Following press reports
that it was to be closed down entirely, Midway San Diego's studio profile suffered after Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows'
troubled debut and the closing of its internal development studio.
However, the company has continued to run its third-party publishing operation from San Diego, and Gamasutra recently caught up with Midway executive producer Richard Hicks, at CMP's own Hollywood & Games Summit event, to discuss the studio, Midway's third-party aspirations, and the Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Tell us a little bit more about the changes at Midway San Diego over the past year or two.
Richard Hicks: About a year and a half ago, when the internal group finished Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows
, the company decided not to sequel that. So that team was disbanded, some of the key talent was reassigned, and it was downsized. The third-party group -- which is the other major product development group in San Diego -- stayed, and has continued to prosper over the years.
Has third-party ramped up more recently? Midway isn't necessarily known for third-party from way back.
RH: We've been doing a number of different products. In the last year, we've done two movie licenses with Warner Brothers. We did Happy Feet
-- which was a huge success for us; we did over two million units of that -- and The Ant Bully
. We've also done a number of other titles. We've just finished up Hour of Victory
, and my group is working on Aqua Teen Hunger Force
and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
for Cartoon Network.
Who's developing those?
RH: Aqua Teen Hunger Force
is being developed by a company called Creat, which is actually based in St. Petersburg in Russia, but they also have a Boston office that does the interface. Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
is being developed by Sensory Sweep in Utah.
How many people are in the San Diego office now?
RH: In San Diego we have the third-party group, and we also have one of our QA offices, an executive group, some IT, and some operations. All in total it's about 100 people now.
What are you actually here for at the Hollywood & Games event?
RH: Midway has different branches to our business strategy. We've got our original IP, and then we've got licensed IP that we do premier product on. We've also got our older IP that we're revisiting for Xbox Live and that sort of thing. I'm here to hear other peoples' experiences and see if there's ways to make those relationships even more mutually beneficial than they have been.
I'm always interested in what other peoples' experiences are and what they've found was good. We've also got Hot Brain
for PSP and TouchMaster
on the DS - all of those came out of the third-party group.
[Bar-based mini-game title] TouchMaster was originally created by Midway, so it's kind of funny that it's the third-party group that's handling it.
RH: Yeah, it was sort of an old IP.
And someone had to port it, but it's still kind of a humorous place to have it.
RH: Also a big hit for us last year [among our own older IPs] was Rampage
, which just continues to sell really well. It's got easy to get into gameplay that's worked out really well on PS2, and it's been doing really well on Wii.
Back to Aqua Teen and Creat - when you're interfacing with a company that's based in Russia, I guess a lot of the time you're talking more to their Boston office, and then they relay?
RH: Yes. The key leaders in the St. Petersburg office do speak English, but it's not their first language. So the management and interface is through Boston.
There's a time zone issue as well, right? In your experience, how are the Boston people managing that? Do they have people who are staying up until 5 AM every night?
RH: The way it works out is that the St. Petersburg office is about eleven hours ahead of us. As it turns out, it actually works out pretty well. The end of their day is the beginning of our day, so we come in and we'll have a call with them or whatever, and they're set up to go the next day.
If they have a build, they'll upload it to us, and we get that day to evaluate it before they're back in the office. Then, we can give them our full comments, and they can start over again the next day.
Have you found the quality to be good on a title with so many cultural references that you're sourcing outside the country?
RH: With Creat, we've been very pleased with the art. I think the art for Aqua Teen is very true to the show, and our group has been adding value to game design and the game mechanics.
You just finished up the VO recording, right?
RH: Yeah, the VO recording went really well. We're working very closely with the creators of the show, Dave and Matt. They actually did the writing for the whole video game, from a dialogue perspective. They do a number of characters themselves on the show, and they did those for us, and we had a number of other characters from the show do a recording. It came out really well.
They strike me as the type of people who might end up doing ad-libs. Did that happen?
RH: Yes, there was a tremendous amount of ad-libbing, and for the other characters on the show as well. A lot of the actors were very good VO actors.
Is that kind of stuff going to end up in the game? Are you going to have to animate to that?
RH: A lot of the dialogue is not. It's dialogue, but it's not lip-synced, so we can include it. It's not a lot of overhead, but the real challenge is that we need to make sure that all of that content gets documented, so that when we send it to the ESRB for ratings, there's no questionable content that's left out by accident.