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Editor's Note: The mysterious person known as Superannuation shows up every two weeks like a new paycheck, if you had a job that paid you in gaming rumors and secrets, all sourced to publicly available information.
This time, he/she/it has info on the people who oversaw some Metroid Primes, the people who made Dark Void, and Rome: Total War. On with it...
Announced to much ballyhoo in fall 2008, Armature Studio, founded by principles from the Metroid Prime franchise, has fallen off the radar in a way that perhaps no other studio has this console cycle. In their first four years of existence, they very quietly released only one game: the Vita version of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which came out last June. However, a handful of resumes provide some insight into the mysterious studio's activities over the past several years.
Shorty after the studio's formation, Armature struck a deal with Electronic Arts through the publisher's Blueprint division, headed up by industry veteran Lou Castle. Under its arrangement with EA, Armature's small team was to serve as an incubator of intellectual property for the gaming giant‚ & developing various concepts and prototypes that would then be handed off to another team, with Armature's staff keeping a close eye on the projects. The Armature deal was one part of Blueprint's overall mission to figure out ways to counter the rising cost of game development.
Unfortunately, two months after Armature's public debut, EA shuttered the Blueprint division, which likely caused the relationship between the two to go south.
A contract artist says in his resume that he spent a month in late 2009 at Armature contributing to "a military FPS game for the Nintendo Wii system," perhaps a bit of a surprise given that Armature's founders seemed particularly keen on the opportunity to work on less technologically restrictive non-Nintendo platforms after leaving Retro. Another former employee, a technical rigger who was at the studio from March 2010 to April 2012, lists canceled games for WB and Capcom as credits from his time Armature on his resume.
Additionally, an Armature game designer, who joined in fall 2011 and left in September, says that he worked on a cancelled Unreal-based "Unannounced Action Shooter" with both single and multiplayer features, as well as a secondary pitch to Microsoft. (It's unknown if the cancelled action shooter is the same as the project for WB, but it is very possibly not the Capcom project as that was rumored to have been cancelled in summer 2011.)
Above: Metroid Prime 2
Alongside his work at Armature, studio cofounder Todd Keller helped out fellow Austin developers Certain Affinity by providing concept art for Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition and Halo 4's multiplayer maps. Among other things, Keller's art portfolio features what seems to be an interesting piece of concept art for the aforementioned Microsoft pitch that depicts a bunch of Avatars trying to maximize property damage in a given intersection a la Burnout Crash.
Towards the end of a former Armature animator's demo reel are a few brief clips of seeming in-game footage featuring a lanky giant robot bearing an uncanny semblance to the golem in the header image of Armature's website. The clips hint at some sort of action-puzzler where that giant robot is a companion of spunky punk rock character traversing through a ravaged, post-apocalyptic landscape. Roughly lining up the timelines of this employee's time at Armature and Armature's history suggests this footage may have been from Armature's game for Capcom. (There are also some mech and stylized action sequence previz animations that appear to be from work at Armature.)
As to what Armature is working on now, an August job opening alluded to porting "PS3/XBOX360 titles to handheld systems," so they are presumably focusing on more contract work.
Seattle developer Airtight Games appears to be working on a second collaboration with publisher Square Enix, following last summer's lighthearted puzzler Quantum Conundrum.
The resume of a senior environment artist at the developer mentions an "unannounced AAA title" for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC for Square Enix. Lest you think this unannounced title is some mix-up referring to Quantum Conundrum, this artist joined Airtight in February 2012—well after that game's announcement—and his name does not appear anywhere on the Quantum Conundrum credits.
Above: Dark Void
Rather, this Square Enix game seems to be Airtight's primary project—an "unannounced AAA title" it has been developing since the completion of work on Dark Void. The company's website describes this project as "another ambitious AAA title in a genre that is both unique and refreshingly unexplored."
Given the development timeline, Airtight's current AAA effort is likely a continuation of a project called Fate, a post-Dark Void project for an unnamed Japanese publisher which was temporarily placed on hold in April 2011 so that work on the game "could be reassessed." That decision resulted in much of the team working on Fate being let go. Assets from the time of the developmental pause suggested an aesthetic influence from BioShock, but the game has likely changed considerably since then.
