MCV/DEVELOP ISSUE 959
THE ART AND BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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A REVOLUTION 30 YEARS IN THE MAKING How Apple helped keep the adventure genre alive
AUDIO FOCUS The sounds of the pandemic and the future of audio
Tackling toxicity with
Third-party publishing with
POSITIVE ORIGINAL PLAY THINKING ■ TOTAL WAR AT 20 – A STRATEGIC GOLIATH 03 MCV959 COVER V6 FINAL.indd 1
■ THE TONIC OF LIFE: MEET THE NEW TONIC GAMES GROUP
■ WHEN WE MADE... HYPNOSPACE OUTLAW 01/07/2020 16:33
05 The Editor
Fair play for all, under canvas
06 Critical Path
The key dates this month
The latest (virtual) industry events
14 Industry Voices
Comment from around the industry
18 Positive play
How EA is tackling toxicity
22 EA's Originals recipe What EA can offer indies
26 Ins and Outs
This month's hires and moves
22 27 Rising Star
MAG Interactive's Lucy Hill
28 Levelling Up
Substance Global's Elisha Brown
29 Iterate for Better Making the change we need
32 A 30 year Revolution
The story behind Beyond a Steel Sky
38 The Tonic of life
Launching the Tonic Games Group
42 Total War at 20
Looking back at the strategy goliath
Looking to the future of audio
50 Audio in a crisis
The Sounds of a Pandemic
54 When We Made... Hypnospace Outlaw
58 The Final Boss
Bossa Studios' Roberta Lucca
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“Most of us, through the games we choose to play, engage in the fairest competition we’ll ever experience in our lives.”
TheEditor Fair play for all, under canvas I’ve recently discovered, to my great surprise, that I will be going on holiday this year. The French campsite that we booked late last year has reopened – swimming pool, kids clubs, pizzeria and all. Will it feel like a regular holiday? I don’t know, but there’s a certain kind of democracy about camping, a ‘we’re all in it together spirit’ that should help smooth out any potential concerns. A minor aside to that, is the annual debate of whether video games are part of holidays. I have been known to cart a PS4 somewhere for a week away in the past, much like other people take books. And the Switch has now extended such possibilities to camping trips too. My ace card in this year’s debate is Nintendo’s superb 51 Worldwide Games. It’s every holiday classic from your childhood all packed up in one tiny cartridge (and one fairly small console). Yahtzee, Othello, Backgammon, tons of card games, and my new favourite, Carrom – an indian game that’s a blend of pool and marbles. Not only is 51 Worldwide Games great for families, and space efficient (our car is not really designed for two-week camping trips, so every inch matters) but it’s also educational, showcasing games, such as Carrom, from around the world. It’s a brilliant testament to the idea that games can be enjoyed across cultural and language barriers, and have been that way for hundreds of years before we ever got internet connections fast enough to let us play Warzone with a distant friend. Carrom, for instance, was briefly popular in the UK once, but while curry stuck with us, it faded away. EA this month stepped up and made a clear case for the global good that games can provide. Its new Positive Play Charter (see page 18) may be designed to combat the more toxic elements of gaming, but what shines through is a belief in the power of play, not just a system of rules to keep everything fair and everyone safe. That idea of fairness is inherent in the games we play. Most of us, through the games we choose to play, engage in the fairest competition we’ll ever experience in our lives. Certainly fairer than what is on offer to many through the systemic discrimination of women and minorities in our sociey at large. Maybe that’s why our industry has stepped up en masse to support causes such as Black Lives Matter, or Women in Games. Our industry is built upon fair competition, a mantra that stretches right back to Chess, Backgammon and others that are remembered and celebrated on Nintendo’s carefully curated cartridge. And if that argument doesn’t persuade my partner that the Switch is coming camping with us this year, then nothing will. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise Developer TOYBOX Inc and publisher Rising Star Games are bringing the sequel to the 2010 cult classic Deadly Premonition to Switch at last. The game acts as a prequel, set in the year 2005, and returning protagonist FBI agent York and his mysterious friend Zack encounter a serial murder case.
Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town
Catherine: Full Body
This game is a full remake of the classic Game Boy Advance title Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, originally released in 2003. The player returns to Mineral Town to take over their late grandfatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s farm, and return it to its former glory. The game features updated graphics, alongside improved and refined gameplay features from the original title.
Originally released in 2011 for the Xbox 360 and PS3, Atlus are bringing Catherineâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s re-release, Catherine: Full Body to Switch on July 7th. The story focuses on Vincent Brook, dealing with the guilt of cheating on his girlfriend Katherine, with another woman called, inventively, Catherine.
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Unreal Fest Online Unreal Fest Online is a free one-day virtual event that brings together Unreal Fest and Unreal Academy. The event covers five content tracks with over 50 sessions (including live Q&A), alongside an attendee lounge for networking. Following the event, sessions will be posted to the Unreal Engine YouTube channel.
Paper Mario: The Origami King The adventures of Paper Mario (the best iteration of Mario, fight me about it) continue with The Origami King, coming to Switch on the 17th. Mario and his new companion Olivia face off against the Origami King, who has transformed Princess Peach into Origami – an act that Nintendo’s official listing for the game describes as “tear-able,” a pun so simultaneously fantastic and awful that I need a lie down.
Ghost of Tsushima This upcoming action-adventure title from Sucker Punch Productions and Sony Interactive Entertainment is shaping up to be one of the last big releases for the PlayStation 4. Originally revealed in a trailer back at the Paris Games Week in 2017, the game is set in the late 13th century, on Tsushima Island, and revolves around one of the island’s last samurai during the first Mongol invasion of Japan.
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Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8785 Staff Writer: Chris Wallace firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)203 143 8786 Designer: Tom Carpenter email@example.com Designer: Julie Miller firstname.lastname@example.org Production Manager: Claire Noe email@example.com
ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Development Manager: Alex Boucher firstname.lastname@example.org +44 (0)7778538431
MANAGEMENT Media Director: Colin Wilkinson email@example.com +44 (0)203 143 8777
SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org ARCHIVES Digital editions of the magazine are available to view on ISSUU.com. Recent back issues of the printed edition may be available please call +44 (0)203 143 8777 for more information. INTERNATIONAL MCV and its content are available for licensing and syndication re-use. Contact Colin Wilkinson for opportunities and permissions: email@example.com
Playing games with colleagues can be fraught. But I’d like to note that if our Warzone team knuckled down and did exactly what I tell them (actually scream at them hysterically in the middle of a complex gunfight that I needlessly started) then we’d be far more successful. No, lockdown isn’t getting to me at all, not a tiny little bit.
Much like everyone else, I’ve been playing a lot of The Last of Us Part II. And while I adore it so far, a month on Twitter has made me never want to hear another opinion about it for as long as I live – even my own. Meanwhile, the MCV adventures in Warzone continue. We’ve yet to ever win a game,which is entirely Seth’s fault, I promise you. Chris Wallace, Staff Writer
Upon being asked what he was playing this month, Alex just replied “Hasn’t really changed much from last month!!” It’s this lack of team spirit that keeps leading us to defeat in Warzone, and not at all Chris’s (who definitely didn’t write this) failure to maintain concentration through a match. Alex Boucher, Senior Business Development Manager
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to offer. Send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Biz Media Ltd, 44 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7LN All contents © 2020 Biz Media Ltd. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Biz Media Ltd. cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Biz Media Ltd. and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/ all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Biz Media Ltd. nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.
Pet: Barnaby Owner: Ryan Brown Owner’s job: Head of Saying Stuff, Super Rare Games
Pet: Florence. Owner: Chris Wilson Owner’s job: Design Director at Cardboard Sword
Pet: Mochi Owner: Hannah Rose, Owner’s job: Freelance Unity Programmer
This is Barnaby. He likes to sit in the garden protecting his buried treasure (read: big bone) from pigeons and being carried home when he gets lazy during a walk.
Hobbies include stealing office chairs, knocking over anything containing liquid, and loudly requesting breakfast at 6am every morning.
This is Mochi, who is just half a year old. She likes being chased around the house, and will steal anything that gets people to run after her.
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Real Life Events from the industry
GAMELAB LIVE Gamelab Barcelona 2020 Live marked the 16th edition of the video games and interactive entertainment conference. This yearâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s online-only incarnation drew over 15,000 viewers, who tuned in for over 42 talks, which were streamed live via the Gamelab website for the event. Some of the most authoritative voices in the industry were featured in the three-day event, such as Phil Spencer (bottom right), Mark Cerny, Ken Levine, Kiki Wolfkill and Amy Henning (above right), Shawn Layden, Mike Pondsmith (right) and many more.
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PLAYSTATION 5 REVEAL
Pictured: Sony’s Jim Ryan (left) fronted the event, with notables such as Shuhei Yoshida (right) and an army of PlayStation developers (above) making an appearance
Sony’s E3-replacement press conference was a huge success, featuring a first look at the PlayStation 5 design, alongside numerous titles coming to the console in 2020 and 2021. The event was an E3 press conference in all but name – featuring talking heads from game developers right up to PlayStation executives, all recorded in eerie isolation in respect to the pandemic. While the surprise reveal of the design of the new console has dominated the conversation, the livestream also showcased a long list of promising-looking titles, most of which are either console exclusives, or full exclusives for the PS5. The list includes a re-rerelease of the seemingly immortal Grand Theft Auto V, Playstation Studios exclusives such as Marvel’s Spider-Man Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West, third-party titles such as Resident Evil Village and NBA2K21 and a host of brand new IPs.
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BAFTA YOUNG GAME DESIGNERS This month, BAFTA announced the winners of the tenth annual BAFTA Young Game Designers (YGD) competition. The four winners, picked by a jury of industry experts, were revealed at the first-ever digital ceremony, hosted by Aoife Wilson (pictured left). The 53 finalists were spread across four categories: two for YGD Game Concept, celebrating the best original game idea from the 10-14 and 15-18 age groups, and two for YGD Game Making, rewarding the coding skills used to create a prototype game in the same age groups. The entries were judged on gameplay design, creativity and suitability for the chosen games platform. The list of winners were as follows: • Cameron Crosland, Strung Up – Game Concept Award (10-14 year olds) • Evie Sanger-Davies, Fruit Frenzy – Game Concept Award (15-18 year olds) • Alex Robinson, Complicated Co-operation – Game Making Award (10-14 year olds) • Michael Ballantyne, Contramotion – Game Making Award (15-18 year olds)
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Brought to you by
Swift Spotlight: Future-proofing the industry with graduate recruitment This year’s game development graduates face never before seen uncertainty, but there’s actually never been a better time to make use of this fresh-faced talent pool IT is an uncertain time for everyone, none more so than the next generation of game developers. These graduates find themselves leaving university and looking to start their careers during a truly unprecedented time. Graduating into uncertainty wasn’t something any of them had planned for, but innovative studios are driving the talent pool from the grassroots, and it’s the power of graduates that are giving them strength. Why is graduate hiring important to studios? Because it allows them “to support the next generation of talent!” says Katherine Birney, recruitment coordinator for Liverpool-based studio, Firesprite. “Nurturing younger talent and providing a gateway into a competitive industry that is difficult to break into,” is central to the ethos that Firesprite holds dear. “We’re always on the lookout for new talent, to bring new ideas and innovative ways of working to the studio.” With programming now being taught to children as young as six, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of those coming into the industry over the next few years. “Our Grads in Games initiative has historically worked exclusively with universities, but we’ve expanded that this year to include FE colleges. 16 to 18-year-olds can now get practical CV and portfolio advice at an earlier age, from ourselves and our studio partners,” adds Ian Goodall, managing director of Aardvark Swift and founder of Grads in Games. “A lot has changed since we first started out with our grassroots work 15 years ago. There was a time where the industry wasn’t as receptive to students.” More and more often now, recent graduates are put straight onto live projects under the guidance of more
Above: Developer Firesprite in Liverpool has been making the most of local graduate talent
experienced developers. Gone are the incubation periods, graduate programmers are now learning by doing. Birney concurs: “Our graduates join us and work on a graduate team, designed for new talent that will work across the multiple disciplines of Design, Art, Engineering, QA, and Production. This team has a high output and releases multiple titles per year. The graduates also gain experience of releasing final quality projects across different platforms. They will remain within this team for around 6-12 months before ‘graduating’ on to some of our bigger titles.” With the industry warming to the promise of graduate talent, Firesprite actually started looking into student developers back in 2016. “Historically, Firesprite was not able to accommodate graduates within our development teams due to the nature of our projects and size of the studio at the time. We had an opportunity to develop our own IP and that enabled us to begin working with juniors and graduates, which we hadn’t previously done. This was a real success, we found that graduates brought new ideas to the table.”
Andy Driver, operations manager at Grads in Games
“Gone are the incubation periods, graduate programmers are now learning by doing.” There is a talent shortage for skilled developers within the industry. Studios growing their own talent is becoming more and more common, with Firesprite a perfect case study of this. “We have seen graduates join us on the team with one discipline focus, only to see them specialise in another area and successfully shape the start of their career. An example of this recently was a graduate QA who was given the opportunity to develop and learn skills in UI/UX, this graduate has now joined a full development team as our UI Artist. Some of the graduates that started with us three years ago are now working in positions of influence on some of the biggest games in the world!” “Getting a graduate job in the games industry is hugely competitive and challenging in regular times,” suggests Andy Driver, operations manager at Grads in Games. “The video game industry is thriving at the moment, observing impressive jumps in revenue compared to other industries. With the demand for video game software and hardware never higher, and with the next generation on the horizon, studios will still need talented, ambitious, and young developers to join them!”
