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20 years of a Video Game Developer’s Career – Part 4

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I’d like to share with you my game development career experience as partof a series of posts, let’s rejoin the story at during the twilight daysof PlayStation 2 when I started at Kuju in Sheffield. I’ve included alot of photos in this post so you may even make an appearance!Kuju Sheffield v1Iwas fortunate to be have formed strong relationships with people acrossthe industry and I was brought in as employee #2 for the newly formedKuju studio in Sheffield where the next phase of my career beganincluding many of the people I’d worked with in Leeds on the emergingplatforms.Kuju had recently been listed on the stock market and was expandingrapidly with studios in Guildford, London, Brighton and now Sheffield.Starting out at Kuju Sheffield was an exciting time, there wereessentially 4 of us in the 1st few weeks holed up inside a tiny officeunder one of the stands of the football stadium for Sheffield United.The room was long and thin with only a high tiny window at one end andit was very reminiscent of the early days of my career back at Alligata.In this tiny space we not only crammed ourselves but an immense serverrack that was built for the future, the server itself was incrediblynoisy and it appeared to be made even more so by the small environment.The room soon became hot and noisy but we were enjoying ourselves.Dave, Nick, Tony and myself beavered away making a few PS2/X360/PC portsfor the main Kuju office while we found our feet and got our ownprojects, which didn’t take long and we were expanding quickly. Date: 2003 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 4 Projects: 1 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju Sheffield v1.1 Within a few weeks we expanded into a larger office on the same floorthat took us up to about 15 people before we needed to move again. Wewere working on a football game for Codemasters at this point and westarted to bring in some great staff who were unfortunate casualties ofthe demise of Warthog studios. It would turn out that we’d stay togetherfor many years and we had a great time.Working under a football stadium posed its own challenges with the mostprominent one being that we weren’t allowed in the building during aperiod of 2hrs before to 2hrs after a match! This was particularlyfrustrating when we had deadlines to hit as we were simply evacuatedfrom the building. As producer/project manager, I even went to theextent of planning the milestones to avoid home match days.The servers furiously buzzed away in the corner and we delivered thegame on time and this won us another contract.I was named as Technical Director at this point but I was pretty muchdoing anything that needed to bedone: building desks, installingcabling, running servers, finance, business development, training,project management, programming and a load of other stuff. All the stuffeveryone does in a small business and it was fun.We delivered the game on PS2 and XBox as a team and we were hungry forme but we really need to move out so we relocated across town into theposh Media Center. Date: 2003 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 10-15 **Projects:** 1 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju Sheffield v1.2 Our studioincreased quickly over the next few years peaking at about 40 staffacross 3 projects being made on PC, PSP, Xbox & PS2.We had specialist staff now and we started to get some real traction.We were making a Flight Simulator for PSP, Football Action game forconsole, Football Management game for PC, Social Quiz game for PS2,Fitness game connected to a cross-trainer, TV<>game cross-over pilotand lots of little trinkets on the side.People came and went but we remained pretty stable and everyone appearedto be enjoying themselves.My named role as Tech Director was now largely being done by one of ouroriginal lead programmers where I was pretty much acting as DevDirector, setting out production process, managing finance, workingacross sites and a myriad of other things.I attended frequent meetings with the Execs at Kuju presenting projects,new business and finance reports all of which I’d prepared and ran. Ihad good relationships with our clients as I was their day-to-daycontact.I was also getting more involved in the people side of the businessagain, hiring, firing, reviewing and applying the regular attention thatan active group of developers required.Despite all of this, we were struggling to get in new work along withmany other developers and the prospects didn’t look good. Date: 2005 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 15-35 **Projects:** 3 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju v2.0 - The King is Dead What happened nextwas a blur of rapid change.Our incumbent Studio Manager retired and I was asked to take over as I’dbeen doing a large part of the work anyway. It didn’t feel like much ofa change for these reasons and I relished the opportunity to take thestudio forwards.I made a promise toeveryone: I would take us into a new era and get us a ‘next-gen’ project, we would do this by standing on the shoulders of Unreal 3. We would develop expertise in this area that would benefit usall.Numerous people shifted around within the studio, backfilling all thepositions and this gave everyone a new round