Yeah, it's definitely interesting to see people's solutions. Unreal has, in a lot of ways, moved into a de facto space with a lot of games, and you see a tremendous amount of different ways of using it over the course of the generation.
TA: Yeah, I think people are more concerned about business models and platforms than the technology now. What makes sense for the platform, how do you monetize that -- that seems to be the focus around the development community now.
Your studio is at least presently still working on, you know, concentrating on triple-A, disc based, $60, paid games. When working with an IP like Devil May Cry, you've got a certain level of insurance you didn't have with your previous products.
TA: Yes that's right, and at this stage in the cycle that's probably the only bet you can realistically make. It changes again when new technology, new platforms come in. But yeah, it gives us sort of an insurance.
It's the first time we've worked on a IP that we haven't created, and it's been really good actually -- there's been a lot of creativity that's gone into it. I think you're always creative when you've got boundaries, and we've got some boundaries for this game.
Insuring that the combat fits in with the feel of the old games, and the storyline, and things like that. But there's so much to innovate. So at least we know it's going to have a presence. So it's been positive in that sense.
You worked with a variety of publishers now, how do you feel about the publisher/developer relationship? It can't always be what you would hope it would be. But certainly you had some experiences now.
TA: By and large I'd say that [the relationships] are positive, very positive. But it's always a strained relationship in a sense, because as a developer you want as much time and resources as possible to make the best game you can -- at least, we do. And I think most developers do. And the publisher wants the same, but they want it as quickly and as cheaply as they can possibly get it. [laughs]
And so it's constant battle to... Actually, I wouldn't say battle. It's a constant process of trust -- trusting each other, and putting yourself on the line, and saying, "We need to do this, for this reason, and take a leap of faith." And if they take that leap of faith and it works out, then they'll take more leaps of faith. But it's difficult.
How do you foster that trust? I've talked to other developers; the word "trust" doesn't always come up in discussions like this.
TA: I think there are two powerful tools that a developer has. One is to be prepared to walk away. So just be prepared to walk away from a deal that's a bad one. And secondly, I think you have to just go into it openly; you have to go into it with trust, like any relationship in life. You have to go into it openly until proven wrong, I think. If you go into it assuming the worst, it'll just not work, I think.
It's business. You know, in the '80s you're taught, by watching movies, you're taught that it's all about wheeling and dealing and being scheming and lying and things. And actually I think business is not like that -- it's about being totally honest, and it's about relationships -- actually personal relationships with the different parties. So I think you've got to do that, just take that leap. It's difficult.
You mentioned walking away from a bad deal. You see a lot of independent developers enter into bad deals. Some of it's because they lack business acumen, and some of it's because they're over a barrel, right? So how do you avoid those things?
TA: If you're going into a bad deal, make sure you're getting something out of it. For example, it's allowing you, as a studio, to grow, or enter a space that you weren't in. But as far as possible I think you should hold out, and there's lots of -- now especially, there's a lot of ways to publish games -- lots of ways to get to market.
And I think that the power is shifting. I think it has shifted, on the smaller side of things -- not the triple-A side, but on the smaller scale of games -- that the power's shifting. So, I think, do everything conceivably possible to not repeat the old habits of the triple-A developer/publisher model with the new generation of platforms. I think everyone kind of owes it for everyone else's sake as well.
And I think on the triple-A side so many developers have gone bust, have done exactly what you said, have got themselves over a barrel and gone bust, that there's not actually very many triple-A developers left. So to an extent, you can walk away, and you can talk to different publishers, and you can shop around as a developer. Personally, I would rather not be making games than to to be over a barrel. I think when you're at the point where that's your only option, I think it's time to get out anyway.
Prior to going independent, what was your background?
TA: I was at Millennium Interactive, a games company in Cambridge, and they then got acquired by Sony. So I was at Sony there as a programmer for three to four years, then eventually a designer. But they were famous for games like MediEvil on the PlayStation 1 and Ghosthunter on the PlayStation 2 -- which I wasn't a part of.
It's interesting to have made the move from programming to design. You don't hear about that all the time.
TA: I think I was on the tail end of that wave of people that learned to make games at home on their Commodore 64s and Amigas, and I did that because I wanted to create games. I think programming is a creative endeavor, especially in games, so I'm not too surprised by it. I thought it was one of the most creative times of my career, actually, programming. You have full control over what you create, and you appreciate the elegance of your own systems, even if no one else can see them. I really enjoyed it.
Do you feel you still have a technical grounding that helps with the business, and with the design of the games you're working on now?
TA: Yeah, I think so. I think because I know what is possible, I know that very little is impossible. So I'm less likely to be apologetic about advanced features. I've got a sense of the kinds of things that are easy to do -- big bang for buck things -- that maybe I wouldn't consider if I wasn't a programmer in the past.