In response to part 1 here is the video of the Channel 33 broadcast. You can spot Natalie towards the end working on some concept art for Bonfire Studios.
If you happen to live in the Dallas area be sure to tune in to Channel 33 tonight at 9:00CST to see a special news segment about women in the gaming industry. Natalie is featured on the programme along with women from other studios. The programme may have some footage of inside Bonfire Studios so keep your eye out.
Hopefully we’ll be able to get some video on here of the programme for those unable to tune in.
Incase you are wondering – Natalie is a concept / 2D artist at Bonfire
Dusty’s final interview part is now online at IncGamers. Having previously touched on MMO’s and the past at Ensemble Studios attention now turns to the future with Windstorm Studios. First up, how and why did Dusty choose to start up Windstorm? We know that Dusty was very passionate about the Halo MMO at Ensemble and must of been very saddened by the projects closure. It turns out that Dusty mooted the idea about setting up his own studio back in 2007 after Ensemble’s MMO project (codenamed “Titan”) was cancelled:
Titan, for me, was really the dream job. When they killed Titan, I started looking at what Ensemble was probably going to be working on next. I’d already been saving up some money on my own, thinking about starting up a studio, and I decided then that now was the time. It’s never easy to jump ship and go off and do things on your own – you never know how it’s going to do. It’s especially hard if you’re married and you have children and you’re looking at the difference between a secure job, with benefits and with a paycheck, versus a completely and totally unsecure job creating a company that’s building the most expensive kind of game you can build, in an industry hit by the hardest recession that it’s ever experienced! So, yeah, it wasn’t a great time from an economic standpoint, but from a personal standpoint it was the right time for me. I’d just decided that with the severance money from Microsoft combined with my own savings, I had enough money to be able to float myself for a couple of years. I knew the games that I wanted to build, so I decided now was the time to go forward with that.
Once the studio was set up Dusty and his studio immediately began work on some MMO prototypes before creating some excellent concept art and presentations to show for prospective game publishers. Unfortunately as discussed before there was some difficulty getting publisher commitment despite getting unanimous positive feedback about the game and the ideas. The problem is with the MMO genre is that the game development is very costly both at the beginning and in the games maintenance – servers, payments etc. Even though Dusty has come from working at a prestigious studio, Ensemble, publishers had difficulty in gauging what kind of company Windstorm was:
For the first eight months of the company’s lifetime, we were working on our prototype. We finished that around September and the prototype has been largely received with great enthusiasm. From about September through January I shopped the prototype to a number of different publishers, both international and within the States, and all of them have without exception, said “We love the idea, love the project, but we’re just not ready to go forward yet – and part of the problem is that we’re just not sure there’s enough of a real company here.” And I get that; I can sort of relate to that.
Its a tricky situation – approaching publishers with a brand new idea with a brand new unheard of company is always going to be a tough sell coupled with the high development costs and risk associated with the MMO genre things weren’t looking so good. However, not to worry as the MMO idea isn’t blown out of the water yet – Dusty is not one to give up so easily and has a plan for the studio going forward.
So the plan of attack right now is to go forward with a smaller single-player game, and get that out there for people to start playing. This will serve as a sort of introduction to the world that we want to build. So from that standpoint, we’re still doing really well. We haven’t got our project funded by an MMO developer yet, we’re not going forward with the MMO, but we are going forward with the smaller project. I have every anticipation of having enough funds to finish the small project. We’ll get it out there, and then we’ll see how it goes from there. If the project is really well received, and people like the world and they like the game, then that will hopefully provide enough credence for the company that a publisher will come and go “Hey, this company has some legs, we feel like it’s a real legitimate endeavour. We love this idea and people are really responding well to this idea, so let’s go forward with that.” And if it doesn’t? Well, then we gave it a hell of a go.
