Welcome to June’s edition of Developer Focus, our new series where we reach out to various development studios to talk to them about their current, past and future projects and try to find out more about the day-to-day aspects of running a studio and creating games. In our latest edition, we have been talking to the Poland-based studio, Techland, creators of fantastic games such as 2015’s Dying Light, Dead Island and the popular Call of Juarez series. Founded in 1991 by Paweł Marchewka, Techland recently announced that the company will now officially publish games on a global scale under the name Techland Publishing, further cementing the studio’s growth and progression since the early days of Crime Cities in 2000.
“It’s around 300 now and we’re still aiming to grow beyond that in the near future.” Techland Producer Tymon Smektala tells us when asked about their headcount and future expansion plans. “We have 3 development studios (Wroclaw, Warsaw and Vancouver) and now the entire publishing arm too so we’ve got quite a few more spots to fill.” he goes on. Techland is now throwing its hat into the ring of global producers and is planning on releasing multiple titles each year and it’s understandable. They’ve come a long way since their early days.
We like to play pretend when doing these features, so we asked Tymon to pitch Techland to us as a potential workplace if we were in a hiring interview. We asked especially what makes Techland stand out as a workplace: “I would say it’s probably that we create and encourage an environment where it’s okay to try something a little different and take risks. We promote heavily from within so you’ll find people here who have risen from the ranks of testers to become departmental heads or producers. The place also is full of talented people, some of whom have some rather unique backgrounds too – like an ex-army sniper, stuntman, and chemical engineers to name a few – that you’d be working side-by-side with. All in all, it’s a great place to work. You’re creating something millions of people hopefully will enjoy and no day is really the same given the nature of game development.”. Sounds like a colorful bunch. We certainly wouldn’t like to be the guy who steals the sniper’s lunch from the break room fridge.
One would think that with the pioneering approach on the technical side rather than relying on established technologies there would be a certain degree of anxiety around the company, but Pawel Rohleder, Director of Research and Tech Development feels that quite the opposite is true: “One of the biggest pulls for creative, technical people is the desire of working with new technology. Since this is something we can offer openly, it’s easier to recruit those kinds of people to work for us. Sure there are times where you’ll be pulling your hair out because you’re encountering a problem where there isn’t a backlog of support, but there’s something really satisfying coming up with a solution yourself.”. I think anyone who’s ever worked in something related to problem solving can resonate with this.
Of course, we still wanted to know more about why Techland opted to develop their own engine when so many pre-made solutions exist. “Adaptability and control were the main reasons behind making our own engine. Off-the-shelf solutions are without a doubt some amazing pieces of tech, but we saw quite early on that we needed something we could shape and mould ourselves down to the finest detail.” Pawel told us. “By using our own tech we’ve been able to create and customize tools that our teams have asked for themselves. We’ve been able to push the engine in directions we want like photorealism and dynamic lighting. And it’s also allowed us to overhaul the tech whenever we feel the need. Sure this approach comes with its own challenges such as resource intensity or increased optimization and testing work, but we’ve seen time and time again that the advantages outweigh the negatives immensely.”
On the workflow front, most of Techland’s deadlines are set internally, as per Tymon’s words, so there’s some breathing room when working on something, but things are different when dealing with distributors and retailers: “Once you commit to a release date with external parties, you need to do your best to stick to those dates. These partners are putting in a lot of support for your game prior to launch too so a delay right towards the end can undo a lot of their hard work. So that’s definitely something you want to avoid.”
Game development being such a vast field and so varied in necessary skillsets, we like to always ask studios about outsourcing work they contract for certain bits of their product: “We have a few things we regularly outsource to a network of trusted partners around the globe. AAA games are made up of so many complex parts I think it would be extremely difficult for us to try to keep everything in-house if we’re going to deliver a game on time. Things like voice acting recording, language localization, cinematics and large scale QA testing have all been outsourced at one point or another.” says Outsource Manager Malgorzata Mitrega “Other than that it’s often on a case-by-case scenario. Basically, if we see we need extra support in certain areas, we’ll reach out to our partners and bring them onboard for a certain amount of time.”.
Whether offering ludicrous rewards for ludicrous amounts of money or taking cracks at Destiny for their Red Bull promotions, Techland seems to always be in the center of the media’s attention. However, Community Manager Michal Napora tells us that it’s not simply the work of some sort of expert PR department, but rather more often just a bunch of crazy ideas that some person of another had around the office. “Most of it is organic and comes from anyone in the company. Or its ideas based on player feedback.” Bounties for example “were designed for players saying they wanted more replayability in the game. Once they were we in we realized we had the chance to tweak some these for special occasions, and so that’s where weekend bounties came from. Things like Drink for DLC or the ridiculous collector’s editions, well those are just ideas that someone somewhere mentions and somehow we all collectively just go ‘’Yeah! Let’s try that!” “. Sadly, no one has taken them up on their ten million dollar deal so far but PR Manager Paul Milewski says that they were fully willing to deliver on everything had anyone come through with the money.
