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Dave Pottinger quits Robot, moves to Bonfire

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Jeremy W of the Halo Wars official community forum recently spotted the removal of Halo Wars lead designer, Dave Pottingers name from Robot Entertainment’s list of employees. Dave Pottinger was a long time member of Ensemble Studios and was present at the beginning with Age of Empires 1. Dave was fairly big on community engagement appearing on the Halo Wars forums and writing development blogs on the games official website. Dave was also responsible for the mammoth Robot Entertainment lego sign effort who’s blog remains on the studios website. Often a spokesman for game development at Robot Entertainment, appearing on voice and video chats about Halo Wars and post Ensemble, it is currently unclear why he has chosen to move to Bonfire Studios.

Dave has updated his post on Halo Wars forum pointing out that Robot was a great place to work, it just wasnt the things he wanted to be doing and Bonfire was more aligned with the projects they were undertaking.

Robot is a great place with crazy good talent.  A huge chunk of my best friends work there:)  Just turned out to not be the right place for me and where I want to go/what I want to do.

And I can still play with Legos no matter where I am:)

No matter where Mr Pottinger is placed, its exciting that he will still be apart of developing games with Ex-Ensemble people – keep an eye out for Bonfire news!

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More Ensemble Halo MMO concept art revealed

ensemble_studios_logo

Dylan Cole an artist who worked with Ensemble Studios on the cancelled Halo MMO has made some concept art and paintings available from the project on his website. The incredibly detailed images show what the game environments may have been like if the project saw the light of day and Ensemble was still with us. Take a look at this outstanding image showing what a Forerunner City may have looked like in game:

ENS_MPv01[1]

Incredible art

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And another showing a Halo City from a distance:

ENSlocation2_v04[1]

If in game graphics were 1/5 as good as these outstanding art pieces the MMO would of been a marvel to play. It is a great travesty that executives at Microsoft pulled the plug on such a promising game. I recommend that everyone check out Dylan Cole’s website for more Halo MMO art plus more incredible pieces from his other projects:

http://www.dylancolestudio.com/

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Windstorm Studios shows off two concept art pieces

 windstorm

Since the closure of Ensemble Studios there have been many teams working on exciting games. We have seen iPhone games from developers FuzzyCube and NewToy and now its time to get a first glimpse at a larger scale game as Windstorm Studios headed up by past Ensemble Programmer Dusty Monk today releases two concept art images for the mysterious MMO game.

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Dusty Monk has been eager to launch an MMO title for sometime and worked on the Halo MMO at Ensemble Studios considerably. We hope now that with the right investment and publishing partners Dusty will be able to fulfill his dream of getting his own MMO out there. Hopefully with the GDC soon coming up Dusty will be able to prove the project is exciting and maybe we’ll get some more information about the futuristic (flying cars and all that) game!

For more details and wallpaper friendly versions of these excellent images head over to the Windstorm website!

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David Leary speaks about fellow Robot’s plus new photos from the studio!

Robot Blogs

Ever wonders what goes on in the walls of Robot Entertainment? Well, its mainly two things.. 1) Playing games and 2) Beer. Oh! and of course not forgetting developing games at number 3. David Leary, Designer at Robot Entertainment today writes about the types of games fellow Robot-ers are playing including the shock and horror of Joe Gillum firing up the well past its sale by date MMO “eve”.

Firing up Eve again? That was just wrong – so very, very wrong.

The Robots are quite keen MMO players having previously wanted to develop an MMO under Ensemble Studios, leading to the cancelled Halo MMO. Another popular genre in the overly cool offices is FPS games including Battlefield Hereos. Find out more about whats going on in David “Learguy” ‘s blog!

But thats not all!

A blog is complete without a few snaps of the inside of Robot Entertainment and thankfully the good Robots have updated the gallery pages on the website! I refer to my earlier point about what happens at Robot and we’ve covered point 1, playing games and now its onto point two.. the beer.

Beer O’Clock

Biergarten-is-christened[1]

Yes, that really is a German beer garden in Texas

PlayDohTable[1]

No beer for the kids though, meet the PlayDoh table. But wait! Whos that?? Yes, its Robot CEO Tony Goodman. A kid at heart? I guess you have to be to set up a video game company!

