MCV ISSUE 938
THE BUSINESS OF VIDEO GAMES
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RAMI ISMAIL ON INCLUSIVITY OVER DIVERSITY
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05 The editor
Gamescom is bigger than Europe
06 Critical path
The key dates this month
14 Rami Ismail
The fight for inclusivity
The biggest news from Brighton
28 Ins and outs
And all our recruitment advice
34 Industry voices
A bumper crop of industry opinion
Adam Myhill on CG and film production
44 We Happy Few
An evolution in public view
48 Good Shepherd
Making an impact with kindness
52 Julian Gollop
His Balkan strategy for Phoenix Point
Developing for Oculus Go
We catch up with Hans van Brakel
62 Sumo Digital
A blueprint for success
64 When we made
68 AI and games
Tommy Thompson on the past of AI
70 Mechanically sound
Monument Valley 2
72 Income stream
74 The final boss
No More Robotsâ€™ Mike Rose
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“I’m as guilty as anyone in thinking of Gamescom as the European games show.”
Gamescom is bigger than Europe Looking back to last year’s Gamescom edition of MCV I find myself bemoaning the UK government’s apparent lack of any solid plan in regards to Brexit… 12 months later and things appear to have improved not one iota. So I’m preparing for the worst and hoarding continental food and beverages. At least I’ll have a decent bottle of red to sup when the day comes. There’s little more to say on that front so let’s move onto some sunnier thoughts, and not just the glorious weather we’ve all been having. The games industry is in rude health, we have three strong home console platforms for the first time in many, many years. Plus all three have viable digital stores as well, arguably for the first time ever. And all this is happening globally, with numerous opportunities in developing markets. There’s simply never been a better era to launch a game, with an incredibly eclectic range of titles finding success across multiple platforms. Then we have a booming PC software market, the opportunities of easier cross-play and cross-platform development and with subscription and even streaming services on the horizon to provide yet more stable revenue streams. Then there are countries such as China and India, as well as territories such as Africa, which lie largely untapped. While I’m as guilty as anyone in thinking of Gamescom as the European games show, it can become much more than that. And it must do, in our increasingly globalised industry where the biggest titles transcend cultural barriers. For many across the globe, Europe is more accessible and welcoming than the west coast of the US – a location that was perfect for the console hegemony of US and Japanese platform holders, but which does not suit many, many others. Plus Gamescom combines both trade show and consumer show is a deft manner that E3 will, due to its history, likely never achieve. It may not be timed right for those big streamed press conferences, but as a physical show it’s superior to its American rival in many respects. Most notably that I don’t have to contend with eight hours of jetlag. So I hope to see as many of you as possible at Gamescom. The MCV team will be on the Ukie stand, so pop by and say hello, but before 2pm please – as after that we’ll be on deadline for the show daily. Seth Barton firstname.lastname@example.org
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We Happy Few
CriticalPath Here are the key upcoming events and releases to mark in your calendar...
August 10th Three years after its much-hyped reveal, two years after its Early Access debut and a completely new direction later, Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few is finally hitting shelves this month. Releasing on PS4, Xbox On and PC, courtesy of Gearbox Publishing, We Happy Few is now closer to a narrative-driven adventure than the survival game it initially was.
Overcooked 2 Ghost Town Games and Team17’s mad co-op cooking title, which has the ability to end friendships, is coming back with a sequel. Overcooked 2 is landing on PS4, Xbox One and Switch (plus digitally on PC), with new level mechanics, online multiplayer, new recipes and chefs.
Gamescom 2018 Koelnmesse, Cologne
Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate Capcom’s Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is coming to Switch. The title is essentially a HD port of Japanexclusive Monster Hunter XX, which itself was an improved version of 3DS title Monster Hunter Generations.
The biggest games event of the year is returning to Koelnmesse this August, with trade visitors welcomed from Tuesday 21st and the event then opening to all visitors from the 22nd. For the fourth year running, MCV will be out at Gamescom in force, producing our daily MCV@Gamescom issues and covering all the latest news and events around the show as they happen. Our daily magazine is the best way to keep up with events at the show. Last year, Gamescom hit new milestones, with around 355,000 visitors (including 30,700 trade visitors) from 106 countries. 919 exhibitors were on site, coming from 54 countries.
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Play Expo London
Printworks, London Replay Events’ arcade, indie and retro games show is finally coming to London for the first time. Taking over Printworks, it will feature its usual wealth of arcade and pinball machines, alongside hundreds of consoles and PCs all packed with the best retro games. The event will also feature Minecraft and indie zones, as well as VR and LAN gaming areas. Duncan Gutteridge, Jon Hare, Andrew Hewson, Mike Montgomery, the Oliver Twins and Paul ‘Mr Biffo’ Rose have already been announced as guests and there will also be a YouTube panel talk and Q&A.
Motion Twin’s Dead Cells is coming to PS4 and Switch this summer, with a physical edition courtesy of Merge Games, while the Xbox One version will be digital only. The roguelikeMetroidvania hybrid sold 750,000 units on Steam in Early Access and will leave the service to release in full this August as well.
Devcom 2018 Congress Centre East, Koelnmesse, Cologne Gamescom’s developers-focused event will once again take place a few days before the main show. Devcom will take over the Congress Centre East of Koelnmesse on August 19th and 20th, with some very talented headline speakers this year, including 22cans’ founder and Fable creator Peter Molyneux. Sony Santa Monica’s creative director Cory Barlog, Media Molecule’s studio director Siobhan Reddy and Ultima designer Richard Garriott.
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CONTENT Editor: Seth Barton email@example.com, +44 (0)203 871 7388 Content Editor: Jake Tucker firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6009 Senior Staff Writer: Marie Dealessandri email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4910 Content Director: James McKeown firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6015 Designer: Sam Richwood email@example.com Digital Director: Diane Oliver firstname.lastname@example.org, +44 (0)207 354 6019 Production Executive: James Marinos email@example.com, +44 (0)203 889 4907
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The World Cup ate practically every minute of my free time and the Tour de France is now hoovering up what’s left. Speaking of which I’m oﬀ on holiday to France for a couple of weeks, so plenty of time to catch-up with all those lovely Switch indies while lounging by the pool.
I’m still playing Hollow Knight and I will keep playing until I’ve explored every single nook of Hallownest. I even talked to Team Cherry about it (turn to page 64!) and learnt that my favourite boss was voiced by one of the developers’ mum and this is now my favourite gaming fact. Marie Dealessandri, Senior Staff Writer
I’ve been busy this month as the manager of Truro City, taking the Vanarama National League South team up the leagues for Premier League success in Football Manager 2018. We didn’t win anything abroad, but then again, we never do, do we? Jake Tucker, Content Editor
Seth Barton, Editor
Paws the game The best furry friends the industry has to oﬀer. Send in yours to Jake.Tucker@futurenet.com
MCV has an exclusive media partnership with Famitsu – Japan’s leading video games analyst and news source
The Emerson Building, 4th Floor 4-8 Emerson Street. London, SE1 9DU All contents © 2018 Future Publishing Limited 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. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. 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. Future 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 Future 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 Future 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.
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Pet name: Tachikoma Owner’s name: Korina Abbott Owner’s job: Owner, KA Games Okay, yes, Tachikoma is a tarantula. Still, this fuzzy little friend is adorable, especially in photo form, hundreds of miles from MCV’s London ofﬁce.
Pet name: Pancake Owner’s name: Sophie Brennan Owner’s job: Character TD, Insomniac Games
Pet name: Yuuki Owner’s name: Andrew Willans Owner’s job: Design director, Sumo Digital
I don’t know much about bearded dragons, but I know that I want to pet Pancake. Pancake and I will be friends. I’m sure.
Honestly, we’ve looked at scores of photos of pets. None of them look as much like an adorable wolf as Yuuki. What a good dog.
Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Peter Allen Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244
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SEE YOU AT GAMESCOM! UKIE UK PAVILION | BOOTH B030G / D049G
Proud supporters of
Partnerships: firstname.lastname@example.org Careers: jagex.com/careers
Real life events from the industry THE DEVELOP AWARDS 2018 The Develop Awards 2018 certainly won’t be forgotten for a long time to come, with the England semi-final falling on the same night. While the country as a whole might have lost, we had 17 brilliant and deserving winners. The biggest being Ninja Theory, taking home four awards in total. The new streamlined format meant the winners came thick and fast, as our waistcoated host: “It seemed like a good idea three hours ago,” Ellie Gibson said, keeping up the pace and lightening the mood. Two industry heavyweights were honoured. Jade Raymond received our inaugural Vanguard Award, while Shuhei Yoshida rounded the night off receiving his Develop Legend award. STUDIO CATEGORY Major Studio: Creative Assembly (supported by Amiqus) Indie Studio: Ninja Theory (supported by Xsolla) New Studio: Runner Duck Games (supported by Jagex) Studio of the Year: Ninja Theory (supported by Edge) CREATIVE CATEGORY Animation: Ubisoft Milan & Ubisoft Paris - Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Visual Design: Ubisoft Milan & Ubisoft Paris - Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Music Design: Ninja Theory - Hellblade: Senua’s Sacriﬁce Sound Design: EA DICE - Star Wars Battlefront II (supported by Pole to Win) Writing or Narrative Design: Ninja Theory - Hellblade: Senua’s Sacriﬁce Gameplay Innovation: Supermassive - Hidden Agenda BUSINESS CATEGORY Recruitment Agency: Amiqus Publishing Hero: Team17 SERVICES CATEGORY QA & Localisation: Testronic Engine: Epic - Unreal Creative Outsourcer (Audio): Soundcuts Creative Outsourcer (Visual + Development): RealtimeUK Technology Provider: Amazon - Amazon Web Services INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENT Vanguard Award: Jade Raymond Develop Legend: Shuhei Yoshida
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DEVELOP:BRIGHTON We do like to be beside the seaside, with the combination of football, free ice creams and amazing keynotes definitely being a winning recipe. Weâ€™re already looking forward to next year and if you want to read our thoughts about it all, turn to page 20.
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JUST HUM A Rami Ismail has been elevated to one of the biggest voices in indie gaming and he’s not into the idea, he tells Jake Tucker
lambeer, the Dutch studio behind indie hits like Super Crate Box and Luftrausers, took a hiatus after the launch of Nuclear Throne in 2015, and it left co-founder Rami Ismail with some time to think about his place in the world of video games: a world he entered eight years ago with the studio’s founding in 2010. “The hiatus didn’t mean Vlambeer didn’t exist anymore,” says Ismail. “It meant that me and my co-founder, JW [Jan Willem Nijman] really needed a break from each other. Infamously, we don’t like each other, and that is absolutely true. It doesn’t mean we don’t like working with each other, it just means that working with each other takes energy.” This means that after intensive projects, the pair needs some time apart – and Vlambeer’s most intensive project yet was Nuclear Throne, which updated once a week for 99 weeks on Steam Early Access. “We decided to take a year off and focus on the things that we were interested in at that point,” Ismail says. “Which for me was a lot of diversity work, and just structural industry work, trying to find my place… I’ve been going to events for a year or two, helping people work on their games and it’s just exciting for me to have a game of my own again.” Vlambeer is now working on prototypes again, and Ismail is glad to be digging back into development: “It’s not that I resent not having a game or was unhappy not having a game, it’s just really exciting being able to work with something again. I do get a little stressed if I don’t get to programme for extended periods of time. So it’s nice to be back and to wrestle with computers, because that’s the kind of thing I love and that’s the reason I ended up here. All this other stuff? It just kind of happened.”
The “other stuff ” that Ismail refers to is how he has been thrust into a position as an unofficial spokesperson for indie development and inclusivity in the industry around the globe. The studio found prominence originally when its browser game Ridiculous Fishing was cloned for mobile storefronts before Vlambeer itself could release the title on mobile. Being Dutch with Egyptian heritage, Ismail has also found himself positioned as a key voice in the conversation about diversity. However, diversity is a typically western way of viewing the problem, he explains. “I think that for all the work being done getting those additional voices in, like women’s voices, or making sure there’s more queer voices, or that there’s enough voices from different races – that conversation remains very focused on the western world in particular,” says Ismail. “I want to support all of those fights. I want to support the fight for more women’s voices, for more queer voices, for more voices of different races, for voices of people with disabilities. I think those are all extremely important and I’m 100 per cent behind each and every one of them. “But I’m also a little worried about just the word diversity in itself. It’s a very simple criticism but my problem with the word diversity is that it’s an English word. I don’t like it. It’s a word of English. We have a diversity discussion, which in itself is English, written in the Latin alphabet, which already immediately excludes everybody else. Suddenly the rest of the planet does not feel part of that discussion. I’ve travelled around the world and asked people: ‘How do you feel about all this diversity stuff?’ And they respond: ‘That’s an American or European thing. We’re not included. We don’t matter’.”
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Rare would like to congratulate all of the Develop Awards 2018 winners
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Diversity, says Ismail, can be turned into quotas or tokenism. “So for me inclusively becomes the fight,” he adds. “Diversity is not my fight. Diversity is something that we can keep doing forever until every single human on earth is included, which we’ll never achieve. My quest is not to get every single person on earth to make games. My quest is to make sure that every person who would want to make games feels like they will be welcome here and feels that they will be safe here. That’s the fight.” He continues: “Inclusivity is an ideology. It’s a state of welcoming.” He mentions that playing games from different viewpoints to the usual western-eastern development centres can bring titles such as This War of Mine, a game from Polish developers 11 Bit Studios that’s about surviving war, rather than taking part in it. “It’s not a game that anybody in the US would have made because the US cultural understanding of war is: ‘We fight them and hopefully we win.’ But the Polish understanding of war is: ‘They happen to us and hopefully we survive them.’ Just that simple cultural difference really makes for a revolutionary game, and that’s why there’s nothing out there quite like it.” Ismail mentions several other games that are products of the cultures that developed them: take Farsh, a game about rolling carpets from Iran, or Broforce, a South African satirical game about being movie stars in America. “It’s actually sort of an anti-American game but a lot of Americans just still see it as pro-American,” Ismail says. “It’s the way South Africa deals with difficult issues and there’s many of them in their history. And they’ve found that finding metaphor and sarcasm and cynicism is a good way of handling those. And it’s just a little cultural thing. “We all look at these games and say: ‘Wow, these are brand new!’ These are not brand new, you just never gave people from these cultures the ability to make games before! [Games] have brought me to worlds in which giant rings that hover in space can destroy our entire civilization and I have to punch a bunch of religious zealot monsters in a green suit of armour, to make sure that the rings don’t kill us all. I’ve been to that world and that world works but I’ve never been to countries on earth. How are we, as a medium, OK with the fact that in 2018, the E3 presentation of The Last of Us had the first video game kiss that actually looked like a kiss?” Ismail pauses for a second and grins. “Of course, that’s an American kiss. What does a kiss from the Middle East look like?”
