Stu­dio Pro­file

Chart­ing the rise of London de­vel­oper Curve from work-forhire out­fit to indies’ best friend


The Curve story is one of per­sis­tence, dar­ing, op­por­tunism, and a dash of good for­tune, but like any good in­die stu­dio, its suc­cesses are built upon a foun­da­tion of friend­ship, team spirit and no lit­tle in­tel­li­gence. Though it has had to change its ap­proach to adapt to un­pre­dictable mar­ket con­di­tions, its ver­sa­til­ity and re­source­ful­ness have seen it thrive where oth­ers have fallen.

It helps that the company has an ex­pe­ri­enced back­bone. MD Ja­son Perkins has some 32 years of in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence, with the likes of Sony and GT In­ter­ac­tive on his CV. So when the time came to form his own stu­dio, his ex­ten­sive con­nec­tions al­lowed him to as­sem­ble his dream team: the seven peo­ple that Curve started with were hand­picked from those Perkins had worked with and whose reputations pre­ceded them.

De­sign di­rec­tor Jonathan Biddle was one of the first on board, as was tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor

Richie Turner, each di­rec­tor adopt­ing a clearly de­fined role. “Jase is the business guy, Rich is the tech guy and I’m the cre­ative guy,” Biddle tells us. “And we trust each other to do those jobs. No one else wants to be the cre­ative guy, and I cer­tainly don’t want to be the business guy.”

From the be­gin­ning, the stu­dio was keen to work on its own IP, but it needed to be in a com­fort­able po­si­tion to be able to fund it. That meant work-for-hire jobs. “Our big break came when we did the Buzz games for PSP,” Turner says. “An­drew Eades, who runs Re­lent­less, was a friend of mine. I was talk­ing to him about Buzz, and at the time they were look­ing at [bring­ing it to] PSP, and won­der­ing if any­one could do it.” Turner vol­un­teered Curve for the job, a deal was struck, and the stu­dio went on to de­velop five edi­tions of the game for the Sony por­ta­ble.

With the money Curve needed start­ing to roll in, Biddle be­gan de­vel­op­ing an idea that he’d con­ceived in Game Maker in his spare time. Ex­plode­mon was a 2D plat­former in­spired by the likes of Ban­gai-O and Su­per Metroid, and the stu­dio col­lec­tively de­cided this was to be its first ven­ture into self-pub­lish­ing. “It was just tak­ing off at that time,” says Turner. “Hello Games was just about to re­lease Joe Dan­ger, and all our chums were [say­ing], ‘We’re go­ing to go it alone.’ I don’t think, with ret­ro­spect, it was a great decision. Ex­plode­mon wasn’t the suc­cess we had hoped it would be.”

Still, Curve re­fused to be down­hearted. The game’s fail­ure im­pressed upon the team the im­por­tance of care­ful bud­get­ing as well as the need to form and nour­ish re­la­tion­ships with plat­form hold­ers. “You’ve got to get out there and press the flesh,” Turner adds. “It’s about your af­ter­sales, your lifetime man­age­ment. All valu­able lessons, but we learned [them] the hard way.”

In the mean­time, Curve had been pitch­ing ideas to Nin­tendo. In fact, it had been do­ing so, with lit­tle suc­cess, since it was founded, but the Game De­vel­op­ers Con­fer­ence in 2008 proved a piv­otal mo­ment for the stu­dio. “We had this idea scratch. Which isn’t to say de­vel­op­ment of what even­tu­ally be­came Hy­droven­ture (or Flu­id­ity in the US) was easy. Games in 2D with a tra­di­tional avatar were one thing; work­ing out how to con­trol a force of na­ture was some­thing else en­tirely. Herd­ing a pool of 200 wa­ter par­ti­cles meant build­ing a game where the player could po­ten­tially be in 200 places at once.

Work­ing with Nin­tendo wasn’t just ex­cit­ing, but also an in­valu­able learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly from a de­sign stand­point. The stu­dio sent over reg­u­lar builds, and when as­sess­ments re­turned, they were ex­ten­sive and metic­u­lous. Biddle would send 3,000-word emails and get


for a game about wa­ter,” Biddle says. “We sat down with [Nin­tendo] and pitched a few things, and we didn’t think they’d liked any of them; they were quite po-faced about it, prob­a­bly be­cause they’d been sat in a room for a week lis­ten­ing to pitch after pitch.” Sev­eral weeks later, the phone call came out of the blue: Nin­tendo was keen on the idea, and wanted to pay Curve to de­velop a pro­to­type, or ‘ex­per­i­ment’ as the company called it.

