Dundee is home to studios with a reputation for breaking new ground, from GTA outfit Rockstar to APB developer Realtime Worlds. The vibrant Scottish region is often labelled ‘The City of Discovery’, and that term couldn’t be more apt for the endeavours of the local industry talent.
Cohort Studios, founded in 2006, has steadily built a reputation within the industry over last few the years for its work on MotorStorm and the Buzz series. Now, however, the group is stepping up and building one of the first PlayStation Move Games.Studio CEO Lol Scragg says the new project – a promising on-rails game called The Shoot – is intended to be a “shooting gallery as if it were designed by Disney”.
We sit down with Scragg to discuss The Shoot, the PlayStation Move system itself, and wider industry issues.
Firstly, on the issue of game tax breaks, what are you making of the developments?
Scragg: I’ll wait to see the details first, but generally, this can only be a good thing.
My only concern is that, looking at what’s happened over in Canada, publishers will jump in and set up 2000-man studios.
That wouldn’t be a good thing, because it would just suck up all the independent talent and leave other third-party studios struggling to find the right people.
In practical terms, would tax relief change the way you operate at Cohort?
It may help us when we think about creating our own products to self-publish, in that they would make it easier to take risks.
When we’re funded by others we have to be completely on the ball, getting our market data in place. If we’re supported by tax credits, however, then that allows developers to be a bit more daring and, if they want, make something more unusual.
Everyone in the game industry has ideas about what they want to do, but unfortunately we can only work on 0.1 per cent of them. If you’re tied to a publisher, probably even less than that.
How did The Shoot project, and the partnership with Sony, actually begin?
It was one of those really bizarre situations where, just having a coffee with a senior execs at [European Sony studio] Xdev, where we said “wouldn’t it be cool if we could make a game like this”, and it just went from there.
It really was as simple as that – it was a ten minute conversation which resulted in us throwing together some content and do a formal pitch.
Was it a PlaySation Move project at that stage?
Actually no, it wasn’t, but when we were shown stuff about Move we saw it as giving the game an extra dimension that we were looking for.
When Sony revealed Move to you, what impression did the company give in regards to how serious it is about motion control?
They were incredibly enthusiastic about the whole thing from the early stages. We were one of the very first studios to be working with PlayStation Move – we were working along with Sony’s tech guys and the hardware guys in the early days – and they all were all incredibly positive about their plans for motion control.
Is motion control the new frontier that many are calling it?
Well, when you look at the whole thing from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, then yes it can be a new frontier.
However, in saying that, I think it’s a separate branch. In five years’ time we’re still going to have our standard controllers and core games.
Can the PlayStation Move appeal to core gamers in the way the Wii – to be frank – hasn’t?
Absolutely. And I understand that, if you read any of the forums, you’ll read people state they don’t need motion control, but that’s because they’ve likened motion control to the Wii.
Once Sony and Microsoft start releasing their own games for their motion controllers, I think the core will come round to it.
Saying that, I don’t think every game can work with motion controls. Some things just don’t fit, and I’m hoping – with these new motion controllers – developers don’t say ‘oh we’ll just force in motion controls’ because it would add something new.
How important was the PlayStation hardware itself when choosing the platform for The Shoot, or was the controller the central feature of the game?
To be completely honest with you, since we started Cohort four years ago, most of our work has been with Sony. So from the outset it was a logical step for us to continue work with the company, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be too happy if we turned around and said we were going to make a game for Natal or the Wii.
And the PlayStation Move is a great piece of hardware – it has a fantastic feel to it and it’s incredibly accurate. We’ve had no issues with it, and the hardware and the libraries have come on well.
Would it be fair to compare Move with the Wii remote?
Well in that they’re both motion controllers, yes it is. Having used both controllers a lot, I’d say it was clear that the Move controller is so much more accurate. It's a step up.
And it’s not just across the X and Y axis either, the Z axis is really accurate as well.
Finally, how is Cohort handling the current business climate?
Yeah we’re doing well thanks. Like all independent developers, times are tough, people just aren’t commissioning products right now.
You recently went to GDC to demonstrate The Shoot, did you have a chance to network and talk deals?
Yeah we had a few good meetings, maybe not as many as we hoped. But quite interestingly a lot of the publishers we spoke to said that their remit has just plummeted.
One told me that the remit for the year was to find two new franchises. Two?! The past twelve months has seen a significant drop in the number of projects commissioned.
My hope is, somewhere along the lines, publishers are going to realise that there’s not much product set up for Christmas 2010 and the first half of 2011, and they’re going to have to start picking up more stuff.
The level of pessimism around right now goes against the market, which is strong and continuing to expand.