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Tour of Chicago Pt. 5: Midway Chicago
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Tour of Chicago Pt. 5: Midway Chicago

December 27, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

Studio Inside a Studio

The Mortal Kombat team is like a studio itself. Bayless explains that Midway is reaching the point where key franchises are taking on the aspect of being a full franchise, not just a single title in development. “I think for a while, Ed was sort of uncomfortable with that. Because his history has always been, ‘I do this, and when I’m done, I do that.’” Bayless describers a time when Boon intimated, “Gee, guys, I’m not sure I can do all this at the same time.”

However, Boon found that his best team members have been able to step into roles or places where Boon might have taken responsibility for a certain thing before. “And it frees him up to drill down on the creative.” Now, Boon’s time is focus on two major efforts. “One is driving the creative, proactively. ‘Here’s what we should do.’ And the other one is that iteration, which is hugely important.”

“I think Ed rightly recognizes that the best work happens when you take the time to do that iteration,” say Bayless, “Where you sit there, and touch it, and smell it, and polish it, and you keep doing it until you get it right.” Bayless doesn’t think Boon will ever let go of that, adding, “That’s what he does, and that’s where some of the magic comes from.”

The Studio Itself

Midway Chicago is just across the street from corporate headquarters. “One of the things I loved about working at Microsoft,” recalls Bayless, “Is this culture of ‘you say what you think.’ You go in the conference room, you bang your shoe on the table, throw things at the wall, and when you’re done, you all walk out friends.”

“That actually works here, too,” he says of Midway. “It’s really invigorating. No one freaks out. We just get it on the table, and hack at it. And we come up with some pretty good answers. And I think that infuses the studio as well.”

That’s why there is a lot of cross-talk between the studio and corporate. “There’s a lot of walking across the street and having conversations,” Bayless says, adding: “It’s sort of a geographical accident that any time there’s a VIP that David is spending time with, he usually brings them over here. And we grab Brian and bring out the Stranglehold team, and show ‘em cool stuff. Or get Ed and show them Mortal Kombat stuff.”

People have the feeling that Midway Chicago is the flagship developer. That’s inevitable right now, says Bayless. There is a good chance that the further into the next generation, more attention will focus on the other studios as well. “Right now, we’re the flagship. In a year, maybe we’re still the flagship, but there are some pretty big boats around us.”

In fact, it’s hard to talk about Midway Studios Chicago without talking about the other studios. There’s a great interlinking between the developers, and Bayless’ conversation is peppered with mentions of Austin, New Castle, and Seattle. And while there is camaraderie there, these studios are linked by process, best-practices, and shared assets.

The cast of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon

The Fiefdoms

“Another thing I find unique and refreshing about Midway,” says Bayless, “Is the degree to which the studio heads find themselves pulling the same direction.” He cites the company-wide shared-technology drive. “I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve seen a whole bunch of attempts to go down this road. And I’ve seen them all crash on the rocks. A lot of it has to do with people in positions of authority saying ‘I need this,’ and somebody else saying ‘I need that,’ and never being able to find a common ground.”

What Bayless finds in contrast is that the Midway studio heads are actively seeking ways to help each other out. They hold regular conference calls. “We don’t do it because somebody told us to. We do it because we like talking to each other. We like bitching, we like spit-balling. We throw product ideas at each other. We give each other honest feedback.” And it all happens organically. “There’s not a lot of politics among the fiefdoms. We’re all genuinely interested in each other’s success.”

Bayless doesn’t know if it’s simply the people involved, or the size of the company. “Whatever it is, it works really well. It’s a lot of fun, too.” Further, they regularly run summits in every discipline. “Again, it wasn’t because David said, ‘you have do to this.’ It was because we realized it actually helped.” They have design summits, production summits, technology summits, art summits. “A lot of that now has to do with sharing best practices. Flushing out ideas that seem to be useful, and indentifying places we can share assets.”

“This has all taken a tremendous effort,” Bayless admits. “But if you want to, you can do it.”

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 6 Next

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