In 1999, PC-focused Criterion Studios asked Fiona Sperry to set up a new development arm within the company.
The result was Criterion Games, a step into the brave new world of console. Its first title was TrickStyle, a Dreamcast game published by Acclaim. The project was signed by one Alex Ward.
Criterion is best known for Burnout, a racing title launched by Sperry and Ward in 2001 that spawned five sequels, but has also worked on EA’s Need for Speed series as well as shooter IP Black. The studio was so talented that EA paid out $48m to buy Criterion in 2004.
But in 2014, Sperry and Ward left the firm, setting up their own venture, Three Fields.
It was just about freedom,” Sperry tells MCV. Really, we had great jobs at EA. It was fantastic, we were largely independent and ran our own studio. But ultimately, we talked for many years about leaving and starting out on our own. However much freedom you get within a corporation, you are still part of a large company.
It was really important that we set up the company where we could release great games, have fun making them and, most importantly, have complete autonomy. For example, we didn’t announce [the firm’s first game] Dangerous Golf for a very long time: we didn’t show it until we were completely happy with it. Things like that would have been much harder to do if we were not indepedent. It was really about getting back to our roots of fitting an entire team in one room, making a game and not being distracted by anything else.”
But by going indie, and by opting to self-publish, distractions were numerous when it came to releasing a game. At EA there were whole departments handling the likes of marketing and PR, but now Three Fields had to do all of this itself. So if Sperry and Ward wanted to be able to focus purely on making the game, why did they self publish?
The big reason for us leaving EA was that everything had come together,” Sperry explains. It was perfect timing. A market existed where developers can self-publish. We believe that a small team can compete and do amazing things. We think the game looks fantastic, we are really proud of the graphics and how much physically is moving around in the game. It really hasn’t been done before.
Also, when we did Burnout Paradise,that was the first time we had a direct relationship with our customer and could sell directly to them. Paradise was EA’s first digital download game. That was largely because we pushed to do it. We did massive amounts of direct customer support. We loved it. We thought we’d just give it a go and see how it went.”
"A market exists now where developers can self-publish. We believe that a small team can compete and do amazing things."
Fiona Sperry, Three Fields
Dangerous Golf on PS4, Xbox One and PC launched earlier this month and features some of the same chaotic DNA seen in Burnout.
If we want to make a game, it needs to be big and over the top,” Sperry says. It’s not regular golf, other than having a ball and a hole there are few similarities to real golf. It’s like Burnout meets NBA Jam. That’s how we pitched it. That was the game we wanted to make right from the start.”
Though Dangerous Golf has similarities to the Burnout series, Three Field’s next game could be even more familiar.
That type of racing game deserves to come back and our great hope is that we could make it,” she says.
Maybe not Burnout exactly, but we’d like to make a spiritual successor to that game. Obviously, EA owns the Burnout licence and what the company does with it is its prerogative. Certainly, we feel that that kind of game is missing from the market today. We’d love to bring something like that back.
Technology has moved on massively and a lot of what we have achieved in Dangerous Golf is testing the limits of what we can do with physics in a game. Physics and destruction are always what we have been about and we’d love to do another driving game that takes that to another level.”