While there is still some doubt over Singapore’s games power, the studio opened there by Lucasfilm, which also houses LucasArts Singapore, is one of the more intriguing development teams based in the country.
The studio is unique in a number of ways. Its games team is effectively a studio housed within a wider animation company – itself part owned by the Singapore authorities – and is charged developing titles based on the new Star Wars: Clone Wars CG cartoon (animated by Lucasfilm Singapore). With the pilot for the TV series recently released as a fully-fledged feature, hopes are now similarly high for the studio’s first games, Wii and DS titles that could finally prove Singapore can handle full console game development and big IPs.
The two halves of the Lucasfilm Singapore brain – games and animation – have also been collaborating closely, sharing art assets in a bid to finally prove LucasArts’ theory that special effects and interactive entertainment can develop together and collaborate on technology. We spoke to studio head Feargus Carroll to find out more…
Although Lucasfilm owns the majority of the studio, a stake is also owned by local development agencies – what advantage has that provided?
EDB Investments, the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, is one of the members that invested into Lucasfilm Animation Singapore (LAS). LAS has benefited from the Singapore government’s efforts to develop local talent and attract top talent from the world.
This is illustrated by the launch of the Jedi Masters Program (JuMP), which we embarked on with EDB. JuMP is an apprenticeship program that provides a platform for bright young talent in Singapore to be trained by industry professionals from ILM, Lucasfilm Animation and LucasArts. Upon the completion of JuMP, the apprentices will either be taken on full time by LAS or placed in related positions in the local industry.
What’s the make up of the studio in terms of those who are local to Singapore versus those who have travelled over?
In the Games team we’re about 50/50 between imported and local talent. Most artists are from the region, while there are more overseas engineers and game designers.
Has it been a challenge attracting staff to come and work at the studio?
There is always a challenge but we’re lucky in that we have fantastic properties like Star Wars and the amazing location of Singapore to offer our talent.
Do you hope the success of the Clone Wars game will help put Singapore on the map?
I believe Singapore is already on the map – EA has been here for a number of years, and is expanding. Ubisoft just moved in and are expanding. We’ve been here since 2005 and already there is an awareness that games get made in Singapore. However, I’m sure the Clone Wars movie, TV series and game will all add to that growing awareness.
How do you see the region evolving in terms of games development talent in the years to come?
Imagine Vancouver or Montreal ten to fifteen years ago. A few big studios move in, import experienced talent, train local junior talent, and make some great games. Over time the teams gain more knowledge of how the industry works, and how games get made. Eventually there are studios with regional talents producing products for the global market, and so the industry grows. I see no reason why Singapore would not continue to evolve in this way.
How big does the studio plan to grow to in the years to come?
We’ve just been through a rapid growth phase across all the divisions – Animation, ILM and Games. We’re now looking forward at new games and new projects to help identify how we’ll continue to grow.
Has sharing facilities with Lucasfilm Animation allowed for any synergies in CG asset production? If so, can you detail how and what the benefit of this has been?
One of the key reasons the games team is here is to leverage off the fact that there is a TV production facility creating assets that we can use. We are already conducting successful tests on taking TV characters and rationalizing them for Gen 3 game engines, and it’s proving very promising. Of course for the Nintendo DS we had to build the models from the ground up but we still worked closely with the TV artists to ensure we matched the animation style, the lighting style and the painterly texture look of the show. Moving forward there is the plan for TV to use some of the assets and locations that we created for our game and work them into the TV series. This reuse and sharing of assets, be that design, concept art, or actual models, will only increase as the game team moves to more powerful hardware.