Double Release Day! Zoo Tycoon and Tearaway

Feeling a little sleepy today after celebrating the release of two very different games that I had a hand in.

For a wee while now I’ve been busily working on Zoo Tycoon for the Xbox One at Frontier Developments. Yesterday, on Xbox One launch day, it was released! Animating animals running around, getting washed, eating, playing and hugging has been both educational and joyful. A few bits and pieces have made their way onto my latest showreel. Trawling the internet for videos of animals then watching them over and over again isn’t something most people get to do as a legitimate part of their working day. As you might imagine those searches did also inevitably bring some discomforting and downright horrifying results as well. Not all real life zoo tycoons are quite as respectful of their animals as you are compelled to be in the virtual zoos of the game.

On a happier note, the reviews so far have been very complimentary about the way the animals look and move *applauds chums*. The finished game certainly surpassed my expectations considering the gargantuan nature of the task. Everyone involved can be very proud of their achievements. Here’s a video of some of my colleagues talking about the game and gurning at a chimp:

Last year I spent a little time at inspirational game developer Media Molecule (more about that experience here) and the game I worked on, Tearaway, was also released yesterday. The reviews have been pouring in and they are pretty much universally gushing. Media Molecule have created a game which uses the Playstation Vita to create a unique and carefully directed gameplay experience that would be impossible on any other platform. The whole tactile concept of the game arose from the device it was developed for and the new storytelling and game mechanics it creates. That said, if you gave Media Molecule a deck of cards they’d probably come up with a uniquely entertaining way of using them. Here are some of them talking about Tearaway:

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Tearaway

Last month I completed a little stint of work at Media Molecule (of Little Big Planet fame) on their newly announced game Tearaway, for the Playstation Vita. Here is the promo video:

You can even make your very own papercraft elk from the video by printing out this pdf

Media Molecule go about the business of making games in a good and refreshing way; working really fast in small teams, developing lots of fun tools for their designers and players, experimenting until the game feels rewarding and seldom getting bogged down in the logistics of production. While many companies seem to be striving only for a ‘filmic’ experience, at Media Molecule gameplay is king. In Tearaway their focus on highly interactive whimsy is shown to really great effect as your fingertips tear into the world to help iota, the intrepid hero of the game, deliver a mysterious message to you.

Being in their Guildford studio with a deadline approaching meant I saw the Molecules bringing everything together at a bewilderingly fast pace. The studio itself is full of fun stuff and the company knows how to treat its staff properly, acknowledging their life outside the studio and contributing in various ways to their personal and professional development. The programmers, artists and designers are almost alarmingly brilliant and, partly as a result of the small team size, everyone seems to have a personal investment in the projects.

Media Molecule’s fast design philosophy presents big challenges for an animator because good animation takes time and making it respond to a player in a satisfying way, whilst still moving well, can take even longer so gameplay and animation quality are sometimes uneasy bedfellows. An animator (and there are very few) at a company like this needs to be able to produce a lot of good work in a very short time and not be upset about throwing it all away and starting again the next day. No room for being precious! The reward is not a showreel to get you into Pixar but rather a constantly stimulating working environment and great games which you were part of creating. I certainly hope to go back and do more work there in the future.

linky linky linkies:

www.mediamolecule.com/

tearaway.mediamolecule.com/