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It's interesting to see that you chose Unreal for like this sort of sprawling action-adventure game. How did it work for that?
TA: By the time we had decided to use Unreal, there were already PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 games out using it, so we avoided the growing pains, if you like, of early titles on Unreal. The toolset's really mature, the engine's good. What we did do is look at the Unreal games, the really good ones, and say, "Okay, this is the kind of game it can do really well, so let's design our game around that. Don't go against the grain."
It's hard to think of an action-adventure game that used Unreal really effectively.
TA: Well, we were more looking at level structure, so things like BioShock and, you know, Gears.
And for a small -- well, we're about a hundred people now -- but for a fairly small-ish, I guess medium-sized, independent, you want to use the talent you've got in-house to craft an experience as much as possible unless your technology development people have already done several times over.
What do you think of the UK development scene right now in terms of its vibrancy and its talent?
TA: I think it's a bit tough actually. Like the UK has always punched above its weight, I believe, in gaming. And tax breaks are available in Canada and so, and that's hurt. The UK has dropped ranking in terms of from third to fourth, soon to be fifth. A lot of developers have gone bust or they've been bought out. There's not a lot of independents that can do triple A type games left. So, it's slightly scary but also exciting.
Do you guys have two teams up and running? Do you have two projects?
That must have been an exciting moment when you realized you were at that point. Because you previously have done one game at a time.
TA: Yeah. We were warned about expanding to two teams. It's kind of the make-or-break for a lot of companies, and we did it very slowly. We were hiring one or two people a month. We were seeding the second team with the leads of the other team, promoting people to fill their place, and hiring people under them. So, it was always extremely considered, slow, and gentle, and it's paying off doing it that way.
When you say there aren't that many independent teams that can do triple-A games in the UK, I think that's actually generally true. There aren't really as many independents these days that can do that. A lot of them get snapped up by publishers.
TA: Yeah. I think you're right. But I think if you are independent, I'm noticing that you're getting a lot more attention from publishers. More opportunities come up that you wouldn't have considered before because publishers need games. They have to be growing, and they have to be selling games, and they need people to make those games, so the desire is there. It's just a business model that's incredibly tough.
Games cost a lot to develop, and that creates a lot of difficulties in selling them. There are a lot of really strongly competitive titles in any given genre at any given time.
TA: Yeah, but at the same time, there's totally new emerging platforms online, free-to-play models, and all of these things on the horizon. I think online gaming ultimately is a win win for everyone, so it's going to happen. It's just a matter of when.
You're talking about how publishers have a lot of interest in working with independent developers, and you also talked about a need to move forward with games that have just a single selling point, that have more of an experience. Do you find that having those conversations can actually be a bit tough? Or are publishers generally receptive?
TA: I think it's still tough. People still want to know what "the X" is, so thank you very much, EA. Every single game, I struggle with that concept. How do you reduce everything that makes up some of these amazing games to one line, and then focusing on that one thing like a mantra doggedly at the expense of other aspects of the game? Something just doesn't sit right with me and that concept of the X.
But it's still forced on us. [laughs]