GOING GLOBAL Ismail is a familiar industry face all around the world due to an Escheresque travel schedule that often sees him going from event to event on the same day. He tweets out the numbers of his flights as he gets them and seems to be perpetually on the move. Speaking to him at 4am in Berlin, several years before the interview for this article, Ismail confessed that he didn’t think he had any concept of an internal clock anymore and merely slept when there was time. By the time I’d awoken at midday the next day, Ismail had given a keynote talk with Leigh Alexander and was already onboard a flight to Croatia. This level of presence, and the fact that Ismail very clearly cares about the industry he’s entrenched in and the people within in, have elevated him to being one of the few figureheads of the increasingly disparate indie games development scene. Something that Ismail himself is a big critic. “It was stressful. It was very stressful. Realising that the things I said meant more than I thought they would. That people would take my word as important is scary to me. I think culturally one of the metaphors that I took with me from being younger is in Islam. I was raised Muslim. In Islam the idea is that when somebody gives advice about religious things you say or ‘only Allah knows’. You say that before and after your advice and it was meant to qualify your statement as just a human’s opinion. ‘This is just my human opinion on this large topic, so I might be wrong’. It is meant as a way to say: ‘Don’t just blindly take my advice’. “I started doing this travel and public speaking thing because the Dutch press has a reach of about 15 million people of which only a tiny part care about video games. Well, if I hop to London and I can talk to the press there, I suddenly have a reach of pretty much any Englishspeaking country, right? “So the dream was always to get our work into the English press and that’s why I started public speaking. Slowly but certainly this kind of took off. People liked what I talked about. People liked my viewpoints on things and I was given this platform by many to speak, which meant that more people started listening, which meant that my voice became weightier.” He continues: “I don’t need an ambassador award. I don’t need the game changer award. But if my name scrolls by in the credits of a little game, that a few hundred people played, but I know it was made in a community that I visited a few years ago and I gave them some feedback, that is the ultimate reward. The reward
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“My quest is not to get every single person on earth to make games. My quest is to make sure that every person who would want to make games feels like they will be welcome here. That’s the fight.” for any of this is knowing that somewhere in the world I made a small difference.” Ismail says being painted into the role of an ambassador or a leader has been a puzzle because at heart, he’s an indie developer. “I am very bad with authority,” he explains. “I am very bad at listening to people just because they have a loud voice. And I recognise that I have become just a loud voice.” The answer, Ismail says, is to disagree with him. To not take all of his word as gospel just because he’s one of the loudest voices in the scene. “Please fight me. Fight me on Twitter. Bring it. Tell me how I’m wrong. “I remember in South Africa a kid asked me if he should drop out of school and I gave him my political answer, which is: ‘If you’re asking me, you shouldn’t. But if you’re 100 per cent sure you should drop out of school, if you have a plan, if you have a game, if you’re all ready, if I had said stay in school and you would have still dropped out of school, that’s when you should drop out of school’. “Then a teacher came to me afterwards and said: ‘If you ever say that again, you’re never coming back to this school again.’ And when I queried it she straight up said: ‘If he takes your advice you will have likely killed him. What do you think happens in South Africa? You know what happens in the Netherlands. You have social nets.
You know you’ll get some money from the government. He’ll get a job. He can go to school. What do you think happens in Johannesburg?’ “I guess I’d never really thought about that. Those moments of challenge is what allows me to be a better version of myself, and that’s what we should all be aiming for.” Ismail is happy to admit that he messes up sometimes, and that he is doing his best to learn as he goes, mentioning that Vlambeer and the attention that came from that has meant he’s had to grow up under the constant scrutiny of the public eye. Ismail refers to his 150,000 Twitter followers, and reckons maybe 110,000 of the total are game developers, an audience he never thought he’d have. “That’s a loud voice. That’s a lot of responsibility. And I try to make sure that I take responsibility for that but what do we know? Twitter is new. I can try, and if I fail, I’ll do it in public and hopefully people will call me out. “It remains scary to me that there are people in the world who see a tweet of mine and think: ‘Oh yeah, it’s Rami. He must be right.’ I don’t know how to deal with that. I will never know how to deal with that. “People ask me about legacy and ‘where do you see yourself in five years’,” says Ismail with a grin. “Fuck if I know. If I knew I would probably quit because it would be very boring. I just want to make a positive change.”
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DEVELOP:BRIGHTON The industry came out in record numbers at this year’s extended Develop:Brighton conference. Here are MCV’s top takeaways from the three-day event
Shuhei Yoshida: ‘I wish we were more successful on the multiplayer side as well’
SHUHEI YOSHIDA, president of Sony’s Worldwide Studios, speaking on the first day at Develop:Brighton, said candidly that he wished the company was “more successful on the multiplayer side as well.” The answer came during his keynote chat, when Edge’s Nathan Brown asked Yoshida why Sony’s studios were becoming best known for their single-player titles, while the industry as a whole was moving more towards games-as-a-service type titles. Yoshida then went on to talk about the reasons for the concentration on soloplay titles, noting that “making games of any type nowadays is so difficult,” and that single-player games are the area in which the company’s first-party studios are most capable. He added that “this is the area in which [Sony studios] have a chance to push this art forward,” and that teams had a duty to not just to “follow success in the market,” but also to “follow their hearts.” It doesn’t seem like this is a deliberate strategy by Sony either: “It just so happens that we are fortunate to have these teams to push forward with these types of games.” However, as we discussed recently, following Shaun Layden’s Gamelab talk, it’s at very least a fortuitous split for the company, as it allows Sony to concentrate on one type of game without entering in direct competition with its third-party partners. “We’re not here to create games that steal market share from other publishers. Because we manage the platform, it’s not to steal pieces of the pie. It’s to grow the entire pie,” said Layden.
Jade Raymond on her role in creating new Star Wars IPs at EA DURING her day two keynote chat, Jade Raymond told The Guardian’s Jordan Erica Webber about how she oversees new IPs for EA, which largely involves looking at potential titles to add to the expanded Star Wars canon. “We’re not stopping making single-player games,” she said, putting to rest some conjecture about EA’s approach to the Star Wars franchise. And Raymond should know: her key role on the IP is to review the internal pitches that many EA studios have created, considering the diverse takes the studios have on the universe and deciding which ones should be considered for production. She also ensures there’s a good breadth of titles from the company and “not just four jedis games.” It sounds like Star Wars nirvana, green lighting projects and helping to develop IPs for the world’s most beloved (sorry Star Trek) sci-fi universe – a similar role to the one she held at Ubisoft but over a more diverse range of new IP ideas. Raymond went on to explain that the Star Wars fandom is driven by the knowledge that fans can accrue, saying: “You do have to hit Star Wars fan expectation, the No.1 motivator is to becoming the No.1 fan.” Many fans are highly-competitive and want to know things about the universe that they can then tell to other fans: “It’s basically to beat their friends
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Sony London’s Michael Hampden: Within 5 years, a ‘new genre of game will be born, one that will only be possible in VR’
in Star Wars trivia,” Raymond said. It’s this instinct that’s a key driver in wanting to consume every last part of the IP, and the games that EA makes have to provide in this respect as well. Raymond also commented on the gigantic “network model of the franchise,” describing its incredible reach across casual consumers and hardcore fans, and right across the year. That’s a huge opportunity for EA. She likened the future of game development to a neighbourhood bar in one analogy and how people might use the same space for numerous different activities: from sitting in the corner reading a book, to doing karaoke with your friends, or catching up with the soap opera that is the barman’s love life. If EA can create a social Star Wars space that appeals to such a wide variety of Star Wars fans, and encompasses such a breadth of online activities as a neighbourhood bar, then it’s really onto something.
GIVING a talk during the first day of the conference, Sony London’s lead game designer Michael Hampden (currently working on Blood & Truth) discussed the possible future of VR. And according to him, the future will be bright with VR shaping new genres and helping create new development tools: “In the next five years, I think we’ll see some VR killer apps emerge and we’re going to have established a design language. I think we’re going to see some growth in mobile VR as well and medical applications. And one new genre of game will be born, one that will only be possible in VR.” Looking further ahead, around ten years, Hampden commented: “I think one of the missing keys is haptic feedback. It should make a giant leap forward and will be a game changer. Feeling an object, the texture, will change the game, it will make things much more immersive and it will allow new genres of VR games to emerge.” In 25 years, he added (though he admitted it’s “hard to predict”), he’s hoping we’ll have reached the holodeck stage. “By then, VR should be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today.” Hampden also said that there will be an increase in location-based VR experiences in the near future: “We’ve seen developers switching from doing room scale environment to do locationbased experiences. These are things like Star Wars Secrets of the Empire and it’s pretty interesting to see the ability that this technology brings to users. “You can have the ground shaking as the user is walking through the space or you can have wind or temperature changes. These are very powerful and profound experiences that people love and are willing to spend money for. We have a limited number of these experiences out there so far but I think this trend is here to stay and we’ll see more and more location-based VR coming in the future.” But before reaching these possible developments, Hampden explained
that we still need to work on ways to communicate what a VR experience feels like. And in order to get there, actual brick-and-mortar shops are a crucial element. “It’s really hard to get across how the VR experience is actually going to feel with the headset on,” he said. “It’s not as simple as putting a video out there and then you know exactly what our game is like in VR. It’s a very different thing to see it and to actually feel it and to have that presence in VR and be inside that experience. “So we’re still trying to learn how to sell VR content and create ways to demonstrate that feeling with things like 360 trailers. The other thing that’s very important for VR is to do demo stations at brick-and-mortar stores. “If you can play a demo of something then it can actually give you a sense, an understanding, of the game and then you’re going to buy it.” Among the many pieces of advice he gave during his talk, he reminded developers that “VR is not a one size fits all approach.” He explained: “Customisation options are a very good thing. There’s going to be various levels of comfort, things like motion sickness, so providing some options there is really important as well as input methods, things like the the aim controllers, just make your game so much better.” He also reminded developers that ports are never going to use the strengths of VR as well as a game designed for VR from the ground up. He advised devs to change their approach when it comes to developing a VR game: “When you first start making a game in VR the first question you need to ask is why. Why are you making this game in VR? “Start with the things that make VR unique, it’s not just presence but also the input methods, head tracking, binaural audio, all those things that you have in VR that you can use to leverage your experience and make it special and different.”
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Creative Assembly’s Grace Carroll: ‘Community managing is like putting savings in the good will currency jar’
Auroch Digital’s Tomas Rawlings: ‘Developers need to go prepper to survive the Steampocalypse’ IN his talk at Develop:Brighton, Tomas Rawlings, the design director at studio Auroch Digital, delivered a dose of reality as he presented a ‘survival guide’ for surviving the alleged ‘Steampocalypse’. “A few years ago, Steam was a relatively controlled space for the release of new titles,” said Rawlings. “When our first game – Chainsaw Warrior – released on Steam, there were one or two games at most released on that day. Now, we’re into double figures when it comes to games being released per day on Steam.” This creates issues for developers that are trying to stand out on the store, as it’s harder to get press coverage, harder to get player trust and harder for everyone to make a living. “People say: ‘If your game is good, it’ll rise to the top’, but I don’t think that’s an answer,” Rawlings said, mentioning that there’s a wall of noise hitting every press outlet and influencer, making it harder for anyone to get noticed. To survive, Rawlings suggested games studios diversify their income, diversify sales channels and try to create games that are less expensive in terms of development time. “If your sole income is from selling games, that’s a problem,” he explained, mentioning that Auroch does work-for-hire and other things to ensure the studio remains profitable. One of these key parts to ensure profitability however is for developers to sell their games for a reasonable price: “Avoid this race to the bottom with prices,” said Rawlings. “If you think your game is worth a price, charge that.” Rawlings added that data is blind, and studios need to ensure they stick true to their own vision. Similarly, developers around the world should be working together to make the biggest impact: “The global industry is so big, it makes no sense for developers to compete,” he said. “Instead we should be collaborating.”
GRACE CARROLL gave an informative talk on managing communities in the modern age, covering best practices. Carroll mentioned that one of the most essential things is to manage the expectation of a game’s community: “If an audience is really hyped about your game, they might be really hyped about something that isn’t in the game, or have a different idea of what the game should be,” said Carroll. “This is good for your pre-orders, but you’ll see a backlash later.” This could mean that a game will get a reputation or negative reviews and both of these can do serious damage. Carroll said that many developers should also try to prioritise finding their unique voice for social media as this will humanise the brand, allowing communities to emotionally invest. Do this well and you increase positivity and good feeling towards your games and your company. Most companies will have a unique voice, and it can be different between even individual games, but finding this is a solid first step. “I can’t emphasise enough that you should not be a faceless corporation,” said Carroll. “Most of the time if customers are on your social media page they’ve already decided they’re interested, but they want this to be a two-way communication.” Some of the top mistakes that developers are making include being defensive, not owning their mistakes, failing to manage expectations, censoring comments, being too corporate, not having a clear social media policy and not tailoring content. Caroll suggested that good companies match communications with the way their community wants to operate. Put simply: if your community is using memes, those are what you should engage with. Good community management is like “putting savings in the goodwill currency jar,” said Carroll. “Later you will need to remove them. “Gamers are some of the most passionate fans on both sides of the equation. Even if they love your game, they hate your game.”
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Ninja Theory reveals how it streamlined creating and animating Hellblade’s characters
NINJA THEORY picked up four awards at our Develop Awards (see page 10), off the back of smash-hit Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. The studio has talked before about how it sees the game as an indie triple-A title, or triple-I as some call it. At the Develop:Brighton conference, its developers talked about the ups and downs of trying to hit such a high quality bar with such a small team. Matt Stoneham, principal technical artist, said about the project: “We wanted to challenge our own preconceptions of not just what was possible with small team but what was possible in games. At no point did we want to compromise on quality, so this was a challenge, how can we deliver an amazing experience to really high quality levels with just 15 to 20 people? “One of the great things about working with a small team, is that any one group within it are already multi-disciplined and highly-experienced. Bringing the right people together at the right points helped us make good calls for a good feedback experience into the design process at an early stage. This really helped us.” HIGH CONCEPT Jeff Goslan, senior character artist, spoke about how the small team had to adapt their roles to cover gaps, with him bridging character design and concept art after the team’s only concept artist left. Due to his superior experience in 3D over 2D, he built the concepts in 3D first off, allowing them to be dropped straight into Unreal and lit to get a better idea of the final look (pictured above). He was highly-complimentary about the lack of process: “If you thought of some idea halfway through you could implement it, you didn’t have this massive sign-off process you get on a larger triple-A production. On a larger production you have to have everything signed off by three different producers or directors, the nice thing with indie
triple-A was the agility we had to change stuff and continue to try and express ourselves in the best way. “The biggest lesson was the need to be extra creative and improvising where needed. There was some compromise to a degree on quality, things don’t have to always be 100 per cent. Anyone thinking of making the move from triple-A to indie, then embrace that uncertainty, enjoy the creative freedom.” Stoneham added: “You might have noticed that all the enemies don’t have facial features, this a key design aesthetic, but it was one born out of a very real resource restriction.” ALL RIGGED UP When it came to animating the characters, the team decided to stick to a strict class structure in order to reduce the workload. This had a “huge positive impact,” Stoneham said. “By way of comparison, DMC had 32 characters and 23 unique rigs, Hellblade has 16 characters, 12 of those are rigged, and those 12 rigs are derived from just three base rigs: male, female and quadruped.” As well as reducing the total amount of work and unnecessary repetition, “this dramatically increases the scope for asset sharing, either as the basis for something new, or sharing entire movement sets across characters,” Stoneham said. “Getting the rig right early on pays huge dividends across the lifetime of the project. It meant we could reduce departmental dependencies on new asset generation and so the majority of character, animation, technical and design work could be completed in parallel.” Also, concept art being done in 3D initially meant that the animators could check the work in 3D early on in the process, before all the modelling work had been done, to make sure they weren’t being handed a “shit sandwich,” Goslan said.
