Recoil Games Interview

We chat with studio founder Samuli Syvahuoko on a number of topics, including the upcoming Earth No More. the state of PC and console development, and the effects of piracy.

Formed only this past January, Recoil Games wasted no time in establishing a working relationship with 3D Realms and beginning work on its upcoming first person shooter, Earth No More, which is slated to hit PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in 2009.

Founded and directed by Remedy Entertainment co-founder and ex-managing director Samuli Syvahuoko, who previously worked on Remedy's Max Payne alongside 3D Realms, the new studio marks Syvahuoko's return to PC and console development after more than half a decade in mobile technology and games.

Shack: Can you tell us a bit about your history of Recoil Games? What brought you back to console and PC development after spending six years specializing in mobile games and technology at Fathammer?

Samuli Syvahuoko: Ever since my demo scene days, I have been fascinated by programmers and artists who have been able to accomplish seemingly impossible audiovisual feats in regards to the hardware that they have been developing for. I have also been an avid gamer all my life--having started with the Commodore VIC-20 and 64. So, one can understand my level of excitement when I was able to turn all this enthusiasm into a job in 1995 when I and four other guys founded Remedy.

In 1997, a special opportunity came to setup a subsidiary company--Futuremark--for Remedy that would specialize in 3D graphics benchmarking programs--products that would push the visual envelope even harder than what PC/console games usually did.

But being an entrepreneur at heart, I couldn't resist when in 2000 an opportunity came to setup a new company to focus on games and 3D graphics technologies for mobile devices. Of course mobile devices weren't on the cutting edge of rendering technology--quite the contrary. And in fact, this was the very reason that made the challenge so intriguing.

During the six years that ensued, Fathammer developed several generations of 3D game engine technologies for mobile phones, PDAs and other such devices. Eventually, the company started full-blown development and even publishing of mobile games. It was all very exciting -- and a huge learning experience--and I regard those times as some of the best years of my life.

But I missed the PC/console space. I missed the total immersion of the games and I missed the sharpest edge of technology. So, when Fathammer got acquired last year, I knew I was going to start yet another company.

Having been "away" from the PC/console space for several years, I was somewhat shocked to notice that--apart from eye candy--things in games had not progressed all that much. And having always been a big fan movies and television serials (in other words great storytelling and believable characters), I started to see a clear gap that needed filling.

When I was "rounding up" people to found Recoil with me, I made sure people shared my vision of creating new kinds of action-adventure games that would put a lot of focus on narrative and emotional human drama. Obviously there have been a few games that have provided good narrative, but way too few in my opinion.

As a profession, the games industry has developed a lot during the past decade. I think it's only natural and logical for its products to do the same.

Shack: How did Recoil Games' relationship with 3D Realms come about?

Samuli Syvahuoko: It's all based on my relationship with Scott Miller, the CEO and co-owner of 3D Realms. When I was Remedy's managing director, I formed the business relationship with Apogee / 3D Realms. This collaboration brought fruit in the form of the top-down action racing game Death Rally and after that, Max Payne.

During those years, my co-operation with Scott worked extremely well. I can't recall a single negative incident or even a misunderstanding. The fundamental factors of the relationship were trust, fairness and openness. It was like we had been meant to work together.

So, when I got in touch with Scott about Recoil Games--and he was immediately interested--it was a bit like coming home from a long trip. So, now the old partners are doing it again, but with upgraded levels of ambition and experience--and a ton of new ideas.

Shack: What lead Recoil to choose Unreal Engine 3 for Earth No More? Will you be using any sort of custom or internally-developed modifications and technology along with it?

Samuli Syvahuoko: The decision to use UE3--or licensed tech in general--came from the simple fact that we can start prototyping right away instead of a year or more from now, had we gone the "own tech" route. Fortunately, we don't suffer from the Not-Invented-Here syndrome; we are out to make the best game possible and the sooner we can nail down its core gameplay, the better--for everyone.

As for new tech required by Earth No More, yes, we have identified around a dozen areas where we'll need to develop totally new tech from scratch internally. In fact, some of those systems are already well under way. However, it's way too early to delve deeper into any specifics. All you need to know at this point is that Earth No More will be gorgeous. That I promise.

Shack: How has your experience with Unreal Engine 3 been thus far? Have you been happy with its performance and documentation? Do you see Recoil Games continuing to use Unreal Engine 3 in future projects?

