On Tuesday I got the chance, thanks to the magic of the internet, to peek in on THQ
's presser kick-off to their brand new studio in Montreal. What they announced may surprise you; THQ is planning a bold new direction with this studio that breaks with some of the more casual and licensed-property work they are known for.
The conference started with an introduction by the new studio's general manager Dave Gatchel and a decidedly core-oriented sizzle reel. We got brief glimpses of Devil's Third
, Space Marine
, Company of Heroes Online
, Red Faction Armageddon
and the centerpiece of the conference, Homefront
. Afterward Danny Bilson, the executive vice president of the Core Games brand, took the podium to outline the new studio's direction.
Bilson emphasized that just making games wasn't good enough anymore--THQ had to bring triple-A blockbuster experiences to compete in the increasingly tough game market. He said that Homefront would lead the charge in this regard, offering a more desperate, defend-the-homeland story mode than competing first-person-shooters and a robust multiplayer option. One of the attending journalists commented on the game's similarity to Red Dawn, and Bilson pointed out that the game was written by John Milius, the man who wrote that movie. From what I saw Homefront does look like a modernized, scaled-up Red Dawn, but with North Korea invading instead of Russia. It certainly looks cinematic too; THQ showed off a subsequent trailer reminiscent of the Modern Warfare story mode cutscenes, except the whole thing was staged and recorded from a live multiplayer match.
Bilson's second main point was that the new Montreal studio is all about giving creative freedom to the developers, and then using marketing teams to expand those visions. We've seen this go the other way around in a lot of studios so it's refreshing to see developer ideas as the central driving force instead of demographic statistics. Putting his money where his mouth was, Bilson announced that Patrice Desilets is heading a new team at the studio and working on an unannounced project. As you may recall, Desilets was a lead developer on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and the first two Assassin's Creed titles. As a huge fan of Sands of Time I can't wait to see what Patrice is working on for THQ.
The Montreal Studio is currently hiring and looks to expand by 400 employees in the next five years; Bilson said that a second team in addition to Desilets' is currently being assembled and put to work on another secret project.
I've really enjoyed a lot of THQ's recent work, and while I was disappointed that there wasn't more Red Faction at the conference I'm excited to see what this new studio produces. As a studio focused entirely on big core experiences, THQ Montreal could bring a lot of integrity back to the development process. For a few years now there's been a false dichotomy between bland, simplistic casual games brought on by the Wii and iPhone craze, and big annual core titles like Madden and Call of Duty that are more the product of cynical market research than genuine creativity and innovation. There have been indie games, sure, but they've pretty much stayed indie on download platforms without blossoming into high profile games. Hopefully THQ's new studio will strike a healthy middle ground, where we get high profile core games that also have some fresh new ideas and developer heart in them.