If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

The Hard Cell

5th Cell's Tringali and Slaczka discuss the transition from mobile to handheld, console and beyond

Known for breakout hits Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life on the DS, developer 5th Cell surprised fans when it announced its next project was to be an online action shooter for Xbox Live Arcade, titled Hybrid.

Here, general manager Joseph Tringali and creative director Jeremiah Slaczka discuss that transition - the company's philosophy of pursing the self-financed and self-publishing dream, hiring for life and why it's turned down numerous partnership offers to work on projects that the team love.

GamesIndustry.biz So you guys are currently working on Hybrid, how's that project going?
Joseph Tringali

It's the first game that we've been able to self-fund from beginning to end.

Jeremiah Slaczka

We do original stuff and it kind of freaks publishers out when you're doing stuff and they can't really quantify what's going on with milestones and stuff. It was the same thing with Scribblenauts. We self-funded about 70 per cent of it and we knew we had to because publishers, when we pitched it, thought it was impossible. They said 'you can't do this. There are features that take a lot of iteration and tweaking and a publisher would just freak out - 'where's the progress?' We would just tell them 'it will get there, we're fine'. Now with Hybrid we're close, it's getting to a really good stage. But a year ago, who knows...

Joseph Tringali

From a studio perspective we really wanted to build our team. We came from DS development so we had a lot of handheld developers with handheld experience. This being our first console game we really wanted to be sure we took the time to get it right. A lot of time publishers expect you jump right in an hire bodies.

Jeremiah Slaczka

We don't just hire bodies. That's really important for the business. To be able to really vet people and spend the time to find the right people.

Joseph Tringali

And the other part of Hybrid is building a core 3D team so we wanted to get the best and brightest in different disciplines. We wouldn't need as many of them because the game is for XBLA, but to have that core team for future games also.

GamesIndustry.biz What's the plan in terms of studio size - what would be the optimum number of employees?
Joseph Tringali

We're now at 65 and we'll probably grow more. We're very much - when we make a hire we make a hire for life. We don't do the hire/fire thing. We don't say, 'we know in our minds we're going to let go of 50 of these people at the end of the project'. We definitely want to make sure that we grow and we're comfortable and we're not taking on projects for the sake of it.

Jeremiah Slaczka

One of the things I'm really proud of it we're about seven and a half years old and we only had our first person leave to go to another game company a couple of months ago. In seven years nobody left to go to another game company.

GamesIndustry.biz Has it been a big change going from something like Scribblenauts or Drawn to Life on DS, to a third-person shooter on the Xbox 360?
Jeremiah Slaczka

Sort of. It's actually been easier because a lot of people, talent-wise and educations-wise, are trained in 3D. And we're using the Source engine which is widely known. Whereas with Scribblenauts we had to reinvent everything consistently. Even thought with Hybrid the core is shooting, we can still assess play and see how players handled it. It's been easier in that way.

GamesIndustry.biz It's a change of audience, or genre and of format. Has that forced the team to rethink how they work?
Jeremiah Slaczka

Well, we're gamers at heart. We play Xbox games so it's something we're comfortable with.

Joseph Tringali

We chose to do it. At the time we chose to do a DS game because of the budget, the team size. It was the right next step for us, it wasn't because we were hardcore DS gamers and that's all we play. We want to make games for different platforms.

GamesIndustry.biz Presumably you've been thinking about Hybrid for a while, when you were working on the DS titles?
Jeremiah Slaczka

Not really, no. Actually, all of our game ideas are pretty unique and new. Scribblenauts, Drawn to Life, Hybrid are all ideas that happen within a few months.

GamesIndustry.biz They seem to be developed quite quickly, to come to market quiet quickly - was that something you were consciously doing or have you not had the luxury of spending three years on a game?
Jeremiah Slaczka

We definitely don't want to go to five year development cycles. We've never shipped a game so long in development. A lot of people come to our studio and say they hate that process, they hate being the giant cog in the wheel and they like the fact that these games have a shorter pace. It's an organic process and we're still learning, we don't have a developer background at 5th Cell. We don't really know what's best. We ask people what's best and try to work the best way that we can.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think you might have to work harder to convince an audience to pick up Hybrid in the Xbox market that's never short of third-person action games?
Jeremiah Slaczka

I don't think we'll have to work any harder than the game has to work. If it's fun people will play it, if it's not people won't - that's the bottom line. I'm not huge into hyperbole and all that stuff. The game will sell itself. The one thing that people will look for is 'innovative', that's kind of our moniker. And the game is innovative. It's definitely different to every shoot that's out there, we're not just going to copy Call of Duty or Halo or any of those games.

GamesIndustry.biz Was there a reason you went for a downloadable title rather than boxed product?
Joseph Tringali

We wanted to self-fund it and if we wanted to do a self-fund a console game it had to be for the XBLA or PSN market. The team size was good and we wanted to build a core 3D team. Holding the IP was important to.

Jeremiah Slaczka

We want to start small but we want smart growth. We're not hiring bodies and biting off more than we can chew. DS to XBLA makes sense as a next step. Whereas Ds to Xbox 360 might be possible, it's maybe going to be a hard road.

Joseph Tringali

And the bar for XBLA is so much higher than it used to be four years ago. We're seeing a lot of people go to XBLA with games that look like console games. When you break the math down we make far more money on Hybrid on XBLA that we would on a retail game.

GamesIndustry.biz Are you also looking to self-publish Hybrid?
Jeremiah Slaczka

It is going to be self-published, no-one is going to publish it, it's just Microsoft distributing it. But what's cool about Hybrid is that - success of failure - we've built a cool team and learnt a lot. So the rest is just gravy. All the core tech, the people and staff we've hired and the processes learned and the new software required - all that stuff that has made a bigger and better team has already happened. Hybrid doing really, really well would just be extra.

Tagged With
Author
Matt Martin avatar

Matt Martin

Contributor

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.