Years later, Biddle would dis­cover this was a rar­ity for the pub­lisher. “I asked our pro­ducer how many things they’d picked up from th­ese pitch­ing ses­sions,” Biddle says. The re­sponse? One. “Not very many things get through that wringer,” he adds. “So we were amazed to get that, and we spent six months look­ing at the tech and the wa­ter physics to see if Wii could run it, if the mo­tion-con­trol sys­tem could work, and whether the idea ac­tu­ally had any legs.”

The next half-year was par­tic­u­larly en­joy­able for Curve, be­cause for once there were no rules: the stu­dio could de­sign the whole project from sim­i­larly lengthy replies. “The crit­i­cisms they give you on the whole process are like gold dust,” says Turner. “When they say less of this or more of this, you pay at­ten­tion. All the plat­form hold­ers have got their game evan­ge­lists and de­sign guys who give very valid feed­back, but when you’re talk­ing to Nin­tendo, you’re only a cou­ple of steps re­moved from the likes of Miyamoto.”

In­deed, one piece of feed­back came right from the top. “Iwata couldn’t stand to watch the Wii-Ware demo be­cause it made him re­ally ill,” says Biddle. “He suf­fered from sim­u­la­tion sick­ness, so he lit­er­ally couldn’t watch the game that he was sign­ing off on.” Curve tried a num­ber of so­lu­tions to the is­sue, the fi­nal game’s cam­era brack­ets a di­rect re­sult of Iwata’s queasi­ness.

Hy­droven­ture was a crit­i­cal suc­cess, but though the re­view scores were high, sales fig­ures were not. Mi­crosoft and Sony might have had their dig­i­tal strate­gies in place, but Wii-Ware games were left com­par­a­tively high and dry. Even so, Nin­tendo was pleased with the game – enough to re­quest that Curve look into a 3DS

se­quel. The first pitch was re­jected, since mo­tion con­trols and glasses-free 3D were con­sid­ered in­com­pat­i­ble. But once Nin­tendo re­alised that stere­oscopy wasn’t quite as big a sell­ing point as ex­pected, the pub­lisher sug­gested that a 2D ver­sion with gyro con­trols would be fine. “It did well for us,” says Turner, though Biddle sug­gests it didn’t sell well enough for Nin­tendo, which owns the IP, to con­sider a follow-up. “We’d love to go back, but the bud­get would be sig­nif­i­cantly more for Wii U. We’ve had dis­cus­sions, but the last pitch was a while ago now.”

Still, Nin­tendo’s in­flu­ence can be felt in the stu­dio’s sub­se­quent out­put. Biddle hap­pily de­scribes its im­pact on Stealth Bas­tard. “One of the things we learned from [ Hy­droven­ture] was how to make com­pelling lev­els, how to make puz­zles. It was almost noth­ing but puz­zles, so we had to make them so good that they could support the en­tire game. We learned how to lead the player, how to give them enough info, but in a way that’s en­ter­tain­ing. Stealth Bas­tard be­came what it was be­cause of the work we’d done with Nin­tendo on Hy­droven­ture.”

Tak­ing de­sign cues from Metal Gear Solid and Su­per Meat Boy, this abra­sive plat­former had much more than an eye-catch­ing name: chal­leng­ing and well de­signed, its free PC launch was so warmly re­ceived that the stu­dio de­cided to re­lease an ex­panded ver­sion, Stealth Bas­tard

Deluxe. The re­sponse took Biddle by sur­prise: what had be­gun as an ex­per­i­ment in de­sign had be­come an un­likely hit. “I just wanted to make some­thing lit­tle, put it out for free and move on… Then ev­ery­one liked it and spoilt ev­ery­thing! So we put it out on Steam, then Hum­ble Bun­dle wanted Mac and Linux ver­sions. After that, we did an An­droid ver­sion and then an iOS one.”

By that time, work­ing on such a wide va­ri­ety of for­mats was no nov­elty. Op­por­tu­ni­ties for a company of its size were dwin­dling. But the stu­dio sensed an op­por­tu­nity when Sony be­gan to of­fer strate­gic fund­ing to smaller de­vel­op­ers, pri­mar­ily to bring in­die games to Vita. Perkins, with his Sony con­nec­tions, was well placed to cap­i­talise. “I’d love to say we had a big strat­egy meet­ing,” he says, “but the truth is that we were gen­tly nudged in that di­rec­tion by the lack of fund­ing avail­able in the space we used to be in.”