Ian Goodall, managing director of Aardvark Swift
Katherine Birney, recruitment coordinator for Firesprite
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How the mobile games market is faring amid the global pandemic Craig Chapple, Sensor Tower
MCV/DEVELOP 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!
THE global COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have had a serious impact on all facets of our lives. When it comes to business, governments the world over have had to pump trillions of dollars into their economies in order to keep these companies and jobs afloat. Even as restrictions across the world are being lifted—in some areas being reinstated— it’s clear we live in a new normal. More than ever before, consumers are turning to their computers and smartphones for entertainment and necessities such as shopping, with new habits developed during lockdown. Mobile gaming, like any other business, has been affected by the pandemic. But unlike many other sectors, mobile gaming has largely found itself well positioned for a world in lockdown and stuck at home. Q1 2020 was by far the best quarter ever for mobile game downloads, hitting more than 13 billion installs across the App Store and Google Play, a 2 billion increase from Q3 2019. Q2 2020 is currently set to exceed even that, coming close to 15 billion downloads at the time of writing. It isn’t just game downloads either, consumer spending in mobile games is also increasing significantly, hitting close to $19 billion in Q2 2020. That’s up nearly 9 percent from $17.3 billion in Q1 2020. While quarterly game revenue increases are generally expected, the rate of growth from player spending has been strong. As to what games are driving these increases in revenue and downloads, a lot of those are the existing top performing games and genres, which have become even more popular during the pandemic. The likes of PUBG Mobile, Honor of Kings, Monster Strike, Coin Master and Candy Crush Saga are still the top grossers. But games that offer a platform to connect with others have also experienced a boon
during this pandemic. Roblox, a game that focuses on user-generated content, has seen a surge in user spending on mobile since February 2020. Gross revenue grew 28 per cent in March month-over-month to $69.8 million, while in April spending increased by 34 percent to $93.2 million, before increasing again in May 2020 to a record $103 million. In April, meanwhile, Fortnite Mobile had its best month since February 2019, which is due to a combination of factors. These factors include the global pandemic lockdowns, the game’s launch on Google Play, and its recent in-game Astronomical concert featuring the musician Travis Scott. All this helped spur on spending to $43.3 million for the month, up 87 per cent from March and 21.2 per cent year-over-year. While spending jumped substantially in April, it has continued to rise since, generating close to $50 million in May and more than $54 million between June 1st and 28th. Social distancing measures for the foreseeable future across the globe are likely to create more desire for a metaverse like the one Epic Games seeks to create in Fortnite. Currently, Sensor Tower forecasts anticipate that mobile game revenue will grow to $98 billion by 2024, up 55.6 per cent from 2019, $4 billion higher than our pre-COVID-19 prediction. Downloads meanwhile are expected to increase to 75.1 billion in 2024, up nearly 5 billion from our previous estimate of 70.3 billion. It’s clear the impact of the pandemic will be long-lasting, though things could easily change, depending on how countries are able to recover economically, and the threat of a second wave. Craig Chapple is mobile insights strategist, EMEA at mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower and was previously senior editor at PocketGamer.biz.
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Games and music make a great duet Ed Brew, CEO, LabelRadar
THERE’S a bond formed when you find a track you love on a video game soundtrack. It feels like you have discovered the track, making you an instant champion for it. Part of that can be attributed to the mindset of a consumer when playing a game compared to other music discovery moments. When you listen to a song via a YouTube music promotion channel, it will inevitably face more scrutiny from you – meaning that the track has to work ‘harder’ to impress them. Contrast that with your mindset when playing a game where the music enhances an emotion present in the gameplay. A good soundtrack creates a valuable experience, giving you a stronger bond with both song and game. Science confirms just how important finding the right soundtrack for a game can be, with studies linking it to the creation of much deeper emotional bonds. Some of my favourite artists, songs and bands were ones I discovered through games - and I could tell you exactly which game I discovered them through too. Studios and game developers of course recognise and appreciate the importance of encompassing top quality music within their games. But there is something of a misunderstanding that licensing music comes with incredibly hefty price tags. We are in a golden age for music creation. There are now more artists than ever before and, most importantly, an abundance of top quality music being created. The misunderstanding is that to have top quality music, developers need to be approaching the labels and publishers representing the top artists. Whilst that might get you some marquee names for your soundtrack, the budget will evaporate very quickly indeed. Instead, by looking to the horde of talent rising through the ranks, it’s possible to find equally epic music – without the triple-A price tag. You’re also more likely to benefit from artist ambassadors for the release who will be thrilled to have their music placed in a game and will help hype the release – something often unavailable when working with big name artists.
It’s important to acknowledge that this tier below the big names carries a clout all of their own, with many sporting large followings on social media. One of the reasons I started LabelRadar was to help connect those dots and provide a destination for developers to discover new artist talent easily. It’s not all about licensed soundtracks. There’s a certain immeasurable magic to a soundtrack uniquely composed to fit the setting of a game. From title menu themes to atmosphereenhancing soundscapes, the music plays a vital role in providing a memorable and immersive experience. Nothing hits me quite as hard as hearing old 8-bit themes from the Game Boy days – and there are few stronger tools when it comes to activating consumers than nostalgia. Yet often these incredible soundtracks are underutilised. There are so many evangelised franchises in gaming and many legacy titles whose music could be an immense weapon in their marketing strategy for their latest release. But they rarely include music activations in their release plans, meaning they miss out on a large chunk of that nostalgia power. This is something we are looking to change, and we have several upcoming projects of this nature on the platform. Here at LabelRadar, we’re seeing the 50,000+ artists on our roster view games as an important distribution route for their music. For a lot of them, the ability to have their music immortalised within a game is one of their most prized goals for their career. Our focus is to create win:win opportunities by connecting our community of talent with studios and developers who can benefit immensely from a bespoke soundtrack. As far as the music business is concerned, video games are vital to its own success, introducing consumers to new styles of music – whether that’s electronic dance, hard rock or even orchestral – we’re a great duet. Ed Brew is CEO of LabelRadar, an innovative and groundbreaking music platform which allows games studios to access its immensely talented artist portfolio and source soundtracks using its cutting-edge tools – all free of charge.
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Can EA tackle toxicity in games? EA has been planning its assault on abusive behaviour for a year, but it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate moment. Seth Barton talks to Chris Bruzzo about the company’s plans to clean up gaming.
oxic behaviour has become the industry’s catch-all term for undesirable interactions online, covering a huge range of offensive behaviour from simple cheating, to aggressive and abusive behaviour, to sexual harassment and racism. And it’s fallen to games platforms and publishers to fight what is often portrayed as a huge and ever-growing tide of abuses. EA this month launched a comprehensive ‘Positive Play Charter’ in order to make clear what it expects from its community when they play its games or use other communication channels. And MCV/DEVELOP spoke to Chris Bruzzo, EA’s chief marketing officer, about what it hopes to achieve with the charter. PLAY BY THE RULES “At EA, we believe in the positive power of play. With 2.6 billion gamers across the globe, we know that gaming transcends race, gender and culture – and we’ve seen it bring people together in incredible ways,” he begins. “But we’ve also seen toxicity and harmful behavior become more prevalent in online environments, including the gaming community. And it’s our responsibility to take action to protect our players and promote positive behaviors that make our community a safe, fun and fair place to play. More specifically that means: “EA will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia, harassment or any form of abuse. If we see someone being offensive or abusive, we’re going to hold them responsible for their actions.” Of course games are not alone in this fight. Every social network is attempting to tackle similar issues. But given that gaming platforms don’t need to provide space for free speech and political discourse things should be more manageable. And the new charter is to be celebrated for both its clarity and the effort EA has put into its promotion. The rules are now clearly available for everyone to see, and if players don’t like them, they know where the door is.
The new charter is based around four core pillars, which are listed below. Most of these are easy to agree with, though the last point brings up some intriguing questions. As while we may not agree, there’s a wide variety in acceptable behaviours and local laws around the globe. As an extreme example, talking positively about homosexuality is still illegal in some countires, but we doubt EA would want to prevent such gamers from being loud and proud on its platform. For today, though Bruzzo is more keen to talk about stopping abusive behaviour. “Racism, sexism, homophobia and abuse have no place in our community, and will not be tolerated,” he clearly states. “Toxicity ruins play for everyone and we believe in the power of positive play. It’s our responsibility to create safe, fun and inclusive environments for our players that are free of threats and harassment.”
THE FOUR PILLARS OF POSITIVE PLAY • Treat others as they would like to be treated Don’t engage or promote harmful behavior including attacks on race, sexual orientation, religion, heritage, country of origin, etc. or unwelcome sexual advances and messages. • Keep Things Fair No cheating or giving yourself an unfair advantage. • Share Clean Content Create and share stuff that’s appropriate. • Follow Local Laws Keep it legal in our games and services, just as you would wherever you are IRL.
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“The Positive Play Charter provides players with a clear set of guidelines and consequences for those who engage in abusive behavior in our games and channels. This was about ‘real talk’ and laying this out in a way that players can relate to.” And returning to that question regarding varied outlooks from all around the world, Bruzzo says: “I think we are always on solid ground when we put players at the center and leverage data. We know that players the world over are experiencing disruptive and toxic communities in our games. We also know that this is one of the top reasons for people to discontinue playing. So, we start with the players and a universal truth about play: we are here to have fun together, and toxic behavior is not welcomed here because it reduces the quality of fun for everyone. “Bottom line, if we see someone being offensive or abusive, we’re going to hold them responsible for their actions. We should maintain the same standards in our digital world as we do in real life. The science shows that the brain registers ‘pain’ the same way if someone says it to your face or through a headset. We believe every step towards a healthier community is a positive one for our players.” But should allowances need to be made for the competitive side of the pastime. After all, the language often used on say football fields and basketball courts is often more combative than that you’d expect on the street or in a coffee bar. “We appreciate friendly competition among friends, but we want to make sure that we’re cultivating safe environments and positive experiences for all players – across our games and channels.” THE FUN POLICE? Having rules is one thing, enforcing them is something else entirely. With millions of gamers playing millions of hours online, not only is it an immense task, it’s also a psychologically difficult one. “To enforce our charter, we are applying additional resources to our moderation and abuse reporting programs – and rolling out a disciplinary matrix to ensure that these guidelines are applied consistently across all our games and services.” And infractions can be met with censures from temporary bans right up to full account deletion . So is EA worried that players will start to see the organisation as a police force rather than as a publisher? “Our guidelines and reporting programs are not designed to punish players, but to ensure that our communities remain a fun, fair and safe place for all,” Bruzzo replies. Returning to the question of resources, Bruzzo backs up the charter’s words with some real-world heft: “We are applying additional resources and tools to our moderation and abuse
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reporting programs. We have a disciplinary policy in place, that is being applied consistently across all our games and services. In recent weeks, we’ve also removed more than 3,500 playergenerated assets from our games and taken action with players that have posted inappropriate or harmful content.” And the team undertaking such an unpleasant task looks to be properly supported. “Our community team is at the front lines of this and supporting them is a critical part of this work. Over the past year we’ve created new training programs as well as providing resources to our front line employees during high impact situations to ensure they have resources on call. Our community managers go through conversation training camp and resiliency training annually as well as training and information on mental health resources that employees are able to utilize.” And given the gargantuan nature of the task, we wonder if EA will be looking to utilise AI in order to better manage its communities. “Tools and technology are a key part of our plans but they take time and there is always going to be a human judgement element to this work. We’re evaluating tools that incorporate machine learning and continue to see where the technology can add value.”
“The last few weeks have been a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done.” And technology will likely be needed as the number of hours of connected play continues to soar ever upwards. Even then applying such rules is tough, as Activision has discovered recently in the free-to-play battle royale title Call of Duty: Warzone, where it chose to introduce two-step verification to help prevent banned PC players from simply signing up for new accounts – by requiring a new mobile phone number for every new account. TOPICALLY TOXIC The charter’s big launch is certainly timely, with first racism, and now sexual harassment, being high on the game industry’s agenda of late. “Now more than ever we have to take a stand against toxic behavior,” agrees Bruzzo. “The last few weeks have been a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done, and our responsibility to stay vigilant in our efforts. EA can build better healthier communities inside – and outside – our games, and that’s what we are here to do.” It’s no knee-jerk reaction though, as the process of building the charter kicked off at last year’s EA Play. “We hosted a Building Healthy Communities Summit, which gathered 200
players from over 20 countries to discuss how we can work together to build healthy communities in our games. At that Summit we made a commitment to promote positive behavior in our games, and to take clear action against toxicity in our community. “Since then, we’ve taken several actions to support our players – including new ways for players to report abuse, improved escalation policies to deal with harmful behavior,” Bruzzo notes, adding: “We know there’s much more we need to do for our players. “Last week, we introduced anti-racism messaging in many of our games, reaching millions of players. We also announced we’re contributing $1 million to organizations dedicated to the fight for racial justice in the U.S. and against discrimination around the world as well as launching a new program to give everyone in the company an additional paid day each year to apply to volunteering in your community. With all of our employees around the world, that will represent more than 75,000 hours applied to the change we can make.” And Bruzzo is even clearer on both the topicality but also the long-term commitment that the charter represents. “Black Lives Matter. Racial justice matters. Equality, inclusion and diversity have been at the center of our beliefs at Electronic Arts since our founding. We want our games and our marketing to reflect our community. We know we can and must do better. We must also go beyond listening and talking and commit ourselves to education and driving meaningful change through actions. We need to do more, and must do more. This is a long-term commitment.” While many companies have such efforts, it’s great to see a top-tier publisher making such a clear effort to make a difference. The real question remains though, that even with all its resources, can EA actually turn things around, and how will it prove that it has done so? We’d like to see the big publishers and platforms work together on these issues. Agree upon umbrella standards and research methodology to prove that things are heading the right way. Gaming doesn’t create intolerance, it only reflects what is already out there, but it can be a tool to defeat intolerance by bringing people together.
