Interview: Ocean Quigley
Ex-SimCity creative director and art director Ocean Quigley discusses leaving Maxis behind to form new indie outfit, Jellygrade.
We’ve all been leads on a number of large-scale, multi-year triple-A productions, SimCity being the most recent. These big projects are great in a lot of ways – you get to build something really ambitious and to direct the efforts of lots of talented people. But they have their downsides too – they can get bureaucratic, and the joy of creation can get lost in simply keeping them running. And giant triple-A projects aren’t really a great place for experimentation and innovation – the costs are just too high.
At heart, all three of us really love making games. We want to make new things that haven’t been seen before, and we wanted the creative control that comes from not taking a paycheck. After SimCity shipped, we looked around and decided that this was as good a time to take the leap as any.
Obviously, the three of you have worked together for a long time – when did you start conceiving this new project? What was the overall feeling as the idea to start a studio came together?
We’d casually talked about starting a studio together, but didn’t get serious about it until after SimCity shipped. It’s exciting of course, to be leaving the security and comfort of a big stable company and heading out into the unknown, but I can’t think of any other people I’d rather do this with.
What excites you most about moving away from big studio development, and what are the positive and negatives that you foresee this opportunity will present?
The most exciting thing (and in fact the primary reason to do it) is the creative freedom that it gives us. We don’t have to clear our ideas with anybody! And we don’t need to get anybody’s permission. After working in a big corporation, that’s liberating! The downside is that we have to do everything ourselves; we don’t get the leverage that a big studio provides, nor are we getting paid!
Why are you focusing on tablets? Is this where you consider the future of gaming?
I don’t think that there’s only one “future of gaming”! There’s certainly going to be space for developers and games on PC’s, mobile, web, consoles and who knows where else. We just think that tablets are a fun place to experiment, and that the touch interface gives some exciting new dimensions to the kinds of simulations that we’re interested in.
The App stores are becoming harder and harder markets to infiltrate with greater success, how are you alleviating this risk?
At the moment, our main concern is to make something wonderful, not to worry about marketing strategies. We’ll certainly tell people about what we’re doing, but the emphasis has to be on the game, not on user acquisition.
You said that the messy launch of SimCity made leaving Maxis easier; what was the general attitude over at Maxis surrounding the negativity of SimCity’s launch?
I’d say that we were all frustrated at the infrastructural failures that kept people from playing this game that we’d poured so much into.
Would you consider a server-side always-online system for anything you might develop at Jellygrade, or has the issues surrounding SimCity put you off?
We’re great fans of an online connection supporting the game rather than being a requirement. On mobile you can’t rely on a connection anyway. Regardless, there’s no online component to the first game we’re making.
With your experience you could gain a lot of traction on Kickstarter, is this a route you have planned? How do you hope to fund Jellygrade’s games?
From talking with others, running a proper Kickstarter campaign is incredibly time-consuming. Right now, the project is in a special state where we’re still discovering new dynamics inside the simulation. We don’t want to disrupt that. Our current strategy is to deliver appropriately sized chunks of gameplay for a three-person team, rather than promising the kitchen sink up front.
We’ve seen no shortage of simulation titles in recent years, but, in your opinion, what does the genre need to progress to stay relevant in the future?
Take advantage of the CPU/GPU in a novel way. Every generation, processors improve such that previously non-realtime techniques become viable in realtime. Give players a new experience, playing with a system they’ve never been able to interact with before. Then give player motivations and hang a game around that. We think the genre is alive and well!
You’ve said that your first title will be “a simulation about the dawn of life on earth; about lava, water, rock and the emergence of the first primordial creatures.” How will this differ from games like Spore and From Dust?
There are some common themes, but we’re focused on a much more literal representation of the geologic development of the earth. A lot of the science is fascinating, and it’d be great to inspire people to learn more about it.
Will Jellygrade solely produce simulation games, or is there a scope for expanding into other genres?
We are sticking with simulation games for the foreseeable future!
This interview was taken from games™ issue 138, available now in newsagents and online in both print and digital. You can also subscribe to games™ at a discounted rate at GreatDigitalMags and receive the latest issue on your doorstep early.