Every month an industry leader wraps up MCV/DEVELOP with their unique insight. This month, we talk to Robert Troughton, managing director of Coconut Lizard.
How are you coping with the current crisis, both in work and personally?
We had systems in place for allowing all employees to work remotely already – so that part was easy. Technology-wise, the only hurdle that we had was dealing with having an empty office – we had to come up with solutions for consoles needing hard reboots, PCs accidentally being powered down (via remote desktop), etc.
The team adapted quickly to having video meetings rather than standups, too… everyone chatting a lot more over Slack to stay sane. Social isolation isn’t easy – so we’re doing our best to make sure that everyone’s well-being was considered… to make sure that office fun transferred to online virtual fun… and that everyone was encouraged to stay healthy at home.
You’ve been working largely with Unreal for fifteen years now, has the engine kept up with the needs of the industry?
Unreal Engine has done spectacularly well at keeping ahead of the curve… in a lot of ways, Epic have been driving the industry forwards with their engine. Not just in terms of technology – we’ve also seen changes to the way that engines are licensed, maintained, updated. It’s been extraordinary to see, particularly to have been involved with much of that during my time working with Epic. It’s also been fascinating to watch the engine reach out to other industries, too, with Hollywood, broadcast TV, automotive, healthcare and much more finding it invaluable.
You’re active on the C64 demo scene, what’s the attraction in crafting graphical demos for such an old piece of hardware?
It’s pretty strange, right? The thing is, as Coconut Lizard has grown, I’ve found less and less time during the day to do any programming. That’s originally what I got into the industry to do – and, apart from growing a business, it’s where my passion lies. Programming for a 35-year-old computer is much, much different to programming on cutting edge hardware. It’s a fixed system – I can write a program to draw a full screen of graphics and I can tell you exactly how many clock cycles it will take. It will be a fixed value – no OS or hardware quirks getting in the way. It’s a beautiful system.
What was the most memorable moment of your career to date?
There’ve been so many… if I was to choose one, it would be my first job in the industry. I joined Reflections to work on the original Destruction Derby. I had two weeks to prepare for the job – and spent them learning C, 3D graphics, how to use a PC and how to use the internet. I’d only used C64 and Amiga before this – so it was all quite eye opening. With only nine months to make the game, with a tiny crew, I was definitely being thrown in at the deep end. But, yeah, it was fantastic fun.
Game development is becoming ever more distributed and external development services are flourishing, how does Coconut Lizard fit into that?
From day one we’ve positioned ourselves as industry leading outsource providers. The studio that the best of the best talk to when they have a problem. With a specialism in UE4, we’ve found that our services are needed by 20-50x more companies than we can realistically work with. It’s a very risk-averse model – but that works well for us. We’re never going to make millions from working on a game – but we’re also not going to suffer badly through project cancellations and so on.