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MCV-APR20-COCONUT LIZARD:MCV-APR20-COCONUT LIZARD 20/03/2020 09:22 Page 1
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EA’s Originals recipe EA is changing. It’s back on Steam and has just announced three new EA Originals to join its third-party publishing lineup. Seth Barton talks to Steve Pointon about what the biggest of publishers can offer even the smallest of developers.
W Above: Steve Pointon, SVP 3rd Party Content & Development at Electronic Arts
hen EA introduced Unravel to the world back at E3 2015 it was a big moment. Yes, the game looked great, the developer was adorably nervous, and he’d brought a little friend. But it was more than that, EA was a thirdparty publisher again, it was going to pick and champion other people’s games, it was going to do something more than ‘just’ huge licensed franchises. And then… not so much. EA Originals was officially named a year later, and the programme has since released a handful of (admittedly incredible) indie games in the intervening years, but for a company with its vast resources, it feels as though it maybe could have done more. And at EA Play 2020 it started to look like it is, with three new Originals announced, all backed up by the publisher’s return to Steam. So we thought it was a great time to talk to Steve Pointon, SVP 3rd Party Content & Development at Electronic Arts, or to put it more simply the man in charge of EA Originals, in order to see whether EA is the right home for your next title. Given EA’s vast resources, compared to indie budgets, how do you choose how many games to back/publish? The EA Partners division proactively looks for passionate, talented, and highly creative independent studios with amazingly original concepts that are fun to play and push the boundaries of games. At EA Play Live last week, we gave first looks at three new games that will be published under the EA Originals label – with more games to come soon. We’re not looking for a particular number, or a particular genre of game. We’re interested in the best and boldest studios, and partnering with the right people, to support them in bringing their games to the scale of audience they deserve. This could be larger independent studios who have a proven track-record, or
it might be the ‘undiscovered band’ who EA can help break-out to become the next Respawn. This truly is about supporting independent studios with the strength of EA and bringing more great games to players, wherever they choose to play. Speaking of budgets, how big a game would EA finance through this scheme? It varies widely but is less about budget than it is the experiences we want to deliver for players. Over the past few years the EA Partners division has partnered with a variety of studios at different phases of production, maturity, and size. From start-ups like Hazelight to more established teams such as Final Strike Games. With every partnership we start, we intend to continue and build upon, and we want each of these studios’ games to be big hits. Of course, EA Partners was with Respawn from the very beginning, and the strength and success of that partnership really brought that incredible studio into the EA family. Really our focus is the vision of the studio – and how we can support that studio to bring it to life. Despite the initiative, EA is still seen as ‘those big corporate guys’ by most indies, how do you then persuade them that it’s the right brand for their game? The EA Originals label has been the best, most visible way to dispel that myth, to support independent studios of all sizes, and bring highly creative games to market with a very strong track record of success. We are pleased to be partnering on second games with both Hazelight and Zoink, as we did with Coldwood and Respawn. We have announced that we will make two games with Final Strike Games and will be talking more about Velan later this year. We are committed to long term partnerships with these amazing studios, and are looking forward to watching
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Right: It Takes Two is a co-op action adventure platformer from Hazelight, the creator of prison-break smash hit A Way Out. It is described as a crazy rollercoaster ride that marries story, mechanics and emotions.
Left: Zoink Games’ Lost in Random is a gothic fairy tale, with sumptuous Burtonesque imagery. Set in a world where randomness is feared and the main character’s companion is a living dice. It hopes to teach players to embrace the randomness in their lives, rather than try and control everything.
Right: Final Strike’s Rocket Arena channels old-school Quake matches with Smash Bros knockouts. Rocket weapons and rocket jumps are the name of the game, with the dev team harking from Halo 5’s much admired multiplayer. Originally a free-to-play PC title, EA has picked it up and made it premium.
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Below: All of the EA Originals titles announced to date
more of them succeed. Seeing Josef Fares pick up the BAFTA for A Way Out and Coldwood take home the AIAS DICE Award for Unravel Two were incredibly proud moments for us.
independent studios. There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to bring great games to the world today, and we have more partners than ever before this year and more amazing games in development.
How do Originals fit in with EA/Origin Access, do they fulfil a need to provide more regular content for those subscribers? The breadth, depth and quality of our portfolio at EA is an important part of a compelling subscription, but it is also a key part of building great games for a wider audience of players. We want to deliver experiences for everyone – and by expanding our opportunities by partnering with independent studios for games we publish as EA Originals, like A Way Out and other games we publish under EA Partners, like Burnout Paradise Remastered. We want to give players choice – within a subscription or otherwise.
Origin is obviously a big focus for EA, but Originals are available across numerous platforms, including Steam, what prompted that change and how does it improve Originals appeal to developers? It’s a key pillar for EA going forward to meet our players where they are, and give them choice. We are delivering more games on more platforms than ever before – and Steam is one of those platforms, as is Switch with Burnout Paradise Remastered launching recently and more Switch games in development. This strategy is at its best when you can connect players together with cross-play support – and we announced that Rocket Arena will be one of the first available on July 14th on Origin, Steam, Xbox One and PS4. We want to deliver games to as many players as possible – and this is one of the ways in which we can do that.
There’s a lot of great games out there, but increasingly a lot of competition to sign them, is it getting easier or harder to sign the best content? There is always competition for the best content and we welcome it because that is positive proof of the strength of the independent studio sector. Our ability to reach players everywhere on any platform, breadth and maturity of services individually tailored to every partner, coupled with the support mentality we bring I believe makes EA the preferred partner for the best
What kind of services do Originals developers benefit from (QA, user testing, localisation etc)? Each partnership is tailored to the individual studio. The breadth and maturity of services in the EA organisation means we are the best placed in the industry to work with independent developers. The one common denominator is the commitment of a support mentality that we bring to each partnership. Every studio is different: it’s why they’re independent and it’s why we love them! They have got their own ways of doing things and it’s on us to adapt to that and figure out how we can help them. All of our extensive resources and experienced teams are available to our partners in any way that makes the most sense for them to build the right game. For Josef ’s start-up Hazelight, we provided office space inside of the DICE office in Stockholm, with full access to DICE’s facility and resources available to them. The point is that these relationships are mutually beneficial. In every case we learn as much from these studios as they do from us – it’s very much a two-way relationship. Where does the label go from here? The sky’s the limit! EA Partners is very much open for business. And the broadening of the EA Originals label to encompass a range of amazing games from more independent studios across the world feels like the beginning of something tremendously exciting. Kind of like the early days of EA Sports, but this time, with EA Originals, “it’s in the name”.
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MCV-JUL20-OPM:MCV-JUL20-OPM 24/06/2020 10:51 Page 1
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Ins and Outs: Industry hires and moves 1
RICHARD BARNES (1) has joined Unity Technologies as head of international communications, and will be heading up international comms based in London, with his main focus being the UK. Barnes has come from Rockstar Games, having spent 15+ years there. Speaking to MCV/ DEVELOP, Barnes said: “It’s exciting to be joining a company that has an incredible vision for the future and one that empowers developers from all walks of life. The commitment Unity shows to creativity is second to none.” Games industry legend TOM HALL (2) has officially joined Resolution Games as a senior creative director. Hall’s career spans more than 30 years and includes fundamental work on a number of iconic franchises including DOOM, Duke Nukem, and Rise of the Triad. As director and co-designer of Wolfenstein 3D, Hall has been credited with the co-creation of one of the most popular video game genres of all time, the firstperson shooter.
Green Man Gaming has expanded their marketing team with two new hires: HELEN CHURCHILL (3) joins as SVP of publishing. Having previously worked for over 16 years in senior global brand and marketing roles at Eidos and SEGA, Churchill has also spent time with The Guinness Book of Records, and Chelsea Football Club before happily returning to the games industry. And WAYNE GREENWELL (4) joins the team as a product marketing manager within their publishing team. Greenwell has nine years of experience within the games industry, having previously worked at Ubisoft and a brief period at Athlon Games. Green Man Gaming CEO Paul Sulyok celebrated the new hires, stating that: “Helping us celebrate GMG’s 10th birthday, and already planning to announce two new titles means this is a very exciting time for Helen and Wayne to join the team and we are thrilled to welcome them on board.”
Heaven Media has appointed GARY BURNS (5) as head of public relations. Burns has worked in PR for approaching 20 years. In 2008 he took his first job in the games industry, joining specialist games agency Barrington Harvey with later spells at Mischief PR and Bastion. After European PR and event management roles, in-house, for both Trion Worlds and Jagex he was appointed head of PR and content development at MCM Comic Con. Also at Heaven Media, Burns has promoted WILL BUTLER (6) to senior publicist. A former journalist with NME, Butler has spent two years with the company; working across a number of games and hardware clients. Finally at Heaven Media, former Little Big PR founder GARETH WILLIAMS (7) has left his position as global PR director at Heaven Media, though continues working in a strategic consultancy position, dedicated to special projects, alongside his old team.
MIKE GAMBLE (8) has moved to a new position within Epic Games. Formally responsible for Unreal Engine licensing Gamble has now assumed the title of director, business development, Epic Online Services. His mission will be to drive services adoption in games independent of the engine or platform. Gamble has been with Epic for nine years now, having joined in 2011 as head of games licensing EMEA. Sumo Digital has appointed STEWART NEAL (9) as the new studio head at Sumo Pune. Neal is joining Sumo Pune with more than 15 years of experience in the games industry, six years of which he spent at Sumo Sheffield. “I am delighted and truly humbled to be appointed the role of studio director for Sumo Pune,” said Neal about the new job. “Having worked with the studio directly throughout my time at Sumo, I have witnessed the team grow from strength to strength over the six years. It is a very exciting prospect to further grow the team.”
As part of the launch of the Tonic Games Group (see page 38 for more on that), Mediatonic’s HALEY UYRUS (10) has a new job tite, and is now head of brand communications at Tonic Games Group. Speaking to MCV/ DEVELOP, Uyrus stated: “Heading up the central marketing team of our newly announced Tonic Games Group is a hugely exciting new adventure. The best part of games marketing is being able to aid developers in making all their hard earned efforts known to the world and now I can empower even more teams - it’s going to be an exciting year!” Mobile game developer MAG Interactive has appointed a new studio manager to help grow the Brighton studio’s games and raise its profile – TONE BRENNAN (11). Brennan is joining MAG Interactive from mobile game developer Outplay Entertainment in Dundee where he was a senior and executive producer. Previously in his career, Brennan was an executive producer at All 4 Games for Channel 4
Got an appointment you’d like to share with the industry? Email Chris Wallace at email@example.com 26 | MCV/DEVELOP July 2020
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Every month, we pick the brain of an up-and-coming talent
Lucy Hill, business Intelligence analyst at MAG Interactive talks about her break into games, helping grow a game into a hit, and taking up Call of Duty
“I like the problemsolving aspect of my role; trying to figure out why we see certain patterns in the data.” rewarding process. I thank my lucky stars every day for getting to do what I do.
