Interview: Rebellion pt 2

Over the next couple of weeks, Develop will be embarking on a special series of interviews with some of the world’s largest and most celebrated independent developers. On Tuesday we featured an interview with Crytek CEO Cevat Yerli; Wednesday saw part one of our interview with the Oxford-based duo heading up Rebellion.

Today, in the second half of our interview, we speak to Rebellion co-founders Chris and Jason Kingsley about Rouge Warrior’s profanity, the next Battlefront game, the state of the UK, and multiplatform development.

It is suggested that the use of profanity in Rogue Warrior was a marketing decision rather than a creative one. Would you accept this?

Jason: Whoever thinks that should book a meeting with Richard Marcinko [RW’s central character] and ask him if the swearing in the game is true to his character or not, and if he doesn’t like you he’ll stab you in the face and tell you to fuck off.

The guy is a force of nature, and a massive character. If you want to tell him that the use of swearing in a videogame is a bad thing, be my guest, but just remember this is a man who has killed people, many many times, close up, with a knife.

The Rebellion team has met the guy, and yes they were all scared of him. He is a force of nature, but he’s a real character, and swearing is part of his persona. And Rogue Warrior is a character-based shooter that we’re doing.

It would be absurd not to use the phrases which build part of that character.

Chris: Whatever licence we deal with, we try to get to the essence of it. If you’re making a game from a horror movie, you shouldn’t just try to copy it, but instead look to capture what exactly is so scary about it.

I was wondering if the swearing was actually intended to be OTT.

Jason: Very much so. We’re going for a stylised feel, though not a contemporary one. You could argue the game is a period piece; it’s all those 80s action movies starring Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, it’s very Red Scorpion.

Rebellion is seen as the likely developer of the next Battlefront game, can you bring any clarification to the matter?

Jason: I’m afraid not. We obviously have a lot of business secrets with a lot of different partners, and so obviously it’s not our practice to speculate on this. LucasArts has been a great partner to work with.

As a fellow UK independent, what was your reaction when Free Radical was placed into administration?

Jason: It’s always sad when a developer with a strong reputation collapses. I think it’s also an opportunity; you can maybe think there’s arguably less competition.

Chris: I think it’s a shame when a developer or publisher gets into financial problems because it’s best to have a healthy industry with lots of competition, because that ultimately drives standards up.

The collapse of Free Radical shows you just how difficult it is in the game business and how competitive it is. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to a lot of companies out there that have been going on year-in-year-out producing great games; just keeping going is challenging enough for a lot of companies, let alone producing great content.

There have been many claims, especially over the last few months, that the UK sector is in danger of becoming less relevant because it is not being supported properly. Where do you two stand on the issue?

Jason: I think the trend is certainly in the wrong direction, when you look at it. Whether it’ll bottom out, whether it’s cyclic or not I don’t really know. Now that I’m the chair of Tiga, this issue is one of the things I speak to Richard [Wilson, Tiga CEO] about all the time, because there’s so much tax competition at the moment in first-world nations.

Many governments outside of the UK seem to take the games industry very seriously and want to support it, whereas, you do get the feeling that in some parts of our government they still don’t understand that that the UK games industry is an important, meaningful contributor to the UK economy.

It’s really sad because, having said that, I’ve had meetings with various MPs and they all say to me ‘yes we understand this is really important’, but then nothing actually bloody well gets done.

Then again, there are more important things out there like health and international relations and recovering the economy, of course.

Chris: One thing we should say about the UK games industry is that, amongst all the other media industries in Britain, it is unique in that it’s very spread out. TV and films are almost completely based in London, whereas games offices are found in many parts of the UK.

That’s something that the government hasn’t quite grasped, in that there’s skills and money and jobs in places where you may not have guessed.

Jason: I think people are coming round to the fact that the games industry is a legitimate business sector. I actually think things are improving because some of the MPs are younger, or rather, they’ve grown up with games now.

I’m afraid one of the problems is a generation gap. For some UK politicians, understandably, what they don’t understand scares them and they then voice that. It happens with every media format I’d say.

You partnered with Activision to develop World at War for the PlayStation 2. Did you feel pressure to live up to the series’ standards?

Jason: Absolutely. I mean, we had lots of discussions about the game, we would have loved to put in a certain number of more NPCs, but of course if we did the framerate would have suffered. The trouble working with a company like Activision, with their talent and focus on faster and more powerful machines, is that they’ll ask us ‘surely you could add a bit more here’, and we usually will say ‘no, this is PlayStation 2!’

Would you agree that, in developing the PS2 version, there was a lacking sense of ownership?

Jason: We never looked at it like that, though I can see how that would be conceivable. I think one of the reasons why they would come to us with it is that we saw the project as our own mountain to climb.

We really wanted the game to be the last great game available for the PlayStation 2, and something that people would look at and be impressed with how far the console has gone. Obviously not in terms of resolution or that kind of stuff but, in many ways, we thought the game was as good as some early stuff on PlayStation 3.

If a game is set to be released for several platforms, publishers tend to spread the work across a number of different studios. It’s here where we often see independents pick up contracts for older consoles and internal studios working on the newer, ‘lead’ platforms. What do you make of this trend?

Chris: That balance of internal-to-external usually changes over the console cycle. At the beginning of a console cycle, a lot of publishers want to get their internal teams up and running and understand the new tech available.

It does mean that there are a lot of opportunities for independent developers out there to shine on older platforms. It can sometimes be a problem for developers; at that stage in the console cycle it can be hard for them to keep up with the internal studios which tend to get all the early access on new technology.

Jason: But a lot of these internal studios often tend to not meet the standards asked of them. Many publishers think that if they put money in their internal studios then it’ll eventually pay off. But many, many times it doesn’t, and the publisher moves work externally.

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