Raphael Colantonio, the outspoken and charismatic CEO and creative director of Arkane Studios, was recently in Montreal for the Montreal International Game Summit, where he presented the session “Building a Small Independent Studio in a Big Publisher World” (subtitled “Lifting the Mountain”). Based in Lyon, France, Arkane Studios recently opened a studio in Austin, Texas, and most recently completed Dark Messiah of Might and Magic for Ubisoft, to critical acclaim.
Gamasutra talked to Raphael before his session about his start in the industry, the difference between working in France and in the US, and the passion that drives him and the company on.
Gamasutra: How did you get your start in the industry?
Raphael Colantonio: It was an accident. I finished my studies and I was doing military service, which is mandatory in France, and for some reason I entered a contest to answer some questions about Ultima from a magazine. The winner had a chance to test Ultima 8, or something. I was a big fan of Ulitma, so I did the contest, not thinking I would win anything, and I was contacted by EA, who offered me a job! Not just to test the game, but an actual job as a customer service representative. I was the 8th employee of EA in France and I set up their IT and their customer support.
GS: So you’ve always been a gamer?
RC: Absolutely. I was always just a real big fan of games. Working in games was a dream; for some people it would be like working in the movies, it feels like an impossible thing.
GS: And it’s always been RPGs that have been your favourite?
RC: Yeah, I was a big fan of the Ultima series.
GS: Ultima VII is probably one of my favourite games of all time, that feeling of a living world it had. Is that something you want from your games?
RC: Up to certain points. I think with Arx Fatalis that was something we wanted to do, we wanted to bring back some of the values of those games. Ultima VII is probably one of my all time favourite games, Ultima Underworld too, and by doing Arx Fatalis we wanted to express ourselves and do our own kind of a next-gen Ultima game, adding our own ideas, such as gestures for magic. Because since those games, most new RPGs make me wonder if I’m still an RPG fan!
GS: Do you think recent titles are more limited?
RC: Yeah, maybe they’re limited by the tech, or maybe they’re limited by the customers (the gamers) but it’s true I feel there was a very deep amount of interactivity back then that we don’t have anymore. I think Arx Fatalis was our real attempt to make something as meaningful as Ultima Underworld.
But it’s not like that’s still our constant objective; we did that, it was a hard game to do, we finished it and we’re proud, but the current market has an importance to us as well, and our passion and objectives is really to do intense first person simulations. We try to always reach for innovation. That’s why with Dark Messiah we had first person melee combat in mind. It was important for us to do that well.
GS: What did you learn from the experience of working on Arx Fatalis?
RC: We learned so much! Every time you do a game you learn so much. We learned that bugs are a really big issue for some people; in particular in the North American market they are very, very intolerant of bugs. We learned that the games that we think are going to be successful aren’t necessarily going to be that successful or marketable. Even though Arx Fatalis might have a very vocal community of fans, the sales were nothing compared to a GTA. The difference is the fans of GTA aren’t loud about it, they just buy it and enjoy it!
But it was a very important thing for us to do Arx Fatalis; it was very much an artistic need to say to the press and the gamers, “this is the kind of game we like, and this is the kind of thing we can do.” But now we’ve given a sense of that, we want to work to make that in a more marketable form that will appeal to a broader audience.
We also learned a lot about the rules of the industry; the publisher/developer relationship and the realities of that.
GS: You’ve worked with Dreamcatcher, JoWooD and Ubisoft; what differences did you feel between the publishers?
RC: It’s really a matter of the type of publisher and size. Ubisoft is a monster amongst even the biggest publishers, they way they think and their objectives and their attitude is totally different to JoWooD. It’s a trade off. There are better things with small companies and better things with big companies.