How did you break into games? A bit of sheer luck really! I was a support analyst in a software company prior to this role and it so happened that MAG Interactive was on the hunt for a junior analyst. As soon as this opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance. I feel very lucky that I am able to do something I enjoy in an industry that’s a lot of fun to work in. What has been your proudest achievement so far? My proudest achievement is growing from a person who didn’t believe she had the right to a voice into someone who now worries she voices her opinion a little too much! What has been your biggest challenge to date? When I joined the company, an unexpected turn meant I was shortly left without a senior on site to depend upon. In previous roles there was always that person next to me to lean on, like a comfort blanket! I never would
have believed that I was capable of handling things on my own when that was taken away. It allowed for the biggest self-growth spurt I have ever undergone and was truly a blessing in disguise. What do you enjoy most about your job? I like the problem-solving aspect of my role; trying to figure out why we see certain patterns in the data and how we can improve the games based on these observations. What I didn’t expect, but possibly the thing I enjoy the most, is how closely I get to work with the game teams. In my mind the people who work with data sit in a back room and look at numbers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I get to sit at the heart of the game and take part in the whole creative process. I feel like a true member of the team. Most recently I have been embedded into the team making our latest game, Wordzee. In the last six months I have seen Wordzee grow and flourish into a hugely loved game played all around the world. This has been an incredibly
What’s your biggest ambition in games? Recently I have started playing Call of Duty for the first time and let me tell you, I have been missing out on a whole world of fun! It is tiring though, to still hear comments like “be nice to her, she’s a girl” or “don’t worry, she’s only a girl”. This is an attitude cultivated by those who have historically had the say in what goes into a game, with under-representation leading to exclusion. It is something I truly believe will change for the better with wider representation behind the scenes. Diversifying games can take us one step closer to diversifying the world and this is my ambition! What advice would you give to an aspiring business intelligence analyst? It isn’t all about the hard skills. Don’t worry too much about having everything ticked off the list. Soft skills are important too. Without being able to communicate your findings there’s no point in doing it in the first place. Probably 90 per cent of what I do I have learned on the job and I continue to learn every day. Don’t stress about knowing everything from day one.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Chris Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org July 2020 MCV/DEVELOP | 27
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Elisha Brown, social media account manager at Substance Global, talks about her work, the opportunities for progression and the importance of curiosity
“Substance is a place to thrive and display your individuality”
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I work at Substance Global as a social media account manager and I’ve been working here for four years. Substance is a Digital Marketing agency which specialise in creative marketing & strategy in films, TV and video games. My role consists of everything from community management and organising social media campaigns to managing influencers and big client pitches. Within my team I’m the gaming lead, which has seen me work on The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, Hitman, LEGO titles and more recently Mortal Kombat 11 and Persona 5 Royal. I also work on a number of film clients – theatrical and home entertainment releases such as Sonic The Hedgehog and Mission: Impossible – Fallout. A typical day really does vary, as at an agency you’re juggling two to five (typically)
releases at a time, so your workload is constantly shifting. The first thing I do in the morning is attend a team meeting, it’s always important to check everyone’s workload and make sure everyone is set for the day. Next, I check social media (not at all surprising), this is to get a general awareness of what is going on with the client social channels and scan news websites to check the trending news. I will then work with the team to answer any questions or comments across the channels. It’s then straight into emails and liaising with clients (this is the most varied part of my day) to start my daily tasks. This can include: creating pitch presentations, reports, creating social calendars, posting across social channels, managing an influencer activation, attending film premieres or gaming preview events, setting up or reporting on paid ads and the list goes on.
What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? I would say good writing skills, organisational ability, report building skills but most of all a sense of curiosity, communication and creativity – it is hard, there are loads of skills needed! I went down the university route (3D Modelling and Animation at Derby Uni) but changed my career path after graduating, so I gained experience through unpaid internships and entry level roles. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? Substance is a place to thrive and really display your individuality, so I would say experience/ qualifications and passion! As experience/ qualifications comes first, a close second is a passion for the entertainment industry. Passion is what gets you excited about upcoming projects and creatively think of ways to market them. What opportunities are there for career progression? Working in social media opens up a variety of different career paths. You could progress into community management, SEO, PPC, copywriting, digital comms, email marketing, content management or moving up the ladder to head of social.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow the same path? Contact Chris Wallace at email@example.com
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Iterating for Better As the global pandemic continues, its long-term impact on our society remains uncertain. We take a look back at the last few months with Amiqus’ Liz Prince, to see how and where we can make change where it matters We need inclusive leadership in times of adversity and beyond As we start to move into the next phase of this global pandemic, the long-term impact on all of us – economically, on our society, our way of life, our way of working – is still unclear. But while we have no way of predicting what’s ahead, we do have the opportunity to look back, to learn from our experiences, examine how the past few months have impacted everyone – and to make change where it matters. With this in mind, the need for creative ideas, for innovation, fresh perspectives and for inclusive leadership has never been more important. Building a culture of inclusion where everyone feels that their voice is heard and valued will make a difference to the future growth of a company and the retention of their talent. And when making decisions, it’s more important than ever for leaders to include more diverse employees at all levels. Companies will need to be resilient to get through the immediate crisis and its long-term effects. And companies with the most inclusive cultures tend to be the most hardy. To create resilience, culture must be authentic – lived by the leaders and made real in the corporate responses to the crisis in areas from employee health and safety; to benefits; to customer engagement. All employees need to feel part of, and supported by, the culture. Even before the current crisis, leadership teams that did not reflect the demographic realities of today’s markets and talent pools may have been unwittingly out of sync and unable to cope quickly enough with today’s realities and crises. Now the stakes have become unimaginably high. Leaders are facing increasingly complex challenges that will require the best thinking to come up with solutions. And research shows time and again that teams that are diverse are better at solving complex problems. Companies that have built balanced teams across their business – not just a few women in functional roles such as HR or communications, or a
“It’s more important than ever for leaders to include more diverse employees at all levels.” few people of different cultural backgrounds representing global markets – are those that will be able to draw on the business benefits that balance brings to the table. As we live through this extraordinary moment in history, with unexpected levels of uncertainty and risks not seen for generations, it is those companies that are able to draw on a wealth of perspectives in their teams – across genders, generations, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds – that will ultimately be prepared for our new collective, global reality.
At Amiqus, we have many resources available to help, so please do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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HONOURING TALENTED WOMEN IN THE UK GAMES INDUSTRY WEDNESDAY 25 NOVEMBER 2020 | LONDON
VISIT THE WEBSITE FOR MORE DETAILS: WWW.WOMENINGAMESAWARDS.COM
The 6th annual MCV/DEVELOP Women in Games Awards is back! Join us as we celebrate amazing female talent in the UK games industry, it’s set to be a truly inspirational and rewarding afternoon. Get involved to join friends and colleagues in celebrating your successes and get the recognition you deserve.
NEW BIGGER VENUE: The Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, London For this year’s event we’ve reserved the recently restored Purcell Room, part of the Southbank Centre and right next door to the Royal Festival Hall. This new venue doubles our capacity from previous years, allowing us to invite yet more fantastic women from all over the industry. As an arts and cultural venue, we feel the Southbank Centre has the perfect liberal and progressive feel for this event, and with its location on the river there are loads of opportunities to continue celebrating beyond this inclusive afternoon event.
Exclusive Media Partner
After Party Sponsor
Attendance is on an invitation-only basis. To register your interest please contact: email@example.com
How Apple helped to Steel a Revolution
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he UK’s One of t dios is bringing ning stu after a huge n u r t s e IP n long lt classic elp of Watchme le, u c a k c h ba e pp . With th backing from A s p a g r a e , 25 y bons s acros ib e h G c e t v e r a t artist D fandom that s iPhone early s, and a book fan are devotees. ic m o c w 90s and free arles Cecil s r e t p o ad n’s Ch ut Revolutio eth Barton abo talks to S a Steel Sky. Beyond
he year is 1992. Monkey Island is the greatest adventure game on the planet. Watchmen has redefined the comic book forever. You’re running a small game developer above an arcade in Hull and you have a world-beating new adventure game to make. But there’s one puzzle to solve first, you need to feed the talent. Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons has braved a slow British Rail service up from London and he needs to eat before he can work. Thankfully the arcade downstairs does food, so by finding some cash, and then carefully navigating your way around the maze of machines and young mums with pushchairs, you can secure a gorgeously greasy bacon butty for him, and you’re all set for your next challenge – the colour palette limitations of the Amiga 500. Adventure games often turn the simplest of tasks into herculean efforts. And talking to Revolution’s Charles Cecil makes you realise that making such games, over a 30-year period. has often proved just as fiendish and obtuse as they can be. Now, 25 years after Beneath a Steel Sky, Revolution and Gibbons have once again collaborated, with the release of Beyond a Steel Sky. We look at the new title, the journey its predecessor took to cult classic status, and how (appropriately) after almost giving up on the genre in frustration, Revolution found a solution in an unexpected place. BENEATH A STEEL SKY While Revolution had earlier games, and is of course best known for its Broken Sword series, it is 1994’s Beneath a Steel Sky that starts a perfect story arc, not only of this tale, but of the huge changes in games publishing across the last two decades. The game was a commercial and critical hit in the heyday of adventure games, with Revolution’s title being every bit the equal of Lucasarts’ and Sierra’s efforts –
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LEFT: CHARLES CECIL (LEFT) AND DAVE GIBBONS WORKING ON BENEATH A STEEL SKY. BELOW: DAVE GIBBONS’ ORIGINAL ARTWORK FROM THE COMIC BOOK THAT ACCOMPANIED BENEATH A STEEL SKY
no mean feat. And since then Beneath has become a cult classic, enjoyed by waves of fans since, who stumbled upon it in varying ways, more on that later. Just one of the reasons for its cult status was the involvement of Dave Gibbons, who in the post-Watchmen early nineties, was among the most feted comic book creators in the world, having already built a fanbase as one the most prolific artists in the early days of 2000AD. Cecil and Gibbons had met when Cecil was at Activision and was trying to hunt down the game rights to Watchmen, Gibbon’s didn’t have them but the two got on and years later decided to collaborate. “Revolution, at that point, was absolutely penniless,” Cecil stresses. The office above the arcade was actually a huge upgrade on their previous place, which was freezing cold, with a gas heater that gave out fumes, so you had to balance freezing with choking. “That was the beginnings of Revolution.” And so in their snug new office, and with one of the greatest comic book artists of his generation contented by a bacon butty, the team went to work on Beneath a Steel Sky. “We gave him a copy of Deluxe Paint II. And that allowed him to create sprites himself. And we’d actually, incredibly, serendipitously, managed to recruit people locally who were extraordinary sprite artists. What we wanted to do was to create this interactive comic book feel. So Dave drew the backgrounds in pencil, and an artist called Les Pace would paint them, we would scan them in and then animate those pixels.” With the train journey up being a pain, the latest in communications technology was employed. “We were using faxes, of course in those days. We did have a modem, though, a 56k modem – our current one gig line is 20,000 times faster than that!” But despite such issues, the game was a huge success, both critically and
commercially. And while a sequel was considered, the Broken Sword franchise took precedence at Revolution, as changes in the publishing business threatened the adventure genre as a whole. PUBLISHING WOES While Cecil first cut his teeth on the ZX81, by the beginning of Revolution, the cost of developing a game
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had risen steeply, “from one or two hundred pounds to ten or twenty thousand pounds, which was way beyond our means. At the end of the 90s the publishers were saying ‘the PC is dead’. And that the adventure as a genre was even deader. There was a sense that there was nowhere to go. And in many ways, it was correct.” As the console boom rolled on, “the retailer had to choose their portfolio. And they were becoming more and more focused towards PlayStation. PC was languishing, boxes were all different sizes and a bit moth eaten. From that perspective, the PC was dead because retailers were taking fewer and fewer copies. And unlike today, we had no direct relationship with our community.” With Broken Sword 3 things came to a head. “Because we were being paid in dollars and the dollar plunged midway through development, we actually had to take a bank overdraft of several hundred thousand pounds to finish the game. The publisher THQ reported that they had received $10 million from sales. And if you do the maths, they made between $3 and $4 million profit. Because we never recouped, we made a £200,000 loss which we carried forward. It made no sense whatsoever.” Despite some early success on PlayStation, the adventure genre was seen as being increasingly niche. “We were seen as producing games that were off in this genre that was going to die and nobody was interested... Revolution in 2005 was effectively bankrupt.” But of course, in true adventure game style, a solution came along. ...FROM APPLE SEEDS GROW “The big change came when someone from Apple called,” says Cecil, brightening considerably. “He was called Paul Burford, he phoned us out of the blue and said, ‘you might have heard we’ve got this new mobile device called the iPhone’. And we said, ‘yes we have heard of it’. And he said, ‘we’re not enormously happy with the games, we think your adventures would work really well and we will support you if you decide to bring them across.’ “That was the turning point for Revolution because we were able to get Beneath a Steel Sky on to iPhone.” It was a big success and the studio followed up with further titles. “For Broken Sword 2 we actually did a launch party! I remember talking to the manager at the Apple store in Regent Street, he said ‘we’ve got Robin Williams next week, and the cast of The Vampire Diaries in three weeks. But if you can make it in two weeks, then I’ll give you the slot.’ So we had this incredible opportunity to invite our fans and community to this event. “Dave Gibbons had drawn the comic book, so he came along. Barrington Pheloung had created the music. So he came along. And we had this wonderful party. I had no idea if anybody was going to turn up, but queues and
queues and queues of people came, somebody flew in from Italy, it was extraordinary. And that was the first time that we actually got to meet our community and realise the degree of passion and enthusiasm – I was so uplifted and it was clear that everything had changed. “Clearly from a publisher perspective, under the old model, they would much prefer we didn’t communicate directly with our audience. There were these choke points across the distribution chain.” The opportunities just kept coming too. Apple featured the iOS version of the first Broken Sword as “IN THE ON E DAY parts of its ‘12 Days of Christmas’ THAT IT WE promotion, giving the game away NT FREE, THERE WE for free for 24 hours. RE TWO “In the one day that it went free, AND-A-HAL F MILLION there were two and-a-half million DOWNLOAD downloads. And we still have S” people that discovered Broken Sword and went on to buy Broken Sword 2 and are now following us, who got the game for free then. “They knew nothing about it and they loved it when they played it. The interesting thing is when we put the game at full price, our sales skyrocketed. My concern that by giving it away for free would satisfy a latent demand of people who would otherwise have bought it, went out of the window.” Revolution was learning ten years ago that giving away games for free can make a lot of business sense, although even that wasn’t actually the first time it had done it. KICKING OFF Revolution’s last title, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse, was funded via Kickstarter, thanks to a engaged fanbase that had enjoyed reasonably regular releases, waiting ‘only’ six years between the release of BS4 and the Kickstarter for BS5. For a new Steel Sky game, there was a chasm of 25 years back to a single original title, or was there? “With Beneath a Steel Sky, there are those who played it originally 25 years ago. And those people are incredibly passionate. It’s the game that they remember from that era, and it’s the Revolution game they’re most fond of. “But then there’s a second group, who discovered the game as freeware via ScummVM. Beneath a Steel Sky had been developed for DOS just before the time that games were moving onto Windows. And a couple of students contacted the company asking if they could have the source code to get the game running on the emulator.