And more..

Find a whole bunch of additional pictures on the Robot website. Sehr Gut!

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Robot Entertainment chooses the Trinigy Vision Engine for next game

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Robot Entertainment’s lead programmer  Vijay Thakkar has today revealed that Robot Entertainment has signed an agreement with Trinigy to use the Vision Engine for the studios next original IP game. The licensing agreement with Trinigy grants Robot Entertainment the rights to develop a multi-platform game for its new IP using Trinigy’s Vision Engine. Robot’s Vijay Thakkar had this to say on the matter:

“The Vision Engine has clearly been designed with a focus on a powerful set of engine features that do not compromise full developer flexibility,” said Thakkar, in a statement. “Throughout our evaluation of the industry’s premium engines, the Vision engine consistently stood out in terms of performance and how quickly our developers could see their ideas running in game. The stellar level of support, integration of third-party technologies and robust architecture made choosing the Vision Engine an easy decision for our studio and has allowed us to quickly build momentum on our new project.”

One might wonder why Robot is choosing to go down an external engine route. In the past Ensemble Studios has written engines from scratch including The Age 1 & 2 Engine “Genie”, Age of Mythology and Age 3 engine “Bang” and the Halo Wars engine. With the closure of Ensemble Studios it is not known how much support Robot and other studios have been given with regards to the old Ensemble engines the team has created. As Microsoft own the rights to all engines and designs under Ensemble it is presumed that Robot would need to have reached an agreement with Microsoft to use these old tools.  However using a 3rd party engine is certainly not a bad thing as it reduces the time Robot has to spend developing a new engine. Instead they can get stuck right in with existing tools and framework allowing them to get the game ready more quickly than from scratch. – And we’re all looking forward to that!

In case your wondering what types of games have been developed using this engine here’s a brief sample:

Helldorado Spellbound / dtp & Playten PC
The Show 16Tons / Take 2 PC
Dungeon Hero Firefly Studios PC, Xbox360
ZedCity Zed Group PC (MMO)
Warlord Neowiz Corp. PC (MMO)
CrossRoads Nassons Entertainment PC, Xbox360
Wii Relax Frame Studios PC, Wii

One might notice there is alot of PC titles in the list! Perhaps a hint? You can find more details about the engine on the companies official website. They are handily have an office located in Austin, Texas – perfect for Robot Entertainment based near by.

The whole press release can be found below and a link at the bottom to the GamesIndustry.biz article – well worth checking out for those interested!

Austin, TX – July 28th, 2009 – Trinigy, an industry leading 3D game engine provider with over 100 licensees and offices in Germany and Austin, TX, today announced a licensing agreement with Robot Entertainment, Inc., a world-class independent entertainment software company located in Plano, TX. Robot Entertainment will use the Vision Engine on a new, undisclosed IP currently in development.

Started by many of the original founders of Ensemble Studios, Robot Entertainment has a staff of 45 developers comprised entirely of former Ensemble employees. The new company’s team developed the hit franchise Age of Empires™, which sold over 20 million units worldwide, and the recently released hit Halo Wars for Xbox 360™. Robot Entertainment recently announced it will continue working with Microsoft Game Studios to create additional Halo Wars content and support online gaming and communities for both Age of Empires and Halo Wars. The company also announced ambitions to create its own original IP, though no specifics are available yet.

The licensing agreement with Trinigy grants Robot Entertainment the rights to develop a multi-platform game for its new IP using Trinigy’s Vision Engine. In doing so, Robot Entertainment joins a growing list of outstanding developers worldwide that have licensed the Vision Engine, including Ubisoft, Take 2, Firefly and the recently announced MunkyFun, Nitro and Spellbound.

“The Vision Engine has clearly been designed with a focus on a powerful set of engine features that do not compromise full developer flexibility,” said Vijay Thakkar, lead programmer at Robot Entertainment. “Throughout our evaluation of the industry’s premium engines, the Vision engine consistently stood out in terms of performance and how quickly our developers could see their ideas running in game. The stellar level of support, integration of 3rd party technologies and robust architecture made choosing the Vision Engine an easy decision for our studio and has allowed us to quickly build momentum on our new project.”

