Haden Blackman heading up 2K's new Hangar 13
Bay Area AAA studio focusing on proprietary tech, games where every player's story is unique
2K Games today announced the formation of its newest studio, Hangar 13, which will be based in Novato, California and led by former Kabam and LucasArts developer Haden Blackman. Earlier this week, Blackman spoke with GamesIndustry.biz to discuss the venture.
Blackman said Hangar 13 is built around two key strengths: story and proprietary tech. On the narrative side, the new studio's mantra is "Every player's story is unique."
"When I say that, I don't just mean a game with a branching narrative, but really the player story that we tell each other, the experience we have in the game, from the moment-to-moment to the macro-effect on the world, the characters and the narrative," Blackman said. "For me, when I look back at my history with games and experiences playing as a kid, that was what was always most exciting, when I could sit down with my brother and compare notes on how we played the games and they allowed us to approach things in dramatically different ways."
"Being able to build tech from the ground up is incredibly liberating. I love it because it allows us to build the tech to support the vision of the game"
That quality can manifest itself in different ways and different genres. As examples from his childhood, Blackman talked about how Altered Beast let players choose different creatures to transform into with the aid of a cheat code, or the way the "gold box" line of Dungeons & Dragons enabled players to construct their adventuring party however they liked.
As for the second strength, the project lead on 2008's Star Wars: The Force Unleashed said working with proprietary technology was something he's grown to appreciate throughout his career.
"Being able to build tech from the ground up is incredibly liberating," Blackman said. "I love it because it allows us to build the tech to support the vision of the game, and not try to retrofit a game vision into existing tech, or try to modify existing tech into a game vision that doesn't fit 100 percent with it."
While Blackman hasn't built a AAA studio from scratch quite like this before, it's not entirely alien territory for him. For one, he was co-president and CCO of start-up developer Fearless Studios (acquired by Kabam in 2012), and his 13 years at LucasArts prior to that provided some relevant experience as well.
"I was there through a number of the reboots and we rebuilt the studio at least three times while I was there," Blackman said of LucasArts, "so I'm very familiar with building teams from the ground up. I have done it on some level in the past."
For Hangar 13, Blackman said he's tried to build a team with experience at a wide variety of studios, and in an assortment of genres. In addition to Star Wars, the Hangar 13 team has a number of big franchises on its work history, from Splinter Cell and Assassin's Creed to Dead Space.
"I never want to grow so large that there are a bunch of people on the team or in the studio that I don't know personally by name"
"One of our pillars is that 'good ideas come from anywhere,' and that doesn't just apply to the creative and the game design," Blackman said. "It also applies to our process, our structure, the things we do around studio culture and team-building."
Hangar 13's core team has been assembled, but Blackman said it's still looking to expand the crew in all disciplines. However, size is a concern; just because the studio makes AAA-sized games doesn't mean he wants a AAA-sized staff.
"I think the thing I'm most happy with right now is that we're small enough I can walk the floor and know everybody by name and by face, and to be honest I want to preserve that," Blackman said. "I never want to grow so large that there are a bunch of people on the team or in the studio that I don't know personally by name."
When asked about the studio's origins and ties to the 2K studio Rod Fergusson briefly led and 2K Marin (which was reportedly shut down last year but in May had been entrusted with the BioShock franchise going forward), a 2K Games representative said Hangar 13 had a few former 2K Marin developers, but was "completely separate."