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Ensemble Studios a "victim of its own success" - Bonfire

Founder David Rippy talks of former RTS developer as being pigeonholed; reveals new project in "completely different" genre

David Rippy, head of Bonfire Studios, one of the teams born out of Ensemble Studio's closure, has said that the famed RTS developer was a "victim of its own success" in the genre.

Speaking of the need for studios to diversify in terms of platforms and genres, Rippy explained that the Age of Empires and Halo Wars developer was unable to get non-RTS projects approved and suffered from being pigeonholed.

"With the cost of creating games so high, studios are almost forced to diversify across platforms," he told GamesIndustry.biz. "Aside from the financial risk of sticking to one platform or one genre, you also risk being pigeonholed in the industry."

"Ensemble was kind of a victim of its own success as an RTS shop," he said, adding: "As hard as we tried, we were never able to have one of our non-RTS prototypes greenlit, largely because we were 'the RTS guys'."

"There's also the risk of losing top talent if they feel they'll never have the opportunity to explore other interests besides the genre that you are known for."

"At Ensemble, even though Halo Wars is an RTS, we really felt it was a breath of fresh air for us, because we got to develop our first Xbox 360 title and move beyond the historical setting," he added.

Rippy went on to explain that Bonfire's first project would not be an RTS title, however the studio would remain open to the genre at some point in the future.

"Ensemble was definitely known for its RTS titles, and we'll keep that door open at Bonfire because we love the genre," he said. "We do have a lot of interests outside the RTS genre, however."

"Our first game is something completely different than what we've done in the past. I think our games will always have a strong strategy element to them, though, since that is one of the core strengths of the team."

He added: "As for platforms, we are big fans of both the consoles and the PC. The decision really comes down to which platform best suits the game. "

While the publisher for the studios next title has yet to be announced, Rippy did confirm that it wouldn't be his former employer and Ensemble Studio's owner Microsoft.

"We don't have any immediate plans to work with Microsoft, but I'd consider working with them again in the future," he revealed.

"Setting aside the bad feelings that came with Ensemble being closed, Microsoft was a great publisher to partner with when we were independent, and a great employer to work for after we were acquired."

Speaking on the reaction of fans and the industry to the closure of Ensemble Studios, Rippy said: "Ensemble was fortunate to have a tremendous relationship with the fans of our games."

"We put our heart and soul into everything we did, and I think we always appreciated the fact that we got to make games for a living. The emails that have poured in over the past few months have been pretty consistent - no one really understands the reason behind the closing, and they felt like they lost a friend."

Following the closure of Ensemble, the development team broke up into two companies, Bonfire and Robot Entertainment, with the latter taking over the continued work on both Age of Empires and Halo Wars.

When asked if there were any sour grapes over losing out on those two projects to Robot Entertainment, Rippy insisted this wasn't the case.

"The guys at Robot are some of our best friends," he said. "We worked together for over a decade, and I've personally worked with Tony Goodman (founder of Ensemble and Robot) since 1994."

"They have exciting plans for their company and those plans don't clash with what we have in store for Bonfire. We all wish Robot nothing but great success."


James Lee