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Hangar 13 on Brighton’s development legacy and the studio’s triple-A future

Brighton was once one of the UK’s main game development hubs. It’s suffered major losses in the past with the likes of Relentless Software, Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studios all sadly closing their doors. But now we’re seeing a new development studio opening in the area, and it’s one with the backing of a large publisher: 2K. Hangar 13, the team behind Mafia III, is expanding with a new Brighton office and it’s brought back the director of Split/Second developer Black Rock Studio, Nick Baynes, to head it up.

In fact, the formation of Hangar 13 Brighton is something of a reunion for Baynes and his senior producer from their Split/Second days, Andy Wilson. Wilson is now Hangar 13’s VP of development – in Novato, California – and this whole deal started, as many do, with a drink.

“I met Andy Wilson for a beer at GDC last year and told him about my ambitions for the studio that I had just started in Brighton – literally just started, three days before!” Baynes says. “Little did I know that the senior team at Hangar 13 in Novato had been considering the potential of a UK studio for a while, but were waiting for the right time to take the idea forward.

“A few months later, Andy got back in touch to pitch me the idea of my team becoming the nucleus of Hangar 13’s UK location. Thanks to the existing working relationship and mutual trust between Andy and myself, over the course of 2017 the conversations began to become more serious about us working together until eventually we officially joined the family earlier this year.”

Baynes sees this as an opportunity for the Brighton area, as he hopes to leverage the talent that’s already there and remind the world of its skill in games production.

“When I first set up a studio in Brighton, before joining Hangar 13, the goal was to build a world-class team that would develop high-quality console games, working with the experience and talent already in the city while attracting new developers to the area, of all experiences and backgrounds,” he says.

“When I started talking to Andy and Haden [Blackman, global studio head of Hangar 13] and we discussed my team and forming a new Hangar 13 office, it became clear that we’d be able to achieve those goals together – but with the backing of a massive publisher rather than trying to make it alone as an indie.

“Now it feels like for the first time since 2011, we have a big publisher-backed studio in town in Hangar 13. I think the future will see continued investment by us, and others, into the area that will continue to make it a hotbed of development talent, and a really exciting place to work.”

Despite the loss of some large studios over the years, many developers still reside in the area. Wilson has strong opinions about the talent that can still be found in Brighton and the UK in general: “The UK market has always been robust when it comes to talent, even as the overall balance has shifted from console development towards mobile and indie,” he says. “Actually the indie boom has resulted in a lot of very well-rounded developers who have a good appreciation of disciplines outside of their own – and we’re very interested in talking to people from that background who want to move into console.

“I think the only things we’re really lacking are more publisher-owned, console-focused developers to provide opportunities for people who want to work on those kinds of games – as opposed to work-for-hire or secondary production houses, which have their own set of pros and cons and ultimately offer something different to what we’re bringing. Of course there are some great companies already flying the flag but we feel that the addition of a fully-fledged internal 2K studio in Brighton will pull even more talent into the UK. A rising tide lifts all boats.”

But despite being part of a large publisher, Hangar 13’s Brighton office is promised to have a start-up vibe, with a small team initially. Having said that, the studio is planning to hire up and is looking for developers of all kinds to get in on the ground floor.

“We have open roles across all disciplines, including engineering, art, design, production and writing,” says Baynes. “We’re in this for the long term and have huge ambition, so we always want to talk to anyone with superstar talent or potential who could add to our team. We’re looking for people with a whole range of experience from recent grads to industry veterans. Growing a balanced team of emerging talent and experience is key for us.”

Wilson echoes this, making some very compelling arguments to join the company.

“We want to talk to people who are excited by the challenge of effectively establishing a start-up studio, albeit one built on some strong existing relationships and backed by one of the ‘Big Four’ publishers,” he says.

“People who care about culture and want to have a hand in defining it from the ground up are high on our list, as are great communicators who are ready and willing to work with their colleagues in other locations to build games together. On top of that, we’re looking for people who want to work with and build bleeding edge tech (we have our own very capable open world engine), create entirely new franchises and who have the ambition to utterly master their trade.

“Opportunities like this really don’t come along very often,” he continues. “Anyone joining us over the coming months as a Year One team member will get to look back and say that they helped build an entirely new studio, proprietary industry-leading tech and triple-A games which the studio has complete creative control over. All backed by a light-of-touch publisher who trusts us and lets us get on with the job. We’ve been part of 2K for almost six years now and we’ve released a game together in our previous three-studio configuration, so I get to say that with absolute certainty.”

Baynes concludes: “It’s a hugely exciting time to be making games, and Brighton is an amazing place to do it.

“We’re going to be making headlines for years to come – so come join us!”

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