Interview: Totem Games' Cavanagh On Moving From AAA To iPhone

Previously lead designer at the now defunct Bizarre Creations, Matt Cavanagh has formed his own indie studio and is looking to focus on creating local multiplayer iPhone games, he tells Gamasutra.
The closing of Liverpool, UK-based Bizarre Creations earlier this year may have been a difficult time for all involved, but as Activision closed one door, several others opened in the form of indie studios. Numerous ex-Bizarre staffers grabbed at the opportunity to develop exactly the games they wanted to make. One such designer was Matt Cavanagh, who recently formed his own company Totem Games from the ashes of his AAA development position. Originally lead designer at Bizarre, Cavanagh saw the seemingly dire circumstances as an exciting first step towards being his own boss and creating his own vision. "With the closure of the Bizarre Creations studio, I realised that I had an opportunity to run my own games company," he told Gamasutra. "Sure, it's a risk -- however it's also an opportunity that may never be available to me again." The benefits of moving from a large team to a solo project were not lost on him. "One of the main advantages to being self-employed is the creative control it affords," he noted. "That was a major lure for me when making the decision to go it alone." That's not to say that the downfall of Bizarre was easy to take, as Cavanagh describes the closure as "very sad." "It was a great company with great people and it had a very loyal and supportive fan base," he explained, but added that, "Although I had no plans to leave prior to the closure, I am thoroughly enjoying being my own boss." Cavanagh set up Totem Games last month with his wife Jill -- he'll be designing and developing their games, while she will act as the company's business partner. After years of working on big AAA console titles such as Fur Fighters, The Club and 007: Bloodstone, Cavanagh is planning to move into the iOS space, as so many developers before him have. Yet despite his relative lack of experience with the platform, he believes it's the best place to be right now. "It makes big sense for me to choose to develop for iOS because initial investment is minimal, and it's easy for developers to self-publish their games," he explained. "Apple seems keen to nurture independent developers and has worked hard to take a lot of the weight off the developers' shoulders," he continued, although he did note that, "In the long term I'd like to branch out onto other platforms." As for taking inspiration from his previous work, Cavanagh is looking to put all that behind him and try something completely new. "I'm planning to make a broad range of games, as I have a broad range of ideas," he told us. "The line-up of games you'll see from Totem is quite different to anything I worked on at Bizarre." "I want to give gamers experiences which are new and fresh that stand out from the crowd; that's what Totem Games is all about." One of these directions with which he hopes to stand out is his focus on multiplayer titles. While local multiplayer games for iPhone aren't so common, Cavanagh believes there is a definite market for such ideas, especially on a competitive scale. "I aim to bring something original to the table and our first game blends old-school game mechanics to create something fresh, intensely challenging and highly competitive," he explained. "It will support two players on one device; a feature I know people are very keen to see." "I think there is a real shortage of two and multi-player games for the mobile market," he quipped. "My first title has been designed to support two competing players on one device and I have been really pleased with the feedback I've received so far." Beating friend over computer is a far bigger pull, he believes. "I think it is a great feature -- you can play with a friend on the bus, in the pub, wherever really." "I think people will want that -- beating another human is far more satisfying than defeating an AI opponent. Although the screen is small, the players are not cramped, or finger-fighting at all." Totem Games wasn't the only dev team to rise from ashes of Bizarre, with the likes of Hogrocket and Lucid Games also founded by ex-team members. But while Cavanagh remains good friends with his past co-workers, he's perfectly fine with doing his own thing, rather than joining up. "Games development in the North West is thriving and Lucid is a great example of this," he noted. "I am still in regular contact my ex-Bizarre friends and a member of the NWIndies [North West UK Independent Game Developers] group." He doesn't really see it as competition either. "I'm really excited to see what everybody produces. I have a lot of friends working at Lucid and they are a really talented bunch, but for now I am relishing the chance to develop my own ideas." Future collaboration isn't completely out of the question, however. "Totem's first release will be developed solely by myself," he concluded, "but I would love to collaborate with ex-Bizarre people in the future."

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