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You said your tech originally kind of evolved out of the work you'd been doing for Dead Head Fred and your interest in getting into the PSP. When did you start developing the engine, and when did you start licensing it?
WH: We started developing it in 2002, I believe, and we actually put out our first press release sometime around July of 2005, saying that we were in fact entering the licensing market.
And last year you shipped support for the current-gen console platforms.
EP: We showed a demo last year behind closed doors; it was very Unreal quality-ish. We had a lot of the same things; we were showing off a lot of the same features.
We're very proud of the demo we did last year. It really got a lot of people excited about Vicious Engine 2, but the economy obviously has completely changed the need for a lot of third-party engines at this time because there's less product being made.
WH: We released Matt Hazard: Blood Bath as well, just recently --
EP: Yeah, just in January.
WH: I feel like that really showcases the tech very well.
You guys are sort of unique in the sense that you're part of a larger organization like a publisher, but you do tech licensing and you still do game development. It seems like you're pretty much the only people in that position, that do that and are part of a publishing organization.
WH: Right. Well, when D3 came in, they promised us that they wanted to maintain our culture, and they've kept that promise. They've let us maintain control of Vicious Cycle as it was for the most part -- sure, they've introduced a lot of new accounting principles that we'd had no idea about previously, and they're not that fun to do, but we still get to manage the studio like we did before.
It really has been easy to maintain that level of confidentiality between our clients' Vicious Engine and our parent company. They're not interested in breaking that line, in other words.
Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard
About how many people are at Vicious right now?
EP: How many people? We're about sixty.
How has your staffing been over the years? When you started, how many people did you have?
EP: When we first started the company in 2000 we were 12 people. Then we went up to about 40 by 2003, and then shrunk back down due to budget issues and went back down to more like 16, and then we rebounded back to 60. We've probably been as high as 64 at any given time, but we're holding at 60 right now.
WH: We went through a time early-on when we experienced a lot of turnover, and that really caused Eric and me to just look at how things were being run around here. We made some changes, and since, I'd say, 2005, we've experienced extremely low turnover; it's a very rewarding feeling for me, personally.
Something that I find interesting about the company is that I feel like the personality and the humor has been certainly consistent -- at least since Dead Head Fred. There's a certain satirical bent to the humor, a certain mature and sarcastic tone. Can you put that down to anything specifically?
EP: Sure, I can. We rehired a designer that was originally with our studio when we formed the company and who was also a designer at MicroProse, and that's Dave Ellis.
Dave Ellis came back to the company after Wayne and I made some changes and were reworking the company as far as how we wanted it to be, moving it into its second five-year term, if you will. The first thing that we did was we hired Dave back.
Dave actually was working on the design for another game at the time, so he wasn't working as the designer on Fred, but we needed the story written. He was a very good writer and is a very good writer, and so he penned the entire story.
It pretty much kicked off a new wave of products for us, which, as you said, are kind of like satirical black comedies or dark humor type things, which was very risky at the time; but so was Fred in general. I mean, Fred was a risky IP to do. But we figured we wanted this film noir kind of dark humor product even though not a lot of people had succeeded in that realm of the industry.
For me, I always wanted to make a product that was always very reminiscent of a Schafer title; I was a big Grim Fandango fan, and I loved the early stuff. A lot of that was, of course, story-driven.
We wanted Fred to kind of have a similar feel to it, and Dave was able to give that to the product. Long story short, we just kind of kept on holding onto that point and reiterating on it with Matt Hazard and Blood Bath and Beyond.