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No More Robots’ Mike Rose on why you should use Discord to sell your game
DURING his talk entitled ‘Your Game Isn’t Going to Sell. Let’s See What We Can Do About That’, No More Robots’ founder Mike Rose discussed what indies can do to boost their game before, during and after launch. And setting up a Discord server is the tool all indie publishers should be using, he explained throughout the talk. “Twitch was the thing years ago, and YouTube before that, there’s always a thing, and the thing right now is Discord,” Rose said. “Firstly, Discord has now over 100m registered users and ten of millions of active users and them being on Discord mean they like video games in some kind of form. “So we’re talking about this platform with ten of millions of people using it every day who all want to buy video games. That, to me, sounds kind of useful. So I keep shouting at people: get on this, just learn it quick, there’s really not that much to it.”
Boosted Steam wishlists, boosted Day One sales, more positive reviews: the benefits of using Discord are numerous, he continued. “All the things I’ve listed here are things that I’ve found come directly from me having a Discord server. It’s amazing. Within the first 24 hours of having Descenders out we had hundreds of positive reviews, we had like a 93 per cent score. “I mean the game is great, I’m not saying it’s not, but [Discord users] were all very quickly just hammering positive reviews because they’re all such die-hard Descenders fans now because of the Discord server. There’s lots of good stuff that comes out of making a Discord server. “If you want to set one up yourself, I would say do so before your announcement. You can set up a server, you can get in touch with Discord and they will verify it,” he explained. “The big problem with Discord is you never know how to make people go in. The way I get people to come into my Discord servers is by telling them that it’s the only way for them to get my game for free in the beta form. “Essentially, at the announcement, I tell them ‘Hey, if you join this Discord server then in a couple of months you’ll get the beta’ and I think we had like 5,000 join the Descenders Discord, 4,000 people join the Not Tonight one and the Hypnospace one has 2,500 people. People just keep coming and I now have access, I can literally @ everybody on this server and it pings 5,000 people’s phones, they all see it right there and they all jump on and start interacting with the thing I pinged at them. It’s amazing to get directly in touch with people who signed up because they like the look of your game. “We never really had something like that before. We got someone to watch your trailer and then where did they go? They just disappear and you hope they will remember your game in the future. Now you can tell them in the trailer: go and sign up for the beta.” After the beta is out, once again Discord proves to be very useful as a marketing tool, Rose continued, as it allows “you to collect info about your community” and to “cement people’s interest.” When the game is out, “Discord really shines,” he added, as you can “keep your Discord active with challenges, meta games, whatever works.” Rose concluded, talking about Hypnospace Outlaw: “I know for a fact that there are thousands of people in that server who are going to buy the game now. Because they’re telling me. We’ve created a space where they’ve already got hours of enjoyment out of this thing and it’s not even out yet.”
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Ins and outs: Industry hires and moves 1
Keywords Studios has strengthened its executive team with new hires. IGOR EFREMOV (1), who founded Sperasoft (which was acquired by Keywords in December 2017) has been appointed to the new role of CCO. MARK RIZZO (2), formerly COO of Sperasoft, has taken up the role of global operations director at Keywords, having previously held senior technology management positions at the likes of EA, Sony, NCSoft and Trion Worlds. Keywords has also appointed ANDREW BROWN (3) to the newly created role of CMO. He previously held roles of UK managing director and SVP Americas at Activision Blizzard. Finally, JAMIE CAMPBELL (4) who joined the group through the acquisition of D3t in October 2017,
has taken up the role of service line director for the engineering service line. Prior to founding D3t where he was CEO, Campbell was development director at THQ. Andrew Day, CEO of Keywords Studios, commented: “These changes and additions to our leadership team at Keywords add capability and capacity as we continue to develop our global video games services platform. Welcoming companies into the Keywords family and integrating them, including to the extent of complementing the leadership team with talented individuals from those companies, is something we pride ourselves on and it is pleasing to see this being reflected in these latest people moves.”
Having spent almost two years at content agency Greenlit Content as director of audience development,
“I’m ecstatic to be working with the Ukie team. Most of all I’m happy to be working in games and I can finally justify my love for it to my parents.” Denzel Dome, Ukie
TOM BRAMWELL (5) has returned to Riot Games as UK editor-inchief. He worked there for over a year back in 2015 as head of writing before the Brighton office closed. He previously was editor-in-chief at Eurogamer for nearly seven years. He said: “I’m super happy to be back at Riot Games as part of the new UK team. In my new role I’ll be overseeing content across all Riot channels in the UK, launching some new ones and hopefully racking up pentakills on my lunch break!” Ukie has a new PR manager as DENZEL DOME (6) joined the UK games industry trade body. He previously worked at the likes of Flame PR, Ketchum and April Six Proof. He commented: “As Ukie’s new lead on PR, I’ll be managing the big issues facing the games sector, media campaigns and making sure our work is always on the map. I’m ecstatic to be here and working with the Ukie team. Most of all I’m happy to be working in games and I can finally justify my love for it to my parents.”
She previously worked at Next Games as a marketing analyst on The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land and upcoming AR experience The Walking Dead: Our World, and she also developed a marketing analytics ecosystem. After ten years at Multiplay (and Unity since it acquired the digital aspect of the company in 2017) in various roles, former head of product development and strategy WILL LOWTHER (8) has joined gaming-focused broadcasting platform Caffeine. He’ll be working in the business and content team in the firm’s Newcastle office. In a blog post reflecting on his time at Multiplay, he said: “I’m really proud of the company Multiplay has become, in particular helping find our true home here as part of the Unity family. I have no doubts the team here will continue to do amazing things across the hosting space, powering the world’s biggest titles going from strength to strength.”
Hutch has made yet another appointment, with ANNA YUKHTENKO (7) joining as games analyst.
Entertainment sales house Venatus Media, which represents the likes of
Rovio, EA and Spil Games, has appointed a new head of business development and strategic partnership, TOM BRIANT (9). He previously worked for the likes of Davinci 11 and Sony PlayStation as business director and head of network advertising. CEO of Venatus Rob Gay commented: “The success Tom has had in building relationships within the industry ensures that he is a perfect fit to lead our new business and strategic partnership efforts.” BioWare’s JAMES OHLEN (10) announced his departure from the firm via a statement made on Twitter. He had been with BioWare for 22 years and was best known for his work as lead designer on titles such as Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, Neverwinter Nights and as creative director on Star Wars: The Old Republic. In his statement, Ohlen said he needed to take a break from the industry and “work on something a little smaller and more personal.” Senior lecturer in Game Design at Teesside University and former game designer at Ubisoft Reflections JAMIE SMITH (11) will be joining Sumo Digital in Newcastle as a senior game designer, starting on September 3rd. He commented: “It’s an excellent opportunity to combine my prior experience as a designer, with nurturing creative talent, on exciting projects.”
Got an appointment you’d like to share with us? Email Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 28 | MCV 938 August 2018
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Daniel Summerfield, founder, Mass Entertainment
What’s been your biggest challenge to date? Four months into the company, we had a supplier we were doing regular business with. A big deal came around for £82k and we did it with them, with payment in advance because there had never be any issues. Shockingly, they then ran away with the money and delivered no stock. Talk about baptism by fire! I’m 20 years old and £82,000 in debt. I had a choice – go bankrupt or dig deep and commit to pay it off. By the end of 2017, the debt was paid and my business was still turning a healthy profit and growing. I can only thank our great customers and suppliers for their continued support. It’s testimony to how we keep focused on relationships that the customers affected by the scam still do lots of business with us. What do you enjoy most about your job? The journey! I love building new partners, new contacts and something that has so much potential. It just doesn’t feel like a job. It’s a massive adventure and every turn is exciting. Dealing daily with something I love is such a privilege. I also believe that business can be a force for good in the world. For me, that means financially and personally investing in building houses for the homeless around the world.
How did you break into games? I’ve always been a massive fan of video games, dating all the way back to Golden Axe on my Sega Megadrive. I went to college to study games development but didn’t have a massive knack for that and in the end stumbled across the games distribution industry by chance. I ran a small production company at 16 and loved it, so when the opportunity of running a games distribution company became apparent I just had to seize the day and get it rolling. Mass Entertainment started in August 2016 and it’s just been a whirlwind of learning and growing ever since. What is your proudest achievement so far? I’m very proud of the exponential growth in the company, but first and foremost I’m proud of the incredible team I’ve got working with me. These guys religiously uphold the company’s core values, keeping the focus on building
“They ran away with the money and delivered no stock. Talk about baptism by fire!” relationships and helping our customers grow their businesses. We’ve built up some great partnerships too. Recently, we started working with Kingdom Come: Deliverance developer Warhorse and it’s been a privilege to push their first game out to market with some incredible results. I started just over 18 months ago with no real business experience. But with some great mentors – and a commitment to keep learning, growing and persevering – I’m proud of what’s been built so far, even though I know I’m still a rookie 21-year-old.
What’s your big ambition in games? My main focus is just to continue growing the company, building more partnerships, as well as growing the team internally. Long-term we’re going to start up a game development side, with a focus around the VR market. I’ve really been captured and engrossed by it, plus we’re barely scratching the surface of its capabilities. What advice would you give to someone trying to create their own firm? It’s a risk starting a company, but with the right planning, passion and commitment I believe anyone can do it. You’ve just got to take the leap. The gaming industry is very open and the tools out there are available to get up-andrunning across any sector, whether you want to start a distribution company, marketing, game development or a retail outlet – it’s all about taking an educated leap and making it happen.
If there’s a rising star at your company, contact Jake Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we might feature them here August 2018 MCV 938 | 29
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Cherry picked advice to help you reach the next level in your career
Creative Assembly’s Pete Stewart, writer on the Total War franchise, explains how game writers need to have a wider understanding of both the industry and the development process, as they work closely with designers to make sure the writing feels like a part of the game
What is your job role and how would you describe your typical day at work? I’m one of the writers for the Total War series at Creative Assembly. We have a small writing team and as one of our central teams we work across all our Total War projects. This means my days are varied and often involve a lot of moving parts, which is one of the most exciting things about this role. One day you’ll be writing heart-soaring dialogue and moving speeches, the next pithy short explanations for unit descriptions. Each has its place, and all contribute to the narrative immersion of our products. Writing for Total War (or indeed any game!) isn’t a matter of ‘putting words in it’ – crafting both words and narratives involves a lot of interdisciplinary work and understanding of the game systems and limitations – what you can and cannot do in your game. Our writers work with designers to bridge the gap between the mechanical design and the narrative – that’s crucial for making the writing feel like a part of the game, helping to create an immersive experience. From a technical side, we also need to be on top of our pipelines, our version-control, how information is passed within the team, to our leads, and then to other designers for review and implementation. Understanding and using all the tools at your disposal to make the pipeline as effective and as efficient as possible is arguably just as important as your ability to write. What qualifications and/or experience do you need to land this job? Any writer will, obviously, need to be able to write. There is a practical element to applying for most writing positions; at Creative Assembly there will be a writing test to judge your ability. At an entry-level, we don’t expect the world’s greatest writer, but a definite competence and eye for quality will be noticed. Hiring for a more senior position we’d expect you to fall into the role and land on both feet, then break into a sprint, which probably won’t stop for a while. Specific to the games industry is having that wider understanding of the craft, and an accompanying portfolio of some work. This could be professional or personal and will certainly help you stand out, especially in an industry that is focusing more and more on narrative games.
“An understanding of the world you’re stepping into is important – play games, but also have a working knowledge of the game you’re applying for.” Also, while it’s not ‘vital’, an understanding of the world you’re stepping into is important – play games, but also have a working knowledge of the game franchise you’re applying to work for. If you were interviewing someone for your team, what would you look for? By the interview stage, we’d hope to understand your ability to write from your writing test, so the interview would be more of an exploration of your experience and your personality. Specifically, we’d be looking at the team-fit as well as what you might be able to bring to the role. A discussion about narrative, its place in a game and its importance, would be something I’d be interested to hear about. “Which is more important: narrative or design?” is a question I hear a lot, and it’s revealing. Some understanding about how your work might have a wider effect on the developmental process would also be good – particularly understanding, or at least being aware of, the translation process. While you’ll have an impact on this process it will also affect your writing as certain languages may have limitations when applied to specific game elements. For example: UI space is at a premium and the German language is on average three times longer than English.
Want to talk about your career and inspire people to follow your path? Contact Marie Dealessandri at email@example.com 30 | MCV 938 August 2018
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“What I am learning and developing at Polystream will carry me far into the future.” Name: Olivier Carrère Studio: Polystream
Job Title: Platform Engineer
Education: Post-Master Engineering Degree in Networks & Distributed Applications
28 DAYS LATER
Taking a new opportunity in the industry can open a door to the job of your dreams. We catch up with a recent career mover at the start of their exciting new role through recruitment specialist Amiqus Congratulations on the amazing new job! What inspired you about Polystream to come and join them? Polystream grabbed my interest instantly as I believe in their vision and the outlook on where this technology could get them (and me with it). It’s cleverly simple and simply clever. After the second interview and after meeting a bunch of great individuals, I woke up at 4am and started to think about what Polystream could bring to not only the gaming market, but also remote application distribution. I was hooked. What’s the culture like at Polystream and what’s your experience been like ﬁtting in? Polystream is a collection of outstandingly smart individuals, which usually bears the risk of tensions and egos clashing. However, this is not the case here, which is down to the fact that the company is built in the image of the founders. For a start-up, Polystream is quite mature with a lot of people who have been around for a while and know how to run a business. It adds to the chilled ambiance, where people know what to do in a period of crisis and how to prevent them in the ﬁrst place, with a healthy mix of ages – it’s not just a collection of bumbling old farts like me. What are you most excited about bringing to the role? At times still trying to ﬁnd my place, I’ve had a dabble at quite a few
things and enjoyed it greatly. My experience allows me to be directly involved with the product, be it back end and infrastructure but also lowlevel network and system level client-side work. I have a thing for better practice in terms of software quality and automation, which is something I am helping out with. What will working at Polystream do for your career? Hopefully propel me to the highest spheres of fame and notoriety. Or allow me to retire early as a millionaire. More seriously though, Polystream is at the bleeding edge of the cloud/devops ﬁeld, which provides a great opportunity to develop my skills in machine learning and data science. So, on the very unlikely event I need to ﬁnd work after Polystream, I know that what I am learning and developing here will carry me far into the future. What would you like to say to anyone thinking about or undertaking a job move in games? I’ve spent my ﬁrst 11 years in the games industry, out of 18 years total in IT. I just got back into games and Polystream diﬀers to a typical games studio, so my advice is a bit more generic. Independently of which part of the IT industry you’re looking to change, having a high sense of motivation and always an open mind is crucial. The next big thing could be just around the corner.
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This month’s question:
With the Brexit crunch approaching fast, how are you mitigating against the worst-case scenario?
James Dobrowski, Executive Producer, CCP Games London
As a new triple-A studio in the heart of London, recruiting top talent is one of our highest priorities. While the impact of Brexit is yet to be determined, we’re confident the ambition of our pioneering action-MMO will continue to attract talent from all over the world. By providing comprehensive relocation, compensation and visa packages, we make it easy for our people to focus on making great games, no matter how global politics play out.
