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Joystiq interview: Ian Stevens, Tigon Studios' head of game production


Ian Stevens has a lot on his plate. Between launching two games this month in Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and Wheelman and working on Vin Diesel's dream game (not to mention two games still in the concept stage named Melkor and Perrone), we think this gentleman could really use a vacation.

Busy as he is, he was nice enough to take time out of his schedule last week to speak with us about a few things. Number one on the agenda: What is it exactly that Tigon Studios does? If Starbreeze developed Riddick and Midway Newcastle developed Wheelman, where does Tigon fit into this mess? His answer just might shock you!

[Disclaimer: Ian Steven's answer will likely not actually shock you, but you may find it interesting. So there's that.]

Gallery: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena | 13 Photos

Joystiq: Could you explain to me what it is specifically that Tigon Studios does? What is the mission statement of Tigon Studios?

Ian Stevens: So we're an independent production company. We're producers and, to some extent, game designers. Riddick is a bit of a special case for us because it was actually Vin that hired me out of Starbreeze, where I was working on Assault on Dark Athena, to run Tigon. So, our relationship with that studio and the role that we play on a day-to-day basis is kind of like getting back into an old pair of jeans for me. Calling up the Swedes, actually speaking to them in Swedish, talking through design and what's going on, what sort of decisions are being made, what's being encountered as we're getting different builds up and running and what we're finding in our iteration cycles and feedback loops is kind of a way in which we get involved that's not exactly typical for what we otherwise might be called, which is a "licensor."

So are you folks like an intermediary?

I don't think that's the right word. It's not as though we filter or position information that goes back and forth between Starbreeze and other parties. It's not so much that way. When you look at the setup -- so you have Starbreeze that's developing this game and Atari that's publishing it and Universal that owns the Riddick IP and Vin -- you have sort of all these people outside of this development studio that are looking at this project on a day-to-day basis and having it make sense. Giving their feedback and giving their direction and so we are one of those groups and perhaps what I would say maybe more closely linked because of my relationship with them. We're sort of in a very good place to be helpful and to give good direction about how we can sort of make sense of what's happening over here.

How has it been transitioning from Starbreeze to Tigon? How has your role changed?

Throughout my career I've kind of sat in a lot of different seats. My relationship with Starbreeze began in about 2001 and I was an associate producer at the time. I was making trips to Sweden to sort of line produce and work on schedules and stuff like that. And then as we got into development on Escape from Butcher Bay we were running into challenges -- it was a really difficult project -- and I wound up moving out there to Sweden. Sort of Vivendi saying, "Hey, here's a guy that'll help you out." And that ended up being a really strong collaboration. It worked out so well that they hired me back when we figured out we were gonna do Assault on Dark Athena. And in between that I was at Activision on Call of Duty 2.

My career's been a bit scattershot: I've had many different roles at many different companies. To leave a game developer where my day-to-day was literally creation of game assets and scripting levels and sort of having an idea about how something needed to work and then actually building it, and then moving more into producorial and creative management roles ... it's very familiar but a bit more of a high-level thing. In a sort of strange way, I've become a bit of a source of continuity in the Riddick series. It's interesting.

How has the wrap on Wheelman been? How've things been going?

Pretty good. We're sort of going through the same thing with Riddick and Wheelman at the same time, which is interesting. I think it'll be a first for me where I have sort of two games that are as closely linked as these feel, in that they both have Vin in them in a pretty heavy way. We sort of have two games hitting that market at kind of the same time. I think it's been good. I really like the review process. I really like seeing what people think about our stuff. I think even when it's -- when it's really good, it's really interesting to see what they latch on to (the reviewer) and what has an impact on people, and when reviews are really negative it's interesting to see what they didn't like and what they complained about. Usually what you hope is that you just get a fair shot with people -- positive or negative -- and the feedback they have is constructive and meaningful. That's always interesting to me and I always get a kick out of it one way or another.

On the subject of Wheelman, we heard about a movie a while back. Is that still in production or planned?

It is, yeah. It's in development over at Paramount and we've been working on that really since even development on the game began. It's taken a pretty long time to try and find a really unique tone and style for that film ... a direction for it creatively. We've been sort of precious with it because this is one of those things where we're trying to do things a little bit differently than most in that we're trying to develop this IP really intelligently across more than one medium at a time and want that to be a harmonious thing where these things are connected and yet also very respective of the other individual mediums -- what it takes to make a game good and interesting is not what it takes to make a film good and interesting. And so, we've sort of been in a position where we can take time with that -- and have -- and it's still very much alive and kicking. I don't know exactly when something like that will kick into production. It's kind of this interesting battle that we have with Vin's schedule 'cause there are just so many things that could be the next movie and so, finding a place for that is kind of a tricky one.

I've read the script and it's really good.

It's interesting that you say it's being developed almost simultaneously. I've been talking to the folks at Zombie Studios recently regarding a similar idea and it makes me wonder: Is that the kind of thing you guys set out to do with Wheelman (starting out with an IP being pushed out to multiple mediums at once)? Is the game based on the movie or vice versa?

Well, it's a little bit of a holistic process. Whatever your intentions are at the beginning, what you hopefully discover some way into that rather quickly is how those things need to work and what is best for them. Hopefully that sort of dictates how you move forward. With Wheelman and our partnership with Midway and sort of how the game developed, and itself, even a year into production sort of maturing from conceptually what it had began as and sort of finding it's voice and becoming ... It's interesting when you develop games, if you can be somewhat flexible, what you find is that your assumptions about what you think is gonna be "cool," are sometimes proved to be wrong.

So, down the road, you often get away from what you thought you'd make in the beginning in favor of what's actually proving to be really fun and cool when you're playing the game that you're building. And so, there's a similar process for us when we've been developing this film and originally, I think we did intend to create this overall universe and just take pieces of that to make the game and pieces of that to make the film. What we found was such a bias to sort of doing the game first. We really need to let that sort of live and breathe and be whatever it was gonna be and we've sort of riffed off of that in development of the film.

It's tough, because the pieces are everchanging. You know, who Milo Burik was and what he did as a character and sort of the overall narrative of Wheelman wasn't 100 percent set in stone until maybe ... six months before we actually shipped that thing? So it does make it a little bit of a moving target for writers on the film side to figure out how they're going to make these pieces fit together. I guess the general answer to that question is yes. This was always something we wanted to develop simultaneously as a film and as a game but that process is sort of bound to be really sort of dynamic and flexible. All you can really predict is that it's going to be like that, it's really hard to know how it's going to work.

Gallery: Wheelman | 17 Photos

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