How Moving To Austin Energized Starhawk
May 13, 2011 Page 2 of 3
Convincing the staff might have been easy, but the actual logistics of moving an entire company 1,300 miles is another matter altogether.
"It was a super pain in the ass," says Jobe. Not only was the studio in the midst of delivering Warhawk expansion milestones to Sony, it was also in the early stages of developing Starhawk. There just wasn't enough time to shut down for a move.
"What we ended up doing was having two teams, two smaller teams, one team in Austin doing production, one team in Salt Lake basically there to turn off the lights," Jobe recalls. "And then we worked with the crew for a very organized labeling and teardown of our whole data center and all of our assets, put it on a shipping container truck, moved it all down to Austin, over, God, it was 30 hours. I think they drove it overnight."
The Austin team unpacked its stuff and set up its new studio of the course of a very busy weekend, just in time for its five new Austin hires to start filing in that Monday.
"We were up and running with what amounted to 48 hours of downtime," Jobe gloats.
LightBox made good on its promise to staff up, and did so rapidly. When it left Salt Lake, the studio had 13 people; now it has 45, thanks to the readily accessible talent pool in the area. It's an interesting middle ground to be in: not quite small, but not quite triple-A either, kept down thanks to art outsourcing and substantial music and audio support from Sony.
"We have a very close relationship there that allows us to do a little bit more production than you would otherwise think from the size of team that we are," says Sutphin.
Development in Austin has more benefits than just its talent pool, according to Jobe.
"There's a lot of intangibles," he says. "I think we pride ourselves on our kind of fun creative camaraderie. Austin has that, and we didn't really feel that that was available to us in Salt Lake. It's really kind of that intangible vibe."
"I'm a firm believer that with the employees that you have working for you, the energy that they have is imparted in the product you're developing, and they get that energy from you know their life, whether it be their family or their nightlife of their dating scene or whatever, and Austin allows us to use some pretty energized employees."
LightBox's studio is in the heart of downtown Austin, on Seventh Street -- not quite the town's infamous Sixth Street, which Jobe describes as "debauchery central," but only a few hundred feet away.
"Whenever you have a late night crunch it's just like, so wonderful to walk just a block and drink it all away," says Sutphin.
"The art team has a flag on a pulley system and a little horn they play when it's beer time," Jobe tells us, though he says he doesn't join them as much as he used to. "They probably don't want to be bar-crawling with the boss," he says.
Beer isn't the only thing fueling the team, of course. Austin has a thriving development community, particularly in the indie scene, something that Sutphin and his design team -- all of whom have independent and/or modding community backgrounds -- try to stay connected to. They all participate in the Juegos Rancheros indie game collective with studios like Twisted Pixel and Renegade Kid, getting together to talk shop and get inspired.
"It's a really great way to keep up inspiration and morale, to cross-pollinate ideas," Sutphin says. "It can be tricky, especially for game designers, when you're working on a title that spans many years. You know, you're working on something that's really awesome, but it has a particular focus and sometimes game designers -- with all creatives, really -- your mind has a tendency to want to wander around a bit, and I think in Austin we have a really great opportunity for that to happen."
"A lot of us referred to working in Salt Lake as kind of like a snow globe," recalls Dylan. "We just get exposure to way more ideas, culture, people and industry stuff in Austin. Austin is kind of an electric town. There's good nightlife, good social scene, Austin music -- always great stuff to do."
It will be interesting to see how Austin's energy feeds into Starhawk. Despite is base level similarities, Starhawk is a very different animal than Warhawk. For one, unlike its predecessor, it has a dedicated single player mode -- something that was originally specced for Warhawk, but canceled for quality reasons.
"We were trying to look at the single player missions to a certain extent in terms of the multiplayer goals, as opposed to being this completely separate thing," Sutphin recalls. According to him, unifying the game's multiplayer and single-player components came too late in the project,.
"We didn't want to ship a single player mode that felt like a strap-on, and so we decided we would rather keep the game focused on the really strong multiplayer," he says.
This time around, the team is developing both the single and multiplayer modes simultaneously. And rather than shaping the single player component around the needs of multiplayer, they have the interesting effect of feeding each other.
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