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How 5th Cell follows Naughty Dog's lead with Hybrid

Justin McElroy

"Expect the unexpected" may be a cliche all but robbed of meaning by overuse, but it's also a pretty helpful way of understanding the path of Scribblenauts developer 5th Cell. Creative director Jeremiah Slaczka explained why the studio's choice of Hybrid, a team-based shooter, isn't such an odd one for the up-to-now kid-friendly studio. Now that we have a slightly better understanding of Hybrid's persistent, ongoing, massively multiplayer war, we're starting to get where he's coming from.

5th Cell has been a two-project studio since it developed Scribblenauts alongside Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter for the DS, and Slaczka said the studio is still growing. "Right now our studio is at sixty people and still expanding with three full projects in development. We've learned a lot as a studio since the original Scribblenauts and I'm very proud of how our studio has matured in our development," he told Joystiq. "I think working on multiple projects simultaneously has really helped us to expand our talent base; we've always got the right person for the right job, which is indispensible for us as we are offered the opportunity to evaluate new platforms."

Gallery: Hybrid (1/26/11) | 6 Photos

A wide range of talent has brought 5th Cell a reputation for innovation, but that's a distinction that could be accompanied by a lot of pressure. If it's there, Slaczka says he welcomes it. "All of our concepts have been ambitious, just in different ways," he said. "Hybrid is absolutely continuing that trend. If people didn't have high expectations of us, then I'd feel like we weren't accomplishing our goal. We enjoy taking on new challenges and doing things differently, and I think this was reflected in the community's reaction to Hybrid's teaser trailer. Although at first glance it looks similar to other games in the genre, the overwhelming opinion was that 5th Cell wouldn't make 'just another shooter.'"

"Our vision has always been to make revolutionary, AAA titles," Slaczka continued. "This has been the basis of every game we've ever worked on; it's the reason we consistently turn down licensed titles. The vision for 5th Cell when we started the company hasn't changed a bit, and Hybrid is definitely not 5th Cell's end game – it's only the beginning."

Of course, the fact that Hybrid is all part of 5th Cell's plan doesn't make the transition from cute, creativity-centric puzzler to shooter any less jarring. But, as Slaczka reminds, several studios have been able to find a lot of success by mixing up the tone of their projects.

"Take a look at Naughty Dog and Insomniac – two fantastic developers making a number of equally good games. Naughty Dog's Uncharted and Jak & Daxter are nothing alike, the same way that Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank is completely different from Resistance. These games all target different audiences, their gameplay and art is unalike – but they are uniformly AAA titles. These studios don't have muddied identities; in fact they are considerably more admirable because of their ability to create successful games spanning various audiences. If anything, I'm excited for 5th Cell to reach that caliber of studio."

In the meantime, 5th Cell will continue to focus on stepping out of its comfort zone with Hybrid. But, Slaczka admits that, in a way, it's a relief for the studio to play by its own rules without having to invent the game first.

"It's way more nerve-wracking trying to create a new genre; that doesn't happen very often. When we were working on it we had to invent so many new ideas and tools to make the game work. Hybrid has been a much smoother development because there are a lot of great games out there we can study. But the unique, innovative parts are definitely giving us a challenge."

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