Sega Studios Australia's next title will probably have little in common with its recent 2012 London Olympics tie-in game: the very first item listed among desired qualities in a recent senior designer opening at the studio is "Extensive 'Combat Design' experience from a high profile combat-based title." Also, the Sega subsidiary is seeking those with "An excellent understanding of combat game mechanics and dynamics, and how to create game experiences to the requirements of Brand and New I.P.'s."
About a year ago, Sega Studios Australia made nearly half of its employees redundant as it restructured to focus on opportunities in the emerging digital games space. Within the studio's statement on the layoffs, it said that it had "signed a multi-product deal focussing [sic] across the digital marketplace."
Prior to being renamed Sega Studios Australia in 2011, Sega's Aussie studio was known as The Creative Assembly Australia, and produced games such as the console strategy title Stormrise and medieval and Roman-themed entries in the Total War franchise.
The LinkedIn page of Sega Studios Australia's director says the studio is positioning itself as "a new SEGA leader in digital download and F2P multi-platform games" by "Developing licensed & original IP for PSN, XBLA, Wii-U, Vita, 3DS, PC, iOS & Android."
Square Enix will release the latest game from former Valve designer and Portal co-creator Kim Swift, with an official unveiling due this weekend.
The game, which Square's tease dubs "incredibly fascinating and quirky", is being developed at Dark Void developer Airtight Games, where Swift is now a project lead. We'll find out more about the title this Saturday at the PAX Prime show in Seattle.
Swift joined Valve straight out of Washington tech college DigiPen in 2005, where she co-developed Narbacular Drop - the direct inspiration for Portal's basic mechanics. As well as Portal, she also worked on Left 4 Dead 2 before leaving for Airtight back in December 2009.
Airtight's last effort, Capcom-published jet-pack actioner Dark Void, missed the mark when it launched back in January 2010, picking up a scrappy 5/10 from Eurogamer's Dan Pearson.
The developer behind last year's action game Dark Void is working on new games it reckons are triple-A quality.
At least one of the games in development at Airtight Games, which has Portal developer Kim Swift on its books, is for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, a job listing on Gamasutra revealed.
"We are now working on several new AAA titles for a variety of markets," reads the listings. "This is a chance to get on board a unique project with a quality focused development and publishing team."
It also looks likely Airtight's new games will be created using Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3.
Airtight was founded in 2004 by members of the team that produced flight game Crimson Skies. Dark Void, its debut game, was panned by critics and flopped at the till point. Dan Pearson awarded it 5/10 in Eurogamer's review.
Kim Swift, one of the chief architects behind 2007 hit Portal, joined Airtight in 2009 to work on a mystery project.
In November last year, Brad Pitt's production company Plan B Entertainment secured the rights to produce a big screen adaptation of Dark Void.
After not one, but two Western-developed sales blunders, Capcom is planning to stick with its home turf.
Capcom's president, Haruhiro Tsujimoto, tells the Financial Times that the company is giving up on developing new franchise titles in the West after the catastrophic sales of two of its attempts, Bionic Commando and Dark Void. Predicted to sell in the millions, neither did better than 750,000 copies. Now, Capcom wants out.
We already knew back in December how upset Capcom was about Bionic Commando's less than average debut. However, Dark Void may have been the straw that broke the camel's back.
Without the fan base or movie tie-in of, for example, its successful Street Fighter franchise, Capcom realized that original titles like Dark Void were too risky to keep investing in. From now on, the only reason the company will employ developers from outside of Japan is to build sequels or new versions of their existing games. (See: Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, Dead Rising 2.)
Tsujimoto said he in part blames the changing face of the game industry—now rife with downloadable games, social gaming, and new gaming platforms like the iPad—for the lower sales of new Capcom packaged game titles. He said Capcom will focus its efforts on developing new games for these new mediums instead.
Capcom shuns foreign game developers [FT.com - subscription]
Last year was a rough year. Just ask Osaka-based Capcom. The game company, which is best known for the Street Fighter series, sales profits down. Way down.
According to an official statement, Capcom saw new sales down 27.3 percent to ¥66.8 billion. Net profit was down 73.1 percent from the previous year to ¥2.17 billion.
Sales were strong in Japan for titles like Wii game Monster Hunter Tri and PSP game Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. Elsewhere, games like Resident Evil 5 and Street Fighter IV continued to do brisk business.
