Back to the last days of Midway: how'd you get from having a beloved project at a publisher in its last throes to forming a new studio with a new concept?
CS: Midway laid off most of the team at Christmastime [2008, just prior to filing for Chapter 11], and then there were a few of us still at Midway that were showing the game to people.
The reality was I was a project lead at Midway, and now there was one project [Mortal Kombat]. So... it was kind of inevitable, and people who weren't assigned to that project were just let go. During that whole time, the writing was pretty much on the wall. You get a couple days to figure out what your future's gonna be.
I'd had this long, slow five months of watching the company change. And I can kind of plan stuff, so at that point [my team] started really talking about forming a company.
So you founded Phosphor Games.
CS: It's funny, because I've been part of start-ups before, and I thought I kind of at least knew what a lot of it was. It's crazy if you're not... the founders of Infinity Ward or someone [with that profile]. For us, it was like "we haven't heard of your game that hasn't shipped yet."
I've been in the industry since '94. I have worked on a lot of games I could point to. But when we started it was a little weird, there were companies trying to buy Hero and use us as the developer. The engine and content did exist, and the company was selling it. But ultimately when all the finalization happened, you know, July or so, that window closed.
After that, we were trying to figure out what we could do, and we thought maybe it'd be easier to get something else going while we're trying to make this happen.
Did you start with some work-for-hire projects? That's not so unsusual for new studios.
CS: I had known Epic a little while -- Midway was one of the first adopters of Unreal Engine on a big scale, before everyone was using it for console games. Epic, even to this day, has been super supportive of us. They gave us, as a company, our first dollar; they paid us to do work, and we still have an amazing relationship with them. They're really quite a role model for independent developers.
What other kinds of work have you guys done?
CS: When they announced Kinect, we thought that even though the focus wasn't the hardcore market we were used to, we thought it was super cool and innovative. So we just kept knocking on doors, and then eventually we got to do some work on Kinect Adventures.
What'd you think of working with Kinect?
CS: Oh, it was very cool. I think it's just that it's a different audience than what other gamers are used to. If you read the hardcore press, they were not into our level, the "Space Pop" game. But then I'll talk to parents, and they'll tell me that it was a favorite.
They really don't have to care about something that's not for them. But I think getting everyone into games is a very cool thing... Anyone can have a fun interactive experience. I think there are a lot of really cool games you can make with Kinect that you probably couldn't make before.
It just takes time... to see what's profitable. The earlier stuff is more obvious, and then there will probably be some really cool things you can do with Kinect once it has enough saturation.
Now you've established Phosphor, and you'd worked on some outside projects...
CS: At that point, we started splitting development between our contract stuff and building our own engine. With our first engine... Hero was a big, open world game. I think it's kind of obvious that they are hard to make; I mean, we did have a PS3 open world game with everything working on disc for Hero, so it was hard but not that hard. What was harder was making the content compelling.
It's even harder when the player can do things like fly, for example... you design this super cool situation and [testers] just flew over it. Flying isn't really where most people are in their game space... Imagine in Resident Evil if the zombies came at you and you constantly just flew away.
Maybe it would be cool for 10 minutes but it's hard to sustain something like that. So when we were rebuilding the engine we really looked at... we always want there to be lots of different ways to play the game, but we didn't really want you to just leave situations. We have a more focused kind of gameplay environment now, more action and less open-world.