Three of the key developers behind Nintendo's popular Metroid Prime series recently jumped ship to form a new development studio that will be dedicated to creating games for all three platforms under a publishing deal with Electronic Arts, the publisher announced today.
Armature Studio, located in Austin, Texas, is headed by Mark Pacini, Todd Keller and Jack Mathews, the former Game Director, Art Director and Principal Technology Engineer of the Nintendo franchise.
In a recent interview with Kotaku, Pacini said that the trio formed the new company some time in April and signed their exclusive publishing deal with EA two to three months later.
"EA approached us with this really interesting business model of creating a small studio that is only comprised of industry veterans," Pacini said. "The goal is to create new IP with a very, very small team and to produce a game without having to grow that team."
Pacini said he and the others at Armature are excited to finally be working on games for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and not just the Wii and DS.
"From my stand point, I've never worked on any other console," he said. "I've always made games for Nintendo. I'm reinvigorated. I'm really excited about what other opportunities are out there. How can we use Xbox Live? How can we use the power of the PS3?"
"I think it really opens it up," he said. "I'm not saying it was by any means restrictive working for Nintendo. We had this palette to work on, the Wii and the DS, but now we have everything."
"That's just really, really exciting."
Retro Studios was founded in Austin, Texas in 1998. In 2000, Nintendo gave the studio the licence to the Metroid franchise to help recreate the game for the Gamecube. In 2002 the developer relased Metroid Prime. In 2004 they released Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and last year released Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the Wii.
Under their current contract with Electronic Arts, Armature wouldn't be able to develop a Metroid Prime game for Nintendo. Not that means they've lost interest in the franchise they helped revive.
"Personally, I would love to work on another Metroid game," said. Keller. "I have been in love with Metroid for years. We had a chance to recreate a game that was created way back when that was awesome."
The deal with Electronic Arts is an experiment of sorts, Pacini said. Under the agreement, the studio will report to EA General Manager Lou Castle as part of EA's secretive Blueprint Division. Castle is acting Executive Producer of the Armature Studio games. Instead of operating like typical game development studios, the core team at Armature Studio will work on game prototypes. Once a game is ready for development a bulk of that work would be shifted to an external team or another studio, while the Armature people would follow the project as directors.
"We would still be very hands on," Pacini said.
While studios have tried versions of this in the past, none have tried to keep a central core of directors on to supervise the projects, Pacini said.
"We are interested to see how it goes past the prototype stage," he said. "Our studio is the grand experiment. It's kind of a really different take on how to make these larger scale games."
Armature and EA hopes that this new approach to game development could cut down on the risk a bit and allow developers and publishers to take greater risks.
"It's really reasonable to go out on a limb and take a risk that we kinda think might be cool," Pacini said. "That's the sort of environment we are trying to set up. That's what we are about as a studio."
Pacini and Keller declined to say what specifically their new studio is currently working on with Electronic Arts, but said, at least initially, they want to stick to the types of games the group are comfortable with.
"We all have very different background: Action, adventures and shooters," Keller said. "We have already started (on some games) for sure. We are working every day. We are in the preliminary stages.
"EA has been very very supportive of all of our efforts."
Armature Studio is looking to hire several key staff by the end of the year, Pacini said. They will be at the Austin Game Developers Conference later this week, he added.