The evolution of Turtle Rock Studios

The evolution of Turtle Rock Studios
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

February 11th 2014 at 1:30PM

Executive producer Matt O’Driscoll discusses the Evolve developer post-THQ, and how it's taking advantage of powerful new console hardware

Most famous for creating Left 4 Dead, the team at Turtle Rock recently revealed its new 4v1 co-op sci-fi shooter Evolve.

The studio has been hard at work developing the game for three years now, and is set to finally unleash the title on PC, PS4 and Xbox One later this year.

The company’s journey has been a perhaps tumultuous one, having respawned again years after being bought by Valve, and then experiencing the collapse of then Evolve publisher THQ first-hand.

Turtle Rock was part of the famous auction which saw key studios and IP sold off to the highest bidders. And to top that off, it was Turtle Rock was outbid on its own title by Take-Two, which snapped up the rights to the game for $10.8 million.

Powering through uncertainty

“I'm not going to lie. There was obviously talk in the studio, there was concern about what was going to happen. Before the auction took place no one knew exactly how this was going to pan out,” Turtle Rock executive producer Matt O’Driscoll tells Develop.

“But we had our game. That was kind of our backup if you like. It was a year ago, we had a lot then to show and play, and we were proud of it. There was fear, but with some degree of confidence.

“It's worked out. We got on with THQ really well. It was kind of sad to see them go. There were people we knew there really well and had worked with for a long time.

“So for us that was a sad day. But with 2K, it's working out great as well.”

Fast-forward to today, and the studio has finally revealed just what its new IP Evolve is all about, and how it aims to follow in the footsteps of its previous hit, Left 4 Dead, now a key franchise for Valve’s game development operations.



Evolve pits four hunters, taking on different roles such as support, medic and attack, against a giant monster, which can also be controlled by a player, that gradually evolves throughout the match if unchecked.

It’s a simple concept, and one the studio describes as an intense boss battle, drawn out into a full gameplay experience.

A next-gen experience

But with the need for large levels running five players at a time, NPCs for the monster to hunt as it tries to evolve and defeat the hunters, and asset-heavy environments teeming with life, the game has had to find its home on new generation consoles.

“We planned it [to run on PS3 and Xbox 360]. But the new consoles were coming up fast and to be honest the new consoles gave us enough power to do what we really wanted to do and make that environment,” says O’Driscoll.

“There's a lot of assets in there to create that jungle. But we kind of needed them when you've got a 20ft monster that needs to hide. We need that foliage, we need that cover, and new consoles afforded us to be able to do that.

“And there's a tonne of AI in the world. You've got all this different wildlife which have different behaviours, attack patterns, movement, and all that stuff. The AI also has to be there in case someone drops in and drops out, so that can add more AI, and suddenly you've got a tonne of it in there. Next-gen really let us to do that as well.”



Developing those extra assets and bigger environments has meant Turtle Rock has had to expand its studio. From the 12-man team that made Left 4 Dead, the developer now houses 75 employees.

An evolving studio

There has long been a debate about what new-gen consoles will mean for development and the associated costs of triple-A games, and O’Driscoll says bigger numbers are needed to cope with the new and increased demands of the hardware and consumers.

“Teams will need to grown in size, yes, that’s what we’ve found,” he says.

“Our philosophy was to keep our team fairly small. And when we had to grow to 75 we had to expand our studio. But then we've also had to work with external partners to realise what we want to do. If we want to do it, we're going to have to just bring on more people to help us.”

He goes on to say the studio has outsourced much of its work to external companies as it looks to hold on to its own studio culture and keep a cap on the numbers it brings in. In fact, O’Driscoll says, the company has taken a few cues from its experience at Valve, bringing in moveable desks which means they can move the entire studio around in an hour. And he says, to keep the studio small and its relatively flat management structure intact, outsourcing is key.



“You've got to be open to outsourcing anything now,” he states.

“There will be days gone by where it may have been, like, you can only outsource art, you can't outsource anything else. But to keep our studio the size it is, unless our studio suddenly exploded, which we didn't want to do, we wanted to keep it at roughly where we are now, then I think you have to look at outsourcing across a lot of different disciplines.”

Evolve is currently slated for release later this year on PC, Xbox One and PS4. And $10.8m plus development costs hinges on the title's success, and part of it on whether next-gen console players are ready for a co-op sci-fi shooter so early on in the new hardware lifecycle. But with the team so insistent on keeping that studio culture that made it famous, Turtle Rock may just have the experience it needs to make Evolve another hit and put the studio back on the map.

Turtle Rock was recently named in the Develop 100 Ones to Watch 2014, which you can view on browser and iPad.