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Blitz Games Studios' Philip Oliver

The CEO talks Kinect, looking after employees and the ever-changing market

A major industry figure since he and his twin brother created Dizzy for the Spectrum and Commodore 64 in 1986, Phillip Oliver went on to found Interactive Studios in 1990 - the company which has today become Blitz Games Studios.

Focusing on licence work and middleware development has meant that Blitz has developed a diverse and healthy business, taking on work from publishers around the world whilst fostering indie development with the Blitz 1UP initiative. A keen proponent of new technology, here Oliver discusses the company's latest favourite toy - Microsoft's Kinect.

GamesIndustry.bizLet's start with a quick overview of your presentation at Develop Liverpool this week, what will you be covering?
Philip Oliver

Well, it's titled: Kinect, a Whole New Business. So what we're going to talk about is, not so much what Kinect is or the gameplay and design challenges or that kind of stuff, because I believe other people are going to head that sort of thing off - I've got to talk about how it's changed our company and what sort of learning we've got out of it and therefore what sort of thing I can share with other developers.

So, we've kind of broken it into three things which we believe are strengths of the company - those three things being: new business, how did we win new business and contracts; creating it and making it and what we learned in that phase and then the management and the logistics for the studio - what did it mean having so many titles in development for Kinect.

We currently have five titles in development, well, one's already shipped - The Biggest Loser came day and date with Kinect.

GamesIndustry.bizSo Kinect is a significant investment of staff time and energy for the studio then?
Philip Oliver


GamesIndustry.bizNot too long ago you were making a considerable investment in 3D technology, is that something you're still pursuing alongside Kinect?
Philip Oliver

The thing about 3D is that we started evangelising about 3D four or five years ago, before you could even go to the cinemas and see it, it was kind of only in theme parks. But right then we saw that people get more immersed the higher the quality of visuals and that 3D is the next level of visuals - before holograms, but that's another conversation - I'm not going to evangelise about that one quite yet!

So what we actually found was that we believed that there was the power in the technology of the consoles to start delivering 3D and we were quite surprised how reluctant others were to see the future and to see the belief in where we thought it was going.

So yes, we proselytised it, yes we made a big noise about it, and yes we started building it into games - and I understand, although I haven't any time to play it yet, that Black Ops is now supporting the 3D format - so what we were predicting four years ago, and being ridiculed for by some of the gamers - well look now, we were right, we were ahead of them.

It's now built fully into Blitztech and we can support 3D on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, just in our libraries when and where clients want it.

GamesIndustry.bizWould you say that Kinect is a bigger development than 3D?
Philip Oliver

I think it will have a bigger impact, and I think the reason it will have a bigger impact is that we were only talking about a visual impact with 3D - what's happening with Kinect is that Microsoft is, very cleverly, absolutely broadening the market for gamers - well actually for people to play games, I won't say gamers because they are trying to address people who, even after they've played these games, wouldn't call themselves gamers.

They're trying to address the mass market and make games ten times more accessible than they've been in the past. For their machine, which in the past has traditionally been for hardcore gamers, it's a brilliant move.

There's no need to evangelise about 3D anymore, it's an accepted part of the future. It will be built into more games going forward - kind of old hat to us now! [laughs]

GamesIndustry.bizThere's obviously a bit of a barrier to getting 3D into people's homes because of the equipment though...
Philip Oliver

Well there's the adoption rate - changing the big TV in the living room. I guess what's going to happen over the next few years is... We're not asking people to throw out their great big flatscreen and go and buy another one with 3D, it will happen over time, as people need to replace their TV, they'll end up getting one that supports 3D.

So it will come in slowly, but it is inevitable.

GamesIndustry.bizGoing back to Kinect, what have you found the main challenges of working with pre-release hardware to be? How up to date have you been kept with the hardware revisions?
Philip Oliver

We first learned about Natal 18 months ago - there was a great deal of secrecy and confidentiality about it. Initially we had to keep it in locked rooms with only named key personnel working on it and nobody else was allowed to know about it - and that caused a few interesting logistical issues, creating these sort of areas, creating more confidentiality in the studio than we would normally like.

Obviously as time went on that got easier. As with all new consoles and equipment, you get to see prototypes and basically they're not as good as the finished version, you have to believe and trust that that's just the process. So in the early days you get pieces of kit that don't perform as well as the finished version, and we accepted that and lived with that. But it's okay because we too were developing our code alongside.

As for kits turning up and revisions, there were several different kits that turned up, different hardware, and then the revisions were coming in every six to eight weeks - big new software drops. You lose a few days while you revise and fit your code back to their code.

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