20 Years of Tantalus - MCV

20 Years of Tantalus

One of Australia's oldest studios, Tantalus, is turning 20 this year, and will have a booth at PAX Aus to celebrate
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Tantalus and sister studio Straight Right (the latter of which focuses on larger scale projects), are both overseen by Tom Crago.

"Ten of the publishers we’ve worked with no longer exist," says Crago. "We’ve done development deals in six currencies across eight countries, and somewhere along the line there we even released a game on N-Gage. There’s no doubt we’re one of the survivors.”

The company has hired at various stages some 200 developers and has had studios in 3 cities, coming originally (as many of the larger and older studios do) from Beam Software in Melbourne.

Develop had a chance to speak to Crago about hitting the 20 year milestone - an extreme rarity in the Australian development scene in particular.

You started your career in games in Australia in '99. What's would you say is the crowning achievement of Tantalus in your time with the company?

I suppose game development studios are really only remembered for the titles they've released, so in terms of achievements we'll be judged solely on the quality of those games.

We've shipped forty-three games since our first effort, Stargate on the SNES, so we've had some time to get it right.

I still think fondly back to Top Gear Rally on the GBA. It was published by Nintendo, won a stack of awards including from Famitsu and IGN, and really put us on the map as one of the world's best handheld developers. That was definitely a highlight. We really felt as though it was a true expression of what we were capable of as a studio and it was crucial to growth and success of the company. One of the reasons we were so happy with it was that, once we'd finished development, we were allowed a full three months to tweak and polish prior to release.

That may sounds like a small thing, but believe me its a luxury, especially in the often cutthroat world of licensed titles and conversions. That extra time made a huge difference, and seeing it do so well felt a lot like a crowning moment. 

From your perspective, how has developing games in Australia changed in 20 years?

When I first started, back in 1999, I was amazed at how collegial the industry seemed. I had no idea what I was doing initially and so did what seemed to be the natural thing and got in touch with other people who were running game development companies. Without exception they welcomed me into their studios, often giving up an entire day to answer questions and help me find my feet.

I'm talking here about guys like Adam Lancman, David Giles, John DeMargheriti, Graham Edelsten, and a handful of others. Together, and through the Game Developers' Association of Australia, we built a thriving development community.

For a variety of reasons, that community unravelled somewhat, and of course the majority of those companies I visited as a wide-eyed youth no longer exist. What's happening now in Australia is that a new community is forming. It's vibrant and it's exciting. And I hope it will prove to be just as collegial. 

What's the biggest challenge Tantalus has had to face in its 20 year existence?

Simply surviving for twenty years has been a massive challenge.

We've mostly been reliant, for better or for worse, on contracts from publishers, and that business can be volatile. More than once I've put down the phone in my office after a 'bad news' call from a publisher and thought, "well, that's all our projects cancelled then. I'd better go out and sign some more."

At times it can feel like life on a knife-edge. And yet we have survived, even when by rights we probably should have hung up the controller and called it quits.

Turning twenty gives us occasion to remember that, in game development, perseverance is not a virtue, it's something that has to be a part of your DNA. We have that, along with talented, committed staff. And so far we've been able to overcome the many challenges and obstacles that have presented themselves. 

Thank you for your time!

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