Evolution Studios was previously best known for its World Rally Championship series of games for the PlayStation 2. That was before unveiling a trailer for PlayStation 3 project Motorstorm at E3 2005, where concept footage was discussed, analysed and pulled apart by critics questioning what the company could actually achieve.
But with the game on the verge of release in Japan and the US and confirmed as a launch title for Europe, Evo Studios is beginning to turn heads - not least because it's creating brand new IP to accompany Sony's biggest console launch.
In part one of our exclusive interview with studio boss Martin Kenwright, we look at the evolution of Motorstorm, the challenge of breaking into the US market and the pressures of producing a PS3 launch title.
GamesIndustry.biz: You're not that well known outside of Europe, or more correctly, you haven't released a lot of titles in the US. But that's about to change with Motorstorm. Can you begin by giving us a brief overview of your relationship with Sony from back in your World Rally Championship days?
Martin Kenwright: In July 1999, we bought a load of computers from PC World and set them up on the floor. We went to Sony with a demo that took six weeks to build and our reputations, without knowing SCEE had the rights to the World Rally Championship. As a result we were the first developers to be signed up on PlayStation 2.
Loyalty goes a long way and the opportunity that Sony gave has never been forgotten. That's why we've got such a good relationship. We got off to such a good start and have always wanted to keep that relationship going.
We've sold over four million units of a franchise that's actually a niche. It was at that point we had the crucible of Motorstorm. We were learning so much about the marketplace and what the market needed and wanted, and we saw the this big opportunity for the future.
In your previous incarnation as a studio - Digital Image Design - you released multiple original titles for home computers. After the licensed WRC games, do you see this as a chance for the company to return to original properties?
We'd always been prolific IP creators and yet ironically people only know us from making rally games. Me and Phil Harrison sat down at a rally event and thought, what five things can we do for PlayStation 3?
We realised at this point that rally was very much a niche sector and the secret was not to offer more of the same but to offer something fresh and exciting - very much to be first or best. Instead of being one half of a very niche market, why couldn't we become one half of the entire driving market?
As a result we've gotten to Motorstorm. We figured, let's take the least cool sector and make it the coolest. We've got no competition, we're new and fresh, it's 'super-size me' racing. And we're not trying to be a me-too game. Because we've always been first or best.
We laugh now because I actually did this presentation for this 'PlayStation racer'. How we were going to set out this vision for PlayStation 3, how we were going to move the marketplace, how we'd set PS3 alight on day one - by launch we'll be there with a thing that everyone will be talking about. It was setting these early seeds. It's safe isn't it, to tick a box. But to try and create a whole new franchise from scratch needs some order...
If you're going to start a new franchise, now is the time to do it on a new console, right? Stomp your foot down and make a big impression...
You're spot on. The only time you can launch a new IP is at the start of a life cycle. We'd established that with World Rally Championship. Many of our competitors were ten times our size with world class IP behind them, but we needed to come in fresh with a whole new approach.
It was exactly that again. We knew this would be our only opportunity to create new IP and to really establish Evo Studios. So we understood the marketplace. We knew we were going to have to be physics driven, we knew trends and where the market was going to go and how we were going to aim at the US and create something very spectacular.
Was it one of you big intentions to break the US market, whereas before you didn't even have a genre that would have been of interest to that audience?
Yes. We figured that the cornerstone of the whole development was to turn the whole sector on its head. Not just compete in the racing market but compete against all triple-A titles for the next-gen.
Motorstorm wasn't the name back then, it was something like 'Wasted'. The Motorstorm name came about at a marketing meeting with a company that specialises in that sort of thing - one of the funniest meetings I've ever sat in - 'Eat My Dirt' was another title.
It sounds like you decided to throw every idea you had for a new racing game on the table, and then sift through it for the best ideas.
We just thought about the marketplace, the idea of downloads, leveraging our assets, the lot. America has no idea about us and we've done some of the best games you've never heard of. The last World Rally title was an incredible game and we thought, 'Wait until America gets a load of this.' So we were on a mission, we really were.
Sony wasn't even on board at this point, I just went ahead and commissioned it and thought, 'We'll tell them later.' Sometimes you have to, you can't wait around, you've got to take risks.
Walking around Evolution Studios, I've not seen a development team so enthusiastic, especially how close you are to deadlines. I thought you'd all be on your knees but it's buzzing here.
This is the starter for what's to come. This is the thing that we want to launch a thousands ships from. We want to create the most talked about demo for DLC - and we can do.
While everyone else is out buying sequels and conversions of Xbox 360 titles for the first wave of PS3 games, we want to be there with one of the defining titles. A silly and sophisticated tour de force that would be there on every machine. In the same way that Doom had that effect years ago as a demo that was given away.
Do you feel under pressure with a launch title - it's new IP as well - so no one knows quite what to expect? It's going to be analysed the day it comes out and it's going to be remembered and looked back upon for the entire life cycle of the PS3...
It's the best of times and the worst of times, making new IP for a launch. You've got that pressure, the expectancy, the publishers are under stress, you're part of the foundation of the start of an entire new platform. Libraries aren't finished, the platform's all over the place. Because of this, some of it has to be made up as you go along - project planning won't cut it.
Fortunately, all our years of experience taught us to manage people and to try and be solid and centred, while everyone else panics and runs around you. Critics say, 'This isn't happening, you're the world's worst,' and the next day they say that you're going to be heroes.
This was after the infamous E3 video for Motorstorm?
I think we've gone through all of that to do what we had to do. We had to manage expectations of the marketplace and manage expectations of the publisher, and motivate the team to believe they could do it.
That movie at E3 2005, we always knew we could achieve it. With the specs of the PS3 at that time we thought we could honestly exceed it . We've gone through all these transitions from Amiga and beyond, right up to PS3.
At times it's tough and lonely. But our whole ethos is that we'll walk the walk while others talk the talk. We're there for launch. We're proud of what we've done. All we know is we've done what we set out to do, when we know that very few others have managed to achieve what we've achieved in the past year.
Martin Kenwright is CEO of Evolution Studios. Interview by Matt Martin. The second part of this feature will be published on GamesIndustry.biz later this week.