“BigHead BASH” Open Beta on Kongregate

Everyone at Spicy Horse is very excited to announce BigHead BASH is now in Open Beta on Kongregate!

Who’s up for some free-to-play BASHING action?

Time to get of the farm, stop counting cows and start collecting exclusive toys and weapons! This is the first of three new titles Spicy will release in 2012 – all of them designed to push online gaming to new heights of quality and fun.

Like collecting things? You can get Mr. Destructoid and his Rooster Launcher, or if you’re in a more gentle mood, Nurse Tacky and a Chainsaw. Monkeys, lasers, robots, pirates and more! BigHead BASH is where your toys go to play!

New toys and weapons will be launched every two weeks, with exclusive posters and wallpapers on our website and Facebook page.

Check out www.bigheadbash.com and join the fun!

UPDATE: The kind folks over at Destructoid have covered the Open Beta story here.

Outerlight and Indie Development

Just finished reading an excellent interview with independent game developer Outerlight’s co-founder, Chris Peck. It tells the exciting, then sad story of an indie development team struggling to keep their head above water while maintaining their creative core and staying true to the reasons they got into game development to begin with.

An excerpt from the article explains what’s wrong with the traditional publisher-financed model of development (the way games have been funded since forever):

The traditional publishing model is awful for developers, it’s their gilded cage. It requires costly pitching, to emissaries of publishers, who return to corporate rooms & badly pitch the idea to large groups who need consensus to act, and typically take 6 months to close any deal they offer. Publishers are motivated by greed, but restrained by fear of risk, and thus seek sure deals, licenses and sequels, which makes pitching innovation almost pointless. Should you get a deal, the usual is 20 percent royalties, but after the retailer takes their share of 50 percent, you are getting 20 percent of the 50 percent left (so 10 percent of retail price). That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that the developer is the one that actually pays for the development, the publisher has just advanced the developer their share of the royalties to pay for making the game.

What I find interesting about the revelations inside the article (which are in fact nothing new to long-time observers of the industry) is that where the industry has traditionally failed the developer, it’s also now starting to fail the publisher. The model which once served the publisher is now destroying the very development environment in which they live. It’s evolved “gaming” into an ever-tightening spiral of sequels and safe bets while starving the sort of independent creative ability which might help it to get on top of emerging trends like online, social, mobile, digital distribution, episodic and trans-media.

When developers can no longer survive in the poisoned environment they are absorbed (which just prolongs the inevitable) or they evolve (moving into emerging marketings like those listed above). Here’s hoping Outerlight’s people are able to evolve into a new and more compatible space – they’ve certainly proven they’ve got the creativity and smarts, too bad the system failed them.

Truth is, we’ll all be better off when the dinosaurs finally die out. Just be wary of being crushed under them as they fall over.

Bigger Budgets != More Quality

Read on gi.biz today of an interview with Romuald Capron, COO at Arkane Studios of his views on budgets and team size as they relate to the creation of quality games. He says of smaller teams and outsourcing,

“I think that’s a good way to maintain reasonable budgets, and I think a lot of companies are coming round to this way of working right now,” he continued. “They’re realising that having 200 people in a studio – okay, it can work for ten months of scheduled development, but is it the way to make a triple-A game?

“Maybe they could re-organise and say, okay, let’s keep to a three-year schedule again, but with less people – and more polishing at the end? At some point I’m not sure the markets can follow as fast as the development costs.”

From where I’m sitting it’s great to hear solid developers touting a method of production that we’ve been utilizing at Spicy Horse for the past 4 years. All of our 3D asset production is outsourced (nearly 99% of it) to nearby outsource shops like China West Coast and Nuke. These guys become a virtual extension of our team (greatly benefiting from the fact that we’re all in the same city) – allowing us to produce and wrangle content like a 150+ person team while maintaining an internal core size of less than 65.

There’s a lot to be said for simplicity in production teams – higher communication, accountability and quality output being the three most obvious benefits.

As 2nd-hand sales and piracy continue to threaten the viability of larger-budget games, this sort of thinking will become more and more critical to publishers and developers alike – the simple fact is that cheaper games (which maintain AAA quality) are better able to survive the drag placed on them by things like 2nd-hand sales and piracy.

Read the full article HERE.

Off the Map in China

Off The Map in China

Off the Map in China

Gamasutra has posted an interview by Christian Nutt with your truly. It begins with…

Famous for his work with id Software and on EA-published cult classic Alice, American McGee set up shop in Shanghai, China, in 2007 with his new studio, Spicy Horse. Though the company’s first game, Grimm, for the GameTap digital service didn’t make a big splash, McGee maintains that developing the game was instrumental in setting up a tightly-run and efficient organization in China, one which has helped him reexamine the very process of developing games.

In fact, McGee suggests that most of what developers know about working in China is wrong. He suggests that process can lead to a crunch-free environment and great quality games — his team is currently working on a sequel to Alice for EA, for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Says McGee, “EA has talked about trying to figure out how it is we’re doing what we’re doing, because clearly they’re looking at what we’re doing and they’re seeing us hit all the milestones and come in ahead of time, and come in high quality, and everything that they could ask for from a development team. [But] I don’t know if you could export it.”

Christian and I go on to talk about life and work in China, cultural and development impacts on starting and running a studio in Shanghai, and more. You can read the full article here.

Also, if you’re interested in some of the thinking that originally inspired me to move to China, I suggest you check out “Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic” The book examines how American culture has become obsessed with consumption – and how it’s destroying people’s ability to be happy with themselves and what they have.

Grimm Postmortem

Models & Animations Pipeline

Models & Animation Pipeline

Gamasutra is featuring a lengthy postmortem of “Grimm”. The article was primarily written by Grimm’s producer Wim Coveliers with contributions by all of the Spicy Horse team. It does a good job in detailing the high-level things that went right and wrong during the production of Grimm. From the article:

Going into production, we knew we had a lot on our hands: we were going to develop the world’s first weekly episodic game, and we had exactly one year before the first episodes were scheduled to air.

Since nobody had done a project with these variables, we had to create most of our scheduling and pipelines from scratch, based on the team’s instincts and varied experience.

Now, a year and a half after starting development of our prototype, eight episodes of Grimm have been released; sixteen more episodes will be distributed in the next several months.

The game has been very well received: it has become the best-selling game on the GameTap service, and with plans to bring it to other digital distribution platforms, the future looks very bright for Grimm (however much he hates bright things himself!)

And while the article provides some interesting insights, it barely scratches the surface of the story – the energy, ideas, pain, and joy that went into building a new studio in China while developing a first-of-kind episodic game. One thing that always amazes me are the personal stories carried by the individuals in our team – the backgrounds, travels, adventures, loves, losses, and other unique elements that make the people, and in turn the team, what they are… A really beautiful thing.

I’m proud to have been a part of it all. And hopeful for what the future holds in store for Spicy Horse. As we head into the New Year (Chinese!), I’m wishing everyone prosperity, health, and happiness.

Bring on the Year of the Cow! Moo!