This week marks the launch of Journey to the Savage Planet, which we’ve been enjoying so far. The game is the first title from Typhoon Studios, a Montreal-based developer founded by Aussie ex-pat and Far Cry 4 creative director Alex Hutchinson and Reid Schneider. But according to Hutchinson, it’ll probably be the last game the studio ever ships on a disc.
“I love physical media, but they’ve already murdered the manual and the cool game box pack-ins, so there’s not much to lose sadly,” Hutchinson told Kotaku Australia over email. Hutchinson was recently back in Melbourne, and tweeted about browsing through what used to be his local EB Games store, musing on the experience of finding your own game on the shelves.
Wandered into a game store in my hometown here in Melbourne and saw this. Surprisingly exciting to find our game out in the wild in the place I used to shop for games for twenty years. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/TCywwQbXyM
— Alex Hutchinson (@BangBangClick) January 11, 2020
But it’s an experience that Hutchinson, who shipped multiple boxed copies during his time at Ubisoft, doesn’t expect to have for much longer. “I think this is my last game that’ll launch on a disc sadly, and I’ll miss it,” he said. “I think in a few years it’ll be all digital with an optional physical edition which is only a limited special edition like the old days for super fans.”
Part of that reason is partially because of the transition from physical to digital. But in Hutchinson’s case, it’s also because the studio was incorporated into Google last year. “The Typhoon team will be joining our first Stadia Games and Entertainment studio that is based in Montreal and led by Sébastien Puel,” Jade Raymond, head of Stadia Games & Entertainment, announced at the end of last year.
It’s certainly a different beast from when Hutchinson started in the industry in Australia with Torus Games, where he met his now co-founder Reid Schneider. I asked Hutchinson about that experience, losing your Australian accent, and what he sees as the next shifts in the gaming world will be.
Kotaku Australia: You originally landed a job at Torus Games – have you ever kept in touch with some of the staff from your time there? Do you ever reminisce about going back to Melbourne and starting a studio there one day?
Alex Hutchinson: I have many friends from back at Torus. In fact I met my current business partner, Reid Schneider at Typhoon while he was an external producer and I was a designer at Torus. Another old friend, Greg Palstra, was head of engineering there too and now he’s GM of the Activision Melbourne studio after a stint making FIFA. Ty Carey Art Director at Armello makers League of Geeks and Trent Kusters from there are also friends who started out at Torus.
You once mentioned that it was essential to have an understanding of engineering, particularly as a designer – but you also got into the industry not being able to draw or code. What experiences gave you that appreciation for engineering?
Alex Hutchinson: Writing! I was a freelance writer and published a bunch of articles and short stories and even a young adult novel. The need for structure and a logical flow in writing helped me gain a superficial understanding of gameplay engineering, or at least what was possible or not, which meant I always communicated better with engineers.
I’m a hyper practical person, so I’m not a fan of grand, flowery statements. I like facts and I like rules, so game design and engineering were a good fit.
What have you found easier to create from scratch in your career: a great villain or a great hero?
Alex Hutchinson: Great villains are a lot more fun. Most of the games I’ve made you either build your own character as in Spore, play as yourself as in Savage Planet, or your pretty much jut a vessel for the player’s whims as in Far Cry 4, so I much prefer crafting the villains. The hero is just there to put a body on the player for me! The villain is a challenge to overcome, an alternate voice in the game, and someone to push back on you.
How did the conversation with Google Stadia begin? What do you see the Stadia experience being like for Australians in the next two to three years?
Alex Hutchinson: We have been talking on and off for a long time and it just seemed like a good fit finally. We just want to make cool games with fun people, and that was a match for Stadia. They are putting together a great team and having your game collection online and accessible from anywhere is clearly the future to us. In a few years you’ll be jumping into a new coop game from us using any device you have available with a screen, building your own couch co-op setup on the train, at work and at home. And the scale of simulation and the amount of players in your world will be vast.
What were some of the core design tenets that the team established very early on in development?
Alex Hutchinson: We had a few rules from the start: player stories are more important than our story; build a colourful and optimistic world; try to surprise the player; value exploration above all else; and keep it funny. 🙂
What influences did the team draw on that weren’t from video games – like books, films, philosophy, art?
Alex Hutchinson: For me the two big influences were golden age science fiction, where the act of setting out on an adventure was worthwhile, and you didn’t need to save the world. Just seeing what was over the next hill was a goal worth setting. And also lots of the games I grew up playing on my Amiga 500: genres felt fresher, you could still get games that truly surprised you, and it didn’t feel like everything was a huge license or an interconnected ‘universe’.
Having seen so many of the major shifts in the industry and the effect it has on the creation and the design of the games – live service games being one instance – where do you think the next seismic shift influencing design will come from?
Alex Hutchinson: Lack of physical hardware will be the next one sadly. And I say that as someone whose office looks like where they stored the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones. I will miss it but soon enough your game console as well as your game library will follow you around and be completely in the cloud.
How many years – or months, weeks even – did it take for you to lose your accent, and did you notice at first?
Alex Hutchinson: I hope I haven’t lost it completely! I’m from Melbourne so it was never super strong. I notice it whenever I’m speaking in public in Canada or the United States I tend to roll my ‘Rs’…
You were back in Australia recently shopping in what I’m guessing was an EB Games store. How much longer do you think people will have that experience?
Alex Hutchinson: I think this is my last game that’ll launch on a disc sadly, and I’ll miss it. I love physical media, but they’ve already murdered the manual and the cool game box pack-ins, so there’s not much to lose sadly. I think in a few years it’ll be all digital with an optional physical edition which is only a limited special edition like the old days for super fans.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made that taught you a lesson you’ve never forgot?
Alex Hutchinson: Never try to second guess what other people you work with or players want: go with what you think is strong, stay true to it, keep it consistent and finish it.
Journey to the Savage Planet launches in Australia on PC (via Epic Games), PS4 and Xbox One on January 30.