of energy.I worked hard over a few months and I got us another contract - thistime it was significant as it was on ‘next-gen’ consoles and representeda massive improvement in our prospects. We all relished the opportunity.We began work on our game, really pushing ourselves and learning newplatforms and new ways of working.Werapidly ran out of space and we outgrew our offices where the mainproblem was that our expansion had caused us to take on additional,separate, offices in the same building. This was workable previously aswe’d been split across 3 games in 3 offices so it kinda worked but itfailed when all of us were on 1 project.In hindsight, this is a great way to scale up. Take on multiple smallprojects then combine your team to make a larger team for a singleproject.So, I hunted around for a new home for our studio and I found one justaround the corner. Date: 2005 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 30-35 **Projects:** 1 Platforms: PlayStation 2, XBox, PCKuju v2.1 - Custom Fit Office Our newoffices was brilliant. I managed to find us a large open-plan space andI planned the floor space incorporating meeting rooms, a small office(for me), storage space, kitchen and other bits and bobs. We got tochoose the colour scheme, flooring and everything! Of course I can’tclaim sole ownership of all of this.Our Art Director, Nick, and Tech Director, Dino, and many other peopleplayed a key role in making this a success.It took a few weeks to come together and we were so excited to bemoving, even it if was just around the corner.I think it’s safe to say that we enjoyed our new space.We had exciting times too, we had people trapped in a lift and had to call out the fire brigade that amused everyone except those trapped and we there was also a MASSIVE fire opposite our building and we just watched from our windows.During all of this we were still working on our game and all of ourother commitments but it all seemed to gel.I structured the studio to be as agile as possible and we started toinvade the new territory of Outsourcing the artwork that very few peoplewere doing at the time. It just made complete sense.Meeting the Stars Our football game was a dream come true for a handful of us as we wentto Barcelona and Milan to go behind the scenes of the largest clubs atBarcelona, Inter Milan and AC Milan to capture reference of the stars. From all 3 teams we got to meet all the stars, agents and managers,take detailed reference photos of everyone from many angles. We evenwent out for dinner with LionelMessi!Kuju v3.0 - becoming ChemistryThe higher-level business was goingthrough a transition. The many Kuju studios in London, 2 in Guildford,Sheffield and Brighton all had their own niche and identity and it wasbecoming increasingly confusing for us internally and it also must havebeen very strange for our prospective clients. We would attend meetingsand say “Hi, we’re from Kuju and…” …. “Didn’t we just see you guys?”… “No, that must have been one of our other studios…we specialise inX and would like to show you Y”. etc.Re-branding was the order of the day, Brighton went first and became ZoeMode and we followed on quickly afterwards changing our name toChemistry.The name Chemistry worked for us, it represented us bringing togetherdifferent elements of a game and making something new and neverexperienced before. It solidified our messaging and provided a greatidentity for us as a studio to get behind. We had banners, marketing,press, t-shirts and a whole range of other things branded up. Ouroffices were white, clean, sterile with a few hints of colour.Back on the floor, I’d also been pushingnew contracts and we were now working on 3 separate PS3 and X360 games.We had an FPS, a Football game and we were also helping Midway out onone of their projects.As a studio, we were immensely busy and the amount of personal work wasstacking up plus I was aiming to keep everything on an even keel.Due to the nature of working as a remote office, as well as running 3next-gen projects and running a studio I was left also doing Officemanagement, HR, finance, answering the phones, ordering toilet rolls,managing servers, doing the post, fixing desktop systems, buildingfurniture among other things.As management, there was myself and 1 other Project Manager doing all ofthis together. You can imagine what this did to me as a result. Date: 2007 Role: Anything going Studio Size: 35-40 **Projects:** 3 Platforms: PlayStation 3, XBox 360, PCEnough is enoughDespite great prospects and a wonderful team, I’d had enough and I worked with the Execs to bring in Mike as a replacement Studio Head and I sadly quickly left the business with nowhere else to go. These were tough times and sometimes people just won’t listen to repeated cries for support and see the issues that are staring them right in the face. It sometimes takes a drastic measure to make people realise what’s goingoff.So, I left Kuju and a great team. My time at Kuju was the happiest andmost complete I’d ever felt and it felt like I’d let a lot of peopledown but I had to move on.What next? Across to the dark sideThe next phase of my career was completely unknown and it took me a fewmonths to find a role that suited me. I was fortunate to have 2 greatoffers: 1 from Codemasters, 1 from Sony. Which one did I take?This is where we’ll join the story next time…A few memoriesFurther Reading Series Part1 Series Part2 Series Part3