When Activision shut down Bizarre Creations last November, a lot of folks were pretty upset, to say the least. Even the normally stone-faced games press were visibly confused and actually kind of angry at the decision. They couldn’t be gone, could they? This was the studio that made Metropolis Street Racer! They made Project Gotham Racing! They made Geometry Wars!
Well, one of them did. Geometry Wars creator Stephen Cakebread is that dude, and now, he’s one third of the new English developer Hogrocket. Launched in late March with ex-Bizarre compatriots Pete Collier and Ben Ward, Hogrocket is a three-man indie ‘microstudio’ who are already well on their way to completing their first game.
Oh, also: I interviewed him! I actually took the words from that interview and put them here on this website, so now you can look at them if you want. You’re welcome.
Why indie? Bizarre Creations was a relatively big studio at 200 employees, and transitioning from that atmosphere to being just three guys working together seems like it could be jarring! What appeals to you most about going the independent, small-studio route?
Bizarre was always very proactive about researching new ideas and creating game prototypes with small teams internally; at least, up until we were purchased by Activision. So, for me at least, the move to becoming a small independent wasn’t so jarring as I’d been jumping between large and small teams for the last 10 years!
But while we had much more creative freedom on these smaller teams, the one big problem was pitching these games to publishers. The more the games deviated from the standard model, the less publishers were interested.
So for me, the advantage of working in a small independent studio is that we not only have the creative freedom to create what we want, but also the freedom to publish what we want.
So was the creation of Geometry Wars a result of this “small teams” culture at Bizarre? How did it end up sneaking its way into PGR2 to begin with?
Well, saying Bizarre had a small team culture is probably a little strong; Bizarre’s focus was big teams and big games, but even with that focus there was usually a smaller team along side the larger ones experimenting away.
Surprisingly, Geometry Wars sprang into existence outside of any team at all; it started life as an off-the-cuff application I wrote to test some code, and slowly morphed into a game as I worked on it now and again in my spare time. It grew into a form that resembled the easter egg that shipped in [Project Gotham Racing 2], and slowly found its way onto several peoples machines at work where they would play it at lunch.
Towards the end of PGR2 development, the team was looking for a few easter eggs to add to the game for people to find; one of the producers having seen people playing Geometry Wars suggested we use that as it seemed popular in the office! So arguably GW’s inclusion in PGR2 was something of an afterthought, it was never planned from the beginning; just something we threw in at the end because we thought people might like it!
When Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved launched on Xbox Live Arcade, it pretty much became the first downloadable console hit ever. How do you feel about the impact Geometry Wars has had on downloadable games as a whole?
I don’t know how much impact, if any, Geometry Wars has had on the downloadable space as whole, as before GW was released it wasn’t something I paid any particular attention to, so it’s difficult for me to compare. It certainly did better than we ever expected it to; and I suspect that took more than just us by surprise, so perhaps in that way it did help show developers the early potential of XBLA.
Any slight pangs of guilt whenever you see yet another twin-stick shooter come out?
No guilt. I feel proud, like a mad scientist whose just released replicating nanobots on the world; sure, there’s a lot of them, but look how pretty they all are!
Fair enough! So what’s your personal favorite mode in Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2?
That’s a difficult one – I enjoy them all for different reasons! For example, I enjoy Waves for the speed of the game, you can have several intense games in the time it takes to do one run of another mode; Sequence I enjoy for that feeling of precision execution when you manage to rinse a level for maximum points.
All things considered, Bizarre has a history of putting out relatively “hardcore” games. With Hogrocket focusing on iOS development, it seems like you’re going after an entirely different market. What sort of things do you need to take into account when making games for the iOS audience?
I don’t think the overall process or technology of creating a game changes much based on whether your targeting hardcore, or casual players; you still need to prototype, iterate and play test; and iOS is just the same as any other platform really, it has its pros and cons that we’ll try to take advantage of, or avoid, just as we would when working on the 360 or PS3. Of course, the ideas, game mechanics, and art that players will find appropriate or engaging changes as you move through the spectrum of hardcore to casual, but by testing and iterating on our designs we can find out what works and what doesn’t. The process is very much the same, it’s the results that differ.
“Hogrocket” is the result of a name generator Ben Ward created just for you guys, right? Any chance you’ll release that to the public? Or, at the very least, generate a couple new names for us? “Bytejacker” is a great name, obviously, but if you have any suggestions, we’re all ears…
Yeah, we were running out of name ideas that weren’t either rubbish or taken so we decided we needed some machine help! Ben still has it; we’ve had a couple of requests to put it up, so he’s going to get it online “Soon”, so keep an eye on our website for all your indie naming needs! I wouldn’t suggest getting naming help off of us! But… How about Hogjacker, as everything is better with bacon, right?
Well, if you’re suggesting a fight along the lines of two indies enter, one indie leaves… then my money would be on Hog Ben as he used to play hockey. :)
Can you give us even the slightest, subtlest hint of what you guys are working on over there? The curiosity is killing us!
If I told you about it, I’d have to encrypt this interview, and then by the time you’d cracked it we’d probably have released the game already! (Also, there’s a good chance we’ll both be dead and future generations are going to be really disappointed when they finally manage to open this document they’ve been working on decrypting for so long.)
Understood. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Ben!