Remedy boss Tero Virtala on Quantum Break and the studio’s new strategy

Christopher Dring
Remedy boss Tero Virtala on Quantum Break and the studio’s new strategy

Quantum Break was quite an achievement.

Not commercially. Not really. Xbox calls it ‘the biggest-selling new Microsoft Studios IP for Xbox One' - which means it outsold Sunset Overdrive and Ori and the Blind Forest... hardly your typical barometers for success.

Nor was it a runaway smash with the critics. It did ok. It has a decent Metacritic score of 77. Not exactly Uncharted, but better than most.

Yet it was an achievement simply for what the game's creator, Remedy, had set out to do - build an original IP that blended live action TV with unique time-bending gameplay.

It was a hugely ambitious project,” says Remedy's new CEO Tero Virtala, the former Ubisoft exec who joined the company last month.

The project started as a new IP being developed on a platform that didn't yet exist, and we also wanted to create completely new game mechanics. The technology was not ready and there was also hugely ambitious transmedia plans. Taking so many unknown factors into a major project makes it a really complex undertaking. Of course, the team was able to pull it off, eventually, and that is amazing. But it took four or five years to get there.”

Now Virtala is set to take Remedy in a slightly different direction. He wants the studio to work on multiple games, which will last longer and come out quicker. It sounds hugely optimistic – even unlikely – but Virtala says that the Quantum Break project means the Finnish developer has all the tools it needs to achieve it.

We are in a much better shape to make really high quality games that will be as immersive as Remedy games traditionally are, with a unique story, memorable characters and gorgeous visuals,” continues Virtala.

But in addition, we will definitely focus on making even more depth to allow for longer gameplay time. One of the important things that makes this possible is the learnings from the long Quantum Break project, but also the technology and tools that we now have are in a completely different state - our teams can do things from the start of these projects that were not possible when we started Quantum Break. Taking all this into account, we are able to do, with smaller teams, equal quality to what we have managed so far.”

Rather than the one big team that built Quantum Break, Remedy has split itself into two smaller units. The firm is expanding, with the aim to increase its headcount from 125 to 140, but Virtala says it willbe ‘picky' when it comes to recruiting talent.

The firm has yet to detail what exactly its two games will be, but it will be in-keeping with Remedy's previous story-driven, pop culture-inspired output.

The quality bar is going to be high, they will be based on the traditional Remedy strengths, but will have a new angle that gamers will love,” says Virtala. Our focus is still going to be on these higher end platforms, we're talking PC and consoles. Mobile is not our focus, at least not in the near future.

What we have been prototyping, and we are really enthusiastic about, are certain new gameplay elements, which we think will fit very well with our strengths. It will also allow for much longer gameplay times.”

That desire to create ‘longer' games is understandable. High-end story-driven titles have proven a challenge for developers, with the titles typically ending far too soon, with little opportunity for on-going engagement with players.

You are definitely right,” says Virtala. We still think that having the emotional attachment to a world, a story, a character, that is definitely a value that not many others can create, and we can do that. So we want to make sure that stays in our games. However, players have so many options, and it is understandable that when they find something they like, they're choosing to spend longer in that game. And these titles have bigger business opportunities as well.”

When it comes to new areas, Remedy says it is testing VR but has no plans to utilise the technology yet. However, it is investing in new markets.

Remedy has teamed up with Korean developer SmileGate to co-create its upcoming first person shooter, Crossfire 2.

The game world is changing so much, but it's still not as global as it could be” says Virtala. This partnership combines two companies that can definitely create something groundbreaking. The No.1 reason behind the partnership is to make a game that others cannot do. Hopefully, if we do this well, there will be things they can
learn from us, and we can learn from them, that will give us new opportunities.”

Virtala is understandably cagey when it comes to laying out his vision for Remedy. Although he's consulted with the company in the past, he has only been in charge for a month. And he has no intention of dictating anything. He wants to make sure the entire company can get behind a collective vision for Remedy.

It's a talent-filled house and it would be a stupid mistake not to include those people in the discussions,” he says.

Last Spring, I was doing consultancy with Remedy and got to see some of the magnificent things that are here, including the talent and the really strong team spirit. After the really long four or five year Quantum Break project, the willingness from the experienced people to create a new phase in the Remedy story... it's really motivating. It puts pressure on me, but in a team like this, it's not a one-man show. It's about what we can do as a team, and how we can head into a direction that we choose together.”

Quantum Break was a game made notable by the inclusion of filmed episodes that took place between chapters in the game. These episodes featured recognisable TV and movie stars from the likes of Lost, Fringe, The Wire and X-Men.

Furthermore, Remedy has hinted in the past that its cult classic Alan Wake might be expanded outside of games. So is Remedy about to take a step towards Hollywood?

The priority No.1 is definitely that we make great games,” says Virtala. But these games do differentiate from some others because they are immersive worlds with characters and stories. When we make games like this that succeed, we then have worlds that we can expand in other ways. Which directions these will expand in, we don't yet know. It is possible that there are other entertainment opportunities for Remedy, but that's not the priority for us. When you specifically talk about live action, maybe in the next games there will be less live action, it will most likely play some role, but what form that will take we can't yet talk about.”

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