The latest entry in our month-long series of profiles examining the biggest, most interesting, and influential studios in the UK and Europe looks at Fuse Games...
FACTFILE: FUSE GAMES
Location: Burford, Oxfordshire
Number of Employees: 14
Key Personnel: Adrian Barritt (Managing Director), Richard Horrocks (Technical Director), Kevin Ayre (Art Director) ,Cai Remrod (Creative Director)
Recent Softography: Super Mario Ball, Metroid Prime Pinball
Currently Working On: Unannounced Titles
What's the best way to cope with the demands on recruitment and staffing brought about by the rise of asset-hungry next-gen formats? For Fuse Games, the answer is to simply not be part of the equation.
That's founder and MD Adrian Barritt's answer when asked about the pressures of running an independent studio.
"This has not been an issue for us, as we currently have no plans for PS3 or Xbox360 development," he explains. For a team which previously produced two first-party handheld games based on Nintendo characters that might not come as a surprise.
The team never intended to make it to the exclusive club of Western independent developers that have Nintendo as their publisher, as the company was originally founded by Barritt and technical director Richard Horrocks to create a new kind of pinball game for the Game Boy Advance - but a smart pitch a year after opening which threw gaming icon Mario in a pinball adventure grabbed the eye of the format-holder based in Kyoto, Japan.
Super Mario Ball for the GBA rolled out in 2004 and bounced to the top spot of the Japanese charts, which Barritt describes as the team's proudest moment. The success didn't end there, however - next up was Metroid Pinball for the DS, which Nintendo chose to help introduce its handheld's rumble pack - another company milestone. The game has since been a big hit in , with consumer magazine Famitsu awarding it a Gold Medal.
Since then, production has been ramping up on Fuse's next game - the team can't say what it is yet, or who the publisher is, what format it's on, or whether it will be related to another well known game character. Nintendo? Wii? Kirby?
Barritt's lips are sealed, except to hint that the game is a "a big departure" for the team, which suggests pinball isn't on the menu - although with the team planning to increase capacity to multiple projects pinball probably won't be forgotten.
"We have also begun recruiting programmers as part of a steady expansion plan that will ultimately enable us to develop more projects at the same time," explains Barritt while fleshing out the team's next steps.
Key to the expansion, explains the management team, is keeping staff productive and also happy.
"We have our own unusual development process called Extreme Game Development which is based on the principles of Extreme Programming," says Barritt when talking about the first half of that point. It's a process that gets programmers to work in pairs, switched throughout the day, working on the same computer - these teams regularly test their work and construct code iteratively.
Explains Barritt: "This process has enabled us to produce games of the highest quality on time and to budget, whilst avoiding overtime and the crunch periods that plague the industry."
And as for keeping everyone happy while working in that unique production process?
"We also put our employees first, and rather unusually, share the royalties we receive equally between all the employees, directors included."