Hold To Re­set

Build­ing a new game, a new stu­dio and a new life from the ground up

EDGE - - DISPATCHES PERSPECTIVE - ALEX HUTCHIN­SON Alex Hutchin­son is co-founder of Mon­treal-based Typhoon Stu­dios. He can be found on Twit­ter at @BangBangClick

Hi there! I’m Alex, and just un­der seven months ago I quit the best and most suc­cess­ful job I’ve ever had in or­der to start a com­pany with two friends in a re­pur­posed mo­tion-cap­ture stu­dio with padded black walls and no win­dows. We spent the next two days build­ing IKEA fur­ni­ture and dis­cussing how long we had un­til we ran out of money.

My busi­ness part­ners – Reid Sch­nei­der and Yas­sine Ri­ahi – and I had been talk­ing about it off and on for years, but it never seemed like the right time. Maybe one of us was fin­ish­ing a game, or we weren’t fi­nan­cially sta­ble enough to do some­thing po­ten­tially fi­nan­cially dis­as­trous while still feed­ing our kids, or the mar­ket in gen­eral just didn’t seem amenable to the kind of games we wanted to make. It had hit the point that when­ever we talked about it, our friends would qui­etly ex­tri­cate them­selves from the sit­u­a­tion and drift away.

Well, we did it. This col­umn will chart a course from de­cid­ing to take the plunge and through, if ev­ery­thing goes to plan, to the an­nounce­ment of our first game.

First, though, a bit about my­self. I grew up in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia, far from the de­vel­op­ment hubs of Amer­ica, Ja­pan or the UK. One of my ear­li­est jobs in the in­dus­try was de­sign­ing li­censed ti­tles for the Game Boy Ad­vance at a stu­dio based in a strip mall an hour’s com­mute from the city. The phone would ring in Au­gust; a pub­lisher would re­veal that they had for­got­ten they were con­trac­tu­ally obliged to de­liver three Marvel games by Christ­mas, and faced los­ing the li­cence. What could we do in eight weeks?

In the early 2000s I was hired by Maxis to de­sign a Sim City game for con­soles. I would fi­nally get my break over­seas! The project was can­celled while my plane was in the air. I re­mem­ber a meet­ing with my pro­ducer on my first day: did I still want to stay? It was a bizarre ques­tion con­sid­er­ing I had just quit my job and sold all my fur­ni­ture. Over the fol­low­ing few years I was a de­signer on a few con­sole Sims ti­tles, and lead de­signer on Spore. I did a quick stint at EA Mon­treal di­rect­ing Army Of Two: 40th

Day, be­fore get­ting a call from Ubisoft where I di­rected As­sas­sin’s Creed III and Far Cry 4.

It took me over a decade to go from de­sign­ing games with vir­tu­ally zero chance of suc­cess to work­ing on some ex­cit­ing, rel­e­vant and im­por­tant se­ries, but still some­thing wasn’t sit­ting right with me.

Di­rect­ing a game for a big com­pany like EA or Ubisoft is, I imag­ine, a sim­i­lar feel­ing to di­rect­ing a movie in the Marvel uni­verse: you have ac­cess to re­sources, sup­port and power that you oth­er­wise could never dream of. You have the op­por­tu­nity to find an au­di­ence in the tens of mil­lions. ‘Je­sus fuck,’ you might rhetor­i­cally think to your­self, ‘even if I can only sneak in half the fea­tures I would choose to make, that’s amaz­ing.’ On the other hand, you’re choos­ing to become part of a great ma­chine, and to suc­ceed you must ac­knowl­edge the mag­ni­tude of the col­lab­o­ra­tion. You can in­sert plenty of your own per­sonal ideas, move the tone or change the em­pha­sis, but you need to hon­our the fran­chise and uni­verse you’re work­ing within. Oth­er­wise, you’re fired.

And then one day you wake up and think that per­haps the cost of start­ing out in that strip mall in Aus­tralia in the early 2000s was in­ter­nal­is­ing a kind of cul­tural cringe: the sense that you’d started too far back in the field to get to the front. But then you look around, and see the qual­ity of peo­ple you could put to­gether, and the ma­tu­rity of mid­dle­ware com­pared to a decade ago, and the ex­plo­sion of dif­fer­ent de­liv­ery plat­forms that mean you’re no longer be­holden to re­tail and you think, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it. Even if we fail, let’s make it an ag­gres­sive, noble fail­ure that makes the at­tempt worth­while.’ No­body wants to end up as the guy at the bar say­ing I coulda – I shoulda – be­cause that means you didn’t. I joked this morn­ing that the only real fail­ure is a “fail­ure to fail”; so long as we put some­thing out that has the core of our ideas in it, even if it doesn’t find an au­di­ence, I’ll con­sider it a per­sonal suc­cess.

So here we are. I won’t lie: the young me is pretty stoked to be writ­ing a col­umn for

Edge. The adult me is a bit busy be­ing mildly ter­ri­fied of burn­ing his ca­reer to the ground. This col­umn will be about whether that hap­pens or not. Thanks for read­ing. If there’s any­thing spe­cific you re­ally want to know, send me a tweet: I have a fond­ness for an­swer­ing things di­rectly. And if you’ve got any good jokes I can steal, so much the better.

Di­rect­ing a game for a big com­pany is, I imag­ine, a sim­i­lar feel­ing to di­rect­ing a movie in the Marvel uni­verse

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