I’d like to share with you my game development career experience as part of a series of posts, the 1st parttalked about my early career and I followed up with a second postthat was more about how those games were made. Let’s get back on track with the series and rejoin the fun back when the transition for PS1 to PlayStation 2 was happening.
After a long and fruitful period of key game development the rest of the world was moving over to PlayStation 2 but we were still making games for PS1.
It wasn’t for lack of effort and respect, indeed I attended many exclusive PS1 & Saturn developer conferences across the globe. Over the years, the PS1 conferences were held in a variety of amazing locations including secret clubs and even in the middle of the top-secret high-speed ring at Millbrook Proving Grounds. Saturn conferences were always held just outside of San Jose, California where I visited later as the venue for the emerging GD Conference, which I was also fortunate to regularly attend.
I was also chosen for the exclusive 1st unveiling of the PS2 to the “cream of the development community” at a secret locationalong with short list of developers. What made this event totally cool was that it took place right before a solar eclipse gripped the UK and the event itself opened with a mock solar eclipse!
I was doing magazine interviews and I even made it onto TV once!
This is largely because we were one of the best studios in the world for doing this work and that meant that we were the ones who bigger businesses wanted to keep pushing the same work to and we were type-cast as safe PS1 developers. However this PS1 work was always going to come to an end at some point. The visual quality and scope of even the best PS1 games was rapidly becoming lack lustre when compared to what was appearing on PS2 and PC at the time that really reinforced the demise. This eventually led to some of our projects being cancelled as the PS1 nose-dived and it took our company with it.
Sadly, the studio imploded and a few of us took the mantle and tried to breathe life back into it under a new name ‘Teque Software’ where I played the role of Technical Director along side 2 other directors but it just didn’t work out and it only lasted for a few months as we still had the same reputation that we just couldn’t shake off. This was becoming worse as the other ‘new’ studios were pushing ahead on the newer platforms and we were getting further behind.
The closure of the studio came as a surprise to pretty much everyone involved but if you’ve ever ran a business in the UK you’ll appreciate the secrecy that these things have to be done under. As much as I wanted to tell people, I couldn’t as that would have been a clear breach of my responsibilities to the business as a director. I would have probably been in a lot of legal trouble if I’d have done it too. So, the closure of the studio left a bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths and everyone scattered to find new jobs all over the UK. I had a double-whammy here because my wife also worked there too, meaning that we were both redundant on the same day.
After the end of Krisalis I quickly found a job going back to my roots as a programmer on PlayStation 2 where I worked on core animation related programming systems for a licensed platform game. Sadly, it turned out that Runecraft’s management were a bunch of crooks and totally shafted their staff but I didn’t find that out until later.
What I did get out of this period was an opportunity to connect with some talented people and also work on PlayStation 2 games and really learn about those. I fortunately was seconded to a remote part of Runecraft that was based in Leeds, 15 miles away from the head office. This meant that we had little involvement with HQ and we could just get on with things.
I met a lot of truly great people in Leeds, all of which were ex-Sony Leeds and most had worked on the likes of Wipeout / Colony Wars. Their skills were amazing and a real level above what I’d seen at Krisalis and I learned absolutely loads and I still connect with these people today.
Getting back to non-management roots was refreshing and re-filled my technical knowledge to a level where I understood the nuts & bolts of PS2 development that I’d later find to be incredibly useful.
The over promising and dodgy dealings of the management caught up with them and the company collapsed inwards. There’s only so many times you can try to deceive a publisher before they find you out and that’s inevitable.
How the Leeds studio closed was like something out of a movie. I was making my way into work and I got a call from one of the other programmers that things were kicking off. I eventually made it to the studio to find the doors locked and all of my colleagues stood outside. I was told the studio had closed and we were all redundant. Now, given we all pretty much hated the management this was both a blessing and a curse at the same time.
The door opened to the studio and a head popped out and called a name, that person was escorted to their desk where they collected their personal belongings and then escorted off the premises. This process was repeated for everyone in the studio, a slow one-by-one procession.
The mob was angry but I never got to see the end of it. Why? Because it turned out my contractual place of work was back at HQ along with 2 others from the Leeds studio. What happened next was just bizarre, one of those MPV like vehicles turned up and the 3 of us were bundled into the back along with one of the managers and we were driven back to HQ. I’m not exaggerating, this is really what happened. When we arrived we were escorted to our separate desks in the ‘programming barn’ and told to do some work on project X. To say I was surprised was an under-statement and they almost dismissed the fact that any of this had happened but you can imagine I vowed to leave ASAP. I was completely annoyed because my transport home was back at the Leeds office so when I was released I had to go back there, then back home. It’s making me angry just writing this now.
I suffered this for a few weeks while I found another job but I absolutely hated it as we treated as immigrants, we were given all the terrible jobs and we weren’t motivated to really do any work either.
What I learned was that annex/remote studios are always the 1st things to go when a company is hitting financial troubles. It’s like cutting off a gangrenous limb to save the body. All of the work can be brought back in-house and it gives the business a clear criteria to dump a load of people.
I also learned that a tight-knit group of motivated and happy developers can achieve more than the sum of their parts.
I was fortunate to be have formed strong relationships with people across the industry and I was brought in as employee #2 for the newly formed Kuju studio in Sheffield where the next phase of my career began including many of the people I’d worked with in Leeds on the emerging platforms.
This is where we’ll join the story next time…