Samuli Syvahuoko: We have been very happy with UE3 so far. As for future projects, I think it's best that we simply focus on Earth No More right now and worry about the future after that. _PAGE_BREAK_

Shack: Beyond Earth No More, does Recoil Games have any other projects in development?

Samuli Syvahuoko: No, and we don't intend to. We will focus all our resources into the development of Earth No More.

Shack: Has Recoil Games considered developing for the Wii?

Samuli Syvahuoko: No, although we think the Wii is a very cool and intriguing platform. Way to go Nintendo!

Shack: With the advent of Xbox Live Arcade, Wii Shop Channel and PlayStation Network and their offerings of downloadable everything--including in-game content and downloadable games--the console market has been shifting more and more towards digital distribution. On the PC side of things, digital distribution platforms like Steam and GameTap have been gaining momentum as well.

Do you see such services continuing to gain support and popularity in the future? Is this something Recoil Games plans to take advantage of, possibly through downloadable content or maybe a fully downloadable game?

Samuli Syvahuoko: I think these developments are an interesting and logical step in the overall development of the market and they will still gain a lot more momentum. A channel like this is perfect for downloading small games. It's also useful for the more hardcore gamers to download additional content and updates for the "full-blown" games.

But I do believe that the majority of games will still be bought from physical retail for a long time.

Network speeds will remain a limiting factor. Hardcore gamers want their games the day they ship and are not willing to spend a day downloading it. And while casual gamers would be ok with the wait, they'll still prefer the physical box.

And it's a bit like with newspapers and magazines. I doubt they'll ever die--at least not during our life time. As long as we humans exist as physical beings, we'll have a special fondness for things that we can physically touch. Never underestimate the psychological nature of things.

Shack: Back in April, John Romero said he believed the future of consoles wasn't too bright, citing the availability of faster and cheaper PC components, specifically multi-core processors, as the primary reason. Before that, Trion World Network CEO Lars Buttler went on record and said, "There is one more generation of gaming consoles and that is it.

With Recoil Games developing for both consoles and PC, what's your outlook on the PC and console market? Do you believe one is in danger of overtaking the other, or can they co-exist peacefully?

Samuli Syvahuoko: Looking at how the mainstream mass markets work, I don't think for a second that consoles would be overtaken by PCs--on the contrary! A game console is a tailor-made product aimed at the mass-market consumer. It's designed to be easy to approach, buy and operate. No PC can match this. Not now, and not in the unforeseeable future.

Also, the fact that the consoles provide a standardized development environment and platform is a big benefit over the nightmarish jungle of PC incompatibility. It's just a lot more cost-effective to develop a 360 or a PS3 SKU than a PC SKU.

So, I do believe that we will keep seeing more console generations for decades to come.

Shack: Along those same lines, Silicon Knights president Denis Dyack has been rather adamant about his hopes for a one console future, in which one standardized platform would be made by a variety of manufacturers, a la DVD players. According to Dyack, such hardware would make development easier and would also resolve the fragmented console market.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that the industry is moving towards a unified development platform?

Samuli Syvahuoko: As a developer dealing with multi-platform challenges on a daily basis, I would like to say yes, but I can't. Honestly, this sounds like an idealistic dream that could only work in a totalitarian world. And it would not be good for the market as a whole.

Having only one platform would basically kill platform competition. This would translate into a much slower development of platform capabilities and in general, the needs and opinions of the end users would be disregarded.

It's interesting to theorize about things like this, but any idea that doesn't take into account the basic rules of the market economy is just a naive fantasy.

Shack: Earlier this year, id Software CEO Todd Hollenshead and Epic Games president Michael Capps both stated that their companies were pursuing multiplatform development because of losses stemming from PC piracy.

Do you think that widespread piracy has become a deterrent towards PC development? Was piracy a deciding factor in Recoil Games' decision to develop across multiple platforms?

Samuli Syvahuoko: Piracy has always been a problem and one that I really dislike. With game consoles, platform vendors and publishers can keep a much firmer grip on software rights management. The open nature of the PC does invite a lot more trouble in this regard--and it's a big shame.

But it's very difficult to measure just how much sales are lost due to piracy. I think the attractiveness of the PC as a game publishing platform is solely measured by the amount of revenue that can be gained. Unfortunately, in recent years, the sales of PC games have fallen when compared to console game sales. Perhaps Vista can alleviate this situation.

Recoil Games and 3D Realms plan to release Earth No More for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in 2009.

Chris Faylor was previously a games journalist creating content at Shacknews.

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