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Visceral Games' Zach Mumbach on Visceral's development culture, autonomy within EA


Though we were shocked to hear it, the folks working on the Dead Space franchise at Visceral Games are apparently the same folks who developed Dante's Inferno. The seeming disparity in development ideals can be chocked up to two things, according to associate producer Zach Mumbach: different creative leads from project to project, and the studio's relative autonomy within EA. If it weren't for that autonomy, Dante's Inferno may have never come to be.

"There's always side teams that are maybe 10 or 15 people that are working on ideas. And honestly that's how Dante's Inferno came to exist. Jonathan Knight [executive producer] took a team of roughly seven dudes and they were like, 'Hey, this is cool, let's see if we can make this,'" Mumbach explained to us last week in the basement of a swanky midtown NYC club.

He said that, when Dante's Inferno was done, those devs moved on to work on the Dead Space sequel. "When we wrapped up Dante's Inferno, all the best guys from that project went over to Dead Space 2. And that's the best way for us to share technology -- we use the same engine, we share technology, that kinda stuff. Most of us worked on both those games. We work on everything that comes through our studio." He further explained that, though plenty of freedom was allowed for new project ideas and independent thought, it's not necessarily up to creative leads to decide whether or not a project gets worked on.

"We sit in one building on one floor, so we're completely isolated. We work with marketing sometimes and PR sometimes, but when it comes to big business decisions -- and this works both ways -- you don't see John Riccitiello coming at me like 'You guys need to change this, you need to change that.' At the same time, we're not making the call on whether we do a sequel," Mumbach said. Whether or not the previously mentioned Purgatory and Paradiso components of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy ever come to fruition, it seems, isn't up to the folks at Visceral Games. "I'm sure that if enough people are like, 'I got 60 dollars for Purgatory or Paradiso,' then we would make that game. But I don't know. I don't get to make those decisions," Mumbach further clarified.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mumbach had nothing but nice things to say about the hands-off approach that EA corporate has with Visceral Games, echoing sentiments expressed by EA's VP of corp comm. Jeff Brown recently. "We're in a separate building on a separate floor than what I would call 'the executives' or whatever. We basically have reviews with them -- we show them the game, they definitely do give feedback. But they're not walking the halls," Mumbach explains. "It's a balance."

And in terms of what's expected of his studio -- is there any pressure from EA to annualize franchises or develop derivative products of big industry sellers? Mumbach said, "I think they do a real good job. I've never felt like, 'We should be doing this, but EA is making us do that.' Especially since JR's come on board [CEO John Riccitiello]. JR's like 'Make good games. I need good games, give me good games.'" Does that make him the games industry equivalent of the cookie monster?

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