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Rock Solid

Part two of our interview with Turtle Rock boss Michael Booth.

In part one of our interview, published last week, Turtle Rock president Michael Booth discussed his company's relationship with Valve and the benefits of the Steam service for both developers and gamers.

Here, he talks about what's next for Turtle Rock, his take on the next-gen consoles and the challenges independent developers are facing today.

Does Turtle Rock have plans to work with other game developers or publishers soon?

Right now, we are totally focused on finishing Left 4 Dead. Frankly, there are so many killer opportunities going on right now with Valve and Steam, the thought of working with other groups isn't even on our radar. It's not that we wouldn't listen, but it had better be a pretty compelling proposal to get our attention at this point.

With Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios launches a game based on its own intellectual property or idea. Is it still pretty tough for an indie developer to present an original game property to a publisher?

It is always tough to get a new intellectual property off the ground. Communicating the "fun" of a new experience, even to a supportive audience, is very difficult to do.

My approach has always been to build a playable prototype, allowing you to actually demonstrate the game in action. There's no better way to pitch a new game concept and stand out from the crowd of wannabes brandishing their design documents. It also shows prospective publishers that you are able to build something that actually works and is playable.

What makes Left 4 Dead stand out?

At Turtle Rock, we strive to be innovative. Our design emphasis on intense cooperative game play mechanics, AI-driven procedural drama via our Director technology, and our next generation AI systems controlling both friends and foes are a few of the areas where we're pushing boundaries with Left 4 Dead.

What about the consoles? Does Turtle Rock plan to develop for any of them, particularly to capitalise upon their online services?

Although I've owned and/or played nearly every game console since Pong - yes, I had a home Pong console - my professional game development career has been almost entirely focused on the PC as a result of my passion for creating and playing online multiplayer games.

This latest generation of consoles has finally become interesting to me because of their online capabilities. I have actually been playing multiplayer Lost Planet on the Xbox 360 for several consecutive weeks now - I'm like level 40 or something.

For the first time, a console has enabled that same multiplayer experience I used to only get when playing on my PC. Microsoft did a lot of things right on the 360. We're going to bring Left 4 Dead to the 360 as a result.

So because of the kind of games Turtle Rock Studios makes, is it right to say that you prefer to develop for the Xbox 360? What about the Wii and PS3?

The 360 is certainly a good fit for us, but I am also big fan of the Wii. Nintendo's emphasis on design innovation and accessibility shows real vision. Whereas I play my 360 wired up with a headset and my Internet connection, I play my Wii in the front room with a group of friends and family.

As for the PS3, I'm still waiting for that "must have" game, which no doubt will happen soon. I don't buy consoles for their hardware; I buy them for their games.

What challenges do you see lying ahead for all independent developers?

There are always challenges, but I can confidently say there has never been a better time to be an independent developer. In the late 90s when I created Nox, the only real way I could reach a large audience of gamers was to sign a deal with a big publisher. Most of the success I had with that title was offset by the loss of creative control and ownership.

Today, the Internet is a much bigger place. It is far more mainstream and there is a new generation of people who see online purchasing and delivery as so mundane it doesn't even occur to them that it was once a "big issue." Digital services like Steam give independent developers worldwide access to a large audience of game buyers, and a marketing channel to reach millions of new customers.

That's something I didn't have access to with Nox, and it would have made a big difference in determining how to launch that game - as well as providing more options for maintaining ownership and control in the properties I was creating back then.

I'm very excited for the future. Frankly, the biggest challenge facing us right now is finding enough talented engineers and artists to help us tackle all of the interesting projects we already have on our to-do list.

Michael Booth is the founder and CEO of Turtle Rock Studios. Interview by Howard Wen. Read part one of the feature here.