Tony Pearce, CEO, Reality Gaming Group
Hiring great development staff is already a challenge in the UK, so anything that reduces the talent pool is going to have an impact on our ability to maintain a solid development base here. We also have studios in Gibraltar, Denmark and the Philippines, but are committed to supporting the super talented UK dev community. So we hope that the result of the Brexit negotiations does not stem the flow of programmers we can attract to the UK.
Stuart Dinsey, Chairman, Curve Digital
It’s hard to mitigate against something when you don’t really know whether it’s going to happen or what it looks like. Uncertainty is there and that’s bad for the economy generally, but we haven’t been affected. We’re trying to get our recruitment right sooner rather than later as the talent pool is already challenged but everything else is about working positively with our partners to maximise opportunities or, if it comes to it, minimise disruption.
“The only way to mitigate is to identify issues early and pool our voices to ensure that the government is aware and motivated to act.” Garry Williams, CEO, Sold Out
Due to the existing confusion and lack of coherent Government guidance, it is impossible to take concrete steps to mitigate against an unknown worst case scenario! Assuming a hard Brexit, our main challenge will be to ameliorate the effects on free movement of goods around the EU and reduce additional administrative resource and cost burdens. Solutions may involve sub-contracting to European agencies or creating a European presence.
Don Whiteford, MD, Nomad Games
Significant change in the way we are allowed to do business with the EU could complicate existing contracts and make business harder. Big changes in taxation could add process complications and affect product prices. Strengthening of the pound will work against us, because the majority of our income is from overseas. The only way to mitigate is to identify issues early and pool our voices to ensure that the government is aware and motivated to act.
Oliver Morrison, CEO, Filter Digital
Access to development resource both in the UK and from Europe is important for us. If we are in a situation where there is further pressure, then this could have an impact on the growth of the sector in the UK. We’re working hard to ensure we have enough contract resource available over the next six to nine months, and building up outsourcing partnerships. We’re also working hard to make sure we retain our existing staff.
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ITALIANS THAT MAKE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD
GAMESCOM KOELNMESSE AUGUST 21-23, 2018 HALL 4.1 - STAND A010/B019
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INDUSTRY VOICES MCV gives the industry a platform for its own views in its own words. Do you have a burning hot take for the world of games? Get in touch!
Forget press releases – for indies, quality is the best marketing skill Lewis Denby Game If You Are
AS the indie game market becomes more competitive, developers are desperate for ways to become more visible. And as thousands descend on Cologne in the hopes of expanding their network of contacts and showing off their latest creation, many will be searching for ways to stand out in people’s inboxes ahead of the show. There are many resources online telling indie developers how to craft the perfect press kit, how to email journalists and how to present their games at events. It’s all great, and important, information. But increasingly, there seems to be a misconception among many indie studios – especially first-time commercial developers – that simply being indie is enough to give you a lift. That your rags-to-hopefully-riches story will be enough to steal those precious column inches and that your lovingly homemade launch trailer will charm the pants off anyone who sees it. This may have been true in 2008, but fastforward a decade and things are very different. The indie game scene is supremely oversaturated. During a busy period, literally hundreds of indie games can be released in a single week. And although there are plenty of unremarkable games, many of them are very good: professional projects that scream quality at every turn. Simply having made an indie game isn’t impressive any more – in fact, it’s fast becoming old news. And make no mistake: this is a discerning market. More than any other interest segment I’ve come across, gamers are astonishingly good at telling apart a great product from a merely okay one, even before they’ve picked up the controller. For games journalists, influencers and
other industry figures – whose livelihood depends on being experts – the task is easy. There’s no pretending a mediocre game is anything more. That’s why the ability to produce consistently exceptional content is a vital skill for an indie developer to learn. This starts with the game itself: time and time again, I see simple, polished ideas grabbing people’s attention, while impressively ambitious projects – too ambitious for their tiny team to truly pull off – continue to fail. But by no means does it stop there. That quality must exude from everything you show. Your screenshots, your trailer, your website, your Steam page description – they all speak to the level of professionalism with which you’re approaching your project, and give pointers about how good your game is likely to be when it finally launches. It’s this belief in quality, the ability for people to see how professional and polished your work is, that so often leads to publicity and other commercial opportunities. Journalists, influencers, publishers – they’re all essentially looking for the same thing. They want to find projects they believe in and that they feel confident putting in front of their audiences. A large component of your job, as a commerciallyfocused indie developer, is showing that you can be trusted to deliver that. After all, the indie scene is filled with people who can, so why would they settle for less? Lewis Denby is the director of indie game PR consultancy Game If You Are. Having started his career as a journalist, he’s worked around indie games for more than a decade.
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The importance of Video Games Tax Relief Anna Mansi BFI
SINCE the introduction of Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR) in April 2014, championed by Ukie, TIGA and the games industry, we’ve seen a steady stream of games development companies of all sizes, from large studios to small indies, apply to qualify their games as British in order to claim VGTR from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Year-on-year, we’re beginning to see a rise in the number of applications we receive and the value of the expenditure in the UK. VGTR provides games developers with financial certainty in being able to offset their expenditure with the tax relief while also adding value to the economy through job creation and culturally diverse and inclusive British content. And for anyone working in UK games development companies who might be unsure about what leaving the European Union means for the future, the Government has confirmed its commitment to VGTR alongside the other creative sector tax reliefs. However, looking at the Ukie/Nesta map of the number of games development companies registered across the UK, many companies haven’t yet applied for VGTR – either because they aren’t aware of it or may have made the decision not to apply. As access to finance is a priority for all creative businesses, we are keen to ensure that developers are aware of benefits of VGTR and not daunted by the application process and the video games cultural test criteria which are fairly straightforward. We are always happy to guide games developers through each step of the process
and understand how it works particularly around claiming the points. A common misunderstanding is that companies think they need to claim the maximum number of points across all areas but that is not the case. As VGTR is still a relatively new form of Government support for the video games sector, we work with partners and stakeholders such as Creative England, Creative Scotland, Northern Ireland Screen, Ukie and TIGA as well as private sector experts Saffery Champness and Sheridans to promote it across the UK at conferences and festivals, and by offering oneto-one advice and guidance meetings. Over the last 12 months, we’ve taken part in the Yorkshire Games Festival, EGX, EGX Rezzed, the London Games Festival’s Games Finance Market, Games Forum London, GaMaYo in Leeds, the Next Gen Academy’s student showcase, Norwich Gaming Festival, Ukie and International Games Conference in Liverpool, as well as running BFI Video Games Days in London, Nottingham, Leeds and Scotland. Anna Mansi is the head of the Certification Unit at the BFI. The BFI Certification Unit administers the cultural test for film, high-end TV, animation TV, children’s TV programmes and video games. She works closely with key stakeholders in government and across the creative sector industries with specific expertise on the creative sector tax reliefs. For more information on how to qualify for VGTR through the cultural test, go to: https://tinyurl.com/BFI-VGTR
“As access to finance is a priority for all creative businesses, we are keen to ensure that developers are aware of benefits of the VGTR and not daunted in by the application process. We are always happy to guide games developers through each step.”
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“Seeing first-hand player reactions to our game is always a reality check. Are the characters personalities coming across, even nonverbally? If I’ve done my job correctly, even with a few minutes of gameplay without context, players should be coming away with a feeling for who our protagonist is.”
The importance of making a great game – and making sure people know about it Danny Wadeson Freelancer narrative designer and writer
MAKING your first indie title can be a real adventure, in more ways than you think. Polygon Treehouse’s Röki is an adventure game inspired by Scandinavian folklore; a dark contemporary fairy tale, underpinned by a deep narrative, satisfying puzzles and daring exploration. One thing that has been essential to the game’s development is sharing and shouting! Röki is a game that we’re developing with a lot of transparency, showing our work and process through Twitter and devblogs. Not just to raise the profile of our game – this process helps us quickly test and recognise what resonates most with potential future players, and also provides a regular boost of motivation. This freedom and intimacy with fans is one of the things that we enjoy most about being indie. Röki does however have a triple-A heritage. Polygon Treehouse was formed in 2017 by two ex-Guerrilla Games and PlayStation art directors – Tom Jones and Alex Kanaris-Sotiriou. That background is crucial to the level of polish already present, but also in tackling design decisions and production pipelines, allowing for iterative development that allows for flexibility and variety in day-to-day tasks. The Röki team started to grow once the initial concept phase was completed. That’s when I joined as a narrative designer and writer. What I saw in Röki was an opportunity to help craft an innovative new game with a broad appeal and a rich narrative. The team is completed by some of Tom and Alex’s former triple-A game colleagues,
handling level design, tools, along with another important new arrival – a community manager. We know the importance of not just making a great adventure game, but also making one people know about – and then, hopefully, care deeply about. While Röki doesn’t have a firm release date as of yet, the next big (and exciting/terrifying) step for us is to start letting players get their hands on it at shows and conventions. This of course presents its own challenge, given the game is an immersive and narrative heavy experience: choosing a segment suitable for a very short play-session that also hints at what the game has to offer. Seeing first-hand player reactions to our game world is always a reality check, and can be hugely instructive. Are the characters personalities coming across, even non-verbally? Are we accidentally blocking player immersion somehow? If I’ve done my job correctly, even with a few minutes of gameplay without context, players should be coming away with a feeling for who our protagonist Tove is, what she’s feeling, and they should already care about retrieving her little brother Lars from Röki’s grasp. Ultimately, we want players to feel like they’re part of a universe that’s bigger than just this game and they have as good of an adventure playing it as we are having making it.
Danny Salfield Wadeson is a freelance writer and narrative designer, currently working on Röki, Harold Halibut, In Other Waters and his podcast on storytelling called Uncaring Universe.
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Britain is greater thanks to Europe’s talent Richard Wilson TIGA
WHAT ultimately determines the value of a video games company? It is not principally the computers, software or technology. Value is derived from the skills of staff and the intellectual property they create. The video games industry needs the ability to recruit the best and brightest staff in order to add value and compete on a global level. Brexit – and the likely end of freedom of movement between the UK and EU – makes this a particularly important issue for the video games industry. The UK video games industry is a success story. The industry contributes £1.5 billion every year to the UK economy and is export-focused. The spread of mobile and tablet devices, the enduring appeal of console, the popularity of PC games and the advent of virtual and augmented reality means that investment in games is set to continue. This success is made possible by our talented staff, a high proportion of who come from the EU. Currently, EU workers make up 15 per cent of the UK games industry, which is a significant proportion considering such workers make up 6.8 per cent of the UK workforce as a whole. It is these programmers, designers, engineers, artists, producers and community managers that create and support groundbreaking games and allow UK companies to compete globally. Our games businesses owe a lot to our foreign workers, who will continue to help us grow and thrive in the future. While we welcome the Government’s commitment to protecting the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK, we want to see an appropriate migration regime for the 21st century put in place.
With freedom of movement, these workers can be easily recruited from the continent to fill jobs that cannot be done by UK workers. A lack of red tape and expense is important for the video games industry, which is predominately made up of small or micro businesses. Given its importance to our industry, the UK Government could negotiate an arrangement with the EU whereby there are general reciprocal freedom of movement rights for workers with a job offer. Alternatively, the Government could consider the following proposals: reciprocal freedom of movement rights for workers in the video games industry, the provision of approximately 1,500 work permits per annum for the UK video games industry, the addition of roles (e.g. games analyst and engine programmer) to the Shortage Occupation List where there is a specific skills shortage, so that employers can recruit the employees they need without undue delay, and the introduction of a fast track visa programme for roles on the list. The framework governing migration into the UK must keep complexity and costs for business to a minimum. These arrangements would benefit businesses in the UK and EU. Workers would be able to broaden their experiences and pick up new skills across the continent, which would help us all. TIGA will continue to campaign to ensure a sensible migration regime after Brexit.
Dr Richard Wilson OBE is CEO of TIGA, the award-winning trade association representing the UK video games industry.
“EU workers make up 6.8 per cent of the UK workforce as a whole. It is these programmers, designers, engineers, artists, producers and community managers that create and support ground-breaking games and allow UK companies to compete globally.”
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“The importance of reaching international markets remains critical to success. While the digital economy has opened up so many more avenues for global trade and export for UK games businesses, our relationship with the European Union remains unclear.”
Welcome to Ukie’s Gamescom funfair Jo Twist Ukie
THE UK is home to over 2,200 games companies who trade world class products and services globally. At Gamescom this year, Europe’s largest arena for the industry, companies from the UK and the rest of the world will meet and broker deals to help the games industry prosper. It gives UK games businesses the chance to show off their outstanding products and services to potential partners and investors from around the world, as well as flying the flag for UK creativity. At this year’s Gamescom, Ukie’s UK industry stand will be themed around the Great British Funfair and will host a record 85 developers, publishers and services. It’s an important opportunity to meet international partners and demo new titles representing the best of the UK’s games sector. With the magnitude of UK games businesses at Gamescom, there are serious deals to be made. The fact that more than £30 million worth of deals were made last year on the UK stand is testament to just how important the expo is to the industry. This year we hope to smash that figure again. The importance of reaching international markets remains critical to success. While the digital economy has opened up so many more avenues for global trade and export for UK games businesses, our relationship with our closest trading partner, the European Union, remains unclear. There has never been a more important time for our sector to broker new deals, forge new relationships and secure new investment. As an industry we are not just competing locally, but globally.
A key challenge that many businesses experience, especially smaller developers and publishers, is getting much needed exposure to attract finance and investment of all kinds. Which is why the UK stand will be flying the flag high for the UK games industry. Although the UK exhibitors are there to do business, the very presence companies such as Team17, representing the confidence of the UK market with its recent IPO, to small but mighty studios such as Bossa, means there will be no end to what the UK has to offer in terms of diverse talent and popularity. And if we were not patriotic enough, particularly in light of recent events in a certain football tournament, the funfair theme on the stand will mean there is plenty of candyfloss, ice cream and a special Hook a Loot Box take on the classic funfair game Hook a Duck. Of course there will also be our drinks reception, sponsored by Jagex, which will take place on the first night of Gamescom. And in partnership with Little Big PR, the UK Game of the Show Award is making a return this year. It will be a great chance to celebrate the UK’s creativity and innovation by rewarding the best unreleased UK-developed game at the expo.
Dr Jo Twist OBE is CEO of Ukie. With a background in commissioning and journalism, she is also deputy chair of the British Screen Advisory Council, London Tech Ambassador, BAFTA Games Committee member, Mayor of London’s Cultural Leadership Board ambassador and Creative Industries Council member.
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UNITY GOES TO
MCV talks to Cinemachine creator, and now Unity’s head of cinematics, Adam Myhill about CG, the benefits of real time for film production and finding “this magic bit in the middle” of movies and games
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Pictured leeft: Xxx
“Everything is changing but colour and composition, and emotion and story, that’s forever.”
