Concluding our special focus on the Yorkshire region's thriving development community, we bring you profiles of Pit Stop Productions, Just Add Water, and Tuna – three companies that do a great deal to boost the reputation of the area as a key UK hub.
Pit Stop Productions
Pit Stop Productions is a company that you might not have heard of – but it’s on the verge of making a big splash in the industry.
The company performs the usual range of outsourced audio services: music composition, sound effects, editing and voice-over recording. The difference, though, is that Pit Stop has put a special focus on efficiency, helping drive costs down while maintaining the quality you’d expect.
That starts with the location, explains company head John Sanderson. “The idea of being up here in Yorkshire is to get away from the high London studio prices,” he says. “We’ve still got a studio in London if needs be, and we’re only two hours away, or an hour from Manchester. For the most part, the voice talent is all prepared to come here, and failing that we can use the London space.”
It permeates as far as the studio’s structure, too, which is surprisingly ‘parallel’ – helping keep wasted time to a minimum.
“We have two studios that share a live space, which means that two people can work on the same track, essentially halving the time – and therefore the cost – for our clients,” Sanderson continues. “And because we’re embracing connectivity, if the client wanted us to, we could be running six different sessions
across the world simultaneously. It’s all about being as efficient as possible.”
As a new studio, though, it’s important to have a breakout title that shows what the company is capable of. Luckily, Pit Stop has had just that, in the shape of House of the Dead: Overkill, which it scored, wrote and recorded vocal performances for.
“It’s great that we’ve had a project like House of the Dead: Overkill, and that it seems to be resonating so well with people. That’s thanks to Sega and Headstrong just saying, ‘Okay guys, here it is: just get on with it.’ The idea for HotD was to take the Wii, in association with those guys, and just make it for hardcore gamers. We realised that if we could have as much violence in there as possible, and punctuate that with as much profanity, it would it be hilarious.
“All we had for the storyline was that there was this cop, Washington, who called everyone a motherfucker – except for the guy who actually fucks his mother. He was to be teamed up with this straight-laced guy G, and you’ve got this great relationship that works. For us, to have cutscenes commented on, is great – we’re really chuffed with it. All we wanted to create for the game was this ‘funness’ and stupidity – and it’s gone down really well.”
Just Add Water
Otley, near Leeds
While Just Add Water may be a relatively new developer, with over 100 years of games development experience and 40 titles under the team’s collective belts, that doesn’t mean it’s got startup sensibilities.
Although it’s largely been doing background contract work for the past few years, it’s just signed a deal with Sony for a digital download title on PSN and PSP.
“Last year we got together three presentation packs for different projects and sent them off to various publishers,” explains Stewart Gilray. “Every single one of them came back saying they wanted the same project. But I was interested in working with Sony, because that way you basically cut out all of the middlemen – and you get a better deal with less people involved.”
Intriguingly, the studio is one of the new wave of distributed developers, with team members scattered around the UK. Although its official base is in the little village of Otley – a village that would be perfectly described as ‘picture postcard’ were it not for its gross overuse – key members of the team are elsewhere. It’s not a deliberate structural decision, but it’s not exactly a bad way of working either, Gilray explains.
“The main core of the PS3 team are in Croydon, mainly because that’s where both of them live. It may be that during the project we’ll get them up to move up here, but right now there’s no need to. Five or six years ago, we couldn’t have worked this way – there was no sustainable broadband connections anywhere. I remember working with companies that relied on satellite uplinks or, more commonly, discs in the post. But now, we upload everything to a central server – not just our project management stuff, but concept art and everything else – and it’s almost as if we’re all in the same room.
“We do have regular meet-ups, though, every month or so – although it sounds far, realistically it’s only two hours away, so it’s not that bad.”
Tuna was founded in 1996, and spent twelve years working predominantly on contract work for other developers – ‘sitting in the background’ in their own words – on handhelds and mobiles.
Although a good constant stream of work, there is a downside to doing a lot of contracting, founder Alex Amsel explains: “Outsource work is limiting. Either you grow, like Sumo, or you end up being bought out, as we nearly were a couple of times. We wanted to work on interesting things, and we wanted to have a long term future – we didn’t want to be reliant on everyone else, because we thought they were making mistakes.”
As such, it’s turned its focus around somewhat in the past year, shifting from being a game developer to what it calls a ‘game production company’.
“It’s the same as the film and TV worlds – you have a small team that does work on the project, but generally speaking we want to have an idea – one generated internally or in conjunction with someone else – and one way or another actually help them,” Amsel continues.
“Whether we do the development work in-house or externally doesn’t actually matter, we just want to be the centre of those ideas. We want people to think that, if they’ve got a great idea, they can come to us and we can make it happen.
“So, for example, the idea of our current game Cletus Clay came from the claymation genius Anthony Flack, who lives out in New
Zealand. We took his idea, which was for a very casual game, and helped work it into a fully-fledged multiplayer brawler for Xbox Live Arcade and PC. It wasn’t our idea, and we kind of like that – there are fantastic ideas out there that just don’t get made.”