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GCAP: Double Fine's Martz On Taking The Strange Paths

What does the game industry have in common with the wildlife of Australia? Double Fine's Nathan Martz has an idea, urging Game Connect Asia Pacific attendees to be bold, diverse and different.
"Money is important, right? We all need to be thoughtful about our business... but I fear a little bit that we're all now so obsessed with high valuation companies, with who bought who for four hundred or eight hundred or seven hundred million dollars... that I feel like we've lost a little bit of our message," says Double Fine project lead Nathan Martz. He insists he's not at the Gamasutra-attended Game Connect Asia Pacific to talk about himself, but as a representative of the left-of-center studio, whose logo is a two-headed baby. Martz is here to tell audiences that it's good to different. He opens with possibly the cutest analogy ever uttered at a games conference. On his way to the GCAP, Martz and his girlfriend visited Sydney Wildlife World and Sydney Aquarium: "As we walked through, the thing that really caught my eye [was that] you guys only have two kinds of animals here," he says. "Either insanely cute animals or insanely deadly animals... as I thought about that, it really reminded me of our industry." Games tend to be either saccharine or bloody -- there's not a lot going on between those extremes, he suggests. "Both of those are different evolutionary strategies," continues Martz. "Under pressure, some species go the cute route ... and some species try to go violent, they get threatening." As with Aussie beasties, so with games. The pressure of the GFC has pushed many studios along the paths of least risk: following where others have gone before. Not so Double Fine -- they evolved in a whole other direction. After their hopes for a developing a sequel to Brutal Legendwere dashed, Schafer's team found themselves in development limbo. "There's really two options for the studio: one option that many companies would take would be lay-offs; strip the company down, maintain only key staff... whatever cash you have, make it last as long as possible." But just as a company expects loyalty from staff during tough times, Schafer believed that the reverse should hold true. They took the other option -- go for broke. Instead of putting all of their eggs in a single, long-term basket, they would split into teams and simultaneously develop four games on a much smaller scale. The birthing of "Quadruple Fine", as Martz jokingly calls it, was far from painless. The sound effects and visual effects departments only consisted of two people each, and there was a shortage of programmers with certain specialist knowledge, such as physics or the PS3 platform. Some individuals began to be bounced between projects, losing time, focus and therefore productivity in the process. But they struggled through, and learned the hard lessons. "In the long haul, I think this was actually hugely beneficial. Our engineers are stronger today for having gone through this. We have more people who know our audio code; more people who know how the PS3 works in detail ... that flexibility translates directly to lower cost and more creativity." The lesson is an old one: no reward without risk. "Our real world has tremendous biodiversity. We have everything from cute little prosimians like tarsiers to crazy cuttlefish ... I hope that our gaming industry can one day show the same type of diversity ... the only way that we're going to get there is if some of us are bold; if we try out new ideas and commit ourselves not to taking the easy path, but to taking the strange path or the hard path or the path we're passionate about."

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