“Robot Entertainment has the experience and talent to make groundbreaking games that set new standards in the industry,” said Daniel J. Conradie, president and CEO at Trinigy Inc. “Our success and momentum continue to be validated by distinguished AAA teams like the one at Robot Entertainment. We are excited to support this extremely talented team on their next eagerly awaited title.”

About Trinigy

Based in Southern Germany, and with an office in Austin, TX, Trinigy is a privately owned company committed to selling groundbreaking game engine technology and first-class support to video game and serious game development studios across the globe. Engineered to provide more creative and technical freedom, the company’s Vision Engine is currently in use in more than 100 commercial game productions by well-known companies such as Ubisoft, Take 2, Dreamcatcher, NeoWiz, Spellbound, Nitro Games and more. The Vision Engine has proven its versatility in a multitude of game genres, including real-time strategy, racing, first-person shooters, role-playing games and massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. It is available and optimized for performance on PC (DX9, DX10), Xbox360™, PLAYSTATION®3, Nintendo Wii™, XBLA™, PSN™ and WiiWare™. For more information about Trinigy, its Vision Engine or its technology partners, please visit: www.trinigy.net.

About Robot Entertainment

Based in Plano, Texas, Robot Entertainment is a world-class independent game development studio owned and operated by many of the founders of Ensemble Studios. With a team that has proven experience and expertise in creating games that appeal to massive audiences, Robot Entertainment is focused on titles that set new standards for their respective genres as well as groundbreaking original IPs. Robot can be found on the web at www.robotentertainment.com.

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/robot-entertainment-selects-trinigys-vision-engine-for-new-ip

Looking forward to hearing more about the games development!!

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Banned from ESO? Here’s what you should do…

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I have been reading the AgeComm forums and have had some emails from the community site and this blog with regards to possible “unjust” banning from the ESO service. Whilst I understand people feel strongly that they are innocent my understanding is that the tools used to collect data about ESO accounts are the same tools used by Ensemble since ESO’s introduction. With a 4 year record the ESO system is probably robust and correct in its reporting. However, if you have been banned and want to appeal heres some top tips…

  1. Ask yourself “why have I been banned”? Before asking Robot try asking yourself this question – have you noticed any unusual activity have you given out any login details? If you havnt cheated it doesnt mean someone else hasnt compromised your account and cheated under your ESO ID.
  2. Next stop- check your emails. You should receive an email from Age3support advising you that you have been banned, the reason why and the type of ban (temporary, permanent). Study the email carefully and make sure that you didnt do what the stats reported. Remember, Robot only ban on cumulative reports of cheating. You must understand that the results are probably correct and that there is a good possibility your account may have been compromised.
  3. Email back. Be sure to include your name, email, CD key and PID key (found in the “About” screen in game). Robot will investigate your query and will get back to you with more details. Remember to be polite and write in plain English.. I would advise against txt tlk. Robot should be able to clear up any reason why you have been banned and if there has been a mistake, will get you back online.
  4. Still un-happy? – Post in the forums. The Age Community is a great place to ask for help and members may be able to help find you the root cause of the ban. Never under estimate the community.
  5. Last resort.. If you feel you have been treated unfairly you can raise a formal complaint with Robot at the studios main contact email address (see thier website).

I hope these tips help people understand how they can go about getting information about why they may have been banned. As a reminder.. make sure that you dont:

  • Cheat on the ESO service using any hack tools or modified game files
  • Dont give out ANY of your account details.

Feel free to get in contact with me at dean@remember-ensemblestudios.com if you are still flummoxed on what to do. Or you can find me and lots more helpful community members at www.agecommunity.com. For those that have spoken or wish to get in contact with me remember that I am not an employee of Robot Entertainment and cannot speak on their behalf. This blog is run by an individual and any advice on this site or through my email is personal advice completely un-affiliated with Robot.

