This all reinforces our studio’s first core belief of people first too. What is it that you’re looking for when building out a team that can chase down these ideas?
The quality of work we’re producing at Striking Distance Studios is possible because of the people we’ve brought on board. They’re important to our identity as a studio, so they absolutely come first. I want them to feel empowered and have fun working on this project - we make games for a living, so it’s crucial that they have a comfortable quality of life in and outside of this office.
I want the people here to enjoy making games as much as I do, if not more. Ultimately, choosing to work here is a commitment in one way or another and that can include a commitment to commuting, to moving, and to giving your time and energy to this project, and I truly appreciate that. So, that comes with open and honest transparency from me and the rest of the executive team.
I build my style of management on a foundation of trust. We hired everyone here as an expert and rely on them to contribute to the game in meaningful ways with little management from the executive team. As an artist myself, I’ve worked on projects where I was told to “get the game done,” and that was it. However, I found that my favorite projects were the ones where management asked me to “make something great,” and I want our people to experience that level of creative freedom. As with any studio, we still have deadlines to consider, but we’re focused on producing quality results and that means allowing people to work on a project they’re passionate about rather than assigning tasks they’re unhappy with.
The next true innovation in games feels like it’s more about how we’re going to be able to merge all these separate elements like audio, visuals, design, and more together for an immersive experience like no other. How is SDS approaching things in this regard?
I believe the new consoles will allow us to produce a level of immersion unlike ever before, especially when you factor in how we can use SSDs to render worlds quickly, to produce realistic audio, and to use the new features on controllers. These new advances in technology are pushing us to think about every little thing we’re putting into the project, where we can -- and have to, focus on the details.
Every asset in our game has to serve a purpose, whether that’s for gameplay reasons or immersion. It has to feel natural to the world we’re creating, where the dissonance between believability and the suspension of it isn’t a factor. We’re thinking things through more than ever, and that includes small things like the placement of a room or the design of a hallway.
It’s all to service immersion and to keep you within the reality of our game. That includes how things are animated in the world, so we’re working on new technology that removes stutters in animations to ensure that every motion looks, feels and sounds natural.
"I want the people here to enjoy making games as much as I do."
What makes the East Bay so special to you? Typically, game studios are usually in the Bay Area proper such as around the Peninsula.
I knew where a lot of developers were thanks to my time at EA and Sledgehammer, and a lot of them live in the East Bay. Plus, I knew this area was a really nice place to live. The schools are great and there is more housing available. When you consider everything San Ramon offers, you find there’s a fantastic quality of life that you can’t get anywhere else.
I really love Bishop Ranch, too. I thought the location and the amenities they offered made it a simple decision for us to set up shop here. We also get first-pick on all the talent living in the East Bay. In San Ramon, tapping into a talent pool of game developers that are often overlooked elsewhere, which means we’re finding people who not only want to build their lives here, but who also genuinely want to make something great at Striking Distance Studios.
Now that SDS is a little over a year old, how are you feeling about where things are at?
I feel great. To think we’re at 150 people now, 65 of which were hired during the pandemic, is truly incredible. These are talented people that we’ve brought onboard, which is something that I credit to our hiring process and to our wider team. I’m really proud of the group we’ve built in the past year, the work we’ve accomplished, and every deadline we’ve hit up to this point has been fantastic. We’ve nailed just about everything we set out to do so far and I don’t see that momentum slowing down any time soon.
I’m incredibly happy with the work we’ve accomplished as a large studio working remotely. The people here are dedicated. I’ll admit, I was worried about remote work at first. I didn’t know what to expect, but the team has taken to it very well. What matters most to me is that our people can manage the work-life balance and produce skilled work. If they can do that, which they have, I think we’re in a good place.