Bossa’s key

How the stu­dio be­hind Worlds Adrift uses tech­nol­ogy to ex­pand creative pos­si­bil­i­ties rather than poly­gon counts

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How the World’s Adrift stu­dio uses tech to ex­pand cre­ativ­ity

For a videogame de­vel­oper, Bossa Stu­dios has an un­usual re­la­tion­ship with tech­nol­ogy. While the stu­dio be­hind Sur­geon Sim­u­la­tor, I Am Bread and Worlds Adrift is as will­ing as any other com­pany to take ad­van­tage of im­proved ren­der­ing tech­niques and faster pro­ces­sors, the team sees these kinds of in­no­va­tions more as jump­ing-off points than a foun­da­tion. Bossa CTO Syl­vain Cornil­lon and COO Vince Far­quhar­son will ex­plore this in their De­sign Track key­note at this year’s De­velop con­fer­ence – tak­ing place in Brighton from July 12–14 – and will talk about how dis­rup­tive tech­nol­ogy can, and should, lead to dis­rup­tive de­sign.

What should De­velop at­ten­dees ex­pect from your key­note? Vince Far­quhar­son It’s about the con­ver­gence of tech­nol­ogy with de­sign and cre­ativ­ity, and the fact that we find tech­nol­ogy em­pow­er­ing and ex­cit­ing but maybe not in the same way that many other com­pa­nies do. Gen­er­ally, com­pa­nies tend to use tech­nol­ogy to do some­thing faster or bet­ter. We do do that, but for us that’s not re­ally the point. For us, it’s that it al­lows us to do things we couldn’t do be­fore. Stuff that was ei­ther im­pos­si­ble tech­ni­cally, or cool things we never would’ve had the time to try be­fore.

So your ap­proach is about free­ing your­selves up to fo­cus on game­play ideas as much as pos­si­ble? VF Ex­actly. We can try out all these dif­fer­ent things, and it’s very evo­lu­tion­ary – the best ones sur­vive. When you’ve taken a year and a half to make your en­gine tech to try it out, you’re com­mit­ted. So the more tech­nol­ogy that comes along that al­lows things to be eas­ier, the more creative we can be and the more things we can throw at the wall to see what sticks. But also when fea­tures come along that al­low us to do things that we couldn’t do be­fore, we re­ally have the time and the space to think about how that new tech­nol­ogy jump can al­low us to do some­thing cool, and not just for the fea­ture’s sake. You take that new tech­nol­ogy, what­ever it is, and throw it back into the mix, reeval­u­ate ev­ery­thing, and all of sud­den you’ve got a game idea that didn’t make sense be­fore today. That’s what gets us ex­cited. Syl­vain Cornil­lon De­sign par­a­digms were cre­ated due to the tech­no­log­i­cal con­straints of the past, but with new tech­nol­ogy they needn’t hold true any more. World’s Adrift is al­most en­tirely an ex­am­ple of that.

“We try to think of threads that no one else is look­ing at – then it’s about how we jump into that cat­e­gory”

In an in­dus­try that clings to ex­ist­ing mod­els, how risky is your ap­proach? SC A lot of what the in­dus­try does, es­pe­cially in terms of con­tent and con­tent gen­er­a­tion, is based on work­flows that have been op­ti­mised to be as fast as pos­si­ble and to gen­er­ate as much as pos­si­ble. But to do that you have very rigid work­flows. And new tech­nolo­gies – for ex­am­ple, for us Unity was an im­por­tant as­pect of that, and Im­prob­a­ble’s Spa­tialOS is another one – al­low us to be flex­i­ble in our own work­flow. Now, we‘re never as ef­fi­cient as a big triple-A team with the num­ber of peo­ple we have, but we keep them very flex­i­ble. We try to stay away from things that will lock us down too much.

What sort of prob­lems does it cre­ate?

VF A peren­nial prob­lem we have when we do a new game is de­cid­ing which cat­e­gories we’re go­ing to tick for the var­i­ous stores, be­cause ev­ery­thing we do doesn’t re­ally con­form to the stan­dard tick­boxes. When we’re asked what genre of game Sur­geon Sim­u­la­tor is, we have to sit around for half an hour work­ing out what we’re go­ing to say. And we have those same ridicu­lous con­ver­sa­tions for ev­ery sin­gle thing that we do. For us, we try to think of threads that no one else is look­ing at, and then it’s about how we jump into that cat­e­gory: we want to own the toast genre [laughs].

Sur­geon Sim­u­la­tor used tech­nol­ogy to de­lib­er­ately ob­fus­cate play­ers’ abil­ity to in­ter­act with it. It seems to il­lus­trate a full rev­o­lu­tion of your de­sign ap­proach.

SC The ori­gin of Sur­geon Sim­u­la­tor was from a game jam where you got bonus points for us­ing ten keys on the key­board. The team re­alised that it didn’t work as they were de­vel­op­ing it, so they lim­ited it to five. And if you look at later ver­sions on touch­screens and even VR, that as­pect has gone away. We ap­proach tech­nol­ogy in the same way that we do game jam con­straints. We look at what new pos­si­bil­i­ties a piece of tech­nol­ogy give us, and then from there we come to a de­sign that’s dif­fer­ent and orig­i­nal. But we might then re­alise that we can do what we want to do with old tech­nol­ogy. It doesn’t mat­ter – the con­straint or tech helped cre­atively. So that weird loop that you men­tion, it’s like we re­ally care about tech­nol­ogy and con­straints at the be­gin­ning, and then we make a de­sign out of it, and af­ter that, tech­nol­ogy is just a means to an end – it seeds the cre­ativ­ity, but doesn’t drive it fur­ther down the line.

FROM TOP Bossa CTO Syl­vain Cornil­lon and COO Vince Far­quhar­son

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