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Column: 'The Euro Vision: The North-South Divide'

After a Japanese feint, the latest edition of Gamasutra's 'The Euro Vision' column sees Jon Jordan tracking the rise and relocation of EA Northwest studio, and partying with some arty London mobile game developers.
Farewell then Clover Studio. The Capcom outfit, stuffed full of creatives types out to set the world of gaming alive again with innovation and delight, is no more. Fanboys point to this turn of events with a tear in their eye and flameouts brewing on their blogs - 'will we ever see the like of Okami again? Capcom sucks. Stupid gamers who don't buy cool games suck etc.' But frankly, who gives one? Beautiful game that it was, Okami was never going to sell anything outside of Japan, and like those other pinups of the scene - Ico and Katamari Damacy - didn't sell that well domestically. Clover wasn't even a proper studio either. It was a fully funded internal Capcom resource only set up two years ago, which spent most of its time porting and doing sequels for Viewtiful Joe. And as far as I can see, it was never particularly creative in the commercial sense developers now need to be in order to stay in business. Anyone can be innovative: being innovative and profitable, that's more challenging. Still, some people seem to believe Clover's loss is bad for the industry. They also probably believe its name came from the concatenation, C(reativity) Lover. Goodbye EA Northwest Last time I looked though, Osaka wasn't part of Europe: once again this column is roaming beyond its geographical brief. For despite the current online angst over the end of Clover, I'm more interested in the closure of EA Northwest, a studio I doubt anyone who isn't working at has shed any tears over. One reason I'm annoyed is because it was located in Warrington, which is only a couple of miles down the road from where I live and despite occasionally being offered the chance to visit, I never got round to it. (There was also a never substantiated rumour, the basement of the office complex it was in, was used by a porn production company, but I transgress.) Now I'll never find out about either, as the 50 staff have been offered positions at EA's new UK headquarters 200 miles away in Guildford. Not a long distance in American terms, granted, but I'd be amazed if more than a handful make the move. Guildford is one of the most expensive place in the UK to buy a house. EA Europe's corporate PR Tiffany Steckler bravely went through the motions though, explaining the staff would be offered relocation, and that the decision wasn't about cutting jobs but a reorganisation to provide a better focus for new IP development and the sharing of technology and expertise across teams. But another reason I'm miffed I never visited was no one seemed to be able to tell me what the workforce actually did all day. Presumably if I'd gone along, I would have found out. Rumours suggested at one point it was working on updates of EA's Strike franchise. Then it was working on the PSP version of Battlefield: Modern Combat, which was cancelled. Like most of EA's European studios, it was called upon to lend a hand to get Battlefield 2 out on time, but throughout its four years of existence, it didn't seem to have shipped a complete game. So like an inverted version of Clover, EA Northwest was set up without fanfare or hope of creative glory, and even being workaday wasn't enough to keep it going in the current climate. It's a far cry from the bright future predicted by EA's onetime executive vice president Bruce McMillan, when veteran Liverpool-based developer Studio 33 was merged into EA Northwest in 2003, boosting staff numbers to their peak of 75. "The new team is already working on several projects that will be announced in the future," said McMillan. "I predict that very shortly, EA Northwest will be a globally recognized powerhouse of interactive entertainment." Two years later he'd left EA, no one had heard of EA Northwest, and journalists offered the chance to visit didn't bother. In fact, perhaps the most sensible decision taken during the studio's existence was that of Studio 33's onetime manager. Offered a great job within EA after the takeover, he decided to decline in order to take up online poker. At least then you know the cards aren't stacked in your favour. Mobile Games Get Arty Here's a brain teaser. Can anyone name the UK company which developed a complete title in the Final Fantasy series? The answer, of course, is London-based Ideaworks3D, which completed the mobile game Dirge of Cerberus Lost Episode - Final Fantasy VII for Square Enix this summer. The company has also been in celebratory mood this week with the launch of its third generation mobile game development and deployment system, Airplay. License agreements with Texas Instruments and ARM mean the technology can automatically handle porting 3D games to 90 percent of available handsets, at least according to CEO Alex Caccia. These include smartphones using the Symbian, Linux and Windows Mobile operating systems, Qualcomm's BREW platform and the increasing subsection of mobiles which include dedicated 3D hardware. A previous version of Airplay was used by Nokia to launch the N-Gage Arena multiplayer service, while Ideaworks3D's development arm has worked on mobile titles such as EA’s The Sims 2 and Need for Speed Underground 2, both of which have been hugely successful in the US market. Still, most of that was forgotten as we partied down in London at the Serpentine Gallery; an art gallery most famous for the little black dress worn by Princess Diana when she attended a gala there the night Prince Charles announced he'd been unfaithful to her on UK TV back in the 1990s. Ideaworks3D’s vice president Thor Gunnarson didn’t cite such reasoning though. Instead, he said he'd chosen the venue because it was the last night its summer pavilion [pictured] - designed by architecture Rem Koolhaas - was available for corporate events before it was shipped to an American art collector who had paid a reputed £750,000 ($1.4 million) for the structure. It looked like a mis-shapen hot air balloon to me, but that may just have been a symptom of Ideaworks3D's largess when it came to liquid refreshment. Certainly UK mobile phone development has rarely seemed to be in better shape. Maybe it can provide some innovation and delight. [Jon Jordan is a freelance games journalist and photographer, based in Manchester, UK. He used to live about 10 miles from EA's UK HQ but was relocated because Guildford is officially one of the most boring places on earth.]

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