Can you tell me a bit about your background both within and outside Unity and how you got where you are today? I worked in video games for a long time, I was at EA for seven years and worked on FIFA, SSX, NBA... My dad’s a photographer so I grew up in a photo studio. And I got into games because I was really passionate about the cinematography and the cameras and how to shoot them. Video game cameras, interactive cameras, quickly became this really interesting problem because it’s not a movie. You know, you can control it but you’re shooting a variable scenario. So I started working on procedural camera systems and game camera systems and I made one and then another for Frostbite. I left the game industry, worked in film for four years, shot four movies and then was introduced to Unity. When I saw it, I got it. I was like: ‘Oh my god this is democratising creativity in a lot of ways’. I started a company called Cinemachine Imagery where I made this thing called Cinemachine, which is a procedural camera tool. I talked about it at Boston Unite 2015 and someone from Unity saw it and said that it should be built right into Unity. So Unity acquired the technology and that included me. And it was great because, I don’t have to figure out if the toilet has soap in it anymore and other things that happen when you have your own company [laughs]. So Cinemachine is myself and lead engineer Gregory Labute, and we spend our days solving camera problems. What are the benefits of real time for film production? Numerous. Let’s define film production for a second. There’s a few different ways to do it. There’s virtual film production. So let’s take Blade Runner, Lion King, Jungle Book; they used Unity for pre-visualisation, they had a camera on a motion capture floor and it’s a real camera, it’s a real thing you hold, it has a screen on it and you record into that, it gets beamed to Unity, which renders the shot and puts it back. So you can be in an empty dusty mo-cap floor but when you look around it’s lions and tigers or sunsets. And directors are using this to craft their stories, move the sun over there, move the camera faster and make all the mistakes there. And we’re hearing directors who worked on these amazing projects say things like: ‘I get to put my hands on the lens again’. When you’re in CG, the director has
storyboards and a lot of hand waving and then you have teams of artists who are doing the shots. But it’s kind of far apart. Now they can hold the camera but still be in CG. The other side of that is fully animated stuff. So not a hybrid of live action, but completely CG. What Unity does is allow for the most open window of creative opportunity. What I mean by that is traditionally in a CG pipeline you have storyboards, you get a previsualisation, then you do layout and get your cameras down and you start to do animations and lighting and it’s very sequential. If you are well into the animation stage and you say ‘I want to change the camera’ it’s a big choice because you’ve got to go back and render everything out. You can spend a hundred hours on a frame and creative decisions then have incredible time penalties. You can only do certain types of creative input at certain stages otherwise you can be looking at weeks or months. What we have is because it’s all real time rendered you have every department at your fingertips so you have lighting, camera, animation, everything you want and you can be at that frame and move the camera a little bit, get a little bit closer and so on. And because there’s no post-production, there’s no compositing, there’s no rendering, when you’re done creating, you’re done. There are great examples of that; Veselin [Efremov, writer and director] on [sci-fi short made in Unity] Adam changed a lighting configuration on the last day before shipping. You couldn’t do that before because when you change your light, you’ve got to render it out and it’s two weeks before you’re seeing it. Neill Blomkamp on Adam: Episode 2, three days before they were done, was like: ‘Let’s make this afternoon-like instead of noon’. What happens is you move the light and move to another scene and you don’t have to render anything, it’s done. So that giant creative window of being able to shape and tune and iterate your project, all the way through, is a revolution in how you create these things. Isn’t the visual fidelity found in most CG films a lot better than what you can get out of real time graphics? Are we as good as a basement full of computers rendering at a hundred hours a frame? The answer is no. But is that changing? Yes, an incredible amount. And depending on the show (such as episodic,
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Pictured from left to right: concept art, mocap shoot and ﬁnal still from Unity’s Adam short
Pictured above: Adam Myhill, Unity
CG content, stuff that you see go straight to TV), the quality of real time is equal if not superior to that, so those guys are switching over. Is an entire blockbuster film going to be rendered in real time? No, that’s not going to happen for a little while. I mean there are some notable exceptions of characters being rendered with real time engines thrown into live action. But still the blockbuster films are using real time for pre-production, project design, cinematography. And then the other guys are doing real time because you can’t afford not to. If you look at the graphics, movies are getting better: remember the first CG and how horrible it looked. It’s getting better and it’s basically photo real now. But that graph, if you’re to draw it, it’s on an incline. The real time graph is closing in fast. What are the benefits of Unity being like film production software for games? There’s an approach that you take when you’re going to shoot something on film. And it’s very heavily steeped in the storytelling language of cinema, camera choice, lens choice, framing. And we’ve built tools to do that – some of the best tools that are available in that regard. That language, when you can do it well, transfers over to games. Now games are different in that you have agency, unless it’s just a totally canned cutscene, then you have control. So how do you make something look cinematic when you still have variability to the performance plus the dimensions of user input? When games try to be too much like movies they can sometimes fail because the controls are heavy or you
don’t have awareness. But when you’re too ‘video gamey’ you miss out on conveying the story and some of the lens language or cinematic stuff. But I think that it’s great to give the filmmakers some of the games stuff. And it’s great to give the game makers some of the film stuff because there’s just like this magic bit in the middle. It’s an axis, you know, from Pacman to a Steven Spielberg movie. And I’m really excited about that hybrid space in the middle. My job is to make these tools work in both domains. Should devs make trailers themselves rather than shipping them out to trailer companies? There are some fantastic trailer companies out there and I think it makes sense for some studios to consider going to a trailer company because these guys specialise in it. I think having the skills in-house or at least the ability to do it in-house, has its benefits too. For example: ‘We’ve changed our main character, oh no, now we have to do our trailer again!’ The tools are getting so fluid now. It’s like going to film school and putting a Panavision cam on every kid’s desk. It’s not about the camera anymore. It’s not about the tech anymore, it’s ubiquitous. It’s not about that anymore. It’s instead about how you tell your story and how you craft these memorable things. And that goes back to the fundamentals because there’s always going to be a better computer along in 20 minutes. Everything is changing but colour and composition, and emotion and story, that’s forever. Additional reporting by Jem Alexander
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e Happy Few has been into the world in near full public view, with high-profile trailers, a Kickstarter campaign and the Early Access segments of its gestation giving it a far greater public airing than many games of its budget could dream to achieve. And the final twist has been yet more attention thanks to the developer’s recent acquisition by Microsoft, announced on stage at E3, no less. It’s been quite a ride then for Compulsion Games, who started the project with just seven staff members. With such a storied run-up to this month’s launch, it seemed rather appropriate to be sitting down with the game’s narrative director, Alex Epstein.
“The game is about memory and denial; it’s about how we remember things, not as they necessarily happened, but in a way that suits us,” continues Epstein. “So, you’ll find that many things are different in your playthroughs. From playable character to playable character, landmarks may move around. Arthur might remember a conversation happening at Sally’s house, but Sally remembers it in a park,” he explains, something that’s possible thanks to the procedural generation that creates the game’s four main islands. “We all remember things in ways that suit us. In Arthur’s playthrough, he is the hero, or the victim, of events; it’s not his fault. Sally comes across as a bit of a flake, a bit of a dangerous mantrap, even though he’s mad about her. But maybe he was not listening carefully, because Sally’s explanations sound a whole lot more convincing in her playthrough. Sally even remembers saying some things that Arthur flatout does not remember.” After all, he explains, who hasn’t had a conversation where you remember things differently from someone else? “The dialog of a run-in between Arthur and Sally, or Arthur and Ollie, probably won’t be exactly the same in the different playthroughs, and it’s worth listening carefully to what’s said and unsaid. At least, I hope it is!” It certainly sounds like an intriguing concept, one that will add further depth to a game whose multiple storylines and procedurally-generated environments are already shouting out for multiple playthroughs.
SEEING IS BELIEVING? That incredible ride from tiny indie, with a team of just seven, to high-profile release hasn’t been without its problems – one of which has been managing the expectations of players. “One of the issues we’ve had is people holding us up to a triple-A standard,” says Epstein, which was further complicated by the game’s unusual blending of survival and narrative gameplay. When asked how he would have initially described the game, he replies simply: “It’s Don’t Starve, in first person, in a city,” adding that “it was a survival roguelike, but we were always going to have these three main characters [Arthur, Sally and Ollie] with linear stories. “So people are like: ‘There’s this introduction which is cinematic and then I’m in the middle of this vast wasteland and I don’t know what to do, so I guess that’s what the game’s going to be’... The difficulty is that people tend to ignore what you say and instead think: ‘This is what I can see’.” Epstein tells us he repeatedly told people that the game would have a story, but that it largely fell upon deaf ears. Despite him explaining that the story in the game was his job. And that story has grown with the game through development, he tells us: “Since then, we’ve added dozens and dozens of encounters for our characters, which reveal aspects of their personality and aspects of the town, and then we added audio flashbacks that conveyed things from their past and their memories, so the whole thing has deepened but it’s the same story.”
POP ART The striking style and triple-A quality of We Happy Few’s graphics certainly didn’t make things easier for the team when managing expectations, with the visual concept driven wholly by art director Whitney Clayton. “It ended up being that, because that’s what our amazing art director Whitney wanted to create. She wanted groovy dark britannia, it’s swinging London, it’s [iconic 1966 thriller] Blowup, Clockwork Orange, The Avengers, The Prisoner. That was something she was interested in exploring,” Epstein explains. “The location came from the art, we wanted to do a game with drugs, we wanted to do a game with masks. People are hiding something from themselves, some terrible trauma, and if it’s Britain in 1964 then it’s probably something to do with the war.”
STARDUST MEMORIES “There are three stories you play, and those stories interweave, but each character has their own memory of those events,” says Epstein. It’s somewhat ironic that a game which has struggled at times to explain itself to an over-excited fanbase, has a narrative mechanic by which its main characters interpret the same encounter in different ways.
SPREADING THE JOY To create all the extra content, the game’s team has swelled in size from seven to forty people. It’s not a big team, but they’re all developers, as other tasks have been taken on by Gearbox’s growing publishing arm. Austin Malcolm, head of PR for Gearbox Publishing, tells us: “Our side works on QA, user research, business certification, distribution, PR, marketing, and so on.”
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We Happy Few is about self-deception, but was its fanbase also guilty of only seeing what they wanted in the game? Seth Barton talks to narrative director Alex Epstein about the game, its evolution in public, and the studioâ€™s acquisition by Microsoft
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Pictured above: Sally is one of the three playable characters in We Happy Few
Pictured below: Compulsion Games’ Alex Epstein and Gearbox’s Austin Malcolm
We wonder how marketing a game like We Happy Few, with its very public development curve in Early Access, differs from a typical ‘behind closed doors’ scenario. “With [any other] game you’re just telling people, slowly revealing it,” Malcolm answers. “With this one, that’s had such a strong community in Early Access and Kickstarter, it’s more about education, finding opportunities to get in front of people who already know about this game and educating them. It’s less about shouting out ‘this fun thing’ and ‘this fun thing’, and more having a detailed talk. Because there’s so much more to this now. The game has changed significantly, what you played was a quick four-hour open world survival game, but with all the narrative encounters added in, our average playtesters are coming in around 20 hours.” Which is why the game has shifted from being a £23 title originally at Early Access to a full-priced £50 for its retail release. We ask Epstein if there were upsides to the Early Access process, apart from getting money in to finance further development? “Certainly we learnt that people wanted a survival roguelike less than they wanted a series of crazy encounters with barmy characters,” he quips before answering. “There are upsides and downsides to releasing early, the upside is that you get feedback and you get a community, and the downside is that you’re always working towards the next build.” He explains that a game with a strong technical core can release early and then simply ramp up its content.
But that it’s harder with emergent gameplay coming out of multiple systems that interact in complex ways, such as in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. X-BOXING CLEVER With two games under Compulsion’s belt (the studio made Contrast back in 2013) and with a bright future thanks to Microsoft’s investment, a Compulsion-style of game has started to emerge. “Our art director has what I like to call a hallucinatory art style, whatever we do next is going to be hallucinatory in some way. I think we do story games. So, yeah, I would say we have a personality,” Epstein tells us, adding later that “[Microsoft] has been very clear that what they like about us is what we do. So they want us to do more of that.” Finally, after all the work and the studios expansion, we ask Epstein whether he feels that We Happy Few was overambitious? To begin, he tells us that composer Leonard Bernstein once said: ‘To achieve greatness, you need not quite enough time.’ He continues: “We were ambitious and I feel pretty good about what we achieved, so I’m not sure we were overambitious. There are always things we could have done if we had more time or more people working for us…” For Compulsion’s next title, more time is only a possibility, but more people is now a certainty. “We’re not going to go crazy,” Epstein tells us, unlike the inhabitants of his dark sixties fantasy world, “but yes the company will grow.”
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Killing it with kindness Good Shepherd is on the cusp of greatness. Jake Tucker talks to chief creative officer Mike Wilson to work out how the publishing label is hoping to make an impact with kindness
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n a derelict building across the street from E3, something is happening. Good Shepherd, an indie publishing label born out of Devolver Digital’s incubator, has found its feet, and it’s showing off a batch of games on the top two floors. While physically it’s just a case of crossing the street from the LA Convention Center, things are moving at a very different pace here. A large part of this could be the presence of Mike Wilson, a Devolver Digital co-founder who made the leap to Good Shepherd full-time as chief creative officer after Gambitious rebranded as Good Shepherd Entertainment in August 2017. Wilson has had stints at Id Software, Ion Storm, Gathering of Developers – which published well regarded titles like Serious Sam, Mafia and Tropico – and many others before finally ending up at Devolver Digital. “I think Good Shepherd at this point is what I would call a fully functional battle station. We’ve got our team built, we’ve shipped some games, we’re ready to go,” Wilson says. He talks about a preparation phase for Good Shepherd: “We’ve raised some money, we’ve started signing some bigger titles and I think the one year ramp-up is complete. We had some things we were really hoping to announce for E3, but it ended up being too much of a rush and we want to do this right, rather than fast. Still, by Gamescom, people will be hearing about bigger things than they’re used to us announcing.” Several of the titles being shown off at E3 have something to them, already. Black Future ‘88 is a 2D action roguelike, a shooter that see players blasting their way up a procedurally generated tower to kill the owner occupying the top floors. All of this before the player’s heart explodes. Phantom Doctrine is a spy-themed XCOM, a brutal turn-based title where players skulk and shoot their way to the bottom of a global conspiracy. Both of these games have a sense of quality, and the E3 setting for showing them – the building is due to be torn down in just a couple of weeks – gives them a ‘cool’ factor that could see Good Shepherd benefit from the same counter-culture vibe that propelled Devolver to subversive stardom. Wilson claims that it isn’t just the edgy chic of Devolver that Good Shepherd shares with the company, but also one of its core values: kindness. “Something I really wanted to come over from Devolver, or the thing that I think has been key to our success, is just kindness. This means doing really artistfriendly deals, giving artists the final say on everything and just treating people well, you know? That’s the thing I wanted to make sure stayed in common and it’s easy for me to say that to you during an interview, but it actually takes some practice to really get used to deferring
to often first-time video game makers on literally everything when it comes to their game.” While trying not to compare the two constantly, it’s inevitable given they’ve grown in tandem, with many Devolver staff moonlighting at Good Shepherd as they built their own team. “The main differences is that we’ve built a network of private investors that will invest in each one of our games, whereas Devolver self-funds” says Wilson. “So on the business side, that’s the main difference and it will continue to expand, which means we want to see how far we can push this model, while Devolver will always be about the same size.” Wilson wants the core message to stay the same, but otherwise growing out the publisher is a great opportunity to say yes to a lot more indies, all of whom need funding and support. “Devolver turns down 25 games a week that are totally viable. So the original impetus was just to stop saying no to so many people and to also see how this model can scale without breaking the magic that is making this all work. Shepherd has been sort of figuring out what its pillars are.” IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO BE NICE “We really want to continue to shed attention on developer wellness too,” Wilson continues. “It’s a problem because both labels are having issues with developers actually looking after themselves and so we feel we should help. We need to help, however we can.” Wilson says that a lot of Good Shepherd’s focus is on signing projects and working on projects that “the team
Pictured below: 2D action roguelike Black Future ‘88
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Pictured above: Brutal turn-based strategy title Phantom Doctrine
thinks can bring more good or hope into the world. And looking at things that can get our artists creating, while keeping them healthy, and our people healthy, and making sure everyone is happy. We’re focusing on that in a more aggressive way, saying: ‘Okay, it’s not enough just to be nice to everyone. Let’s actually also put some money and time into figuring out how this problem can stop happening, and what we can do to make sure we’re doing our part’.” Wilson is open about the fact that Good Shepherd is looking to take what the firm’s been doing so far and grow it out, becoming as big a publisher as the model will allow for, as long as everyone involved gets to keep
“We really want to continue to shed attention on developer wellness too. We feel we should help. We need to help, however we can.”
a clear conscious and do business on their terms. For Wilson, it’s about doing the right things to make sure everyone is making great games and having a good time doing it. And the model seems to be working out. There are a few licensed titles in the works, with Wilson himself working on titles like Kiss Psycho Circus and the Blair Witch games. The firm also managed to pull off a coup, getting the musician Sting to do voice work on indie title Where The Water Tastes Like Wine. “I don’t know if it helped the game sell in the end,” Wilson admits. “It certainly helped it get a lot more attention though, and it wasn’t even anything that costs a lot of money! We had a conversation, Sting thought what we were doing was interesting, and he said yes. Then it was done and it didn’t even cost us any more than getting a regular voice actor to do it.” Wilson laughs: “I mean, I had to have a couple of glasses of Rosé with him, and I’m not sure it would have happened that way if we’d gone through a talent agency, but these routes are out there and if we can help our artists make these connections, we should be doing it. Everyone here just wants to make the best possible games. If it makes us money at the same time? Great.”
