BLIMEY, good day readers! It's been awhile hasn't it? My apologies for the inactiveness- I've recently moved to a new place and settled the majority of my work including applying for a sodding broadband WiFi connection which took AGES to come. But here I am! Finally able to spare some time to write about games journalism yet again! Oh joy oh joy!
I had a chat with Edmund Koh about Personae Studios and their latest iOS game Mechwarrior: Tactical Command a few weeks ago and we also talked about the current state of our local gaming industry. I really liked how transparent and open Edmund expresses his feelings and I hope we have another opportunity to do this again. Onwards!-
Nice to have you on our show Edmund Koh, Director of Personae Studio. Thank you for taking your time off to have this chat with us, how fares your vacation in Australia?
Hi, it's great to be able to chat with you too. I'm not too sure if my time in Australia constitutes a vacation, I haven't had one of those in a long time. I do from time to time get a few days off and occasionally it's in some interesting location though.
Can you tell us more about yourself, the company and what the gaming scene is like in Singapore from the perspective of Personae Studio?
The Company was started by Sunny, my brother, to build games for the iOS App Store. Air Hockey, was one of the original games that was available on launch day on the App Store and we've been making iOS games ever since. When things started getting really busy, I came along 3 years back to help out.
I would describe the local gaming scene as a pre-mature baby hooked up to a life support machine and incubator to stay alive. No one really knows if it is able to reach a stage where it is able to fend for itself but a lot of hope has been poured into it. The industry is very young, just a couple of years old, with a few international studios setting up shop to do mainly lower level work for their main subsidiaries. There are a number of local studios just starting up, most of them working on casual titles a a few starting to move on to more serious and ambitions projects, catering mainly to regionals, not a lot of them are viable without government support. We mainly cater to the western markets.
Everyone in Singapore likes the idea of Singaporean games created by Singaporean Studios but unfortunately Singaporeans are not used to the idea of paying for games. In our space, mobile games, we don't get a cent from any of the Telcos or the handset manufacturers. All revenue we get is either directly through the App Store or through advertising. From time to time our guys read comments on the App Store with people saying why charge so much or why not free. Remember, you don't expect our guys to go to a restaurant and get free food or stay in a hotel for free. You can't expect them to do what they do for free either. If we can't get a return on our investment, we simply don't cater to the market.
I want dat Personae Studios poster
Personae Studio has been around the local gaming scene for quite some time with a respectable number of 13 released titles on the company's shelves. How has the experience been like for the employees of Personae Studio to create these games of diverse genres over the years?
We've learn quite a bit and are constantly working to expand our portfolio. When we compete, we compete globally and not with Singaporean companies. It's a lot of hard work for not very much money. Very few companies are profitable and a lot don't make it past the first year. If you work in this industry, you do it mainly for the love of what you are doing.
You guys recently released your latest title- Mechwarrior: Tactical Command, a Real Time Strategy game for the iOS market. What was the development process like for the team to create a game based on a popular franchise? Was there a lot of pressure weighted on the people who were developing Tactical Command?
"We don't do things because they are easy, we do them because they are hard" - John F Kennedy. When we signed the license with Smith and Tinker for MechWarrior, we were determined to produce a 3D console quality game on a mobile device. We didn't have the experience or the talent and had to constantly experiment to achieve what we wanted. We even ended up creating our own games engine in order to deliver the graphics quality we needed. As far as we know, we are the only game that has features such as full 3D rotation, dynamic shadows and image based lighting with the entire map rendered in memory for quick access to any location implemented in our engine, I don't think even Unreal or Unity supports those features on mobile.
Unfortunately we ended up releasing on the iPad initially a lot sooner than we should have due to legal reasons and our guys did everything humanly possible to continue patching it to what we regard as an acceptable standard. Quite a number of them ended up living in the office to make it happen.
Looking at your previous titles, the majority of your games seems to be targeted to the casual player- but with Mechwarrior: Tactical Command, as a game which focuses on tactics and real time strategy, Tactical Command would seem to be targeting the more hardcore mobile demographic in the market. Has there been any obstacles faced during this transition for Personae?
The main obstacle we've faced is the same one for all companies in games development and it is talent, or lack there of. Even in the best of places, it's hard to find good people. Singapore doesn't exactly have a thriving games industry compared to the rest of the developed world and we realized we had to create talent and Personae Studios have invested very heavily on people.
Come off it David! Open fire!
Mechwarrior: Tactical Command is based off the universe of BattleTech, a well known sci-fi franchise which was traditionally known for it's board game rendition. How heavy has the board game influenced Tactical Command?
There is very little of MechWarrior: Tactical Command that isn't based on the board game. All the Mechs, formulas, rules, weapons were all based on the TRO (Technical Read Out). We consulted with the game's original creator, Jordan Weisman and had the script written by Loren Coleman and Randall Bills of Catalyst Game Labs, makers of both the board game and the books. The Brent Evans, Art Director of Catalyst Game Labs, also consulted on the look and feel. The game is as authentic of an experience you are able to achieve on any mobile device.
Personae Studios has been known for it's games on the iOS games market, has there been any plans to expand and port the majority of the games, especially Tactical Command to the Android market?
Expansion into another platform such as Android requires a lot of investment in terms of time and effort on our part. Our staff members would quite understandably want to be paid for this time and effort. We're actively looking for someone to fund this investment and as of now, we haven't found anyone. The main issue is for the games we produce, people pay a 1 time fee and they are able to access all its content. With Android, there are a few people who do pay but a lot who don't. If people can't see a return on their investment, people usually don't invest.
LEVEL 3 KAIJU ALERT! LEVEL 3 KAIJU ALERT!
What is the next step for Personae Studios now that Mechwarrior: Tactical Command has been released? Are there are future plans or titles you guys are planning to develop?
We've got a few projects in the works but none that we can comment on at this stage. Check out our website personaestudios.com for updates.
Thank you so much for having this discussion with us Edmund Koh and best wishes to the future developments of Personae Studios!
"© 2013 The Topps Company, Inc. All rights reserved. BattleTech, BattleMech, 'Mech and MechWarrior are registered trademarks and/or trademarks of The Topps Company, Inc. in the United States and/or other countries. © 2013 Personae Studios L.L.P. All Rights Reserved. iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. Some materials are owned and subject to copyright held by Microsoft Corporation. MechWarrior is the registered and unregistered trademark(s) of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other jurisdictions"