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Doublesix's Jim Mummery

Creative director talks about working with PSN and XBLA, being a smaller team, and surviving the credit crunch

Downloadable games offer a new entry to point to many new and exiting developers, allowing for smaller teams to work more closely and self-publish titles, and with a lower cost providing the incentive to use the channel as a proving ground for new ideas - the results can be interesting.

GamesIndustry.biz spoke with Doublesix Game's creative director, Jim Mummery, about the impact that digital distribution has on the industry, working as a smaller team during the credit crunch, and how the success of XBLA and PSN titles threatens creativity on the distribution platform.

GamesIndustry.biz What has your experience been like working with PSN verses working with Xbox Live?
Jim Mummery

It's hard to comment specifically because both of the projects we have are exclusive specific to that platform. South Park is exclusive to XBLA and Burn! Zombie! Burn! is only coming out on PSN - both of them are very different experiences on very different platforms and on both of them we've had a lot of support from Sony and Microsoft.

Everyone we've got working on Burn! Zombie! Burn! has been very enthusiastic about the PS3 and the guys we've got working on South Park have been given so much help from Microsoft they're happy about that.

GamesIndustry.biz Obviously as a digital distributor you self-publish your titles - do you see this as an increasing trend and if so what do you think this means for traditional publishers?
Jim Mummery

I hope it's an increasing trend, I hope it continues. The original dream that everybody saw digital download as was this safe haven where small teams of developers could create quality product, put it up, and see some benefit out of it.

I think one of the risks that have started to happen is that the quality bar on XBLA and PSN is getting so high that it is almost becoming the next place for boxed product - where big teams could release their next big project.

Sony has played with this a little bit with episodics, Siren: Blood Curse, and by putting full games on for download. There's a possibility that the success of digital download could lead to a dual tier, where you have incredibly big budget games pushing out the small developers and I hope that won't happen. The idea that if three guys want to get together and make a game and release it on XBLA or PSN and can is the dream of the platform. It should be where creativity is, where there are risks to take - it means the industry has a place for its innovators.

GamesIndustry.biz How have you found working with the iPhone?
Jim Mummery

We've released one branded title on the iPhone - again PSN and XBLA are for proper next-gen games, the tech is the same as if you're working on a boxed product, with the iPhone you have more power than a DS but you have the touch screen interface which is entirely different. You can't use a stylus or anything so there's a whole interface issue that you have to get around - it's intriguing and quite a challenge.

One of the things we did with Ironman, that people hadn't done to a large extent, was try to make a hardcore shooter on the iPhone. One of the things we found approaching it was you can use the touch screen for buttons because they're not immediate, they're insensitive. You can use it fully and have virtual pads, and we've approached that with other projects, but with Ironman we needed speed, so we used the accelerometer as an aiming system and added to that some additional functionality. So we managed to create a very hardcore shooter on the iPhone and in a very short space of time - it's just trying things out, getting them working and getting a core concept idea to game was incredibly fast.

GamesIndustry.biz Have you thought of doing something with that flash game on the front end of your website?
Jim Mummery

We want to do more with that! We're actually changing our website completely to make it more accessible - the reason we put the game on the site is because that's what we make. We're games developers and nobody puts games on their sites and it really frustrates me, so that's the first thing I wanted to do when we set up the site.

Now we're moving over to have a much more accessible website, much more blog based, looking for feedback, and set up around a community - but the game will still be there and we want to have some more of those. It seems ridiculous, and I know the reason that as a games developer you don't want to say you make web games, but you make games and it seems odd to hide that.

GamesIndustry.biz You're a lean studio with a relatively small staff, how does that compare to working with a larger development house?
Jim Mummery

For me it is preferable, and I know we have a lot of people at the company who have moved from very prestigious triple A titles, the kind of thing you'd love to have on your CV, great games, but their role in that game is trapped by the size of the team - they can only have so much input.

The philosophy of the company is that if you have a small team size you take advantage of it, because you're working on XBLA or PSN you don't have to worry about the design director talking to a specific design lead, talking to his guys. There's just eight or nine of you sitting in a room and you can all exchange ideas, it's a much more productive process, everything happens more quickly. Which is what you used to find in small independent companies, which is: if you wanted the artist to do something you'd turn around and ask him, and he gave it to you and it was in the game five seconds later.

It means iterations are quicker, development more fun, there's a more of a community feeling, and its all because of the size of the team. I think some of those things you can have in a triple A company but its much harder to pull off.

Working in a small team: people say it's like it used to be working on snes games.

GamesIndustry.biz There were recent staff cuts throughout Kuju, do you think you'll be touched by future cuts?
Jim Mummery It's hard to respond to that other than to say: There's a recession on and I don't think games are invulnerable. I think they take less of a hit that people would expect in other industries. In terms of us as a studio, we have a lot of work lined up so I wouldn't be worried and also Kuju have taken this stance where the studios kind of exist autonomously. I think to a certain extent, and obviously I'm only speculating, we're small and light and we can manoeuvre people around to either outsource or do small projects relatively easily. When you're big, and Zoe [Mode] are huge, its difficult to bend that way because you need so many projects to keep all your mouths fed.

Jim Mummery is the creative director of Doublesix Games. Interview by James Lee.

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James Lee