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A Doublesix Roll

Studio head discusses the upcoming South Park game and the challenges of digital distribution

Digital distribution is becoming increasingly mainstream, with developers jumping at the chance to work on titles that could see a release across platforms like Steam, XBLA, and PSN. Kuju's Doublesix studio is one such developer, having just announced at E3 they are working on a new South Park game, coming to Xbox Live in 2009.

James Brooksby, Doublesix's studio head, talked with GamesIndustry.biz about the team's upcoming game, its changing relationship to publishers and the unique nature of developing a title for digital distribution.

GamesIndustry.biz How is work going on your South Park game?
James Brooksby

The work is going really well, we're really enjoying working with Microsoft and with South Park, and it's a very exciting project. There's little I can say about it at present because it's not actually released what it is. Nonetheless it's something completely different than people expect. It's very cool.

Working with such an incredible IP is fantastic for us, and for the team and for the studio. It's incredibly enjoyable as well, there are continuous jokes and gags going on around the office.

GamesIndustry.biz What are the size limits you're working on?
James Brooksby

I don't think we've discussed that yet. That's not going to be a problem though, let's put it that way.

GamesIndustry.biz How is working within that limit?
James Brooksby

We totally understand the limits because we're a studio working continuously on digital distribution projects and we understand the limits of what they need to be but for the game we're currently building I don't think that the size limits are going to be an issue. In terms of what we're producing and the assets that we're building the game with I think it's going to be fine.

GamesIndustry.biz What are the differences in developing a title for XBLA, or digital distribution in general, verses developing a title for a traditional retail release? If any.
James Brooksby

For us it's interesting really, because we're doing multiple digital distribution titles for various publishers and for various platforms and each one has its own idiosyncrasies but pretty much the same thing that would face a boxed product.

We're always continuously thinking about the size of our game in terms of the breadth and the scope and what the end user is going to get. So really thinking about the game design and what that means, because we're not producing an epic first person shooter… we're producing something that people are going to have short bursts of really very high-fun gameplay based around a single strong mechanic.

Normally you will not necessarily try to get across a vast epic storyline, it's more about bringing across a fun experience because it's the gameplay experience that matters the most. With the kind of graphics that we're producing we're actually going for a very high end at Doublesix.

We're concentrating on quality, we've got another title coming out soon which is fully pushing the next-gen platform that it's on in terms of what it can do graphically but in very much more of an arcade style.

So it's a different way of looking at things but the challenges are very similar, we come from a group of people who have produced boxed product before so it's quite comparable. The main thing that's different is that due to the budgets being relatively small for the projects we have relatively small teams. That means we enjoy a very retro feel to the way the teams work. You may have anything between four and six people working on a project, maybe maximum of about seven, but it means you have a very good team dynamic.

It's much more fun to build the games and everybody in the team feels like they're part of what's being produced and have a big impact on it. So that's the biggest difference in our mind, it's more about how we build the games and how much more enjoyable they are to build.

GamesIndustry.biz So you would say it's the antidote to the increasing complexity and cost of development?
James Brooksby

Certainly for us it is and certainly for the people who've come on board. We've got people from some very, very large teams who've worked in the Guildford area on big projects and they absolutely love it. It's certainly an antidote for them.

The atmosphere in the office is much more fun than I've experienced in many years and most of the guys have experienced - I mean they absolutely love it in terms of projects to work on and their involvement. When you have a meeting about the design of the game it's not just the four top people on the project who get to sit in the room talking about it, the project is maybe only five people, so everybody sits around and talks about it. If they're lucky they go to the pub and talk about it, or over to the coffee shop or into a local restaurant and sit and talk about it, because that's the entire team and they should spend a good amount of time chatting about the game and they all have input.

And for the studio to be that much smaller people across the teams have input and feedback on the games because we have the kind of structure that allows them to all talk to each other very freely about each others' games.

GamesIndustry.biz Has the recent XBLA cull of underperforming titles changed the thinking behind the design of your game?
James Brooksby

I'm not sure exactly how that system works, so for me to comment would be quite difficult at this time because I'm unaware of how they're going to do that and in what way they're going to do that - but it's not a surprise that it was going to happen at some point, lets put it that way.

I think as far as the business models for all of the platforms are concerned they're all changing and evolving very quickly because this is very new for everybody.

We're just approaching each new challenge as it comes along in terms of the changing business models the changing structures, like everybody's front ends are changing. For example: the PlayStation Network shop changes quite regularly in terms of its structure.

As far as we're concerned it's a very exciting market, I'd rather have it that way than have it very stale and stagnant - the way things have been for some time.

GamesIndustry.biz What do you mean when you say the industry was "stagnant"?
James Brooksby

I mean in terms of business models, I don't necessarily mean in terms of the games. I think that there are some amazing things that people are producing still.

I mean just in terms of the current boxed model. We have something that is completely software, it has no physical form, and yet we stick it on a disc, put it in a box and sell it through a shop. Digital distribution is the natural evolution of where we were bound to go in the end and it is going to be a massive part of our future. I'm quite pleased to be at the forefront of that.

It's a good thing because this is where we've been heading for a long time, and it's taken quite some time to get to. Some people in the dot-com era certainly tried a little bit of it but found it very difficult. Things like Steam have obviously pushed it forwards really well and now it's actually becoming something fully mainstream.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you feel this is changing your relationship with publishers?
James Brooksby

It has with some, some are approaching this in a more conventional way and some are looking at digital distribution in a much more of a sharing way - risk sharing.

In one project we are working on with a publisher IP ownership is a big part of the deal, we're going to be the owners of that IP once the project is completed, and potentially on the business model we'll take on more risks but in return more upsides, which is certainly a big change.

James Brooksby is the studio head of Doublesix. Interview by James Lee.

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