Hav­ing es­tab­lished that there was po­ten­tial in sign­ing up PC games for con­sole ports, Perkins be­gan to ap­proach de­vel­op­ers. The stars aligned when he tuned into ra­dio show One Life Left and heard Mike Bithell talk­ing about Thomas Was

Alone. “When we first ap­proached him, Thomas hadn’t done the huge num­bers that it must have done now, but it sounded in­ter­est­ing and Mike seemed like a re­ally in­ter­est­ing per­son. I down­loaded it the next day, and then we made an ap­proach. Simultaneously, Sony had made an ap­proach to Mike as well, so very quickly we man­aged to do a deal that suited ev­ery­one.” Con­ver­sa­tions with Terry Ca­vanagh to bring

Su­per Hexagon to con­soles sadly never came to fruition, though Ca­vanagh did rec­om­mend Curve to Jasper Byrne, cre­ator of Lone Sur­vivor, and the stu­dio brought it to PS3 and Vita, and later PS4 and Wii U. De­spite re­leas­ing just after Grand

Theft Auto V (“we’ve now learned that is a re­ally bad time to launch,” Perkins says), it has been one of the company’s big­gest hits to date.

The stu­dio has also learned per­sis­tence pays off. Curve only signed up Facepalm Games’ The

Swap­per after Perkins had emailed Olli Har­jola – one half of the two-man team – 25 times. Har­jola has since put Curve in touch with other Fin­nish devs. “Hope­fully, he was happy with the ser­vice we pro­vided,” says Perkins mod­estly.

In its pre­vi­ous fi­nan­cial year, Curve launched 37 in­di­vid­ual ti­tles. This year, it’s up to 56 – more than one con­sole sub­mis­sion ev­ery week. While net­work­ing has been im­por­tant in se­cur­ing work, the stu­dio would be nowhere with­out an ef­fi­cient tech team. To­day, Curve has stream­lined the port­ing process, which re­moves a good deal of old-fash­ioned leg­work. “We’ve writ­ten en­gines in the past, but this one, Nu­cleus, is lit­er­ally OpenGL stan­dard­ised across ev­ery plat­form,” Perkins


ex­plains. “If you’ve writ­ten your game in that, it’ll au­to­mat­i­cally work on our plat­form.” Once a game is ported across, it’s usu­ally run­ning within weeks, after which comes op­ti­mi­sa­tion.

To­day, Curve is branch­ing out in ev­ery sense. It has re­cently be­gun to loan em­ploy­ees out to other stu­dios, and al­ready has six games signed up for re­lease in 2015. Biddle, mean­while, is work­ing on White Space, a pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated firstper­son ad­ven­ture in­spired by Tau

Ceti and Spelunky. “It’s about prob­lem solv­ing,” he says. “Some­times the prob­lems are those you’ve made your­self, but ei­ther way, you need to be good at very quickly find­ing so­lu­tions.” He’s talk­ing about game de­sign, but that could eas­ily be Curve’s motto. The stu­dio’s will­ing­ness to rein­vent it­self is the rea­son why it is now, as it hoped to be, in con­trol of its des­tiny.

For MD Perkins, the ca­pac­ity to loan out artists and coders makes Curve stand out. “For an in­die dev de­cid­ing which pub­lisher to go with, that’s an ex­tra ben­e­fit we can of­fer”

Founded 2005

Em­ploy­ees 30 Key staff Ja­son Perkins (founder, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor), Richie Turner (tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor), Jonathan Biddle (de­sign di­rec­tor)

URL curve-stu­ Se­lected soft­og­ra­phy Ex­plode­mon, Hy­droven­ture, Stealth Bas­tard, Hy­droven­ture: Spin Cy­cle, Stealth Inc 2: A Game Of Clones

Cur­rent projects White Space, sev­eral

unan­nounced ports

Curve has a small core of staff, which is reg­u­larly swelled by the huge roster of free­lancers. To the left is ev­i­dence of the work that went into bring­ing StealthInc2:AGameOfClones to Wii U, a rare timed ex­clu­sive for Nin­tendo’s ma­chine, and a sign of Curve’s her­itage

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