SPECIAL REPORT: UK studio entrusts new digital download IP to small-scale independent in the North East

Blitz supports a new â??Chain gang

UK independent studio stalwart Blitz Games has snapped up the rights to develop a game based on one of the much-praised Dare to be Digital student projects and has signed young, new studio 3rd Dimension Creations to develop the idea into its next XBLA, PSN and PC game.

Headquartered in Middlesbrough, 3rd Dimension Creations has been in business for less than four years. It was one of the first studios to come out of the University of Teesside and Middlesbrough Council’s DigitalCity project, which aims to help graduates get media businesses off the ground through subsidised office spaces, tutelage from industry veterans and business support.

The game it is working on for Blitz has a similar youthful slant – ‘conga line’ action title CodaChain was a recent Dare to be Digital finalist.

“One of our strengths here at Blitz is that we hire individuals straight out of university because we can spot talent. These guys are enthusiastic, and they’re talented,” Blitz CEO Philip Oliver told Develop.

“They’re smaller, and therefore less experienced and have less infrastructure, but we bring that – they’re working on our technology.”

Indeed, Blitz’s in-house engine BlitzTech is being used to build the game for a simultaneous XBLA, PSN and PC launch. The unique partnership is feeding back into the development of BlitzTech as well – 3rd Dimension’s worry over memory footprint, for instance, has seen Blitz implement ambient occlusion into the engine for them.

Blitz has, however, otherwise kept its new partner at arms length, allowing the team to build and design the game in its own time. 3rd Dimension CCO Sean Crooks is full of praise for the way things have been run, describing the game as a “dream project”.

“The relationship we have with the people at Blitz is incredible,” he said. “They’ve put a huge amount of trust in us, and yet they’re not precious at all – there’s no rigid design doc, it’s a fluid two-way process. If we’ve got any trouble, even things not related to the project but about the studio, they’re there to give us advice and pointers.”

Ed Linley, project manager at Blitz, explains things from their side: “We came to them with quite a defined game document, and a framework of what the levels were going to be, but we welcome any input they have, and they have this great system of all sitting down to play the game together, making copious amounts of notes. I’m in touch with them every single day, bouncing ideas back and forth the whole time, so it’s been a fantastic relationship from both sides.

“We both egg each other on to greater heights, which can sometimes be missing when you do things internally; you don’t look at it from outside and see if this is as good as it can be. Because we’ve got two groups at the opposite ends of the country bouncing things backwards and forwards in between them, it creates this great feeling of making a game as good as it can be, and it’s been working really well.”

CodaChain is just one of Blitz’s recently announced quintet of games to be released under its Arcade label, and is one of three that is developed out-of-house. Oliver adds that the label was set-up to not only capitalise on download channels, but also foster a new subcontracted development model: “The business plan behind Arcade is to do smaller games. Part of the reason of doing it is creativity: new, fresh, original games without having to sit within a constrictive licence.

“But the other part is the chance that it gives you: smaller games are easier to put externally, which gives us flexibility.”

Given that some independent studios have left their initial Xbox Live Arcade ambitions behind due to disillusions over the new royalty share and higher-than-anticipated barriers to entry, should Blitz’s initial Arcade onslaught prove a success it could herald a brand new access point for smaller, less proven studios that get the help, support, and most importantly muscle, of a bigger developer.

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