Every computer on every desk on Rocksteady’s open-plan development floor has the same screensaver. It’s a slideshow of org charts, a personal profile for each of the studio’s 160 staff, and a recruitment timeline that shows how the company has grown in tandem with the scope of its games. Over the years, Rocksteady has gradually taken over more of the former carpet factory in North London’s Kentish Town in which it’s based, but it has not grown solely to accommodate its rising headcount. Its most recent expansion two years ago saw it build a bigger kitchen and communal dining space, but much of Rocksteady’s growth has focused on making it easier to make games. Having your own vocal booths may save money, but as co-founder and studio director Jamie Walker explains, it’s about more than that.
“The reason we built these [booths] is to bring everything that makes a difference here, rather than outsourcing,” he tells us. “We do a lot of work in LA; the voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy, lives in LA, and as soon as he gets on the plane, the meter’s running. He’s amazing, but it’s much more effective to record that in LA. But where we can, we bring people here: Andy [Quinn, sound designer] can record it, it can go straight into the game and people can see the difference straight away. Having it here makes a lot of sense.”
QA has been brought in-house, too, with 20 staff tucked away next to the programmers. If more are needed as June nears, Walker plans to put them in the ping-pong area.
The jewel in the studio’s crown, however, is its motion-capture studio. It, too, has grown – Rocksteady learned what Walker calls “the dark arts of mocap” in a small corner of the studio, but now it is so big that the space is also used for company meetings and training sessions. Many studios would kill to have such a facility in-house, and Rocksteady certainly makes the most of it.
“Some companies might do three or four shoots for an entire game. We do three or four a week,” Walker explains. “Animators here will get to a certain point in the week where they have an hour’s worth of stuff to shoot, they’ll suit up and come in. It’s very low maintenance: you just turn everything on, get in the suit and start shooting. And by the end of the day, it’s in the game.”
You might think that getting an animator to do an actor’s job is a fool’s errand, but Walker points out that the team knows exactly what it wants, and if it needs a specific action, it’s quicker to just do it than explain it. If you’re sceptical, consider this: Harley Quinn’s lascivious sashay was performed by a Rocksteady animator. One of its male ones. It’s all part of Walker’s philosophy, which is well reflected by the black-and-white theme that runs through the décor. “The idea is that we’re the colour,” he says. “The studio is just a tool.”
FAR LEFT An in-house mocap studio is a rarity, but here it’s part of life. “You’ll be there eating your lunch,” Walker says, “and there’ll be someone next to you covered in ping-pong balls, weights and a headcam.”
LEFT A glass cabinet in the boardroom houses Batman: Black & White statuettes.
BELOW The whole studio shares the same open-plan space. Departments are laid out logically: animation next to design, and the QA team by the coders
Jamie Walker, studio director and co-founder