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Former Sledgehammer senior creative director launches Ascendant Studios

After working on Call of Duty, Dead Space, Bret Robbins has lofty ambitions to create his own triple-A title

Today the former senior creative director of Sledgehammer Games, Bret Robbins, has announced the founding of Ascendant Studios.

The San Rafael-based studio was opened a few months ago, and is being backed financially by Vista Equity Partners co-founder and president, Brian Sheth. With his support, the studio is already working on its first title under a leadership team of industry veterans with Robbins at the head.

In his most recent role at Sledgehammer, Robbins held creative director positions on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Advanced Warfare, and WW2. Prior to that, he served as a creative director at EA on Dead Space, as well as lead designer on From Russia With Love and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. He also worked for six years at Crystal Dynamics on multiple titles.

Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz, Robbins emphasized that his goal with Ascendant Studios was to create a game that would compete with triple-A franchises. "I want to make a big game," he said. "[One] that's right up there with the best games ever made."

That may sound like a lofty goal for a studio just starting out. Right now Ascendant Studios is small, but Robbins intends to bulk up the studio over the next year or more to over 100 employees across all necessary areas. He aims to hire experienced talent, and already has a leadership team consisting of industry veterans with credits on games such as Call of Duty, Telltale's The Walking Dead, and Dead Space.

Robbins said he plans to take a lot of lessons from his work on Dead Space - the "last wholly original game" he worked on. After hiring, he said the biggest hurdle in the way of Ascendant's ambitious project was establishing good communication.

"It's just a matter of being pretty rigorous with reviewing and analyzing work and communication," he said. "Really being able to communicate a vision well to the team is hugely important. One of the things that's the hardest to do, especially when you're starting something new, is keeping everyone aligned around a particular idea or vision. You end up putting a lot of practices in place to evangelize that vision, make it crystal clear to everyone so everyone knows what we're working on, knows the goal, and understands how to get there.

"You have to really rely on the people you hire. It's important that you listen to them all the time. They'll have answers I won't have, because they're the experts in their field."

Despite the challenge, Robbins is confident in his own experience, and the experience of his leadership team.

"Games have gotten better and better, and reaching that quality bar that the best games out there do isn't easy," he said. "But I've been there before. I understand the process, I understand what it takes, so I feel fairly confident about that."

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