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XSOLLA WARMLY CONGRATULATES NINJA THEORY
On receiving Develop Awards 2018â€™s Best Indie Studio Award - Supported by Xsolla
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The Balkan strategy Brexit is of less concern for one veteran UK developer, as Julian Gollop has long-since moved his work to Bulgaria. Seth Barton talks to the legend of turn-based strategy about making Phoenix Point in Eastern Europe and how Facebook is keeping the cash rolling in
ulian Gollop, the creator of the original X-COM franchise, is returning to the genre he created with Phoenix Point. Even having lived in England my whole life, you rarely meet people more quintessentially English than Gollop; he’s polite, self-effacing and well-spoken. But despite remaining the epitome of British culture, he’s actually been living and working in Sofia, Bulgaria, for the last 12 years, the opposite side of the EU from his hometown of Harlow, Essex. And he couldn’t have made Phoenix Point for this much money in the UK, he admits: “Frankly no. Bulgaria is the poorest country in the European Union and has the lowest living costs.” He says that those low costs is what attracted him to set up a studio there, adding that “it did seem the logical thing to do.” He continues: “There’s also some very good local talent, which helps!” Sofia, in fact, already has something of a standing in the world of strategy titles, as it’s the home of Haemimont Games, creators of Surviving Mars and the Tropico series over the last few years. And then there’s Ubisoft Sofia as well, where Gollop first worked in Bulgaria – on Nintendo 3DS strategy mouthful Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. Gollop now has 35 developers at his Snapshot Games studio, though even that modest number has taken time to find: “So far we’ve been able to hire all the talent we need locally. We knew we would struggle somewhat, it’s a slow process, it takes time and effort to build a studio. We started quite small. Chaos Reborn, which was our first title, was a far more modest project with a team size around eight or nine. Although we did use a number of freelancers, some of whom later joined the studio.”
That’s not a big team, given that Phoenix Point is looking to match or exceed the quality of recent XCOM titles from Firaxis, so are there freelancers and outsourcing too? “It’s a combination, we’re focusing on building a studio at this stage,” Gollop says. “We’re nearly at full capacity, we do and will use freelancers and other outsourcing options as well.” LOOK-A-LIKES With no publisher involved, at first glance the budget for the game looks to be based entirely on last year’s Fig crowdfunding campaign. “It was very successful, raising $765,000 through both traditional crowdfunding backers and investors,” Gollop says. However that’s actually not a hard cap on what he has to spend on development. “We’re actually still raising funds through our preorder website,” he tells us. “And we have been doing increasingly well with that, so we’re now exceedingly $100,000 revenue through pre-orders a month,” he reveals. Those new consumers find the game “largely due to Facebook advertising,” he continues. “Based on our original audience, our backers, we can create target audiences. Facebook calls them ‘look-a-like audiences’, they use existing emails to try and match Facebook profiles and their interests in order to target their advertising. We have some configuration over this, but it’s basically a good starting point.” For such marketing, Gollop relies on David Kaye, president and co-founder of Snapshot, who is based in LA. “He’s very much focused on producing the adverts for this, making sure people are aware of the game, getting the website set up. And it’s all proven highly effective.” And while the exact details of the deal are secret, Phoenix Point has also committed to releasing day-and-date on Xbox Game Pass,
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Pictured above, from top: David Kaye, president of Snapshot, and veteran UK developer Julian Gollop
another possible route of funding without bringing in an external investor. Gollop passes us onto Kaye to find out the thinking behind the deal. “One of the biggest challenges you face launching a new IP is building an audience – it usually takes a lot of time and money,” Kaye tells us. “We’ve been really fortunate with Phoenix Point’s reception so far, but we have ambitious plans. As our conversations with Microsoft progressed, it became clear that working with Game Pass could help us progress much more quickly and introduce the game to a huge number of new players. That’s extremely valuable and very exciting.” Having more money coming in, for a game that isn’t yet finished and without having to promise further stretch goals to achieve this, sounds like a dream for most developers. That said, and with the game recently delayed to mid-2019 from a late-2018 release date, resisting feature creep is key. “It’s very tempting to start packing new features in,” Gollop admits. “But no, our approach is we are going to improve the quality of the experience as far as we can. There’s quite a high bar set by Firaxis with XCOM, the whole presentation of the game, and we’re really striving to meet that. So there’s a lot that’s going into every area in the game: sound design, music, animation, level environments, texture and so on. This is a major investment.” The game isn’t in Early Access, but Gollop is looking to utilise his “demanding audience” of X-COM devotees to help make the game better still. “Players who have backed the game at our luxury digital edition are entitled to get some development updates, backer builds, and there will be a new build once every two months until the release of the game. Which gives them the chance to play the game and give us feedback.” HIDDEN MOVEMENT Crowdfunding has certainly lost some of its sheen of late, with publishers making something of a comeback after the initial fervour of fan-funded titles. Gollop of course has something of a reputation amongst hardcore strategy
“Our platform is Unity, so it does make cross-platform easier, but it is challenging to do a console version with such a densely graphical PC game.”
fans and a great track record across his career. The wellreceived (and also crowdfunded) Chaos Reborn in 2015 also helps his cause. Given that the XCOM brand is being used by Firaxis we wonder if Gollop was tempted to put his name on the game, quite literally, in the way Sid Meier’s name appears on Civilization. But he isn’t keen on the idea. “I honestly don’t think that Julian Gollop as a brand is anywhere near X-COM unfortunately,” he says. That’s true, but the name does have cachet with many people. YOUR TURN, MY TURN On the surface, Phoenix Point is very similar to the current XCOM titles from Firaxis, especially during the turn-based firefights, but Gollop is happy to explain where his design differs. “The key difference in the underlying game design principle, it’s a bit more of a simulation and systemsdriven game, especially at the geoscape level. There you have lots of interactions between different factions, with their own agendas and technologies. There’s a lot more scope for the player to try different approaches and also different amounts of random setup to the game, different factions you come across first. “On the geoscape level there are two main influences: one is Stellaris and the other would be X-COM Apocalypse, with the different corporations in that environment. Phoenix Point is developed from that very strongly.” The game is being developed only for PC, Mac and Linux at present. Speaking on a possible console version, Gollop tells us that “it’s really a consideration of resources and time, we do get a lot of requests for a console version, it seems to be almost every other question we get. “Our [development] platform is Unity, so it does make cross-platform easier, so in theory doing a console port would be relatively straightforward, but you have to remember that consoles have a lot of restrictions and require a different optimisation approach to PC, so it is challenging to do a console version with such a densely graphical PC game. It’s by no means straightforward, even when you’re using a cross-platform engine,” adding that he “would like to, resources permitting.” And those resources are still fairly tight. While Gollop has personal reasons for being in Bulgaria, his wife being from there, it still seems somewhat odd that a game with such a strong UK connection isn’t being made in the UK. But games are high-risk ventures and having low costs does a lot to mitigate that. Whether Phoenix Point goes on to sell a million copies – and it should, based on the work to date – or simply satisfies its current backers, it’s the talent available in Bulgaria that has made one English developer’s comeback possible.
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GO GO COATSINK! 56 | MCV 938 August 2018
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Coatsink, the Sunderland-based VR specialist, talks to Seth Barton about developing its Oculus Go launch title: They Suspect Nothing
culus Go, which went on sale across the UK at the end of June, is a logical next step in bringing VR to the masses. The headset is effectively a middle-ground between phone-based systems, such as Gear VR, and a dedicated headset. In short it’s wireless, lightweight, has a dedicated controller and is just £199 (for more details see page 58). But a headset is only as good as the software available for it, so we talk to Coatsink’s narrative designer Jon Davies about the company’s launch title for the new hardware: They Suspect Nothing. While not being a complex game, it is immediate, fun and graphically impressive. Can you tell us a bit more about They Suspect Nothing? They Suspect Nothing is a collection of 12 comedic minigames across three hubs. You play as the last human in a world controlled by robots and you have to complete a series of human detection tests to infiltrate that robot society and become one of them. By the end of the year we hope to put out some further eight mini-games as free DLC. It’s a good entry-level game not just for VR users but perhaps for people who haven’t played VR games before. But at the same time I think there’s a lot of depth to it as well. There’s a story that ties everything together in a way to learn about the lore of the world, the characters and interactions in all these hubs.
Would you like to be known as a VR-only studio, is the format something you’re dedicated to? We’ve developed a number of VR titles in the past, all for Oculus studios. Our first game Esper was a launch title for the Gear VR. It was followed by a sequel, Esper 2, and then last year we released A Night Sky and Augmented Empire. So we’ve had a very strong balance of VR, especially working with Oculus for many years now. And we will continue to support it in the future. That’s pretty much where we stand, we don’t have any a specific policy on that, though. Are most of the games you’ve made of a similar level of complexity? No. Our first game Esper was two to three hours, it’s quite a short puzzle experience. And the sequel expanded
upon that in every way. A Night Sky is a free-to-download experience. There’s not a lot of gameplay in that, it’s just a really classic introduction to VR in general. You look at the sky, connect the stars and then get a nice, pleasant, kind of charming animation. We contrast that with Augmented Empire, which is a 12-hour single player RPG which we put together in a year. It came out last July and was really, really positively received. Is it fairly easy to get your titles working across the various platforms and control options? So we work exclusively for Oculus and the games we’ve done in the past have been exclusively for the Gear VR, with the exception of Esper 1 and 2, which recently launched on Rift. The Gear VR controller launched at the beginning of the summer last year I think and A Night Sky was a kind of tie-in title for that. All of our games are compatible with the Gear VR controller. We’ve also found multiple ways to use the Go controller. How long have you been working on They Suspect Nothing? It’s a seven-month development process and it’s finished. I’ve no idea how! [laughs] It’s a master class in production if I’m being honest [laughs]. We’re 65 in total at Coatsink, but at its peak maybe 45 were on this project. When we were developing Augmented Empire that was nearly the entire studio. But we also publish titles from different studios as well and offer dev support. We helped develop the back end for Gang Beasts, which launched on PS4 last year. We don’t exclusively use Unity, we do use different engines, it’s just the most efficient for this kind of fast iteration process. We get a lot of graduates from Teesside Uni and it’s the engine that everyone seems to be the most comfortable with. Are you designing in VR? We’re making everything on Unity. It’s a very interesting process. Essentially, yes, we do develop in VR. There’s a very rapid idea generation prototype stage to it. I think we prototyped about 25 different gameplay ideas [for They Suspect Nothing] using Unity with this rapid iteration process before locking down the 12 that we kept for the standard game.
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VR IS GOING
HOME OCULUS GO is exactly what the still nascent VR industry needed. It’s a VR headset that simply works, at a price that’s attractive to anyone curious about VR. And it’s backed by a wide range of compatible software from launch, with plenty more incoming. The Go is a dedicated all-in-one device, so users don’t need to own certain high-end handsets in order to use it, as with the Samsung Gear VR. It also means anyone in a household can use it, without someone having to lose access to their smartphone for the duration. And at £199 it’s a lot cheaper than a high-end smartphone as well. It’s lightweight and comfortable to wear, the display has an impressive 2,560x1,440 resolution, and the impressive optics mean the overall visual quality is far better than you might expect. It’s not got the horsepower of a tethered headset of course, but graphics are detailed enough and the refresh rate was steady, with Oculus pushing a smoother than expected refresh rate of 72Hz. All in all it’s great for shorter to medium experiences. Vitally, it comes with a dedicated controller, so developers looking to port their titles across to the new headset have a single control system to target and make the most of. However, there’s no external tracking kit,
The Oculus Go is affordable and easy to get to grips with, so is it the hardware to finally crack the VR home market?
which keeps things simple, but the headset and controller’s position isn’t then tracked, only the way they rotate around a fixed location. This is its most serious sacrifice both for price and ease of use. In practice that means games such as the upcoming Vacation Simulator, which was demoed for us on Oculus Rift, won’t work as you can’t reach out and grab objects in the world in the same way. That said, we were impressed with a Catan demo, a virtual take on the popular board game, letting you sit and play a game with distant friends, while also chatting and interacting as you would if you were sitting around a real table. It supports crossplay with Rift as well, hugely increasing the potential player base at launch. Oculus hasn’t publicly announced what graphics chipset is inside the headset, but it’s been confirmed as a Snapdragon 821; this is a couple of years old now but when it’s doing this good of a job it doesn’t really matter. It feels unfair to criticise something that works so well, but there’s nothing particularly clever about Oculus Go. The market really shouldn’t have had to wait this long for such an affordable dedicated headset. But it’s here now and the VR market is all the better for it.