Community being such an important part for Techland, there’s a lot of focus toward keeping the players sweet, of course, including a bid to support the most recent release The Dying Light for another year, according to Tymon, even though the team structure is rather fluid: “We have a core team that plan and co-ordinate the support. From there we have people of differing disciplines rotating in and out to get the stuff done. It takes a bit of foresight, communication and planning so you don’t interrupt a team at crucial points, but it works out for us.”, but Michal feels confident about their standing with the gamer public “It’s absolutely fantastic. In the past, there were mixed opinions about us as a developer, so Dying Light was a bit of a turning point. Also, since we were able to decide on our own what we would do post-launch, we were able to fully get behind a player-first approach and that’s given us just as much love from the community.”.
While Tymon was reluctant to give us a definitive answer about a possible sequel to The Dying Light, and understandably so, he did give us a bit of speculation, stating that “Since we’re an independent studio with full ownership of the Dying Light IP, our only obligation right now is to our fans and ourselves. So we don’t have external pressure to rush out another instalment. We’re looking into what we can do next, but we don’t want to settle on just releasing the same thing all over again. We need to ensure that if Dying Light 2 comes, it’s built around ideas and concepts that really push the game to the next level.” and we suppose that’s as good an answer as we had any right to get. We’ve also managed to find out that while there aren’t any plans in place for Call of Juarez remasters, Techland is definitely considering the option somewhere further down the line.
We take a break from all of the business talk and steer the conversation into a more casual place as we ask Tymon what their favorite game genre to develop is. Naturally, it’s hard to pick favorites, but we do manage to wrest a response: “While everyone has their own personal favourite genre, I would say the studio has built quite a bit of expertise in creating FPP games. That doesn’t mean we’ll never venture outside of that genre, but if you had ask what we know best, it’s probably FPP with a bit of a spin or twist.”. While the company at large does not have a de facto role model, they do appreciate a lot of what companies the likes of Rockstar and Naughty Dog do, as well as some local Polish developers. “We try to shape what we do based on our own thoughts, ambitions and ideas. It can turn into a bit of a creativity trap if you fall in line with what everyone else is doing too often.”, Tymon adds.
Of course, we ask about VR, because we pretty much have to at this point and the R&D Director Pawel answers that while they do have a team looking into VR and there are some internal test projects, it’s still largely uncharted territory for them: “We actually have an internal team that is exploring VR. A lot of it is tinkering and test projects, but who knows? Maybe we’ll come across something that really has the potential to go big. We’ve got a few things already in the works that were quite optimistic about, but as of now it’s strictly internal. Since we’ve got quite a few dev kits from the various big name players at the moment we’re in a great position to see and test a lot of the latest stuff as it comes out but also try our hand at it too.”.
Finally, we decided to ease off and ask some questions about the kind of fun they like to have around the office at Techland. It’s only expected that our first question was whether they watch any sort of zombie films at work, and the answer did not surprise us, or as Tymon puts it: “I guess you could call it a perk of the job? If you ever fall behind on the Walking Dead it’s not like anybody is going to ask why you’re watching it at work.”. There’s also the odd hangout and party to look forward to as well “We also regularly have company-wide events like summer BBQs or launch parties. We have subsidies for private trips to GDC and Gamescom. There are internal game-jams and regular board game nights. And most importantly we also have an extensive and up-to-date video game library which anyone can borrow games from. So, all in all it’s actually really good!”. As for games the staff enjoys playing or is looking forward to, Michal told us that “There are a lot of times you’ll walk into a room after hours and find people taking each other on in FIFA, Mortal Kombat X or Street Fighter V.” and that they, like us, are curious as to how the new Mirror’s Edge and No Man’s Sky will turn out. Employees also enjoy private health care, and in-house cafeteria and gym memberships.
In closing, we asked Paul Milewski whether or not Techland would be present at E3 this year and, well, make of this what you will: “We’re not attending E3 this year as an exhibitor. We’re saving all of that for Gamescom 2016. We can’t reveal what we’re showing exactly but we’ll be announcing it shortly.”.
Exciting stuff. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen.
We want to thank all the wonderful guys and girls at Techland for allowing us a great insight into the workings of a AAA Studio.
Stay tuned for next week when we’ll be giving away a poster signed by Techland to one lucky winner.