"However, weak sales of some new titles besides the releases of Lost Planet 2, Super Street Fighter IV and Monster Hunter Tri for overseas were postponed to the next fiscal year significantly depressed sales compared to previous year," stated Capcom. Those "weak" selling titles, Capcom noted, were namely Bionic Commando, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles and Dark Void.
But with a battery of big titles coming out, Capcom should be just fine.
The man behind Mega Man is very busy these days.
Not because of his 1987 creation and the more than 50 games it spawned since. No, Keiji Inafune's work is sadly free of the blue humonoid robot and his endless battles. Nowadays Inafune spends most of his time traveling the world keeping an eye on Capcom's other creations.
As the game maker's new head of global production, Inafune says he has only one goal: To make sure that all of Capcom's games have that, to borrow a French phrase, je ne sais quoi.
"It's a common comment I hear that games created in Europe aren't really Capcom games, that games created in Japan are true Capcom games," Inafune recently told a gathering of journalists at their annual Captivate event in Hawaii. "I want to put an end to that, basically saying that whether games are created in America or Japan or anywhere in the world, I will be the one overlooking it and so it will have that Capcom flavor that fans know and love."
The news comes after a mixed year for Capcom. The past 12 months or so saw the publisher help to reinvigorate the fighting genre with the release of Street Fighter IV to consoles and the continued success of their Resident Evil franchise, but it also saw a few flops including Bionic Commando and January 2010's Dark Void.
Capcom's biggest disappointments of the past 12 months have to be Bionic Commando, which received middling reviews, and Dark Void which was perceived, at best, as forgettable. Both were products of a new initiative by the Japanese developer to try and blend the aesthetics, artistry and mechanics of Western and Japanese game design.
That initiative was announced at the 2009 Captivate event in Monte Carlo. At the time Inafune said that Capcom knew it needed to figure out how to climb out of what he called a pit that had Capcom at the bottom of the industry. The key, he realized, was to focus on globalization. The first result of that effort was the widely acclaimed Dead Rising, a game that other developers, he noted, said looked Western but felt Japanese.
So last year they decided to push things further west, perhaps a bit too far west.
Now, Inafune says the company is working to perfect this idea of collaboration not only between studios, but cultures.
Dead Rising 2, for instance, is being created by Canadian studio Blue Castle Games, but Inafune is making sure that the game will still have that Capcom feel.
"One of the biggest things we do is have more staff visits," he said. "We have a deeper collaboration through the sheer amount of communication, a lot more meetings, a lot more emails.
"Rather than have the development team do what they want to do by themselves, Capcom is trying to inject the Capcom flavor into it."
And, judging by what I saw earlier this month, it seems to be working. Dead Rising 2 feels like a game that has found the sweet spot between Western and Japanese game development.
While Inafune may have been overstating things last year when he said that Japanese game development has one foot in the grave, he's right to be worrying over his own company's health in an increasingly global gaming market.
The key, though, will be for Capcom and other Japanese developers to find a way to make games that appeal to a broad spectrum of gamers without losing a sense of where they came from and who they are. And that means being willing to make some bad games and learn from those mistakes.
The coming year should show whether Capcom is able to put into practice the lessons that Dark Void and Bionic Commando seems to have taught them and produce a game that is the best of two worlds.
"It's a common comment I hear that games created in Europe aren't really Capcom games," said Keiji Inafune, the man behind Mega Man, Dead Rising and Onimusha. "That games created in Japan are true Capcom games.
"I want to put an end to that, basically saying that whether games are created in America or Japan or anywhere in the world, I will be the one overlooking it and so it will have that Capcom flavor that fans know and love."
To accomplice that Capcom named Inafune the company's global head of production.
"So one of the thing I want people to know is that now that I am overseeing every part of Capcom R&D you can be sure that that unified vision is going to come through in all of our titles no matter where they are created."
Inafune's new title comes just a year after the company stressed their desire to create more games around the world to appeal to a wider, more diverse audience, something Inafune has long championed.
"Those of you who know me, know how serious I am about trying to make global games on a global scale especially thinking about America and Europe when designing a lot of our titles," he said. "I've been pushing really hard for the last several years to try and gear our games in that direction."
But, he said, the problem was that some of their studios and teams didn't have one "unified direction"
To help Inafune deal with developers in other countries, he also hired Shinji Futami to serve as his "mouthpiece to convey (Inafune's) feelings, his ideas, his philosophy to the U.S."