The summer is finally upon us and to celebrate its very arrival July’s Edition of Developer Focus will feature not 1 but 3 independent studios, each with their own story to tell and video game currently in development. Later this month we’ll delve into the minds of Polish developer Madmind Studio, who recently announced its first title, Agony, before finishing July off with We Happy Few’s, Compulsion Games. This week, however, we turn our focus to British-based developer Burning Arrow. Residing in the small cornish town of Penryn in the south west of England are Burning Arrow, an independent video game studio looking to make waves with its debut project The Other 99, due for launch this coming August on Steam’s Early Access and with a console release scheduled for 2017. We speak with Burning Arrow’s Thomas Brown to find out more about the studio, location and its exciting first person title, The Other 99.
“Burning Arrow is a small but very ambitious games studio. We think big and strive to give our players unique gameplay experiences. We are a team of dedicated, hardworking and enthusiastic people, with an ethos of caring about the games we make, and the people who play them.“. This is what we’re told under the pretence of a hypothetical hiring interview at Burning Arrow, an up and coming game development studio located in Cornwall in the United Kingdom. They came to life as a company in September of 2015, but the four founders have been working together on their debut title The Other 99 since May of 2014.
We continue our would-be hiring interview by asking them what makes Burning Arrow stand out as a workplace or studio. “Beaches, community links, and funky-looking buildings.” they immediately offer. “The studio is situated in Cornwall, which means we are always a stone throw away from a beach. Recently Cornwall has been growing its digital community, in turn opening up opportunities for developer meet ups and user testing sessions with local game design university students. Part of that growth has led to new office buildings with strange shapes, and grass-covered roofs, one of which houses the Burning Arrow offices.”
Of course, pretty sceneries are all well and good, but the merciless grind of capitalism takes pity on no man so we ask, with trembling voices, what a day at work is like for Burning Arrow. “As a developer at Burning Arrow, you have a great deal of freedom in how you manage your day between the usual business hours. We begin every day with a short daily meeting to update the team on each member’s progress from the previous day, and what they intend to start working on. After the morning meeting, each developer organises their time in the way that makes sense to them, prioritising and collaborating to best suit their workflow.” Everything is pretty standard so far for a small modern development company. And as for the office layout…
“We have an open plan office (for our in-house developers), and encourage people to talk and discuss problems as often as they need. Yes, this means more interruptions, but in a small team like ours, it is supremely important that we work together to unblock each other’s work as quickly as possible, and are always providing feedback on new features.”. This flexibility seems to also extend into their work process: “This development approach relies heavily on trust (each team member is trusted to organise themselves autonomously, and achieve their set goals), but we’ve found it has led us to the best results.”
With a permanent headcount consisting of just the four founders so far, we asked Burning arrow about their potential plans to grow. “We would love to expand the studio in the future and help build the community of game developers down here in Cornwall. When we first created Burning Arrow, the four founders all agreed that we would only ever grow sustainably. This means that before we employ somebody we always ensure that we will be able to provide a stable job for at least a year. We took this decision because we didn’t want to breed a culture of insecurity by quickly inflating the number of employees at the start of development, only to rapidly deflate again once the game is finished.“. An understandable and responsible approach, in our opinion.
Of course, as with other smaller studios, some work needs to be done outside of the company. “We currently have five contractors working with us on The Other 99 in a variety of roles including gameplay programming, animation and 3D art. This was all made possible by the Creative England Greenshoots program supported by Microsoft. Greenshoots provided a cash injection allowing us to expand our team and in turn lift the overall quality of The Other 99.”
