Kuju Entertainment has formed a new Studio in the Czech Republic, with the team already hard at work on two projects for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, the first of which is due in 2011, GamesIndustry.biz can reveal.
Headed by 18-year veteran Matthew Seymour - responsible for producing the Top Spin franchise and rebooting Amped 3 for the launch of the Xbox 360 - Vatra currently consists of around 45 staff, many of whom have been working on Take-Two's Mafia franchise.
"It's top-heavy in regards to industry veterans, a large majority of the people used to work at Illusion Softworks and spent time with 2K Czech where they had such credits as Hidden and Dangerous 2, Mafia, and they put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into Mafia II," revealed Seymour, speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry.biz.
"From that part of the world we have some of the most experienced guys around and we can help balance that out by bringing in some new, fresh talent from those areas."
"This is our hardcore, high-end action studio," added Ian Baverstock, CEO of Kuju. "They're a very high quality studio."
Vatra, meaning 'bringing light into darkness', has already secured two projects for a high-profile publisher and plans to get staff numbers to about 50. The studio is using the Unreal Engine, but there may be opportunities to create its own proprietary engine with a team that includes "high end" engineers and "very talented, proper fine art guys who have made the transition into digital art which is extremely important," according to Seymour.
"A lot of people need to remember how innovative the Czechs are in graphic design, architecture, industrial design," he added. "There's this long tradition of very creative people there. So Vatra is trying to celebrate our Czech-ness."
"They're there on their own merits because they're such a high quality team," he offered. "Pretty much European staff can move around in the EU now so the comparison wage rates are close to the ones in the UK anyway. Kuju has always tried to follow talent and set up studios where the talent is and this is definitely a centre of gaming talent."
And while the Kuju group's biggest outfit, Zoe Mode, is specialising in more casual, social and musical games, Baverstock believes there's still very much a market for triple-A blockbuster titles catering to the hardcore crowd.
"What we're seeing is there are still deals to be done and still games to be made on the high-end platforms and big budgets for very high quality products. There aren't as many of them as there were but this team is very talented and hopefully its work will speak for itself. They'll be one of those relatively low number of developers who can command decent budgets and timescales in which to go away and make something of really high quality."
"The original gaming space has not gone away at all," said Baverstock. "As development budgets go up it becomes more of a challenge with each generation to make each title a success and that that's why we're seeing a steady decline in the number of titles and new IPs every year from publishers and developers, but there's no doubt the fanbase is still there."