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HAVE YOUR SAY AT THE 36TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE GOLDEN JOYSTICK AWARDS
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Pictured above, left to right, top to bottom: Truck Driver, Monstrum, Soedescoâ€™s Hans van Brakel, 8-Bit Armies and Dollhouse 60 | MCV 938 August 2018
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Keeping it simple Soedesco has plenty of new titles to show at Gamescom. Seth Barton talks to executive manager Hans van Brakel about the line-up and the thinking behind it
etherlands-based publisher Soedesco has a straightforward tagline: ‘Keep it simple’. That said, the company, based in Rotterdam, continues to expand its digital and physical offering across a range of genres and formats. With procedurally-generated horror title Monstrum coming to PS4 and Xbox One, alongside film noir horror Dollhouse, Truck Driver arrives to keep Real Farm company in the simulation space, plus there’s a limited edition of Owlboy in the works and 8-Bit Armies is finally approaching a full release. We catch up with executive manager Hans van Brakel to talk about the new releases. Monstrum looks terrifying – what attracted you to the game? It’s just like you said: Monstrum is terrifying, which is exactly what we want from our horror games. Besides that, Among the Sleep was one of our first success stories. With that game we gathered a lot of horror fans and we want to deliver more quality horror games to them. Truck Driver follows on from Real Farm – what did yourselve and Triangle learn from Real Farm’s release? We learnt that we need to take more time with our games. Therefore, Truck Driver has a longer development cycle than Real Farm did. We are using this extra time to get the community involved with the development. We’re planning multiple moments where the community will have the option to playtest the game and give their feedback. Last but not least, the experience Triangle got from working on Real Farm will also help a lot with the development of Truck Driver. Owlboy was a huge success and now there’s the Limited Edition coming. What’s the thinking behind that, will fans buy the game again? We are constantly developing new programs within Soedesco to support our games in new ways. We think it’s important to keep
looking further than just the traditional ways of selling our games. Owlboy is the first game in our limited edition program and it sold out within a couple of days. The limited edition program is not necessarily focused on selling Owlboy for the second or third time to the same customers. It is focused on a new target audience: the collectors. That is why it was very important that we created something really special, and that’s exactly what we did. Now we’ve added the limited edition program to the internal structure of our company and started the development of a new program as well. You’ve deepened your relationship with Creazn – can you tell us about Dollhouse and how you’re working with the developer now? Dollhouse is a frightening film noir horror story, in which you venture deep into the mind of detective Marie. An experience like this one has never been created before. That’s why we have been involved with this game since 2014 and recently decided to take on the digital publishing as well, so that the developer could focus solely on game development. 8-Bit Armies still looks great, but it’s been a couple of years since the initial launch. How much has it changed, and how do you approach marketing for a title like this? There aren’t any voxel-style real-time strategy games available on console. 8-Bit Armies is unique, so we are taking our time to do the console version right. Another unique feature for console is that 8-Bit Armies offers the possibility of cross-title multiplayer between 8-Bit Armies, 8-Bit Hordes and 8-Bit Invaders. This has never been done before on console and we are very proud to be the first to make it happen. The 8-Bit RTS series is created by Petroglyph, which was founded by veterans from the legendary studio Westwood. That fact, in combination with the colorful voxel art style which appeals to many, makes this the perfect RTS to enjoy at every moment in time.
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Blueprint interfaces Unreal Engine’s Blueprint scripting system is powerful but to work efﬁciently you need to take care from the off, Simon Lashley from Sumo Digital explains
SIMON LASHLEY, Sumo Digital’s principal technical designer, has over 16 years’ experience in the industry. He explains to MCV: “Blueprint interfaces are a very powerful and underused feature of the Unreal Engine. This is mainly due to the fact you can quickly cast between different blueprints to get the functionality you want, but as a project grows this can start to build up references between all the different blueprints, causing them to reference lots of different assets that they don’t need.To remove these references, but still allow the blueprints to communicate with each other we can use blueprint interfaces.”
Creating a simple interface
Imagine you had the following actors in a level. ■ Lightbulb – switched on or off. ■ Door – open or closed. ■ Monster Closet – spawning on or off. To go with these, you have a button actor that when pressed will toggle the actors between their different states. We could have a base “interactive actor” class that the actors inherit from, but it would be better to keep them all separated as they don’t really have anything in common with each other, a Lightbulb has no effect on spawning and the Monster Closet doesn’t update lighting, etc. Instead we can create a simple interface with the following two functions. ■ SetActive – This takes a bool as an input to represent if we want to set the actor as active or not. ■ IsActive – This returns a bool to say if the current actor is active or not. This is also set to const as we would not expect an implementation of this function to update anything on the actor.
Note: You should follow a consistent naming convention for your interfaces and their functions, so they can be easily identified in your blueprints.
Implementing the interface The interface itself doesn’t implement any logic, it’s just a type of framework for actors to communicate thåat they implement those functions. Note: To implement an interface go to the actors ‘Class settings’ and add it to the ‘Implemented Interfaces’ list. When you implement an interface on your actor, you might notice some functions don’t appear in the interfaces section in your blueprint. This is because functions without any outputs are treated as ‘Events’ in the event graph, in the right click action menu you will get an “Add Event” for your function. For clarity consider adding a new event graph just for the interface events in your actor. The IsActive function will run similar logic on all the actors, doing something like returning a stored bool value, but the SetActive function can now run some custom logic depending on what’s required. The Lightbulb implementation for example could toggle the visibility of a Point Light component.
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Calling the interface functions Once an interface has been created you can call the functions on any actor, but only the actors that have implemented them will run any logic. For our button actor we can setup some simple toggle logic to switch the Lightbulb, Door and Monster Closet between their different states.
Note: Actors to Update represents an Actor array that has ‘Expose on Spawn’ enabled so it can reference other actors in the level.
Tip: You can also use this method for getting interfaces on actors by using self.
Returning an interface A powerful feature of the interface system is being able to use them as variables, this is very useful when you are wanting to communicate with blueprint components on another actor. If you have a custom component that you want to communicate with, you can do the following. ■ Create two blueprint interfaces ■ CustomComponent Interface ■ This contains all the functions you want to allow blueprints to run on the component. ■ GetCustomComponent Interface ■ This contains a single function that returns a Custom Component Interface and a bool to indicate if the component exists. Your custom component would then implement the CustomComponent interface, any actor that contains the component would implement the GetCustomComponent interface. Now because the engine knows that your custom component implements the interface, it can be used as the return value for the interface variable. Has Component should also be ticked to true, this then means any actor that doesn’t have the component will return the default value of false.
Now when you get an interface returned from the GetCustomComponent function, you can either save its value to a variable or call its functions directly. You will also notice using this method that the envelope icons have disappeared because we have a direct pointer to the interface and its functions.
Tip: To check if an interface variable is still ok, you can convert it to an object and do a standard IsValid? Check. Note: It’s also possible to check if an Actor implements an interface by using the ‘Does Implement Interface’ node. Advantages and disadvantages: There is a downside though to the interfaces, the interface calls themselves are slower to perform than a standard function call. However, you will find that build times decrease and as you remove the circular dependencies from your blueprints they will compile a lot faster. Your blueprints will also take on a more modular approach and you will find interacting with other actors a lot simpler.
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WhenWeMade... Hollow Knight Marie Dealessandri takes a look behind the scenes at the development of Hollow Knight. Team Cherry’s co-directors Ari Gibson and William Pellen explain how going for a hand-drawn, insect-themed title was a way to avoid some challenges and reveal their inspirations for Hollow Knight – and, no, Dark Souls is not one of them
Pictured above, from top: Team Cherry’s William Pellen and Ari Gibson
GOAT SIMULATOR, Snake Pass and Superhot all have something in common: they are very successful games whose lives started during a game jam. And Hollow Knight can now join that club too. Having released on PC in 2017 and on Switch during E3 2018, Hollow Knight has been an incredible success. Yet it was made by just four people, assembled under the name Team Cherry. “We brought in friends where we could, for some voices,” co-director William Pellen smiles. “William’s mum did some voices,” adds co-director Ari Gibson. For those of you who are wondering: she voiced the White Lady, Marmu (for which she also got to pick the design, Pellen tells us) and shared the Mantis Lords voices. “My dad’s currently playing through the game. He’s looking for the characters that mum voiced,” Pellen laughs. More seriously, he adds: “We had some extra art done by some interns but the core team for the vast bulk of the project was me, Ari and Dave [Kazi, technical director] developing the game and Chris [Larkin, composer and sound designer] on sound and music.” And it all started at a game jam years ago. “We’d known each other for a while and I was working in animation,” Gibson says. “William was actually doing web development and then in his spare time he was developing games and he sent me a demo for one…”
Pellen interrupts: “It was a simple platformer, a Mario type of thing.” Gibson continues: “It was quite cute. I played that and then contacted him about a game jam, just as a fun thing. It went well and we did a few of them.” Pellen takes over, with the two co-directors ﬁnishing each other’s sentences like an old couple: “The very ﬁrst one we did was called Hungry Knight and actually features the same character as Hollow Knight.” Gibson smiles: “Not just the same character but the same sprites that we ended up using in Hollow Knight. The third one was a three-day game jam and we didn’t hit the time frame right but we still developed it and we ended up developing what probably was the very beginning of Hollow Knight. That was a side scrolling platformer using the same sprites.” That game jam had a pretty interesting theme: ‘Beneath the surface’. “We were keen on making another game with the character that we had,” Pellen says. “A simple insect world that we just kept working on until we decided that potentially we could publish it, like a professional product. We set up the Kickstarter at the end of 2014.” And that’s how Team Cherry came about, in Adelaide, Australia.
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A FEW TINY BUGS Having raised $57,138 AUD (£32,381) for the project on Kickstarter, Team Cherry got down to work, with the scope of the world they were creating sometimes being a challenge. “Not one or even two things in themselves were super hard, but we just kept going and going, so there was a lot of it,” Pellen says. “Then when it comes time to pull everything together, it can be hard to consider the effect of everything you do on everything else in the project. “Just one simple thing and the project can break and it can sometimes be really subtle and hard to track down. Stuff breaking and then having to ﬁx it is ﬁne but the worst is when the same thing breaks and you don’t know why. That’s the hardest, the most annoying stuff to deal with.” Hollow Knight being the team’s debut title (at least of this scope) and with Hallownest being such a vast and rich world, the team decided to go for simplicity when possible. That’s what motivated them to go for hand drawn 2D. “It was probably the easiest part of it as compared to other 3D projects,” Gibson says. “A lot of my background is in 3D and it’s a technical hell compared to just drawing a bunch of pictures and William is also an animator though he doesn’t advertise that much. “So we’re both very comfortable working with drawings and timing 2D characters and bosses and that kind of things. The drawing part of the game is the least of really making it. It’s assembling the game itself that takes the time. To draw a few little tiny bugs in Photoshop is simple,” he laughs. ‘A few tiny bugs’ actually means over 150 enemies with a distinctive design and attack style, not even mentioning the NPCs. But Pellen adds: “The bugs make for simple characters, which are nice and easy to put together.” The same logic applied when it came to designing The Knight, the title’s main character, which was sketched by Gibson for the very ﬁrst game jam. “The main character is probably just built from what is the simplest way of representing something bug-like that behaves like a knight,” he explains. “It’s probably also built from a lot of technical restraints which is sometimes good for creativity... Putting a little cloak on a character is good because you can’t see their arms,” he laughs. “Just try to create something graphic and basic because obviously whatever your protagonist is, you’re going to be drawing it a thousand times over. So it certainly helps when there’s not much to it.”
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NES-INSPIRED Just one of the many reasons behind Hollow Knight’s success was people comparing it to Dark Souls, which drew a wealth of new players to the title. Although when we ﬁrst mention what we believe is an intentional inspiration, Pellen interjects immediately: “I hadn’t actually played much of Dark Souls when we were making the game,” he laughs. “I played a fair bit of it after because people talked a lot about how Hollow Knight was like Dark Souls. I think we were referencing a lot of games that Dark Souls references so maybe there’s a lot of connections there.” Gibson mentions Dark Souls’ “gloomy and oppressive” atmosphere, but apart from that Team Cherry’s inspirations lie elsewhere. “A couple of games that we played on the NES, things like Zelda 2 or Faxanadu,” Pellen starts explaining. “You know the original Zelda... It’s actually stuff that people probably don’t think of at all. For me it’s just things like A Link to the Past and Majora’s Mask… These are games where they crammed in as many odd moments as possible. And that’s the stuff which is really interesting.” Gibson continues: “In those earlier games, there’s a sense of the unknown or at least of discovery, of not knowing what the extent of the game you’re playing is, and maybe that was the lack of the Internet at the time but we were deﬁnitely trying to capture something of that when we were making Hollow Knight. The game just keeps expanding beyond what your initial expectation of it was.” And Pellen to conclude: “There was that sense in all those games that anything could be behind a broken wall or around the corner and you can’t see the end of it. And then I think probably that same feeling that we were going for was hit by Dark Souls, where people were presented with something where they really didn’t know what was coming up.” As for the genre, Team Cherry wasn’t necessarily going for metroidvania, though both Pellen and Gibson mention Metroid and Castlevania as inspirations. “We weren’t even that conscious of genre or anything like that,” Gibson says. “We’re just trying to make an adventure and a world. Some things would come from Metroid but certainly other parts would come from Mega Man or from Mario games and the
charms system obviously comes from things like Paper Mario. Genre is very useful as a classiﬁcation for people when they put things on a shelf but we don’t want to feel constrained by some expectations for what a game in a genre should be.” Pellen adds: “We just put that altogether in a way that we think is fun and allows you to discover things.” When asked for advice for devs who’d like to make their own metroidvania, Team Cherry’s answer once again is just to avoid thinking about labels. “Maybe don’t worry too much about being a metroidvania,” Gibson smiles, with Pellen adding: “Just make something that you’d really want to explore. Don’t worry too much about things like ‘I really like a brand new mechanic’. Just pick a really interesting world, dig through, make it connected and open.” Gibson continues: “A world can just mean a cast of interesting characters in a small setting and that can also be a great way to approach it. It just needs points of interest and connections to be made. Fill it with surprises and unexpected events and you’re done!” While Team Cherry would “love to bring Hollow Knight to other platforms,” Pellen tells us, the studio is busy working on the title’s upcoming DLC, Gods and Glory, its fourth content pack. And then after that, Hornet, The Knight’s rival protector of the kingdom, will be added as a playable character – a stretch goal of the Kickstarter campaign. By the end of our chat, it was clear that unearthing that sense of discovery was what Team Cherry was most proud of in Hollow Knight. “The stuff I like reading from people is because there’s a lot of paths you can take through the game, a lot of people give these these really detailed accounts of their own path and they talk about how it feels like their own,” Gibson says. “And they start to talk about it in a forum and someone else replies: ‘What?! I’ve ﬁnished the game and I haven’t seen half of what you’re talking about’ and then someone else says: ‘Oh I actually came into this area from the other side’ and that surprises everyone. “People feel that the journey they had was their own, had its own shape, and that is one of the things that we were really conscious to try and give people. So I’m happy that we did that.”
