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Joystiq interviews Wideload Games' Alex Seropian

Ross Miller

As one of the first to leave Bungie Studios after co-founding the developer, Alex Seropian transitioned from creating Xbox's then-surprising megahit Halo to starting afresh with Wideload Games, a small development firm he founded in Chicago.

After finding success with the humorous Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse (which sports a pretty hip soundtrack, we might add), Wideload went silent until earlier this week, when they revealed Hail to the Chimp as their sophomore title. The game, which is a political-party title involving animals vying to become head of the animal kingdom, is being published by the fowl-loving, former Gathering of Developer heads now known as Gamecock.

With the candor and humor, Alex endured bad audio quality to talk to Joystiq about gaming, politics, and chicken suits.

How did the Gamecock deal come about?

I've known Mike Wilson for a number of years back to the Gathering of Developer days, and we kind of became friends back then when we were both working with Take Two. This is when I was running Bungie; we had a distribution deal with Take Two, like Gathering did. We've kept in touch for a long time and he kind of gave me some fair warning that he was going to try and get something started up again about a year ago, which is about the same time we were coming off of Stubbs and planning our next project.

We were trying to figure if it would be possible to do something together and the timing worked out really well, and the whole way that they are set up and the things that are important to them kind of aligned really nicely with how we're set up and what's important to us. It was like getting our chocolate and their peanut butter or something. [Laughs]

Did you also get one of those crazy chicken costumes?

[Laughs] I have not gotten into a chicken suit, no, nor do I plan to. I like chicken, though.

Right now, are you more interested in retail or digital distribution as a means to get your games out?

I kind of take the cheesy horror view of the world where I'd like to be distributed everywhere and anywhere.

Our relationship with the Gamecock guys, it's non-traditional in the spectrum of how developers and publishers relate to each other, but it's also traditional in terms of, we are going to put a game in a box and sell it at retail.

I know we can't talk about the game too much, so let's talk about politics.

Good, we can move on to a light-hearted subject. [Laughs]

What is the political climate at Wideload? Does your team talk about politics often?

We do, actually. Most of us -- not all of us, but most of us are NPR-listening hippies. We kind of get along at that level, and we do try to find the humorous silver lining in the current state of the world, which is sometimes hard to do but kind of bonds us all together. I think some of that sort of satirical view at the world will make its way through to the project that we are working on right.

Hail to the Chimp, while it is very family-friendly ... it's got animals in it. Of course the animals do beat the crap out of each other, but it does have animals in it. It also has very many different layers of humor in it from the pure physical comedy to raw, political satire. Politics does play a part in our daily lies.

During his speech at DICE, Doug Lowenstein called for more commercially viable games that tackle politically relevant topics. In a recent interview, Harvey Smith, who is working on the next Area 51 and including levels based in Iraq, asked, "How is it not in every sense the right thing to do, even in terms of business [to incorporate politics into gaming]? This is what people are thinking about right now." What are your thoughts on making commercially viable political games?

We're kind of trying to make a simulation and not really trying to capture the true essence of politics. I think we are looking at what some could say is an absurd process and putting it into its rightful absurd setting. [Laugh]

Let's move away from politics for a bit. In a piece you did with Gamasutra many months back, you talked about the benefits of having a small group of developers and contracting the work out in much later stages. Is this still the business model for Wideload?

Oh yeah, in fact we've really run with that kind of setup and since we've shipped Stubbs, we've done quite a few things here internally, both with our staff and the tools that we use and the process we go through to further orient ourselves toward that business model. We really do like working that way and we're continually trying to improve that process that we have to take advantage of all of the external relationships.

Yes, yes, an emphatic yes. With another yes after that. And maybe an exclamation point.

I'll be sure to add in a few of those (here you go: !!!!). Other than Hail to the Chimp, are there any other projects in development?

Hail to the Chimp is our major focus right now, for sure. We do have some other stuff that we're working on, though, which we can say nothing about. But suffice it to say, they're awesome!

Do you keep up with current and former Bungie staffers?

Ah, screw those f*ckers! No, I'm kidding, they're all my best buddies. I do [keep up with them]. In fact, I was trading baby pictures with some of those guys over there this morning. Pictures of my baby, not random babies.

Have you been approached or have you given any input on Halo 3?

Sure, tons of it! They don't listen though. They hold the phone up in the air and do that mouthing motion. [Laughs] Nah, I'm kind of out of that whole process.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think it is a pretty cool time for developers. When I started Wideload, the whole reason I came up with this business model was because I thought the climate for being an independent developer was getting much harsher to survive in. Our business model and the way we operate is designed to make us succeed, and I think what is happening right now with a lot of the new distribution channels, with companies like Gamecock launching that the opportunity for the kind of developers like Wideload have multiplied a lot.

I'm hoping that the end results is that we are going to end up with a lot more interesting, new, creative fun games. Which is our desire, of course.

Will you be attending GDC?

Yes, I certainly will. I won't be speaking.

Thank you for your time.

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