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“WHAT THE Y EFFECTIVEL Y DID WAS ALLO WA GAME THA T WAS OTHERWIS E DEAD TO BE PLAYAB LE”
“It felt like we had nothing to lose, so we gave them the source code. And they were absolutely brilliant.” So brilliant in fact that one of them, Joost Peters, is now Revolution’s CTO. “He came for work experience and never left,” Cecil explains. “And the beauty of course, is that the ScummVM system has continued to evolve and anything that’s been written for the original system has continued to work. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. What they effectively did was allow a game that was otherwise dead to be playable across Windows and anything else that they chose to write ScummVM for, most notably Mac OS and Linux. “In hindsight, that was an act of genius. Now, I wish I could claim that we’d thought out the whole thing. But it was an act of genius because we wouldn’t have earned much by selling it, but by being free it became incredibly popular in an era where actually there were very few games that were free.” So with the original fans, the ScummVM crowd and those who had discovered the game via iOS, Beneath a Steel Sky had a sizable fandom spread across over two decades. And despite Broken Sword 5 having done well on Kickstarter, Revolution moved with the times again, cutting a deal with Apple to help fund Beyond a Steel Sky.
Below: Dave Gibbons’ pencil sketch of Union City for Beyond a Steel Sky
ARCADE RETRO Beyond a Steel Sky will is a mobile exclusive on Apple Arcade – while still being available on Steam. Which allows Revolution to cover all the key segments of fans it’s collated over the years, while still benefiting from Apple’s financial support up front.
Cecil feels that the company’s great relationship with Apple makes it the right choice. “That call from Apple really gave us the enthusiasm to start again... It’s great that we are able to continue this relationship with them, which has really built over more than 10 years. “Apple have been the biggest company in the world, it’s still the biggest brand in the world. And what I love is that they are genuinely excited by the success their partners have on their platform – and they very much see them as partners. And so it’s really great to be able to partner with them on Apple Arcade. “And the support they gave us meant the development didn’t require the same level of pre-funding as Broken Sword 5 did [via kickstarter].” With Cecil recalling that process with mixed emotions. “When we took people’s money in advance for Broken Sword 5 it weighed enormously on me. And I was really shocked when some people appeared to take their audience for granted. Perhaps that was because, when we said ‘without your support this game cannot appear’ we were actually being totally, genuinely honest. “Obviously the community is incredibly important for us. And there are many, many upsides for Kickstarter. But one of the downsides is that you lay out the specification for the game very early on, and you are duty bound to deliver what you say. The inability to iterate and move away from what you promised, in those very early stages, is quite constraining. “So, with Beyond a Steel Sky, what we wanted to do was get the best of both worlds. To engage with the community but without actually getting pre-funding, so that we could communicate directly without being held to account.” ONE STEP BEYOND That approach fitted in well with Apple’s desire for the team to really go for it, and also let them go beyond the straight sequel that might have appealed most to the fanbase. “Apple was very keen that we should be ambitious. One of the reasons we haven’t called it Beneath A Steel Sky 2 is because it isn’t really a sequel. It is so different in its approach, yet set in the same universe. It’s got a number of the same characters. But it’s very much an evolution, or inspired by, rather than a sequel to the original. And the game also marks a shift to Unreal Engine for the first time: “We opted for Unreal Engine and that allowed us to be so much more ambitious than we could possibly have been. And it also, in many ways, levels the playing field. The big companies, the triple-A games from Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, they have so much resources and so many in-house tools, and the ability to take an engine like Unreal or Unity opens up extraordinary opportunities that just simply wouldn’t have been possible before.
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“The underlying vision for Beyond a Steel Sky is that it is unashamedly an adventure game. But it sits above a normal adventure, which is very static, by the idea that you can subvert the world through hacking into systems, and that will affect the way that the world works. Characters will then respond accordingly and puzzles are then interwoven with those responses,” Cecil explains. “For example: There’s a drink dispenser, and it’s got three elements, it checks your ID, if you can have a drink, then it dispenses your drink, if you can’t it politely refuses. Or if you try and tip the machine, then an alarm goes off, and the alarm calls a droid to find out what’s going on. You can hack it, though, so that If somebody has the correct ID it sets the alarm off. “So a character comes along for a drink, the alarm goes off, they have no idea what’s going on. The droid comes along to investigate, and that opens up opportunities.” RETURN OF THE WATCHMAN And of course, Dave Gibbons is back for the new game: “When we started talking a couple of years ago, he sent me a script that he’d written a year [after the first game]. So the plan to do a sequel was at the forefront of our minds,” it just wasn’t the right time. Gibbons has helped out since, though, doing some comic books to complement early Broken Sword games and also working on Broken Sword 5. “Dave is very respectful. He sees himself as a partner in all of this, he sees that the gameplay comes first and foremost, and that his job is to support that from a conceptual and from a visual perspective.” With Gibbons taking on concept art, character design and providing ideas and suggestions more generally. “From a story perspective, that’s very much the area that I drive, Cecil notes. “But I very much value his feedback and work with him on elements of the story. He designed the intro comic book. And obviously that needs to introduce the story and is hugely important in creating the setup and providing elements of the backstory that we felt that a new player would need to understand – because one of the key elements of this is that people do not need to know anything about the original game.” Speaking in terms of story, we wonder if Cecil has changed the style of his writing and the humour in the intervening 25 years? “In the original Beneath a Steel Sky, you had a court scene with ’Judge Chutney’, who was named after Judge Pickles, who was quite infamous at the time. And of course, back in 1994, that was fine. I think people expect a much more cohesive experience today. So you go into a world that’s slightly crazy. You see it through the eyes of the protagonist, and so you’re experiencing normality through the protagonist.”
The player and protagonist essentially play the straight guys to everyone else’s varied excesses: “And then the further from the protagonist you get, the more crazy the characters become, and the humour comes a lot from the difference between what we as the audience (and the protagonist) expects to happen, and what really happens because the world is slightly mad. And returning to Judge Pickles, does a more global audience today limit such references? “I am not afraid of cultural references at all. And a lot of our characters have dialects from around the United Kingdom. I think we are an English developer, a British developer, and I hope that people will want to play our games knowing that we bring an English perspective to it,” replies Cecil.
Above: Charles Cecil at the launch of Apple Arcade in Cupertino
A DECADE LONG PUZZLE In adventure games, there’s always a neat solution to any puzzle if you employ a little lateral thinking. In games publishing that’s not always the case, as the many studios that have closed over the years are testament to. Revolution, though, has been clever, fortunate or tenacious enough – and probably a bit of all three – to have survived. All of which has put it in this unusual situation of reviving an IP after 25 years. It’s an incredible gap and we’re very excited to see how it handles the reimagining of this cult classic. And if you want to see how it all started, then simply head to over GOG.com and download Beneath for free. After all, giving the original game away, is exactly what’s made this sequel possible all these years later.
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THE TONIC OF LIFE Chris Wallace talks to Mediatonic co-founder and CEO David Bailey about the recently launched Tonic Games Group, and how it promises to provide job security and creative freedom at a time when it’s most sorely needed
ediatonic has announced the launch of the Tonic Games Group (TGG) – a developerpublisher group whose goal is to find new ways to bring original franchises to the 2 billion people who play games today, The group currently has 27 games in active development across its family of studios and offices. It has been five years in the making, and comprises of three main branches: the development studios Mediatonic and Fortitude, alongside publisher Irregular Corporation. TGG is independently owned, and designed to handle big IPs while still enabling smaller, more experimental titles – something Mediatonic has become known for, with leftfield games such as Hatoful Boyfriend, Boyfriend Murder by Numbers and the upcoming Fall Guys. It’s been steadily building, but has plans to expand even further to 300 employees in the next year, those will be split between seven offices (five studios and two publishing houses). With the group also working with 16 independent third-party studios. It’s quite the launch – especially in a climate that will see any new hires working remotely for the foreseeable future. To find out more, we chatted with Mediatonic co-founder and CEO, David Bailey: “The Tonic Games Group is a new parent company that brings together a bunch
of different companies and studios that we’ve been building. But until now, we haven’t had a proper way of linking them all together,” he begins. The initiative first took root back in 2015, ten years into Mediatonic’s journey, after it was founded by Bailey and Paul Croft in 2005, during their final year as students at Brunel University. “We’d gotten to a place where the company was doing well,” Bailey explains. “We were doing some really good work for hire projects – we’d made about 100-odd games by that point. “It was a good place to get to, but we had the same traumas that everyone else has had. Moving into games as a service, different platform disruptions… And we’d been working with big publishers, so quite often when they were restructuring and opening and closing studios and things like that, we got impacted by those things too. “So in 2015, we were just reflecting and thought well, what next? And there were two major themes that came out of that. “One was, we want to do more stuff! And we don’t necessarily feel that we’re the right shape to do some of the things that we want to do. We want to make bigger and more ambitious games and ideally, we want to own them. “But also, we want to make small, weird games, and we want to do stuff on different platforms. So we wanted to come up with a way to basically do all of these things.
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“The other theme was, really about learning from the scars, in taking the pain that comes from being dependent on one or two games, or one or two publishers. We really wanted to move on from that. “If we could really diversify the business, and build teams that are responsible for different types of game, then actually we can also be more resilient and have a nicer life as a result of it. “With that, we said to Jeff [Tanton, creative director] and others: here’s a pot of money and time, and we’re going to use this to build out an original game pipeline and proactively invest in building stuff that’s come from the team themselves within Mediatonic. And to give that equal importance to the work for hire projects that we’ll be doing.” It’s a strategy that has worked well for the company – with the upcoming Fall Guys as an excellent example of this kind of ambitious thinking, alongside a game that I’m personally obsessed with – the Phoenix Wright meets Picross title, Murder by Numbers. “That business got a lot bigger as a result, but we also wanted to do some other stuff so we started building a publishing company, which is the Irregular Corporation. They’re able to make investments in teams that are maybe doing something a bit different. Like with PC Building Simulator, where no one had really made a game in that space before. “We can make really deep games, but do it in spaces that are newer, less competitive, and also more exciting
for us. So we were using money from Mediatonic to build that business and to invest in those game companies – it’s taken a little while to get that where it is now. “The last thing was, okay, can we also build more studios? So we built more studios inside Mediatonic, like our Madrid office for example. We’ve gotten to a place now where there’s 300 of us, and there’s a lot going on. So we wanted to make this official, and start building this out as our model going forward.”
Above: Mediatonic’s upcoming title, Fall Guys Below: The protagonist from the Phoenix Wright-meet-Picross game, Murder By Numbers
THE THREE PILLARS In the spirit of trying new things, the TGG will allow more room for these kinds of experimental titles. And they’re a proposition that comes as well as (not instead of) their work for hire and big IP-work. On top of that, it’s a philosophy that reaches each of the three pillars of TGG, as Bailey explains. “So if you look at Mediatonic, I would say they’ve got a background building online service games and mobile games. And now they’re moving to bigger, more ambitious and original titles. “For instance, Fall Guys, is a prime candidate for the type of game Mediatonic wants to be making, and there’s two things about that. “One is that bigger games take a long time to make. So it’s quite nice to have the opportunity to do other stuff: a bit like how Pixar does short films when they’re making a big movie, for a sort of creative renewal.
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“The more mature businesses prop up the more nascent ones. And it means that we can all be much more resilient and stand the test of time.”
Above: Mediatonic cofounders David Bailey (left) and Paul Croft
“The other thing is that sometimes opportunities come up. And even though they’re weird, they’re just too good to pass up on. So with Murder by Numbers, you’ve got Ed Fear, who is just an amazing writer. And the same with Hatoful Boyfriend, where we thought ‘although this sounds weird, it all makes sense. We want to do this.’ “And then you’ve got the Irregular Corporation, and their focus is different. They’ve got PC Building Simulator, they’ve got Mars Horizon where you can build a space agency. These are really deep games for enthusiasts, trying to get games into places that aren’t maybe already that well served. “And then lastly, you’ve got Fortitude, which we haven’t yet said a lot about. But James [Griffiths, game designer at Fortitude Games] talks about building games which have a darkly stylish twist. And if you look at his background, with games like Sexy Brutale, I think there’s a kind of new niche we can form there as well.” As mentioned before, this announcement comes with a big hiring push. Mediatonic is currently 230+ strong, while TGG boasts over 290 employees. The plan is to get to over 300 by next year. At their current growth rate, it’s likely TGG will add around 150 employees per year. “We’ve already increased a lot. In the last year, on average, we’ve had 12 people join the group every month, some months it’s been as many as 20. We’ve actually got 35 people who just support all of the other companies, and that includes quite a large recruitment team and a team that’s trying to onboard people and look after them properly. And so we’re really trying
to amp that up, and I think that will continue. The thing is that now there are so many studios, even if they all grow just a little bit, it adds up to quite a lot, which is really what we’re finding. “The model that we’re building is not like one of these models where you go out and acquire lots of companies. It’s all about building organically, almost like cells growing by division, and building out additional things and trying new things.” Of course, as with everything being announced right now, there’s certainly been better times to launch such an initiative than during a global pandemic. Particularly if there’s a big hiring push involved. It’s hard not to wonder if our current crisis has thrown something of a spanner in the works. Not so, says Bailey. “I mean, it’s definitely been a curveball. But we’re pretty lucky in games, I think. If anything people are playing games more than ever to try and kind of escape all of this stuff that’s going on. “We weren’t expecting everyone to be in lockdown, obviously. We were literally moving into a new headquarters in the week we went into lockdown. We’ve got this beautiful, shiny new office and there’s nobody in it. The week that we were unpacking everything, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “It all looks amazing, we’ve got all this incredible tech in the meeting rooms. It’s the first time we’ve ever fitted out a large space and it’s gathering dust.” Having recently moved offices ourselves before COVID-19 hit, we can definitely relate.
