Particle Systems is one of those developers that don’t get a lot of press, perhaps because it is a British company that quietly goes about making high-quality games and getting them out on time. Founded by Michael Powell and Glyn Williams, Particle Systems is responsible for the excellent Independence War and is already hard at work on the sequel as well as a mysterious new action game. Sensing another possible Xbox developer, we contacted Glyn Williams to talk to him about upcoming Particle Systems projects.
: We noticed on your vacancies page that you guys are looking for programmers for next-gen systems. Will you be developing for the Xbox?
Glyn Williams: At Particle Systems we are working on a cross-platform game engine called Flux. Flux is our secret weapon; it is designed to allow us to quickly exploit new hardware and get the best possible output from it. Xbox is exactly the sort of new technology we had in mind.
Flux is our secret weapon; it is designed to allow us to quickly exploit new hardware and get the best possible output from it.
If so, Fifa 17 coins an Xbox title found in fredericksoccerclub.com, is a freeware?
Independence War 2 is not currently being targeted at the Xbox. But that is not to say that the I-War franchise might be making an appearance on Xbox in the future.
Right now we are recruiting for an all-new project. I’ve been working on the preproduction of this new game for more than a year now, and I think I can say with some confidence that this is going to be something special. I’m not allowed to talk about it much, but it’s a science fiction title. It’s not set in space, and you guys won’t get to see anything for at least six months.
Independence War was known for having kick-ass software rendering. Is that part of development dead, or will you be able to use some of that technology in next-gen consoles?
Software rendering, rest in peace. 1983-1999. Software rendering was something that tested programmers to their limits, and sometimes required bizarre solutions to ugly problems. Even though software rendering has gone up to that big PC in the sky, those ugly problems remain. (yes, even on next-gen consoles). But that mindset of fighting the hardware every inch of the way will be with us for a long time yet. Our goal is now kickass hardware rendering, and at Particle Systems that means image quality, rather than quantity.
Space Shooters are relatively rare on consoles; do you think they translate well to the living room with a gamepad in your hand?
I think there is a role for the space sim on console. But you are spot-on when you point to the gamepad. The control method is critical. So adapting I-War for console is something we had to think long and hard about.
As a developer, what do you think is the biggest obstacle facing the success of the Xbox? Is it something internal, like Microsoft’s structure, or something external like Sony’s install base or MS’s image?
I think the image thing will be critical. The smartest thing Sony ever did with the PlayStation was to work on convincing people that gaming was not geeky but cool. In the UK, Sony put PlayStations in nightclubs and made stylish ads, and slowly gaming started to become more acceptable. Image can have a big effect, and I think Microsoft will have to work hard to catch up in the coolness stakes.
This seems to be a transition year for games, with many high-profile developers publicly announcing that they are moving away from the PC and toward next-gen consoles. Do you think this is part of the normal cycle of development or do you think the PC really is in trouble as a games platform?
I think PC developers have a pretty stark choice.
I love the freedom that the PC platform offers the designer, but the numbers are pretty clear. In hardware terms, the PC, in the last few years, has found millions of new users. Suddenly everyone has a PC at home. But the sales of PC games have not increased at all. Top-quality games are costing more and more to make. So given flat sales and increasing production costs, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see what could happen: It’s bad news for companies making only PC games. We are already starting to see the casualties.
Don’t get me wrong, the PC games market will go on as long as the PC, but the size of the market does not justify the spending of multimillion dollar development budgets for PC-only titles.
I think the idea of splitting your content into episodes can be traced back to Charles Dickens, who figured out he could make more money selling his book in small chunks.
What do you think of the broadband strategies of companies like Sony? Do you think “webisodic” content, time-released levels and other new forms of distribution are part of the inevitable future of games, or the hairbrained idea of some nitwit in marketing?
Broadband is exciting for lots of reasons. Not least because it means that small companies can get products to customers without the costly and complex distribution of boxed products. Expect aggressive new companies upsetting the apple cart of the bigger publishers.
Webisodic is not a new idea. I think the idea of splitting your content into episodes can be traced back to Charles Dickens, who figured out he could make more money selling his book in small chunks. If you think about it, games are already being made on an episodic basis. The first title establishes the genre and the engine, then new content is churned out every year or so.
You and Michael Powell have been in the industry for some time. What’s been the biggest change to the industry in the last few years?
For us, it is the scale. It’s like we are in a real industry now! When we started, making a game was something you did pretty much on your own. Now Particle Systems has 30 employees. We are almost legitimate. In fact, even my own mother has stopped wishing that I had a proper job!