Not forgetting the Halo Wars readers..

As a side note, for Halo Wars readers.. DLC 2 is coming soon! Aloysius has teased it may be sooner than you think!

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“Board” to Death: A Day in the Life of a Concept Artist

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Whats was it like to be a conecpt artist at Ensemble Studios? Aloysius today published a new article on the HaloWars.com website detailing the expierence of Bart Tiongson. The concept art team at Ensemble were responsible for some fantastic pieces of art much like this one below:  (click to enlarge)

halo wars conecept art

You might think that in order to produce such fantastic art the team at Ensemble would be under alot of stress but ho ho ho.. you might be mistaken! Ensemble Studios was well known for being a great place to work. But having too much fun means not so much work… so how did the team deal with work vs play? Well.. about 50/50 actually – sounds like a good ratio!

You can find out more by reading the insigtful blog post below:

“Board” to Death: A Day in the Life of a Concept Artist

Published Tuesday, April 28, 2009 3:02 PM by Aloysius 
When I was first approached to write something for the website from a Concept Artist’s viewpoint, I thought that I would just do a generic, “day in the life of an artist”, type of write-up that we’ve all seen before. I thought about it. I figured I could sum up in a few simple sentences how concept art gets created and eventually put into the game. I could write about how we receive a written description of a unit, building or environment; how we create rough drawings of what we think a unit might look like; and then when one “thumbnail” is approved, we polish it so that the 3D modelers can build it, animators can give it life and then that unit can get put into the game.

In a nutshell, that is what a concept artist does. Quick, clean and summarized in a tidy little paragraph with enough time to spare to go watch the NBA playoffs.

Then I thought about it again. And I realized that it wasn’t that simple; at least not on Halo Wars and definitely not at Ensemble Studios.

You see, in order to create artwork at the highest level, you not only need a team that is talented, dedicated and stays on schedule, but you also need a team that meshes with each another. For that team to be successful in what they do, they need to have chemistry. So instead of writing about our daily tasks and attaching images of artwork, I decided to talk about what the team did that wasn’t on the task list and include photos that illustrated the “chemistry” that we had.

Throughout the studio there are white boards that are used for a variety of things like jotting down tasks and ideas, descriptions of units and keeping track of deadlines. The artists, on the other hand, had a different use for them. The concept guys would draw caricatures and create “inside joke” drawings on a daily basis. I would walk in the office and at the end of each day there would be new and often inspiring drawings on the white boards. While these boards’ original purpose was to have drawings, diagrams and written statements to help keep the team on track, the random imagery, humorous and often non-work-related material, probably kept the team more focused than unit descriptions or schedule dates and deadlines. It wasn’t long before other artists joined in on the fun as well. It wasn’t unusual to poke fun at each other, or crack a joke at someone’s expense. The ratio of laughing and having fun to drawing was probably an even 50/50. I absolutely felt that this dynamic was essential to create the top notch artwork that was done on the project. There were a lot of late nights and long hours, and without a sense of humor the team probably would have driven each other insane.

I’ve always felt that if you enjoy what you are doing and who you are doing it with, success will ultimately follow. Take a look at the art-work in Halo Wars and I think that you’ll agree that we were successful in what we set out to do: create a beautiful looking game. Laughing the whole time.

During my short time leading the concept guys on Halo Wars, I realized something- I did a heck of a lot more learning than I did teaching. Thanks to the Halo Wars concept team.
-b

Below are some examples of the crazy pix that these guys did… I’ve “edited” a few of them. :P

conceptart_fun1 
conceptart_fun2 
conceptart_fun3 
conceptart_fun4
conceptart_fun5 
conceptart_fun6

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Tim Deen discusses Halo Wars combat system

halowars

Another developers blog appeared on the Halo Wars website today. Tim Deen a Halo Wars designer and Ensemble veteran discusses the damage system in Halo Wars and how things like accuracy and range affect the damage units dish out.

I will be continuing to mirror blog posts from Robot, Bonfire and others so that fans of Ensemble Studios can continue to find blog posts of their well respected developer in one place.

