Producer Jeff O'Connell conveys the grim atmosphere reigning over the developers at United Front Games, moments after losing their publisher and months before their ambitious open-world game could stand in a lineup with other free-roaming felons. Activision wanted a bold return for its True Crime franchise, but decided to pull the plug in February 2010. The protracted effort just wasn't guaranteed to conclude at the top of the genre.
Enter: Square Enix London Studios, a division of Square Enix Europe (formerly Eidos). At about 20 members it's a much smaller group than the Vancouver-based United Front, which had close to 180 employees at the peak of True Crime development. "We're a pretty small, tight group," says General Manager Lee Singleton. "I think, actually, a couple of years ago I did the math and I think the average amount of industry experience is like 15 or 16 years or something. We're all pretty seasoned guys."
United Front can whip out a similar resume, built on familial qualities. "We consider ourselves very close-knit," O'Connell says. "I'm sure a lot of these studios say they consider themselves a family, and we do, and we do things to foster that kind of feeling. We have a lot of events, and even though we're a very young studio, we're a very experienced studio." The studio began with Modnation Racers, a vibrant, approachable racing game built with Sony, but incorporates veterans from Bully, Prototype and the Need for Speed franchise.
"Meeting Square, which we did very shortly after the game was canceled -- and I'm probably going to use some corny expression -- was like a bright light," O'Connell says. "Right away, we met those guys and I think we just clicked with them. It's one thing for people to come in and love the game, which they did, and it's another thing for people to come in and just get along with them incredibly well and go out for drinks and meals with them, and just have a really fantastic time, and have them in the studio and have them ask questions or make suggestions, and have that show their depth of understanding." If that run-on sentence isn't indicative of real enthusiasm about this relationship, we don't know what is.