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Left: The Mediatonic team in its London office
We can only hope our lovely new central London office isn’t lonely without us. Bailey continues: “I think that more and more companies will move to a model where people are more spread out. And that’s kind of helpful in some ways. You know, we’ve got someone in South Africa that was due to move to the UK, and we went into lockdown and they’ve had to work remotely, but it’s been completely fine. “And so in that respect, it kind of shows you what’s possible, and it’s quite liberating. But I think it’s still going to be positive to have regional hubs, where people can get together and collaborate. And I think we’ll probably end up changing the spaces more in that direction. So it’s less about having hundreds of people in rows of desks and more, how do we get together when we need to?”
“And I think a lot of people like that. Just because people work in the games industry, they shouldn’t have to give up job security. And that’s something that’s taken a long time to figure out. “The last thing for me is that I think games businesses are people business more than anything else. So we’re putting a lot of effort and resources into trying to have a positive impact in the way that we make a game. And that is about avoiding crunch – it has been for 10 years. But it’s also about how to actually proactively help people have a positive work life balance, look after their mental health and become more diverse. So it’s all of these things. “Hopefully, if you come into any kind of Tonic Games Group company, you can come in knowing that we’re going to be people first, and that we’re going to try and look after you.”
UNITED WE STAND In fact, if anything, Bailey argues that the TGG has arrived at the perfect time: Offering job stability in a time where that looks increasingly hard to come by. “It comes back to all those shocks we’ve had over the years, we had the closure of Lionhead Studios and god knows how many other things. And we don’t want to be a company that ramps up and down. It’s just too de-stabilising, it doesn’t lead to creativity, and it’s just a waste of talent, frankly. “So having such a diverse group, and then being able to support each other, particularly with the newer stuff, it’s like the more mature businesses prop up the more nascent ones. And it means that we can all be much more resilient and stand the test of time.
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The strategy franchise has been a dominant force in the genre for 20 years now, with 14 titles to date, including this year’s Troy. Seth Barton talks to Richard Aldridge about the series’ evolution and where it goes from here
his month, 20 years ago, Creative Assembly launched Total War: Shogun, the first game in an epic strategy franchise that would come to define the company. Having spent a decade working largely on ports and licensed sport titles, the established studio decided to invest in creating its own IP – and the result now stands among the UK’s greatest ever gaming franchises. To discuss the series’ history and its future direction, we caught up with Richard Aldridge, game director at Creative Assembly, who has been working at CA for fourteen years, with the majority of that time spent on the Total War franchise. “When I started it was less than 100 people,” recalls Aldridge, “it was just outside Horsham, in a place called Southwater. The team was together in one building. And I remember fondly that we had a big to-do, and all went to the curry house. And that felt like quite the event.” The headcount now is over 500 and that’s split across three studios, two in the centre of Horsham and a third in Bulgaria – CA Sofia, which was previously Crytek Black Sea. Probably a little more than you could fit into any Indian restaurant. The Total War series has fought its battles across much of the world – India for example was covered in the globe-spanning Empire: Total War in 2009. With Medieval, Rome, Napoleon, Attila, Britannia and more getting the Total War treatment. So how does the company choose the location and time for its games? “For us it’s always about trying to find a period of time where you’ve got a lot of major conflicts going on,” says Aldridge. “And if you were to go back to that time period, things could have played out in a different way. And that’s what we want the players to experience. Maybe don’t choose the side that ultimately won the war or conquered the world, maybe you go for the other guys, and you live out that fantasy.” It’s a sentiment that chimes nicely with another of parent company Sega’s other titles: Football Manager. Where taking a minnow to the big leagues has become a staple of the game. “Load up Billericay Town, that’s my home team,” Aldridge agrees. Despite returning to some favourite eras for sequels, Aldridge says the series still has “many more rocks to turn over,” in terms of unexplored periods of conflict. We’ve often wondered why the series has never taken on the
20th century for instance, particularly WWI or WWII, since after all, the very phrase ‘Total War’ was coined to describe such conflicts. “It’s certainly a period of time that we as a group of individuals are very interested in and would like the challenge to make a game like that. Obviously, we do have restrictions on what we can do with our engine. It’s very much built with the idea of melee infantry clashing, and cavalry charges, as opposed to things like tracked vehicles, and deformation of the terrain. Those things didn’t really happen so much back during the Bronze Age or the neolithic periods. “Our engine will help us pick and choose. But we keep modifying, we keep improving and changing the things that we can do and certainly avenues and options open up in time. And maybe that will be one of those ones that we’ll get to play around with one day.” Instead of moving into the 20th century though, Creative Assembly took an entirely route and left our reality behind entirely. FANTASY LEAGUE Total War was a proudly historical series until 2016’s Total War: Warhammer came along. The game managed to be both a radical shift for the franchise and yet make perfect sense at the same time. “Myself and a big proportion of the team at CA are avid fans of Warhammer Fantasy, 40K and the various different board games, so it sounded like a fabulous proposition. However, we were very much conscious
Above: Richard Aldridge, Creative Assembly
Below: Total War’s Warhammer games took the historical series off in a brave new direction
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Right: Total War: Empire added huge global scope and huge sea battles to the formula
that our fan base was in the historical camp. That’s what they’d come to love and enjoy. And all of a sudden, we’re throwing giant spiders, magic and dragons at them, as much as that sounds awesome, how would those guys take to that?” So the team approached Warhammer with those historical players in mind? “Definitely, some of the decisions that we made in the first game were based around making sure that people who already enjoyed Total War would still have the opportunity to enjoy it. It wouldn’t feel so alien, ripping the carpet out from underneath their feet, but it still had that added level of spectacular battles, magic and big monsters to play around with, which makes it truly Warhammer.”
“You need a reason to be fighting those battles, and that’s the campaign game... it provides a context.” Of course, one key advantage was that the license brought in a whole new army of fans. Which now creates something of a classic venn diagram situation, with some only playing historical or Warhammer titles, but many playing both releases. “We appreciate that fantasy isn’t for everybody. We made sure with [the China-based] Three Kingdoms to go back to our historical roots because we have a large proportion of players that love those games.” The Warhammer titles have been intermixed in recent years with releases under the Total War Saga banner, which CA has described as “putting defined geographical areas under the microscope” along with a “strong cultural focus and flavour.” Such as the upcoming Troy, which will
be free for 24 hours on the Epic Games Store at release, in order to further grow the franchise’s community. TWO STROKE ENGINE But regardless of whether it’s Warhammer or historical, all the Total War games dating back to 2009’s Empire are powered by the TW Engine 3, although it’s obviously been updated and iterated on over the last ten years. “It’s always an iterative process, certain games will share the same engine with one another and I think that you’ll get a feel for that when you play them, but we’re always looking to push on, both graphically and technically, with the gameplay.” And games such as Warhammer have additional features to incorporate some of its more unusual inclusions. Each game is also distinctly divided, with turn-based decisions to make on the campaign map feeding into the real-time battles. “If you go way back to the early days when CA formed and came up with Shogun, they realised immediately that battles were never going to be enough to make a fullyfledged game. You need some reason to be fighting those battles, and that is very much the campaign game. It gels all those battles and provides a context.” Aldridge is keen to point out though that it is all one game. “It’s key to find those crossover links between the campaign and the battles. What effect does that action in the campaign have in the battle that you’re about to fight? What are the consequences of losing those troops in that battle when you return back into the campaign? That’s the buzz that allows people to keep playing for hundreds and hundreds of turns. “So sure, we have specialists that work on different parts of the game, but their mindset is very much how’s this going to blend together. How will this action or this design that I put here, how would it affect the other
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portion of the game? And to think of it in that sense. When you choose to have a particular unit join your army, say the big-big monsters in Warhammer, you’ve researched them and paid for it, you really feel it if you lose that monster in battle. It’s not just a traditional RTS where you would probably just churn out another one 30 seconds later.” Indeed, when another super tank comes along after 30 seconds, they stop feeling quite so super. And you can even name such units in Total War: Warhammer. And it’s amazing how naming a horrific Rat Ogre somehow brings you closer to him. “Exactly,” agrees Aldridge laughing, “poor Squeaky has perished!” AVE CENTURION Squeaky’s life may have been cut short, but the Total War series looks set to run and run. That said, finding a template for success can easily turn into a rut of complacency, so how does the team plan to keep things fresh in the future? “We will never rest on our laurels!” Aldridge exclaims. “While we’ve made some highly successful games and things a lot of people enjoy. We, as individuals, are always striving for more, we want to better ourselves, we want to provide a better experience. We will always look to how we can broaden our horizons. “The technology is going to change as well. As much as we can be thinking about what we can achieve today, it’s going to change in 12 months time and so on and so forth. And that will come with opportunities. If you think way back to the original Shogun, that game is nothing like Warhammer II. That said, it’s still true to its core, it still has that classic Total War essence.” For us at least, that essence is making sure, when the crucial moment comes, that you’re the one charging downhill with your cavalry – whether they be knights, samurai or dragon princes – to rout your enemies archers in a single, brutal strike.
HUNDRED YEAR WAR? “We’ll develop and build things around that. But that core essence is what our fans have come to love and enjoy and we want to make sure that they can, and they can pass that on to others for years to come.” But organic growth in established markets will l ikely be outstripped by new ones, with recent title Three Kingdoms, set in China in the third century, undoubtedly looking in part to appeal to a Chinese audience unfamiliar with the series. “There was a lot of interesting flavour and content and as I mentioned earlier, Total War games need settings with a large amount of conflict. In the case of Three Kingdoms, it has a lot of larger than life characters, and the outcome really could have gone very, very differently based on alliances and so forth. “So it was great to tackle a different point in time in a different part of the world. And for sure it has opportunities of bringing in new fans, which is always great. We were really proud of how well it was received by the Chinese fans.” But before it explores other periods, the next step on the Total War road is back to Games Workshop’s fantasy world. “We’re going to complete the Warhammer trilogy, which is going to be a massive achievement, so many of us have been on that trilogy since day one. And it’s like a childhood dream bringing it to conclusion.” And the game will act as something of a swansong for the classic Warhammer Fantasy setting, which Games Workshop has moved on from, after 32 years, for the new Age of Sigmar. Whether the Total War series will follow is yet to be seen, but for the trilogy it’s the end of an eightyear partnership. “It’ll be so bittersweet. But there’s certainly more fun for people to have, and lots of exciting content to come.”
Above: Total War: Three Kingdoms took the series to a battle-torn third century China
Left: The original Total War: Shogun from 2000 looks basic but the core design pillars were there from the very start.
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A new way to listen Advances in audio technology are becoming increasingly key in gaming. We talk to EPOS, best known from working as part of the Sennheiser brand, about how it’s approaching this highly-competitive sector, which touches on everything from development, to next-gen hardware, to esports and much more
udio is now big news right across the gaming ecosystem. The ever-increasing popularity of competitive gaming and esports mean players are looking for any advantage that they can get. And those same competitive gamers and streamers demand excellent voice quality from their headset mics. Audio is also one of the new battlegrounds for next-gen consoles, with both PlayStation and Xbox touting 3D audio capabilities that go well beyond what surround sound has offered. Amidst all that a big-name in the audio space is rebranding itself. With EPOS taking forward almost two decades of experience learnt as part of the joint venture that brought us Sennheiser headphones. Under president Jeppe Dalberg, EPOS is striking out under its own brand, we catch up with the team, to listen to all that’s new in the gaming audio’s soundtrack. THE BIG BANG Gaming headsets haven’t always had the best reputation in terms of audiophile appeal, says Andreas Jessen – senior director of product management and marketing for gaming at EPOS. But that’s now changing. “Historically, gaming headsets came from a very mediocre place in terms of offerings and quality. You could assume that as gaming has become more popular with consumers and prioritized as a hobby, so have the expectations of headsets, and peripherals in general. “More specifically, we have seen gamers expect better quality, more pleasing designs, and more features – but they are also showing a willingness to increase their spending in order to achieve premium audio. That willingness means that gaming headsets can now compete with the audiophile over-ear headsets that we’ve seen become popular in recent years.