Blog post from HaloWars.com follows courtesy of Community Manager, Aloysius:

Under The Hood of the Halo Wars Combat System

Published Monday, April 27, 2009 2:37 PM by Aloysius 

Intro

The simulation system of any RTS can at times be hard for the players to unravel exactly what is going on so today we are taking a quick look at the core systems comprising the Halo wars combat system. 

 

In Halo Wars every combat unit has an armor type and at least one weapon (often more), while each weapon has its individual damage, damage type and accuracy stats.  Every attack in halo wars has a specific weapon associated with it even special attacks such as grenades or canister shot have separate specific weapons just for that special to use.

 

Accuracy

The first item we will look at it is the accuracy system in halo wars and how individual projectiles are directed when fired at the enemy.  Every weapon has individual accuracy ratings that determine how accurate the attacks it makes are; the first rating is a straight chance to have the projectile be fired true while the second rating is used to determine how far off the aim is if the attack is not perfectly accurate.   After the projectile is fired all that is left to find out is what unit is actually hit as a weapon can “roll” a miss and the enemy can move into the projectiles path.

 

Damage

After a projectile actually hits a target comes stage two of combat where the armor type of the unit being hit and the damage type being applied are used to look up a damage modification.  The final damage is calculated by multiplying the base damage by this damage modifier. 

 

A simple example of this is a marine firing on a scorpion with his rifle which for this example we will say does 10 base damage, now then the scorpion is armor type “Heavy armor” and the rifle does damage type “small arms fire” so we cross reference small arms fire and heavy armor on the table and get 0.4 modifier.  The final damage will 4 damage done to the scorpion tank, calculated by taking the base damage (10) and multiplying Is by the modifier (0.4).

 

Wrap up

Overall the damage system is relatively straight forward with the main complexity coming from the number of armor and damage types but where feasible like type weapons share like type damage types.  The machine gun on a scorpion does the same damage type as on the warthog for example.  Also most game units have a fairly straight forward armor type except for a few special cases I will not be covering (but they are not important for this article).

 

Timotron


Some base Armor types in Halo wars

·         Light infantry:                    Marines, Grunts, Jackals, brutes, Elites

·         Heavy Infantry:                 Flamethrowers, Hunters, Cyclops

·         Medium Armor:                     Warthogs, Ghosts, Choppers, Wolverines, Cobras

·         Heavy armor:                     Scorpions, Wraith, Elephants, Scarabs

·         Aircraft:                                Hornets,  Banshees, Vultures, Vampires

·         Building:                               Bases, Buildings, Turrets

 

Some example damage types

  •  
    • Plasma pistols and rifles
    • Plasma cannons on ghost, banshee and wraith
    • Heavy machine guns on warthog, scorpion and hornet
  • Heavy MG and plasma

  •  
    • Wolverine anti air missiles
    • Turret anti-air missiles
    • Vulture anti-air missiles
    • Vampire heavy needles
    • Turret anti-air needles
  • Anti air missiles/ needles

  •  
    • Marine grenade/ RPG special attacks
    • Grunt plasma grenade special attack
    • Warthog grenadier
    • Wolverine grenade mortar
  • Grenades

  •  
    • Rebel snipers
    • Jackal snipers
  • Sniper attacks

  •  
    • Flamethrower
    • Flame mortars
    • Covenant anti-infantry plasma mortar turret
  • Flames

Damage type/ armor type lookup table (real numbers from the Halo Wars database)

 

Light infantry

Heavy infantry

Medium Armor

Heavy Armor

Aircraft

Buildings

Heavy MG and plasma

160%

120%

120%

40%

180%

40%

Anti air missiles/ needles

120%

120%

100%

60%

300%

60%

Grenades

80%

60%

160%

120%

80%

160%

Sniper attacks

400%

300%

40%

20%

40%

20%

Flames

300%

200%

40%

20%

40%

40%

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Five long years. Chris Rippy ex producer at Ensemble Studios discusses the last few months working on Halo Wars

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Chris Rippy discusses in the latest developers blog on the HaloWars.com website what the last few months at Ensemble Studios felt like as the Halo Wars game started to go through its final stages of quality testing. The post provides a valued look into the life of the studio during this time and what the developers felt knowing this would be the last game.

