In recent years, the video game industry has seen a trend where developers are moving from AAA studios to work on smaller, independent projects. Last year, The Last of Us director Bruce Straley left Naughty Dog after 18 years to work on passion projects. Caroline Marchal, lead designer on Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, left Quantic Dream to start Interior Night, a studio focused on innovative narrative games.
Most recently, a small group of developers from Evolution Studios—the company behind Driveclub and the MotorStorm series—came together to form Wushu Studios. To find out more about the studio and its heritage, OnlySP spoke to studio head Alan McDermott.
As a new studio, the team aims to create something “unique and memorable”, and naming the company “Wushu” was the first step to doing so. “We felt that Wushu had a ring of ‘super ninjas’ to it, and who wouldn’t want to be a super ninja?”
The “super-ninjas” joining McDermott at Wushu are design director Nigel Kershaw and art director Stuart Trevor. Kershaw acted as game director on 2008’s MotorStorm: Pacific Rift, but left Evolution in 2011 and worked in several lead positions at studios including Sumo Digital, Revolution Software (Broken Sword 5), and Deep Silver (Homefront: The Revolution) before joining McDermott at Secret Sorcery Limited (Tethered) and later following him to Wushu. Meanwhile, Trevor contributed artisitic work to projects from Nintendo, Bandai Namco, Volition, and Media Molecule, as well as non-gaming companies such as Ford and Adidas.
With such a skilled and extensive work history behind the trio, maintaining leadership positions at large AAA studios is a viable—and likely more financially secure—option, but instead, they created an independent studio. McDermott felt enticed to take the leap because “the AAA environment can sometimes feel like creativity comes second […] so the lure of the indie approach for a creative-led process is very appealing.”
McDermott felt that, although the AAA landscape provided opportunities to build upon past ideas, the appeal of the creativity-led indie scene was too great to resist. “Whilst I think it’s great to play to strengths, there’s a lot of interesting subject matter out there to explore. The experience we have of AAA development isn’t being abandoned or forgotten; it’s going to help us realise our vision without dampening our passions.”
The appeal of indie development has proven to be more than a passing fad for McDermott, who described the process as “both fantastic and terrifying – but mostly fantastic! Being the masters of our own creative destiny has been a refreshing and liberating experience.” He has found that the smaller team has allowed for a more open culture where any team member can share their ideas. “That’s a much harder culture to foster in a larger team where everything needs to be much more carefully co-ordinated and, unfortunately, not everyone gets a voice in the creative process.”
The open culture has not only granted the team creative freedom and prompted a more encouraging atmosphere, but has ultimately helped the development process, with multiple perspectives allowing several ideas to enter the fray. “We’re all gamers here at Wushu Studios and we love a wide variety of games, so everyone brings a unique perspective to the table,” McDermott said. “There’s always something to be learned from a gamer’s experience with a certain type of mechanic or motif, and we get to share our thoughts quickly and easily with each other, which is awesome.”
Several of the key members of Wushu left Evolution to join Secret Sorcery Limited, a development studio founded by McDermott in 2015 that focused on virtual reality games. “The immersive world of virtual reality was a paradigm shift in how we think about playing, designing, and developing games,” McDermott said. “Secret Sorcery’s goal was to be adventurous and focus on gameplay in VR rather than just an experience.”
Following the release of the god game Tethered, McDermott realised that “gamers weren’t quite ready to commit to VR yet,” so he created Wushu Studios to explore other exciting projects.
The developer has remained tight-lipped on its upcoming science-fiction game, which began prototyping in September 2017 and uses Unreal Engine 4. Questioned about the genre, McDermott hinted that “science fiction is all about ‘what if’s’ – it’s about a speculative creative approach to reality.”
While the game is still in the early stages, the team feels confident in its success. “Our concept is solid and our core gameplay mechanics are great,” McDermott revealed. “A key part of the pre-production process is ensuring that we understand how our game will combine all the individual components and what that feels like to play. That’s where we are right now – instead of just working on a ‘vertical slice’ of the game, we’re thinking about a horizontal slice too.”
The game is set to be quite different to previous projects from the team. McDermott revealed that it will be shown privately to potential partners at the Game Developers Conference, and they hope to reveal more about the game publicly soon.
“We’ve ended up with a really exciting project that’s absolutely not what you’d expect from us given the team’s heritage and we can’t wait to talk more about it!”