The Astronauts: "We're no longer excited by mammoth-sized games"

Adrian Chmielarz on why the old Bulletstorm team decided to downsize

Adrian Chmielarz, once creative director and co-owner of People Can Fly, has explained why his new studio The Astronauts represents a drastic change of direction, and plans to focus on smaller projects, rather than on AAA.

"It's the same idea: get the best in business under one umbrella, have a studio with a very flat structure, be 100 per cent responsible for the glory and the shame, and work on games that get our hearts beat faster," Chmielarz told GamesIndustry International.

"One thing in different, though: we're no longer excited by mammoth-sized games. We're still very interested in high quality, but now and in the future we want to focus on smaller projects."

People Can Fly was best known of course for Bulletstorm, a game that won over critics and fans with a tongue in cheek approach to AAA shooting, and Epic's flagship franchise Gears of War. Epic bought People Can Fly last August but had had a majority stake in the company since 2007. Chmielarz left after the acquisition, along with Andrzej Poznanski and Michal Kosieradzki, to form The Astronauts.

"Most games are the same formula in a constantly updated skin"

"Working with Epic was the best school of professional game development one can imagine, but we are simply fascinated by different things currently," Chmielarz continued.

"We had a blast working on the foundation for Gears of War: Judgment, but after our part was done we just thought it's time for us to go for, to quote Monty Python, 'something completely different'. Quite literally, as the game we're making is not a shooter."

It is in fact making The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a "weird fiction horror" first person game with, brace yourselves, no combat. Chmielarz explained why the studio wanted to do something so far removed its previous titles, like the combat heavy Bulletstorm.

"We think that video games are not all they can be. Actually, most of them are the same formula in a constantly updated skin. And that's fine, but we think there's room for more variety, for paradigms challenged and for the formulas reinvented. Ethan Carter is evolutionary, not revolutionary, but we still hope it'll be one of the examples of a different kind of experience that video games can offer."

He also pointed out that whatever the hell was happening to horror in the AAA market, it was thriving in the indie scene, so the genre wasn't a concern. And as for funding? The Astronaut's approach is old school.

"If we don't slip, we'll have just enough money for this first project, and then it's sink or float. Kickstarter was tempting, sure, whether we like it or not it's a great marketing tool and gives your project that extra visibility boost. But we think that Kickstarter should only be used by those studios for which there's just no other way without losing their freedom. We're just old fashioned this way."

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is due for release on PC this year.

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Latest comments (9)

Pier Castonguay Programmer 9 years ago
I think we all agree that "video games are not all they can be" and that new gameplay formulas and innovation/variety are the way to create successful products in the years to come. But why it is used as a reason to switch from AAA to smaller projects? Why can't they simply keep the quality AND innovate?
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I'd assume it's because AAA projects are just too big and too expensive to take risks(ie. innovation) on. If it won't sell hundreds of millions of copies guaranteed, it's too much of a financial risk.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
But why it is used as a reason to switch from AAA to smaller projects? Why can't they simply keep the quality AND innovate?
Edit: Sorry, misinterpreted this. But like Jessica said, the people with the money don't like risks.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dave Herod on 4th March 2013 4:03pm

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Show all comments (9)
Robert Mac-Donald Game Designer, Lethe Games9 years ago
The irony with mammoth-sized/AAA games is that they usually have so much polish and push on graphics that levels become very small and linear. We get polished features but much less features. Voice acting everywhere but so expensive compared to pure text that the content of the game is cut in more than half of what it could be, being generous.

Gameplay suffers a lot in favor of a cinematic experience. What is exacly mammothian about them? Only marketing and the movie-like parts.
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 9 years ago
Uh, maybe it was because Bulletstorm and Gear of War sucked? Sad that a Monty Python quote appears anywhere on the page, but it is nice contrast to have an actual pivotal piece of culture mentioned in there.

I upped Robert's devastatingly correct comment as hard as I could!
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Paul Gheran Scrum Master 9 years ago
No game besides Angry Birds has metrics which put it in the 'hundreds of millions' club. The best selling console game of all time is Wii Sports with about 80 million sold.

Your point is still valid and correct though, aside from the slight exaggeration.
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Adam Coate CEO & Founder, Coate Games9 years ago
The mammoth sized games don't interest me anymore either. They haven't for 5 years or so. I got an Xbox 360 with GTA 4, Bioshock, and Fallout 3 in '08. I tried to like them all, but they were all extremely boring. I noticed both of my friends who bought Red Dead Redemption only played it for a couple hours before getting bored. This whole trying to make an interactive movie that isn't really that interactive thing needs to stop. It doesn't cost $30 million to make a good game. Actually, I'm pretty sure the more money you spend over $1-3 million, the more bland the game gets.
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Sergio Rosa9 years ago
I had to look for more information about "The Vainishing..." after reading this article, and the game sounds interesting. Actually anything that focuses more on actual horror and not the cheap and boring in-your-face-plus-extremely-lound-noise jump-scares la Slender is more than welcome.
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adam parsons Project Management Director, Rare Ltd.9 years ago
Can you define 'sucked'? Sales, quality?
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