The blog post as obtained from HaloWars.com follows:

“Five Long Years”

Published Wednesday, April 22, 2009 2:27 PM by Aloysius 
The last few weeks of working on Halo Wars were quite a blur. Actually, the last several months of working on Halo Wars were quite a blur. I think if you were to ask most folks working at Ensemble Studios to describe an event in their lives from the last year, they’d have a hard time remembering what season the event took place in. For us, it was all Halo Wars, all the time. Blurry days.

Today, I’ll do my best to remember the final steps of getting Halo Wars out the door.

The final months of a project are all about taking the previous years of work, mashing it all together into something cohesive, testing the game, and fixing bugs. It’s also a time of very difficult decisions. In the name of getting the game out the door, we’re forced to eliminate several features, many of which already had months of work put into them. This can be costly (literally), but it helps provide focus to the most important aspects of the game, and gives us a better chance at hitting our target release date.

Now would probably be a good time to detail out all the features we cut, but maybe that’s best left to everyone’s guesses. Or maybe those features will show up again somewhere else…

Back to it. As we approach the last 6 weeks or so of the project, we begin thinking about something called “Release Candidates”. These are complete builds of the game that we believe are good enough to make it to the retail shelf. On December 1, 2008, we created “RC1”(Release Candidate 1). Cool, we’re done! Not so much. “RC1” never makes it all the way through the testing process, and in fact, our designers run a contest for everyone of our games trying to guess the actual number of Release Candidates we will create. Guesses for Halo Wars ranged from “RC2” (yeah!) to “RC426” (no!). For a build to be considered “the” build, several parties must sign off on it from Ensemble Studios, Microsoft Game Studios Test, the Localization team, and a Production team at Microsoft. In the end, RC11 was “blessed” by this crew. Halo Wars build number 1169.

We’re almost home at this point, but we still have a crucial step in front of us, called Certification. For Halo Wars to be “certified” a team at Microsoft takes the game and runs it through a battery of very specific tests to make sure it lives up to the quality and experience expectations of the Xbox360. Tests range from making sure Achievements work, to seeing how the game responds to people yanking out their memory cards while the game is running (never a good thing to try :) ).

Going through Certification is a very strange experience. It can be a multi-week process, and you can go days without hearing from the Certification team on how things are going. Ensemble had just gone through months of crunch, and we suddenly found ourselves in a waiting game with very little to do but hope the game makes it through successfully. Work hours returned to normal and people passed the day working on the demo or playing board games. Weird.

Finally, on January 8th, 2009, Halo Wars passed Certification and was declared “gold”. From there, the game was sent off to manufacturing plants all over the world, packaged up, and put on a shelf at a store near you. Good times.

Chris Rippy
Producer

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Developers Playtesting the DLC  (click to enlarge)

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Senior Ensemble programmer Dusty Monk launches new studio “Windstorm Studios”

 windstorm

Dusty Monk is the president and founder of another game studio to arise from Ensemble’s ashes.  Dusty has great passion for online MMO games and worked closely with Ensemble’s Halo MMO. It is currently unknown whether Windstorm will be developing an MMO or something else all together.

You can find the studios launch site here: http://www.windstormstudios.com

As Dusty says on the website:

“For pretty much my entire life I’ve played in and worked on virtual worlds. From Islands of Kesmai on the Compuserve Information Service, to Ultima Online, to Everquest, to World of Warcraft, since I was a teenager I’ve possessed a passion for playing and participating in these realms, and dozens more. In 2008, when Microsoft closed my then employer Ensemble Studios, I saw an opportunity for something new – not just for myself, but for the genre which I love so much. Windstorm Studios is the realization of that opportunity. I bring with me close to fifteen years of professional game development experience, and have contributed to some of the best triple-A titles in the business. Furthermore, I bring a wealth of firsthand knowledge of how a top notch studio is run and maintained – taken from my tenure at one of the most respected game development houses in the industry, Ensemble Studios.”

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