“We are constantly challenging what a gaming headset can deliver – and we will continue to push the limits of what to expect from a gaming headset. Today, when you go out in the market for general headphones, the most expensive ones are typically travel or high-end audiophile headsets. We see no reason why gamers should expect less than travellers or audiophiles when it comes to product offerings, and that is what is driving our development efforts.” And those development efforts are there to meet a growing demand says Steven Schmidt, senior director of global sales for Gaming: “Gaming audio has seen massive growth year on year for some time now – it’s great to see that people are willing to invest more in this vital side of their tech setup to ensure they have the best experience possible. We feel like EPOS is in a really good place to bring our premium audio technology to a wider global market.” Speaking of wider markets, it seems as though the divide between PC and console headsets has narrowed, with consumers expecting to be able to play anywhere, much as they do with games, Jessen explains. “We are starting to see that games are becoming the ultimate platform, and the actual platforms themselves moving more into the background. Fortnite is a great example, where you can literally play it on almost every single device, and even cross-play between platforms. “We believe gamers still demand high quality audio regardless of their platform, but there are some technical limitations that allow us to do more on a Windowsbased PC than for example on a PS4. We work with these limitations and provide the best possible audio for that platform, but our offerings do differ somewhat between platforms.” He also adds: “When we look at the needs from different user groups, we do see a small
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Above: TheEd quae conserectam ditius. Dicipide idellore es volo vellacessent remporit
tendency that PC gamers have a higher demand when it comes to equipment and peripherals.” SOUND ALL AROUND Whether that PC-console spending gap continues into the next generation as new consoles narrow other gaps between them remains to be seen. Especially with those devices bringing intriguing new capabilities in 3D audio. Sony has been very vocal about its 3D audio capabilities, discussing them at length, while the Xbox Series X is also rumoured to have a dedicated chip with similar capabilities. The technology uses head-related transfer function (HRTF) to simulate how each of your ears hear sounds differently based on where they come from – largely because your head itself occludes sounds coming from one side or the other. This allows for very accurate placement of sounds in 3D space with headphones. But it’s computationally expensive, somewhat like ray-traced graphics, when done in real-time. In order to get an idea of the technology there’s plenty of demos on YouTube you can
find and try with a regular pair of headphones. “We are strong believers in what HRTF and virtual surround sound can bring to the gaming market,” comments Jessen. “That is one of the main reasons why we have developed our own virtual surround sound technology and steadily continue to improve it.” And he notes that isn’t wholly new technology: “Windows Sonic has been in the market for some time, and it is not clear yet how consumers have reacted to this. We assume that Sony’s 3D audio will be some sort of alternative to Windows Sonic, but only time will tell.” What’s certain is that Sony’s marketing push for the technology, and the focus of its first-party studios will bring a lot more attention. But making the best headsets for such technologies requires precision, Jessen tells us: “Balance is one of our key focus areas when developing headsets for surround sound applications, which is a big focus for us. “When implementing HRTF you are essentially putting filters between the L and R speakers and utilizing the psychoacoustics in your brain and how
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Right: The dual-branded EPOS-Sennheiser GSP 600 headset is designed with competitive gamers in mind
it detects positional cues in audio. For example, we manipulate your L/R balance by a few dB to trick your brain into thinking a sound is coming from a certain angle – if then the raw speakers also have a built-in balance defect, then it’s a bad starting point. We ensure that our speakers are delicately crafted in a way to minimise this as it’s vital for perfect surround sound. “Similarly, balance in the frequency response curve is extremely important. A flat frequency response, especially in the mid-range, is very important when we start adding HRTF related algorithms on top.” And EPOS believes that developers too should stick to a single studio reference, rather than mixing audio for various use cases. “We would always prefer that audio is mixed on a good studio speaker setup, because the second publishers start to ‘colour’ the audio for headphones or similar, they are doing it with a certain brand of headphones in mind.
“Today, there can be a huge difference in how manufacturers believe good audio should be represented. We’ve spent many research hours on this topic, and truly believe that our audio curve is the optimal one for gaming.” THE HEAD(SET) HONCHO Audio may be a key segment in gaming, but it’s also a competitive one, with numerous headset brands on the market. EPOS might come with Sennheiser’s huge heritage but it’s still a crowded market. “For a long time, gaming headsets have been dominated by brands coming from a gaming background with audio as an add-on,” Jessen tells us. “We are on the other hand quite the opposite – we are coming from a very long and established audio background moving forward into gaming. “To be honest, our research and development background means we have more meaningful product
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ideas than we have bandwidth to carry out, but some of our big priorities now are immersiveness (such as HRTF), comfort, microphone pick-up and maybe most crucial for the gaming segment; design and durability.” And from a comms perspective Maja Sand-Grimnitz, head of global marketing, explains the strategy. “We plan to stay true to our heritage and roots, our expertise within audio engineering, and to focus on what we can truly contribute with – our technology and the quality of the audio we produce. For the gamers that play for pure enjoyment – be it from winning a round of CS:GO or conquering a new galaxy or just to relax and unwind – we want to be the premium brand of choice. “We focus on the good old saying ‘don’t tell me, show me.’ What is important to us is not to lecture about good audio, but rather to demonstrate what truly premium audio can do for the gaming experience,” she adds. The most conspicuous positioning of headsets in today’s gaming ecosystem has to be on the heads of its current superstars: influencers, so we wonder if that’s a cornerstone of EPOS’s strategy? “Influencers are like any other media channel – a strong tool if they fit your strategy and objectives.” SandGrimnitz notes cautiously. “We are always looking for the right partners to tell the story about EPOS gaming audio – people who have a real interest in gaming audio and like us, seek to upgrade their experience – and tell others about how EPOS helped them do it!” A major brand launch is always tricky, even if you already have a lot of experience in the space. But the pandemic has thrown a lot of plans out the window, but Sand-Grimnitz says it hasn’t had too large an impact on EPOS. “Our marketing strategy is very much based on creating engaging and exciting content and campaigns for online consumption and thankfully, the pandemic
hasn’t meant we have had to change much in our original 2020 plans. We have been well prepared for the shift from live esports events to online, due to the digital nature of our marketing plans, and the same goes for the increased shift from retail to etail.” And Sand-Grimnitz believes EPOS has struck a balance between the core gamer and the esports segments: “We believe that we have developed a campaign platform for our new brand that is both appealing for the gamers that we are looking to reach, as well as to our partners within the esports community. “In 2020 we focused on revisiting our sponsorship strategy and ensuring that we partnered with properties that give us opportunities to develop long term relationships that fit the EPOS brand values and mission. Our esports teams and tournaments partnerships this year reflect areas where we can tell the EPOS story about audio within gaming. In general, we look for partners that are as passionate about gaming audio as we are, so we can work together to really enhance the gaming experience for everyone involved.” A quick look around my own home turned up three different Sennhesier-branded headsets, so the company was certainly doing something right working with that brand, and we expect to see a lot more of the EPOS name in future. Jessen sums it up: “In short – we love all things audio, and it is our ambition to be relevant at every touchpoint where a gamer meets audio in relation to gaming.”
Above (from left to right): Maja Sand-Grimnitz, Steven Schmidt, Jeppe Dalberg and Andreas Jessen
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THE SOUNDS OF A...
PANDEMIC Chris Wallace talks to Posy Brewer and Mark Estdale about the challenges the audio sector faces during this global pandemic
Above: Posy Brewer’s professional recording studio in Guildford
hree months into lockdown, and the MCV/ DEVELOP team have things (relatively) down to a normal schedule. We’re unable to shout at each other when needed, and I’ve certainly been spared Seth’s long stories about his favourite sandwich place from a previous job, but nonetheless, we’ve found a way to adapt our usual working dynamic to a remote work setup. The same is true across the industry. We’ve heard in previous issues about how management has had to adapt processes to our new normal, and the impact the
ongoing lockdown and social distancing measures have had on game development. Ironically, however, we have yet to hear about how the audio sector is coping. The sector has its own host of challenges when adapting to remote work – audio recording requires specialist equipment, and a level of soundproofing that is often not available in most people’s homes. To find out how the sector is coping during these challenging times, we reached out to Posy Brewer, a voice actor with her own business and state-of-the-art
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“We didn’t know how the pandemic would impact buying equipment, so we bought a large stock of microphones and equipment to take to actors”
recording studio in Guildford, and voice director, sound engineer and casting director Mark Estdale of OMUK. What have been the challenges to your work during the pandemic? Posy Brewer: Reaching out to people in studios and production houses who aren’t working in their normal environment. A lot of production stopped and projects were pulled. Initially, I had a couple of weeks covered and then it went very quiet whilst people had to make changes within their own businesses.
Also, juggling home-schooling with work, I then took the decision to stop for a bit in order to give attention to my kids who needed help adapting to the new school system at home – as did I.
Above (left to right): Posy Brewer and Mark Estdale
Mark Estdale: We record actors for games, and our ethos has always been working collaboratively in the recording studio. So when we closed the door in mid March, we had to do a massive U turn to enable actors to record from home. We didn’t know how the pandemic would impact buying equipment, so we bought a large stock of microphones and equipment to take to actors who were in isolation. Then we’d train them with the technical side to enable them to record from home effectively. It turns out that a lot of really good actors are not that technical, so it has been an interesting experience... Are you working from home? If so, how do you work with actors/musicians from a distance, and how do you ensure good audio quality when recording from a home office? Posy Brewer: I am very fortunate as I have my own purpose built office and studio, so I was able to isolate myself as normal and carry on. I didn’t stop, but the world did. I have a professional broadcast sound proof studio here in Guildford, which I also am able to hire out. I was still and am able to deliver great quality and good audio to the industry. I have ISDN, Source Connect Pro, Skype and other facilities all linked into the studio, so am able to connect with anyone wherever in the world that they may be. What I did notice was the quality of audio online and on radio/tv etc – it wasn’t good. Many people panicked
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references to the actor in real time as the dialogue tools we built for the studios work online very well.
Above: Mark Estdale has worked as a casting director on games such as Horizon Zero Dawn
and instead of directing the work to professionals with the correct setup, they would accept lower quality from other artists, who didn’t have the correct setup readily available. That’s why I always offer a sample to my clients, so they can hear the quality and be rest assured they are getting professional and great quality. There are freelancers similar to me who work from home and have a professional studio and so can provide the services to the industry fast and quickly.
“There are many benefits for working from home, when you have the right facilities of course, but it also can be so isolating.” Mark Estdale: All pre-production work is done from home and some recordings are done via home recording. The biggest challenge is the acoustics of the room the actor is in, as it differs with every actor. Recording in different environments becomes a post production challenge when a number of people need to sound like they are speaking in the same space. It’s like trying to match audio recorded on a MOCAP stage with audio recorded in the studio. We spend hundreds of thousands building studio rooms that are acoustically neutral or controllable – that is why people use studios as the output is utterly consistent. All having identical equipment goes part way but it’s not the same as recording in the same space. Luckily the tech we built to connect the actor to the game in the recording studio works online too so the actor at home is still connected to all the other actors’ performances, music sound effects and all the visual assets. Technically everything is the same and we can stream all audio and visual
How has your business been affected? Posy Brewer: Sadly there has been a slow down on production and advertising within many companies during the pandemic, which obviously has had a knock on effect to the audio and voice sectors. So hasn’t been great for us voices, but it’s not been great for many. Around 40 per cent of companies will be holding back spending till 2021, which wasn’t great to hear. Hopefully that won’t be the case and they can find different ways of working to then get everyone else working more. We all have to work together and find ways of blossoming through these times and not to wilt away. We need to pull in on our resources, join forces and think outside the box. Mark Estdale: The first two months were terrible. No one knew how things were going to pan out so most projects got postponed or collapsed. The US remains a clusterfuck but with a lunatic in the Whitehouse that’s not much of a surprise. Most work in the US involved international travel so it’s now dead in the water with the travel ban. In the UK it’s been a different story. Once devs got into home working things are back on track with a vengeance. Also with easing here we’ve been getting back to the studios. We’re very lucky to have two control rooms In the main studio room in London as we can uber isolate. It is helped by the fact that recording studios by nature are isolation rooms. We’ve been very cautious opening the studio, with COVID-19 cleansing and distancing procedures. So far it’s working well. Are there unexpected benefits? If working from home, is there a benefit to now being more open to working with people remotely? Posy Brewer: People understand and I think it’s changed people’s understanding, in a good way. More people are open to working remotely. It can be done. There are many benefits for working from home, when you have the right set up and facilities of course, but it also can be so isolating. It’s lovely to go to outside studios and work with different people, meet the teams behind the project that you are recording for and be connected. There is something about meeting in person. So both together is great if possible! Mark Estdale: Not really. It was nice being at home for a while but the lack of social variety is tough. We will certainly be doing more script writing, editing, project management and QA work from home but for production we want the team together in the recording studios.