The single player game will be an RPG based on the same environment of the MMO project – a very exciting and unique world, futuristic, colourful with lots of flying cars. Its also great to hear Dusty is maintaining some of Ensemble’s fantastic development values as first introduced by Bruce Shelley:
There are two design tenets that came out of my time at Ensemble, and these are actually originally Bruce Shelley’s design tenets, back when he was working on Railroad Tycoon. The first is: build a world in which people want to play. This means bright colours and bright palettes, and a very appealing place. This will be absolutely true for any game that Windstorm Studios produces. If you look at the very first copies of Age of Empires 1, you’ll see that it uses a lot of bright colours and a lot of bright palettes.
The other is: make the first 15 minutes fun. If there are any design principles that are guiding the direction of Windstorm Studios games, it’s those two. Hopefully the first 15 minutes will be a good time, and it’ll be a place that you’ll want to play in.
With values and traditions like these being carried forward I am certain people will be very interested to hear about this very unique game. As Dusty’s studio is hard at work on bringing us this exciting game be sure to keep an eye out on the studios website and follow the studio on Twitter. As development continues I am sure that later this year we will begin to see more concept art and then screenshots and maybe a video trailer.
The estimate right now is to try and have something out there around November. That’s the plan of attack right now. Before that point we’ll make an initial announcement about the game itself, and then we’ll start trying to build some press, and some excitement, and some word of mouth, and talk about what the actual game is and the world that’s in the game and the characters, and stuff like that. I can tell you it’s not going to be a casual game – it’s very much going to be a character-oriented world-type game.
Exciting stuff. Good luck Dusty and the team at Windstorm Studios!
You can read the full part 2 of Dusty’s interview here at IncGamers:
Dusty Monk has been continued his talks with IncGamers this time expanding more on the cancelled Halo MMO codenamed “Titan” and believed to be titled Halo Universe. Confirming much of what we have read before that the change of management at Microsoft did not believe investment in the project was strategic and wanted to re-deploy resources in other games. The Halo MMO was upwards of a $90 million dollar project and there was even talk of new offices being built to support the studios MMO. However sadly the project didnt see the light of day other than some very early screenshots and concept art.
“There was a bit of a changing of the guard at Microsoft at this time, Microsoft, from its gaming division, was really changing directions. They were looking really hard at the Nintendo Wii and they were really excited by the numbers that the Wii was turning. This was about the time that Microsoft decided that its Xbox platform and XBLA really needed to go more in the direction of appealing to a more casual, broader audience.”
According to Dusty the MMO was going to compete directly with World of Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment. Ensemble had taken on Blizzard in the Real Time Strategy genre with Age of Empires competing against Star Craft. The next step was to compete in the MMO space.
“It was going to be the Halo MMO, and it was absolutely going to compete against WoW. You have to remember that Ensemble came from a standpoint of being really good at competing against Blizzard Entertainment. We had a pretty good history of knowing the types of stuff that Blizzard put into their games to make them really successful, and the kinds of things we’d need to put into an MMO to compete against Blizzard
Just to give you a couple of examples, we were using a heroic stylised artform. This heroic stylised artform is exactly the artform that you see being used in Star Wars: The Old Republic right now. It’s timeless. It doesn’t age itself like a game that’s built with a strictly realistic artform does.
We were developing a cover system. This cover system is in Star Wars: The Old Republic. We had the idea of quests – and like I said, this was between 2004 and 2007, before Warhamer Online had been released – but we had this idea of quests where you could participate and pull them together without having to be on the same team. This would be a public quest that everyone in a particular area could work on. That idea went into Warhammer Online.”
Certainly sounds like a very exciting and thought out project. The game had been in development between 2004 and 2007 so a huge amount of work would have been put in by the studio. Once the team was informed the project was to be cancelled Ensemble lost a few key staff who later went onto join other studios to work on MMO’s. One of those was the now famous Gregg Street who joined Blizzard Entertainment.
“We had all this incredible talent, we had the right people, the right passion, we had a phenomenally successful IP – the Halo IP.”
The talent at Ensemble Studios would of been perfect for the MMO project. Looking at how Ensemble built up successful RTS games I have no doubt the MMO would of been incredibly successful as well.
“Even though a lot of people talk about how you just can’t build a WoW killer, I absolutely believe that we could have built an MMO, if Microsoft had maintained their commitment, that if it hadn’t been a WoW killer it certainly would’ve competed.”
