developers to reach more of the mobile market, through free-to-use debug and profiling tools with 64-bit support as standard, initially for apps running on Arm Mali GPU – a leading graphics processing unit shipped with over 1 billion mobile devices in 2018. Future editions of the Studio will offer cross-target support, for efficient performance analysis across the entire Android market. Performance analysis has been too difficult in the past A key driver for the new tool suite is that up until now, game performance analysis on Android has frankly been too difficult, requiring specialist optimisation skills and a rooted phone or specific builds of a kernel of driver. The Arm Mobile Studio addresses that problem, bringing easy-to use and interpret reporting, and tools that work on devices straight from the shop, without modification. Built by Arm engineers, the Studio interrogates whole system and graphics performance to eliminate bottlenecks. It includes the Arm Graphics Analyzer a graphics API tracing tool (previously known as MGD), and Arm Streamline, a powerful tool for analysing CPU and GPU performance. Arm Graphics Analyzer supports both OpenGL ES and Vulkan and shows developers what happened at any point in the application, based on graphics API call traces. It will render your game scenes drawcall by drawcall to reveal how a frame is being composed and highlight your biggest problems when it comes to overdraw and shaders. In contrast, Arm Streamline presents whole-system hotspots to users in clear graphical form, based on data from hardware counters, CPU profiling and clear annotations. So why optimize? The drivers for optimisation are evident: firstly, tackling performance greatly improves processing efficiency, meaning users can play for longer without draining the battery – with more revenue earned from their time spent in the game. Secondly, by tuning for the broadest range of mobile devices, creators can open-up participation to the largest audience, bringing longer play for more of us and another win for the bottom line. Thirdly, efficiency improvements feed production
quality, letting you squeeze more advanced effects into your game while maintaining that all-important 30 or 60 frames per second. With a growing appetite for bringing successful games from console to mobile, there has never been a more apt time to equip game developers with clearer steps to optimisation, bringing high-end games and high performance to the broadest range of mobile devices. Easier tools for the entire production team In the longer-term, Arm’s goal is to equip the whole production team with tools for easy performance analysis – with the Arm Mobile Studio supporting everyone from the optimisation guru to those with no hardware experience. Work is already underway to pilot new tools for the Studio which enabling workflow integration and actionable advice on exactly how to resolve performance issues. Right now, we are confident that the first release of the Studio will make optimisation a lot easier for game developers and are looking forward to having their feedback and further input. Visit the Arm website to find out more about the Arm Mobile Studio and access the software as well as simple user guides getting started with tool components.
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The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV with their unique insight
It was a while back now but what was it like taking charge at a developer as storied as Rare? In some ways it seems a while back because we have achieved so much in the last eight years but it’s flown by so fast it feels like yesterday. Getting the phone call saying: ‘We would like you to lead Rare’ was a big career moment but one I looked at as a challenge that would need me to grow and learn. I knew Rare’s legacy and knew some of their current plans, but the future was there to be defined. I’d managed studios and large teams before, but this was Rare – a Rare as part of Xbox, with all the opportunity that could bring. I’ve noticed there are no dogs in Sea of Thieves, are you sure you’re really in charge at Rare? [Laughs] I do need to be careful with my creative input or we would have all sorts in Sea of Thieves. We have an awesome culture at Rare where we do invite creative input from across the team including me. I always need to caveat my input with: ‘This is not me giving direction but I think players will want x’ or ‘are we missing an opportunity to not do y’. It’s always a good discussion but I look to Mike [Chapman, design director] and Joe [Neate, executive producer] and the team to rationalise the right things in the right sequence and say no to me. With the greatest respect to your current role, what is or was your dream job? I was never good enough to play football for Liverpool or talented enough be the lead singer in a rock band, I’m OK at drawing, I’m an average engineer and I’m pretty creative but other people are better. I fell into gaming after doing a few different jobs in other industries prior to that. I feel lucky and privileged to do the job I do leading Rare. I probably have my dream job, unless I can be Iron Man! You were studio head at Midway UK when the US parent went under, what did you learn from that experience? I learnt a huge amount which was hard to rationalise at the time but is clear now I can reflect on it. To my detriment at the time I learnt how far I could push myself physically and mentally, I think I was averaging four hours sleep a night – don’t do that people! I learnt about communication and the right way to communicate when things are tough, and teams are worried. I learnt that sometimes despite doing everything you can you can still fail – that was a new, tough lesson for me to take as I was used to applying myself and succeeding. I learnt relationships and how you treat people matter, it opened doors for us trying to find solutions and more importantly I still work with a number of those people today across the industry and we will always have that shared experience of how we supported each other at the time.
Craig Duncan Studio head, Rare “Our game has helped players battle social anxiety, helped them through depression. On the flip side we have also had our first marriage proposal for a couple that met on Sea of Thieves.”
What’s was the greatest single moment of your career to date? When I joined Rare we had just shipped Kinect Sports. That franchise was hugely successful for the studio but, as that waned, Rare’s identity needed to be redefined so we went on a journey to do that. 2015 was probably the most pivotal year for Rare. I was so proud to stand on stage at E3 that year representing the team, to announce Rare Replay as a celebration of our 30-year heritage and announce our new IP in Sea of Thieves. It was our public coming out of our strategy and hard work. Do you feel the games industry is headed in the right direction? Our industry is moving fast and has many challenges, but I believe gaming can be a force for good. We have so many stories from our amazing Sea of Thieves community, players have reconnected with friends and family and shared experiences. Our game has helped players battle social anxiety, helped them through depression or helped them find fun when they have been going through personal tough times. On the flip side we have also had our first marriage proposal for a couple that met on Sea of Thieves. I’m proud our team have created something that can have a positive impact on people’s lives.
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