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MCV-JUL20-DOLBY:MCV-JUL20-DOLBY 10/06/2020 11:55 Page 1
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When We Made... Hypnospace Outlaw
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 Chris Wallace takes a look behind the together, you could tell from the very beginning that scenes of Hypnospace Outlaw, a that Y2K internet she was a character people would really gravitate simulator that takes toward.” him back to the early days really becomes a fully out character with of the internet, beforeQuill the hellmouth offleshed Twitter the help of the game’s strong world-building. opened to consume us all As an interloper in Quill’s world, the player experiences it not through her eyes, but as an observer watching as she 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, theHYPNOSPACE feeling of her leaving it, of is that town both maybe being in OUTLAW at once unsettlingly danger, gives more of a bond,” Alderson says. “If strange andyou yet endearingly familiar. that part was left out, you wouldn’t like there was Tender Shoot’s game, set in an feel alternate universe’s much to fight for.late Everything done, the mood internet in the 90s Y2Kthat era, we’ve certainly doesn’t play like settings, taking Quill oneIt’s area to thebest nextcompared and letting your standard videofrom game. perhaps you and take in this environment… It’s and all supposed to rest the works of Sam Barlow, of Her Story Telling to Lies exaggerate andplayer accentuate that mood fame – the operates a 90s erathat OSyou’re and feeling. It all ties unravelling back into how you are with web browser, the story via connecting emails and by Quill and her trawling theworld.” overly-earnest blogs and disparate internet
Above: Xalavier Nelson Jr., freelance games contributor
communities familiar to veterans of the era. SAME TheQUESTION player takesEIGHT the roleWAYS of an ‘enforcer’ for the Collaboration was key during development Moss, Hypnospace, policing illegal the content, copyrightofviolations, notviruses just within the team itself,During but with helpthe of external and cyber-bullying. thethe game, player playtesters. People messageboards, were often brought in posts to feedback on explores teenage with dedicated to fawning over first boyfriends, or the new age, spiritual types finding a way to connect with one another like never before – all entirely separate communities before social media and Google united us all, for better and for worse. It’s a fascinating window into an increasingly distant past. It can make for something of an unsettling experience at first. Particularly to aging staff writers who spent their early teenage years on websites such as Geocities and Neopets (instead of being invited to parties), this alternate universe
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 help bring a playtester into their comfort zone, because no one wants to play something that people put a lot of care and love into and then turn around and say ‘This is what I didn’t like about it’. So it takes a little while to get up theaplaytester comfortable, and we that for a brings strange cocktail of emotions – afound nostalgia finding different to ask same question forgotten internetways battling the the unquestionable alienmeans nature you get the good version stuff after fourth or of theeventually Hypnospace, thisreally universe’s of the internet fifth the timeplayer you ask it. that accesses in their sleep. think anyone ourcan studio ever made If“Iitdon’t was strange for us,inwe onlyhas imagine how a this, think it’sNelson important itgame mustlike have feltso forI Xalavier Jr., that whoyou not trust only the process. trustasplaytesting and you and make sure that you joined theYou project narrative designer co-writer allow yourself some time and freedom something midway through development, but is in to facttrytoo young to and then keep going. Tryglory-days somethingofnew and branch out, remember the Geocities the internet. Which but also use makes your experience from games that you’ve quite frankly, us feel older still. made and you’lldesigner] be fine. As you’re “Jaybefore [Tholen, game hadlong just as done the having fun too! Weand enjoyed Kickstarter, I hadplaying been pestering him for months to Moss throughout the entire bring me and on,”I says “I was brought on early 2018, process thinkNelson. that really helps.” and the team will attest to my role on the project as being able to make it feasible for us to ship in 2019. We were making an alternate universe Y2K era internet simulator – that’s a potentially limitless scope. “Coming in as the narrative designer of the project, my job was to find a way to bring together all of this material we were making, and have it all work towards our goals. What are our beats, and how do we hit them? How do we take this giant pile of stuff and have it actually release within the next 20 years?”
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Left: The player receives instructions via the very 90s email client within the game RUNNING IN THE NINETIES The mass of content that Nelson had to wrangle was in part due to its unusual development – the game in its earliest stages was in a whole different genre to what ended up being released, largely due to the excitement the team felt about the world they had created. “Originally Hypnospace Outlaw was supposed to be an arcade-style game, where you’re driving along the information superhighway and catching internet criminals. “And by looking at the brief pages displayed above the internet cars, the team discovered that it was more fun making and seeing the web pages of the people than just catching their cars. And so they started to build up the webpages, and then they started to build up an entire fake OS... and well, things escalated.” As a side note, those who have played Hypnospace might find its arcade origins familiar. As the Hypnospace features a game within a game, a buggy mess of an arcade game where the player is racing a car down the internet superhighway, with the aim of catching other cars. As Nelson reveals, this is something of a knowing nod from the developers – a relic of the game’s early stages hidden within the final product.
“That’s something I’m really proud of. As we started to bring structure to the overall game world, we were able to have this remnant of what the game used to be, an actual arcade game in the universe. That brings the narrative full circle, both for the team as well as for the player.” Back to Hynospace as it exists today – far from being daunted by the task of tying this fictionalised 90s universe together, Nelson felt a perfect fit within the project. “So when I came to the project, they knew what they were making, but it was that pivotal moment where it needed structure, and it also just needed more. I was brought in at the exact time where my skills and specialties were most needed – finding a way of making a project feasible, bringing the structure to it so that it can ship, bringing narrative structure to a vision so that it can communicate everything it needs to within its runtime. It was almost as if there was a me shaped slot that was just ready at that exact moment.” WHAT’S MY AGE AGAIN? While Nelson may have felt perfectly at home on the project, it’s hard not to wonder if his youth was an issue. The world of Hypnospace Outlaw is drenched in 90s
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“The dial-up noises were unprompted, but the feelings were real. One big moment for me in understanding the project was when I was in England for a contract job and I was talking to an extremely British goth roadie. “He spent a half hour walking me through how the burden of progress had eroded away the communities that he had grown up with. Angel Fire, CloudFlare, Geocities... all these things going down, becoming inoperative. He showed me the graveyards of people’s paths where you could still find remnants on the internet, and how much of that had been destroyed over time. “I saw that it’s easy to be cynical about this period. Laugh at the nerds, laugh the goths, laugh at the typos and the extremely edgy communication. But the most needed approach was not to make fun of it, it was to be sincere and human. “This is what the communication was like before we had built up our digital brands that we have used to cocoon ourselves from pain and criticism. Doing those worlds and that legacy justice is a huge part of why the project exists in the first place.”
Above: Examples of the disparate internet communities found in Hypnospace Outlaw
internet culture – a culture that Nelson himself is too young to remember. “My internet was basically when flash was becoming a thing, the step after the Geocities era. The internet was starting to gain structure, but those structures were malleable and it was still the Wild West in some regard. “So I approached writing in the universe almost like I would if I was working on the Lord of the Rings game, a fictional universe with people who deeply cared about it. I researched it as if I was looking through a Game of Thrones wiki or something. “I think that distance added something really interesting to the team dynamic. Suddenly it went from everyone almost taking for granted what this world meant because they grew up with it, to this completely fresh outside perspective, where all of this was new to me and I found a new sort of magic. “In my research, I’d talk to people and they’d do an imitation of the dial up startup sound for me. Totally unprompted – though I do treasure that for the rest of my career I’ll have people screaming dial-up noises directly into my face. And every person’s imitation is different, by the way.
FORGOT ABOUT DRE His age isn’t the only reason the project might have been outside Nelson’s comfort zone. The unconventional nature of the title – particularly its use of 90s-era music on its blog pages (think Myspace themes) had the unexpected side effect of launching Nelson’s rap career. “The weekend before launch. Jay sends me a desperate Discord message saying: ‘we’ve half an hour of prog rock, but no rap, no hip hop, everyone’s gonna think we’re racist!’ So I’m like, hold up, calm down – give me half an hour. “So I wrote a rap about a buffet heist, in which a bunch of people who are not actually staying in a resort, make friends with the waiters and eat as much of the food as they want. And another rap about a bunch of people talking about the cool things they’re going to do at a party, but never actually going to the party. Very relatable subject matter. “And then using my crappy laptop mic, because this was never intended to be used, I recorded these raps as reference for the rappers who would come later.” Fans of the game might be unaware that Nelson can be heard rapping in the game’s soundtrack. They can hardly be blamed for this, as Nelson himself wasn’t aware either. “On launch day, we were addicted to watching streams because people are just streaming this game for hours and hours. There was a person who at that point had been going over ten hours and had managed to make their way through the core narrative of the game. And then they found the raps for a quest, they press play and suddenly I’m hearing my own voice, but even more deeply
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compressed. And for the first time in over ten hours, the streamer muted the recording, and said ‘I can’t deal with this shit.’ He completed the rest of the game on mute. And that’s how I learned I was a rapper in the game.” Nelson is keen to stress how poorly these raps were recorded. They were already heavily-compressed recordings through a broken laptop mic, and when it came time to add them to the game, the team compressed the recordings even further – an act of self-vandalism that was true to the development’s entire philosophy. In a bid to capture the spirit of 90s technology, alongside the passionate early-internet communities, a lot of the development time was spent on intentionally breaking aspects of the game – from the intentionally buggy arcade racer within the Hypnospace, to the rampant typos found in the game’s blogs and emails. THIS IS HOW WE DO IT “The creative process for that was really fascinating,” says Nelson. “Because everything that Jay and the team does is really good work. So a lot of our development process for the game was taking good things we had made, and breaking them. “So for the arcade game, they had to break it to make it work within the universe. And for myself, when I was writing certain pieces of content, I would make a typo. And I’d face a crossing in the woods. I’d have to say: ‘No, I’m committing to this typo, this typo is how this character writes forever now.’” For the record, any typos found in this or any future issue of MCV/DEVELOP is an intentional homage to
Hypnospace Outlaw, and we’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. “People intentionally putting in typos, intentionally putting in obtrusive ways of working through an environment... Extremely skilled people intentionally breaking their work to make it better is an absurd design dynamic. But when you bring that to bear for a common creative goal, instead of a self destructive act of just tearing apart your own work in a fury, what results is something that’s genuinely kind of miraculous. “Hypnospace Outlaw isn’t a game that should be able to ship. It is the game you tell people not to make because there’s no way in hell that it’s ever going to release. And this group of people managed to build it. And I had the opportunity to be a part of that group of people and I’m deeply thankful for that.” The resulting combination – a remarkable attention to detail in capturing the history and the feeling of those early internet days, while still writing a fictional, alternate universe, underlines the game’s development, and the lesson Nelson has taken from the experience. “What I learned is that the content can be inaccurate, if the feeling behind it is true. [The result] is an internet that feels like the one you were on when you were 13, but also like one you’ve never experienced before. “The largest thing to take away from this is the creative instincts of everyone on the project – taking the absurd, taking the weird, taking the objectively bad ideas and making them meaningful. Hypnospace Outlaw is the impossible made possible, and gosh, it’s cool to be a part of something like that.”
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Brought to you by
The Final Boss Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight
How has Bossa changed since you founded it? Ten years in the video games industry feels like decades of evolution. It’s been the most exciting and challenging years of my life and career. Bossa started in a room annexed to a circus school in East London. We often had freaky clown encounters when we were burning the midnight oil making Monstermind, our first game. That got us a BAFTA, so that was worth it. Bossa has since evolved from a four-person team saying “let’s make a game we love” to a creative machine fueled by nearly 90 incredibly talented people. You’ve worked in a wide array of tech and marketing-focused roles, what did you learn from those experiences? I believe we can all live multiple lives in our lifetime. My journey has led me from computer scientist with an MBA and marketing degrees to becoming a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, content creator and public speaker. I never lost any of the skills I acquired in my multiple lives but added them to my toolbox of life. I never had things come easily to me. I had to go and find my opportunities, build my network, fight for a promotion, learn by doing and carve my space and voice in the room usually full of white men. I worked in innovation and marketing for ten years before starting Bossa – that ranged from creating the first ‘interactive’ text messagebased products for Big Brother Brazil, to apps that connected to a concierge service when I was at Vertu (a luxury subsidiary of Nokia). While my work at Bossa nowadays is all about leading an organization, I still exercise my creativity with the podcast I’m launching in July (called Hyper Curious), the videos I produce on my YouTube channel, and the talks or keynotes I deliver. What are the biggest challenges today in the games industry? Attention is the biggest challenge! All studios and platforms are fighting for players’ attention in times where we’re overwhelmed with good and bad content, real and fake news, articles, tweets, posts, likes, music, games, series. As consumers, we’ve got a wide array of entertainment options and a gradually shorter attention span. Cutting through the noise, creating an emotional engagement and monetising an audience has never been so challenging. The good news (for Bossa at least) is that companies who are highly creative and authentic, with the ability to adapt and iterate content, can swing their sails to catch the winds of trends in the attention economy and really succeed!
Roberta Lucca Co-founder, Bossa Studios “Companies who are highly creative and authentic can swing their sails to catch the winds of trends in the attention economy and really succeed!”
How can the industry succeed in getting more women into senior roles? We need to train all our leaders to identify nuances of communication between men and women. According to research, women typically underplay their achievements (often attributing success to others or luck). And we do the opposite when it comes to failures - we take it personally and blame ourselves for when things don’t go to plan. Men, on the other hand, usually attribute success to themselves and failures to others. As leaders in organisations, we must learn this and encourage women to speak up, put themselves forward for promotions, do that talk at an event, and tell them when success is due to their contribution, not fortune. There are barriers to success for women in the industry and I think all the women who are working to overcome and remove these, should be showing everyone it’s possible - being a role model for your children, the younger generations, and even your partner is hugely important!
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