When not working on their game, Burning Arrow enjoy taking part in events such as the Global Games Jam, occasionally teaming up with developers from other Cornish studios such as Stormtide and Relative Dimensions. They also help organize the Falmouth Game Makers meetings where they advise and encourage aspiring game makers in the county. As for the game, it has recently been delayed slightly before arriving on Steam Early Access. We inquired as to why. “We decided to delay the early access release date because we didn’t want to disappoint all those people who are waiting so patiently for The Other 99. We were playing the game and weren’t satisfied that the gameplay was polished enough. The delay also gives us more time to thoroughly test the game, as we have seen players become less tolerant of buggy games on Steam Early Access. The other major benefit of delaying until August 25th is that we will have a hands-on demonstration at Gamescom 2016, which we are really excited for.” Whether or not “being tolerant of bugs” on Early Access is required or not is a matter of opinion, but it’s definitely better to have as polished an experience as possible when you first release a game, early access or not.
We end up asking developers about VR more often than not nowadays and with The Other 99 being a first person survival game, Burning Arrow was not spared. “We have been asked this question a couple of times, and as a fan of VR I want to say yes. As a developer, however, I can tell you that we have tried an older build of the game with VR (albeit because someone left an Oculus plugged in) and it was less than optimal (but still interesting to experience). What I would say is that if the community comes out requesting VR support then we will investigate it, and if we can find a solution that maintains the quality of gameplay while elevating the level of immersion, it stands a good chance of becoming supported in the future.”. And here we were thinking that promising first and disappointing later had become the norm…
With E3 having come and gone, we had to see what a fledgling studio had to say about one of the biggest yearly events in gaming. Having attended, they had this to say: “My expectations were for it to be big and busy and just very overwhelming. I have grown up watching the press conferences and coverage of the show floor, but nothing can really prepare you for the magnitude of the event. Having now experienced it I was very pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t as busy and claustrophobic as I expected – the exhibition spaces are so large that you can always find somewhere to take a moment for yourself. When you get in among the exhibits it can get a little busy around the most popular booths, but nothing will stop you taking pictures of everything and anything. Simply being able to attend was a privilege.“. Oh, to be young and devoid of cynicism again…
We had already established that Burning Arrow were fans of video gaming conventions so we asked about their plans to attend Gamescom in Cologne later this year. “This will be our first experience of Gamescom as a studio and we can’t wait to get The Other 99 into people’s hands. Our main aim for Gamescom is to show off! We want to get as many people playing The Other 99 as possible and we want to hear what they think. We have been working on The Other 99 in some shape for about a year and a half now, and this is our moment to have some fun and enjoy showing off our hard work.” Of course, we wish them all the best of luck.
We also asked them if they had considered programs such as the Xbox One Game Previews as showcases for The Other 99. While there are no definite plans for it at this time, the studio is in constant communication with Microsoft as part of several affiliate programs and they intend to see if the Preview platform makes sense for them further down the line. Considering the slated release date of summer 2017, we’d say that there’s time. As for focusing on one platform exclusively, we were overjoyed to hear a consumer-positive statement: “We make games for players. As a result of this, we want as many people to play The Other 99 as possible, and the best way to achieve this is to make it available in as many places as possible. Another reason to make the game multiplatform is because we want to build a strong community and excluding people from that based on the hardware they own isn’t something we want to do with The Other 99. ”
When asked what their favourite games at the moment and most anticipated titles are, Burning Arrow did not surprise us by listing Overwatch, Starcraft 2, No Man’s Sky, For Honor or Dishonored 2. Nor did they surprise us when we asked about their gamedev idols. “We’ve often talked in the office about aspiring to a team size and dedicated fan-base of someone like Naughty Dog. They really understand their players and create consistently fantastic content that really appeals to a large game audience. We really hope that as we grow towards a Naughty Dog size company, we can maintain the things that make indie great (communicating well with our audience, reacting to what people want etc.), and add the development capacity to give our gamers new content regularly.” having just come off a second playthrough of The Last of Us, this editor can definitely relate.
As for future plans… “Well once we have finished The Other 99 in 2017, I imagine the four founders will take a week off to finally enjoy the Cornish coastline and bask in the sun. After that, we will begin full development of our second title, but I am afraid that you will have to wait to find out what that will be. One of our designers did mention something about a Sci-Fi epic…. Who knows…?”
Who knows indeed. We, at PressA2Join wish the best of luck to the team at Burning Arrow and may they find their place in the game development scene as soon as possible.