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Call: 01202 489 500
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AIandGames Planning for action by Dr Tommy Thompson
In the modern triple-A landscape, artificial intelligence in games is pervasive, from non-player character behaviour to procedural generation all the way to user analytics and modelling. But if you wind the clock back twenty years, the tools and technologies being used were worlds behind where we are today
Pictured above: Rare’s Goldeneye 007
THE late 1990s saw the rise of 3D gaming both in the PC market, but also on home consoles such as the Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast, with the likes of Quake and Tomb Raider bringing new challenges. The big issues for AI at that time are now the fundamentals of any commercial game engine: managing basic AI behaviour, gathering sensory data and moving around the world successfully – you know, the basics! Many of these technologies adapted existing work in other AI sub-fields, with navigation meshes derived from robotics research in the 1980s and finite state machines for managing behaviour dated back to the 1950s. 1998’s Half Life by Valve helped proliferate finite state machines for character control, as well as sensor systems to help establish goals and evaluate the current configuration – or state – of the world to reason about. Finite state machines are still prevalent in game AI today, with the likes of Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy as well as the 2016 reboot of Doom proving it’s more than adequate for modern-day concerns. However, it kickstarted the proliferation of new technologies such as Bungie crafting behaviour trees for 2004’s Halo 2 (now the standard AI tool in Unreal Engine 4) as well as the goal-oriented action planning (GOAP) approach designed for 2005’s F.E.A.R. by Monolith Productions (an idea taken from AI planning research in the 1970s). Outside of technical innovations, game design principles came together to determine what makes ‘fun’ or ‘interesting’ AI for players. The influence of Goldeneye 007 by Rare can still be felt today in modern
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franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, with characters responding to damage intelligently and reacting to local events such as alarms or explosions. Many of these features are not AI-driven but help reinforce the intelligence and believability of enemy characters. Bungie learnt this the hard way with the AI for Halo, with play testing revealing not only a need to exaggerate more complex behaviours so players would notice, but also that enemies with increased health – thus taking longer to defeat – were deemed ‘smarter’ than their weaker siblings. This new strand of ‘performance theatre’ in games helped establish many rules of AI design that are still in force today: obfuscating designs to create the illusion of intelligence. After all, if the player sees or hears an AI behave and the game’s design holds true, they will be convinced it’s acting intelligently within the world. A popular example of this being F.E.A.R.’s AI battle chatter, where one character makes a decision and tells another to instruct them to do it using a voice line if the player will hear it. Throughout this is a distinct lack of machine learning which is now a big deal in the tech sector. There were but a handful of games exploring use of neural networks and evolution-based learning systems, notably Black & White, Shogun: Total War, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. But they never reached the same level of popularity, largely because they were not well understood, deemed unreliable and perhaps most importantly difficult to debug. These are issues that have since been addressed to some extent, but that’s a story for another time!
Just increasing health and damage dealt is enough to trick players into thinking an enemy is ‘smarter’. Bungie learnt this the hard way in Halo
“This new strand of ‘performance theatre’ in games helped establish many rules of AI design that are still in force today: obfuscating designs to create the illusion of intelligence.”
F.E.A.R. is renowned not just for its smart AI systems, but the performance theatre which makes NPCs look smarter than they actually are
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MechanicallySound by Jake Tucker
Ustwo’s Joel Beardshaw tells us why two is the magic number when it comes to Monument Valley’s sequel THE teamwork at the heart of Monument Valley 2’s mother and child relationship is woven into the fabric of the game. Joel Beardshaw, senior game designer at Ustwo, joined the studio a year before Monument Valley 2 launched, as it was undergoing preproduction. Monument Valley 2 was made for many reasons, as with any sequel, but there was also an upside for a studio that was expanding with a signiﬁcant number of new staff. “It was decided that a really good way to bring people into the fold was to work on something that the studio was already familiar with and elaborate on it,” explains Beardshaw. “Ustwo felt like there was a lot of exciting stuff that could be done with the game, a feeling of unﬁnished business. As a result, we started work on a Monument Valley sequel as a way to bring everyone together and help them learn how to work with each other.” So, this story of a team learning to work together is mirrored by the product, a game in which a mother and child learn to work together to solve puzzles. However, this wasn’t a smart meta nod so much as an examination of what worked best. “It’s funny really, as development started off with a year of people being told: ‘Go wild, spread your wings and come up with interesting ideas and
references that fascinate you. Make sketchbooks full of the start of levels, push the boat out and see what you can change’,” says Beardshaw. “No one was sure what shape the game would take, so we all just set off in different directions to see what we could do.” STAR-CROSSED LOVERS The original idea for Monument Valley 2 included four or ﬁve different characters to be the centre point of separate stories. “There was one that was about a doll who ran away from home and discovered herself. There was one about two lovers – a short squat one, a tall thin one – who were called ‘the interdimensional lovers’, at least on their documentation. The idea was like: ‘Find the mood and ﬁnd which character it ﬁts with, and maybe we can have more characters’. And there was this wonderful picture of all these kinds of variations on the character Totem. “What if a Totem had a ladder on him? What if Totem could light the way? What if Totem had a door in him and you could move him around? “But we kept coming back to this idea that the mother and child was the mechanic that had the most story to it. We kept thinking: ‘This is the one where everything ﬁts, this is the one we want to show off’.”
“It was a beautiful accident. We have a character who was a big cylinder being followed by a small cylinder. Immediately people had this emotional reaction. It was an endearing, emotional moment that sprouted out of this simple mechanic.” Pictured right: Concept art for Monument Valley 2
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“It came from a prototype from Lea [Schönfelder, senior game designer at Ustwo] and Alejandro [Cámara, senior programmer at Ustwo] as one of the potential new mechanics for the game. “It was a beautiful accident. Suddenly, we have a character who was a big cylinder being followed by a small cylinder. But immediately people had this emotional reaction as they walked around, this little thing following behind the player where they were saying: ‘Oh, look! This cute little thing! What is it?’ Then if you split them up, the other one tries to come to you by another route or tries to get as close to you as possible. It was an endearing, emotional moment that sprouted out of this simple mechanic.” Over time, the team tried to build up the other stories to match the narrative potential and excitement shown by the mother and child, but then they realised that it was smarter to just take the promising parts from other character’s adventures and join them into the mother and child story, to tell a single story. ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER Beardshaw mentions Brothers as a similar example of a small-scale game with a central mechanic that becomes a central support for the game’s narrative. The concept of a mother and child was something the team was keen to explore, too. A relationship that’s very rarely seen in video games, which are often preoccupied with burly men or anthropomorphic balls of yarn. “There was a wavering point in the game:’Couldn’t this just be a dog?’ Wouldn’t it make more sense if it was a dog? Or a friendly crow?’’ says Beardshaw. “Immediately there was this push back from within the team, a lot of people felt this was a real opportunity to tell a story we don’t normally see in games. To tell a story that can totally show you something that you haven’t seen before.”
Monument Valley is primarily about moving pieces of architecture to create a route. Monument Valley 2 doesn’t change this core idea, but in the sections of the game where you control two characters, it uses that to add another dimension to puzzles. Which meant that puzzles could bring in new concepts and be more dynamic. Despite that, the game still isn’t difﬁcult to understand, and Beardshaw admits that the game can be “quite simplistic” but delivers the narrative push that keeps the story going and keeps players engaged. “I think, rightly so, that people sometimes point the ﬁnger at Monument Valley 2 for being a bit too easy, but I think the game is in line with what we hoped for. Maybe it’s quite easy, but an emotional connection was more important than difﬁculty to us while we were making the game. It was more important for us to tell the story and have these emotional peaks than difﬁculty with a capital D. “A lot of the time it’s ‘I walk toward the thing, and I manipulate the object. I turn it around or I move it up and down until I can get on it. Then I ride it to where I need to go, and then I get off it, and then I move to the next thing’. With two players it can be about these characters navigating maps, bounding past each other at the right time.” Beardshaw says that by giving the child their own agency, indirectly controlled by the player, it can reward patience and inaction, something that worked well for the meditative experience that the game was trying to create. “I guess the mechanics are mainly there to enable you to feel more connected to the narrative rather than to challenge you by themselves,” concludes Beardshaw. “My hope is that as we send the characters on this journey to grow a little bit, we can offer a similar thing to the player.”
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IncomeStream The numbers, stats and market stories that matter and why they do
Japan H1 2018
Famitsu’s figures for the first six months of the year are here. It’s been a great period for Switch in hardware and software, but PlayStation still dominates the region and continues to grow as well. HARDWARE Japan is one region we get accurate hardware sales figures from. The console hardware market was stable in terms of value year-on-year, although units sold was only 89.1 per cent of the same period, remembering that the Switch launched half-way through last year’s H1 period. In unit terms, Switch was up by 9.9 per cent, selling 1.12m units over the six month period, up from 1.02m units last year during the three month launch window. Other portable systems took a huge hit, presumably as a result of Switch’s entry into the market. Combined sales of 3DS SKUs were just 43 per cent of last year, while the Vita sold just under half of its 2017 H1 total. Good news for PlayStation too, with hardware sales up 20 per cent from last year. The company sold 720,840 PS4s and 223,939 PS4 Pro consoles, with the standard console outselling its bigger brother by 3.2 to 1. Xbox sales doubled off the back of the Xbox One X launch, but with fewer than 10,000 units sold in total, it’s still a small part of the market. SOFTWARE The Switch market continues to grow rapidly. Speaking in terms of value, Switch software sales rose by 162 per cent to hit ¥25,323m (£172m) a figure that is starting to look significant when placed next to the PS4s ¥43,209m (£293m). That represented a 62.8 per cent rise for Sony, though, showing that Nintendo isn’t crashing the PlayStation party, this is instead genuine growth in the sector. By value, the software market as a whole was up by 11.4 per cent from H1 2017. The six months were unsurprisingly dominated by Monster Hunter: World, which is approaching 2m copies sold to date in Japan alone. Splatoon 2 leads a mass of Nintendo-published titles with seven in the Top Ten plus Pokémon Sun and Moon from The Pokémon Company. After what looked like a slow start, Nintendo’s Labo Variety Kit reached No.11 in the charts, selling 174,792 copies since its release in April, and paving the way for possible future titles in the series.
PRE ORDER TOP 5 TW TITLE 01 02 03 04 05
Red Dead Redemption 2 inc War Horse/Survival Kit DLC (PS4) Rockstar Spider-Man (PS4) Sony Days Gone (PS4) Sony The Last of Us: Part II (PS4) Sony Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4) Square Enix
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
Monster Hunter: World Splatoon 2 Kirby Star Allies Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Super Mario Odyssey The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Pocket Monster Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon Jikkyo Powerful Pro Yakyu 2018
Capcom Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo Pokémon Konami Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Nintendo Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Nintendo
Source: Famitsu, Period: January 1 to June 24, 2018
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UK PHYSICAL RETAIL JUNE (UNITS)
FIFA 18 PUBLISHER: EA
TM LM Title 02 01 God of War 03 RE Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy 04 05 Detroit: Become Human 05 03 Far Cry 5 06 08 Fallout 4 07 07 Mario Kart 8 Deluxe 08 NEW Mario Tennis Aces 09 NEW Vampyr 10 RE Grand Theft Auto V
Publisher Sony Activision Sony Ubisoft Bethesda Nintendo Nintendo Focus Rockstar
Source: Ukie/GfK, Period: May 27th to June 30th
Ubisoft’s Q1 Switch up Ubisoft’s Q1 results are in, with a huge uptick year-on-year, as expected. With the ongoing sales of Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Far Cry 5 making early 2018 a far stronger period for the company than even last year’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Net bookings were up 88.8 per cent to €381m (£341m), which easily beat Ubisoft’s own target of €350 (£313m). In a boom quarter though, digital bookings didn’t quite keep pace with the total, rising 76.7 per cent to €287m (£257m). That amounts to 75.2 per cent of total net bookings versus 80.4 per cent in the same quarter year-on-year. One interesting point was that PlayStation 4’s share of Ubisoft’s net bookings had slipped by six points from 44 per cent last year to 38 per UBISOFT SALES BY PLATFORM PlayStation 4 Xbox One PC Nintendo Switch Mobile Legacy/Others
cent this year, while Xbox remained static on 22 per cent. Switch looks to be the main cause, with the console leaping from one per cent to five per cent as it becomes established. It’s still early days, but as predicted by some, it looks like Switch is a bigger threat to PlayStation than Xbox, although the Sony console still dominates the market. PC also grew from 21 per cent to 24 per cent, while mobile held steady. Investors love steady incomes and Ubsoft’s Player Recurring Investment was up by 51.5 per cent to to €126m (£113m). Such sales include digital items, DLC, season passes, subscriptions and advertising – and growth in this area should be sustainable going forward. Back-catalog net bookings were also up 74.7 per cent to €332.6 million, as the well-established current console generation, and the growing acceptance of digital purchases with consumers, lets the company monetise existing titles.
per cent of net bookings
per cent of net bookings
38% 44% 22% 22% 24% 21% 5% 1% 8% 8% 3% 4% Source: Ubisoft, Period: April 1st to June 30th 2018
‘You’ve got a T-Rex?!’ Jurassic World Evolution – Frontier
Frontier Developments has a dino-sized hit on its hands with Jurassic World Evolution, announcing that the game had sold one million copies in just over five weeks following its June 12th launch. Those sales cover both digital and physical releases, with console versions of the latter coming from partner Sold Out. The milestone was announced two weeks after the game was listed in Steam’s best-selling titles for the first half of the year. “There is no doubt that initial sales have benefitted from the worldwide awareness created by the film release, but it’s the quality of the game that’s really important and I believe our team has done a terrific job in creating a game that a wide range of players are now enjoying around the world,” said CEO David Braben.
Game, Set, Mario Mario Tennis Aces – Nintendo
It was a straight set win as Mario Tennis Aces took the No.1 spot in the weekly charts on release, with a respectable No.8 in the monthly charts for June. Mario Tennis Aces received decent reviews, with a 79 per cent rating on Opencritic, with many comparing the new entry in the Mario Tennis franchise as something more akin to a fighting game than a traditional tennis title, albeit one that has difficulty spikes that may frustrate some. While it’s yet another strongly received title in the Switch’s burgeoning first-party line-up, based on physical sales to date it’s never going to bother the likes of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Super Mario Odyssey.
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What was the impetus behind you setting up your own publishing label? What can you do that other publishers cannot? I’d already worked at a couple of different publishers, and while I really enjoyed helping devs bring their games to the masses, there were plenty of elements that I felt could be done better with regards to making the people we worked with as happy as possible. As the No More Robots name suggests, one of the biggest qualms I hear from many devs is that when they work with a publisher, they feel like they’re being churned through a game machine, with publishers just spitting games out left, right and centre. I wanted to start a publishing label where devs knew that I actually cared about them and their games – so that’s what I did, and I think the devs I’ve worked with up to now would vouch for that! What do you think is the most important thing for a developer to consider before signing with a publisher? Whether the publisher actually does anything more than the basics. Anyone can stick a game on Steam, put out a press release, contact some YouTubers and take X per cent for it. That’s not what you want – you want a partner who is just as invested in your game as you are. What do you think is one of the biggest issues facing the games industry in 2018? The sheer volume of games being released. It’s still possible to break through the sea of crap, but it gets harder and harder every day, and the methods for doing so change so rapidly that you need to always be making sure that you know how to make your game actually sell when it’s ready to go. What are you looking forward to from Gamescom? I found a couple of No More Robots’ signed games at Gamescom last year, so hopefully I can find some of our 2019 releases there this year too!
The Final Boss Mike Rose Founder, No More Robots
What do you think triple-A development and publishing should be looking to learn from indies? I see so many triple-A studios pouring ridiculous amounts of money into development and marketing for a title, and then saying afterwards that the millions of units they sold weren’t enough to make the project worth it. The fact is that games aren’t selling as well as they used to, so you need to be smart and scale down on how much games are costing to create in the first place. Reducing costs, and therefore reducing risk, is what I see a lot of smaller studios doing now, and it’s working out for plenty of people in the industry, including myself. What have you learnt from your publishing career so far? I have learnt that success is fantastic, but it also brings a heap of stress! My plans for the first two years of No More Robots were pretty conservative, but now that we’ve blown through them, I’m looking to hire a couple more people to take some of the load, and allow me to keep doing what I do best – finding devs making cool, unique stuff, and making sure they have enough success to fund themselves into their next game and beyond.
“Anyone can stick a game on Steam, put out a press release, contact some YouTubers and take X per cent for it. That’s not what you want – you want a partner who is just as invested in your game as you are.” 74 | MCV 938 August 2018
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