All is not lost though. If you are after an MMO keep your eye on Windstorm Studios, Dusty Monk’s startup company out of Ensemble Studios. They are working on a single player RPG at the moment and if successful will launch into a full blown MMO. I look forward to seeing what the great minds at Windstorm come up with. Be on the look out for updates on the project later this year.
Meanwhile stay tuned also for the full interview with Dusty Monk on incGamers where there will be more talk about Windstorm Studios.
To read more about this article head over to IncGamers:
Good news for Robot Entertainment fans as the studio increases the size of its community team. Justin Korthof who has previously worked as a Community Manager for Epic’s Gears of War is more commonly known under his alias “SixOkay“. Justin will be joining Duncan “Aloysius” Stanley in the mission to build and maintain excellent community websites which engage fans of the games and studio.
As Robot Entertainment continues to work hard on developing new games its very pleasing to hear investment is being made with community ventures. Keep an eye out for SixOkay on the forums and be sure to give him a warm welcome.
Windstorm Studios who are headed up by ex Ensemble programmer Dusty Monk has long believed to have been at work on a futuristic MMO game. There were even some concept art pieces released which can be seen below:
However in an interview with Inc Gamers, Dusty has revealed that the above project has been placed on hold, at least, in its MMO form that is. Instead Dusty’s Windstorm Studios will be pursuing the project in a Single Player RPG form.
“The plan of attack right now is to go forward with a smaller single-player game, and get that out there for people to start playing,”
Why the change of plan? It seems there were problems getting publisher commitment to the MMO project. We know from the past that MMO games have been a touchy subject with publishers including Microsoft who decided to cancel Ensemble Studios’ Halo MMO. Because MMO games are very expensive and take massive development time it can be difficult to get publishers to commit to new games based on new, untested intellectual property. Instead Windstorm are taking a leaf out of Runic Games’ book – the developers behind Torchlight. They started of introducing a game as a single player game and thanks to its success are now using the revenues brought from the single player game to help fund the larger MMO project.
“They put that game out there, and they put it on Steam for $20 USD a copy, and they did really well. And they’re using that game to fund an MMO!”
The single player game has even been tentatively scheduled for the end of this year. Perhaps Windstorm will be the next studio formed out of Ensemble to make the next great game along side iPhone developers NewToy and Fuzzycube.
The full interview between Inc Gamers and Dusty Monk will soon be made available and when it is I shall post a link here in a new blog post. For the moment check out the interview preview article on Inc Gamers here:
Hot on the heels of Robot Entertainment’s one year anniversary comes Bonfire’s own anniversary and is blogged about by musical genius Stephen Rippy.
This evening, Bonfire Studios will have a small party celebrating the end of our first year as a company and the beginning of our second. In honor of that sort-of startling milestone, I wanted to take a minute to look back at the past twelve months and maybe share a couple of things I’ve picked up along the way.
Stephen talks about the transition from Ensemble Studios to Bonfire Studios. Turns out they didn’t move very far, just down a few floors in the same high rise building:
The end of Ensemble Studios as an entity also meant the shuttering of the space we’d occupied for the previous ten years. We were nearing the end of our jobs and our lease, and had nowhere to go but down. So down we went, literally – ten floors lower in the same building. And we did it ourselves. Over a single feverish weekend, fueled by junk food, beer, and months’ worth of accumulated angst, we grabbed our inherited computers, desks, and full-sized arcade machines and hauled them down, one armload at a time. There were cuts, bruises, and people walking around with refrigerators strapped to their backs, but at the end of it all, we had something that was our own: a new home.
The team at Bonfire have been working incredibly hard over the past year and while there is nothing to show just yet you can be sure these hard working developers will come up with a great game, perhaps more will be revealed at E3 this year.
For all of that, though, we’re confident and excited about the future – and we hope you’ll come along with us! To everyone here, congratulations on our first anniversary. See you back here this time next year.
Keep an eye on and read the full blog over at the Bonfire Studios website!