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Motoring Ahead

Part 2 - Martin Kenwright on Evolution's future plans and company philosophy.

In part 1 of our interview with Martin Kenwright, the Evolution Studios boss talked about the development of PS3 launch title Motorstorm.

Here he discusses planning as far forward as the launch of PlayStation 4, the damage sequelitis is doing to the industry, and playing darts for commercial deals...


GamesIndustry.biz: How do you find working on a console which, for the majority of your development time, isn't actually finished?

Martin Kenwright: You're actually trying to address a business model that doesn't exist, a market that doesn't yet exist and a level of technology that doesn't exist. So you've got to 'imagineer' the process.

The first year we had to get the the ethos right. Can we take special effects from movies and run them in real-time? How much power have we actually got? How are we going to build this world? And as a result you go into cul-de-sacs. You make incorrect decisions, but it's critical that you make mistakes because you have to learn what not to do.

We went through a phase of understanding technology, creating technology, wishing for technology. But once that as settled the game came together very quickly. Actual production was fluid and fast. The only thing we knew would be consistent was that nothing would stay the same; things changed everyday.

And every developer is in the same boat at this point. Perhaps you're better off because you're part of Sony...

The best thing about it is that a lot of technology we've made is going to now be available for other developers. At least everyone now knows what the hardware is, it's finished and locked down. When we started on a PlayStation 3 game the hardware wasn't even settled.

But that's the fun and the pain. It's exciting; our technologists love being first to see this sort of thing, we can't stop them at times.

Has the whole process of working on Motorstorm reinvigorated the company? I imagine working on an official rally game has its restrictions by its very nature - does the team feel refreshed?

With the whole process of making a game you'll go through the doldrums, the depression and then the uplift. It's an emotional rollercoaster. People give it their all for a good few years.

But the wonderful thing I can say about the team is that even when we knew World Rally wasn't a big player any more, and it was lost in the niche, even World Rally 5 - which came out just over a year ago - was done as a labour of love. It was done brilliantly. We thought we could still create something special and that really encapsulates the entire ethos for everyone.

There are people who will make something happen and people who will wait for something to happen - which are you going to be? With Motorstorm we really tried to make an early momentum and E3 kick-started that for us. It was like burning all our bridges so there was no going back.

We went off to Monument Valley. We had to get permission to land on top of the rocks. We got some of the best cinematographers together and created this amazing vision.

Once people understood what we were trying to do, we were going to go so big and so high-profile with this that we had to create something bigger than Evolution Studios to make this happen. There's stress. But slowly and surely the fog begins to clear and hints of the gameplay came through. At E3 this past year I was telling everyone at Sony that this could be one of the proper launch titles for PS3.

I think we really proved ourselves and pulled it together at E3 this year. As a developer you thrive off feedback. You see the PS3 launch in America all across Times Square, with massive queues and giant screens, and for a developer who's given two or more years of his life - I'm absolutely thrilled for the team. It's all been worthwhile.

Evolution Studios is now considered a developer that specialises in driving games. Is that something you want to continue to do, or do you see the team expanding into other genres? Would the studio grow and learn by working on something other than four-wheeled games?

The marketplace will be changing beyond all recognition in the next five years. We've anticipated that. I know people are looking at PS3 now, and I'm not being glib, but we're actually looking at PS4. I'm thinking where will it be in five years, how will we get there? What will the marketplace be like, the games, who'll be buying them?

You can't keep doing what you always do. You do have to evolve and look up every several years. Five or six years ago we set off to try and own rally on PS2. And then to create this huge early momentum and big hit on PS3, which we've done. We've established [satellite studio] Bigbig in the entertainment arcade sector with Pursuit Force.

So we've been looking at your questions ourselves now for the next five years. Our aim is to work to our strengths. It doesn't necessarily mean we'll always be working in the driving genre forever; we're all in the entertainment industry now, that's where we're going.

As videogames are part of the entertainment industry, is there a danger that development studios will stick to what they are good at, but not be able to evolve past their comfortable niche? Evolution makes great off-road racing games - do you continue to do that and build success, or do you take the risk of going forward into new areas?

What I've learnt in the past is you can incremently improve something by one per cent, and it takes two years and millions of pounds and all you get is more of the same. You polarise your market. You're offering more of the same instead of something new, memorable and exciting.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but sticking to what you're best at can be more of a risk than reinventing yourself. The DNA of all these games is around 80 per cent the same. It's the application, the value of the IP, the new killer brand that is actually priceless. Whatever you do is really hard work.

People like to tick boxes and play it safe, but sequels are the bane of our industry. 'The last one was good so the board wants ten more the same...' That's actually harming the marketplace irreparably.

We're in the business of making money; we're very aware of that. We've arm wrestled publishers to get more money. Honestly, we really have played darts for commercial deals and won. We understand that you live and die by you cashflow, and the secret is that early on you're able to champion the vision and people can see from your track record what you can achieve and how you've managed transitions before.

The reality for many small developers is that publishers are risk averse. But things are going to change. The way games are going to be made is going to change, the way they're funded is going to change.

It's not going to be like a parent/child relationship with publishers in the future. It's going to become much more of a creative partnership. I think it's going to be an amazing time for games. People are waking up now to the fact that sequels are actually high risk rather than low risk.

Martin Kenwright is CEO of Evolution Studios. Interview by Matt Martin.

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Matt Martin

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Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.

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