Having just finished the Big Thrills downloadable content pack for Trials HD, RedLynx’s Creative Director, Antti Ilvessuo (2nd from the right), takes some time to talk with us about the multi-platform background of the company, keeping their financial and creative independence, managing growth and what lies after digital.
Before RedLynx became known as the ‘guys behind Trials HD’, the company had already built quite an admirable rep sheet. Since it was founded in 2000, the studio has quite the history of being accustomed to developing multi-platform titles, with over a hundred different games on either Xbox LIVE Arcade, DS, PSP, iPhone, Macintosh, PC, web, and mobile phones. “Part of the fun of making a game for a new platform is discovering those strengths and finding out how to use them in new, surprising ways,” Ilvessuo argues. “But to me, just making the game is the best part of the process, and I really enjoy that.”
Their history of different platforms would resound in their most popular franchise to date, Trials. Starting as a Java-based browser game in 2000, the earliest incarnations of Trials became a huge success and grew a large following.
“In fact, it was so popular that at one point our Finnish ISP at the time was having all of their bandwidth consumed by people from around the world, who just came to play Trials,” Ilvessuo recalls. “We called it a ‘DeTRIAL of Service Attack’, ha ha.”
Followed by the development of a 3D engine for the PC, Trials was once again considered for another iteration. “Out of all our dozens of previous, smaller games, Trials seemed like a good, proven game mechanic to try with this new engine,” Ilvessuo recalls. “And that is how Trials 2 SE was born, which has millions of games recorded to our server and still has a very active, involved user base today.”
Trials 2 SE would give Ilvessuo and his team the solid foundation they needed to approach Microsoft for Xbox LIVE Arcade, which led to the development of Trials HD. A million sales and two DLCs later, their once little Java game has become a gaming franchise.
Tune to perfection
RedLynx’s devotion to the Trials franchise eventually paid off, but it wasn’t all just luck and timing. Through countless improvements and iterations, the team turned a handful of game mechanics into an addictive experience. For ambitious game developers working away on their own dream project, Ilvessuo always has a bit of advice ready. “I would say don’t forget about that core game,” he suggests. “Tune it to perfection, preferably with a team which has been working together for a long time. When you and your team know your game intimately, inside and out, then it is much more natural to create the next game in the series, what to improve and what to work on. From there, your series can naturally evolve into that coveted ‘franchise’ category. It’s probably not something you can force.”
RedLynx’s philosophy with game development is also fueled by a very open design process that allows the entire team to offer suggestions and have insight into the project’s development. “This makes the process a lot more fun for everyone,” Ilvessuo explains. “Plus, we always start with a working prototype so everybody on the team is playing the game right from the start and can see it come together.”
Ilvessuo has not saved any expense to keep the RedLynx crew entertained and happy to go to work. Their developers are blessed with a full music game setup, a slot car racing track, a shelf of board games, a poker table, a set of Sumo suits and wrestling mat, and also access to an extensive game library. “Games are just fun, so that kind of lends itself to making a fun work environment,” Ilvessuo adds.
Not many small studios are fortunate to leave aside all the tiring side-jobs to keep the company going. The regular outsource jobs, porting and repetitive gigs wears on everyone, so diving head first into your own franchise and actually making a living (or more) from it was a dream come true for Ilvessuo.
“It’s a brave choice to make, that’s for sure, to be an independent studio, and try to balance the financial and creative choices,” Ilvessuo acknowledges. One thing I would recommend is don’t try and make too big of a game right away. If you are a small team, go for a smaller game. I don’t mean limit your ideas! But don’t try to build something too large. Instead, focus on polishing what you have created to perfection.”
Looking back at the past ten years at RedLynx, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. “Every game, every platform and every technology we’ve explored or worked with or developed for has been a learning point for us,” he explains. “You can learn as much, if not more, from your failures, as you can from your successes.”
With an internal staff of 35 and an extra 15 as development partners on stand-by, RedLynx is one of the bigger studios in Finland. A rather large number for an independent studio focused on downloadable titles. But Ilvessuo’s team hasn’t run out of game ideas yet. “ With good and experienced people, and our desire to be in a solid, sustainable position also in the future – meaning a need to grow – there are more games on our road map every year,” he says. “We’re not believers in hiring packs of lemmings and throwing them at a project. We prefer to hire what we call ‘octopus dudes’, who have eight arms and many talents each, and can put their tentacles into many different areas.”
Ilvessuo does admit that the growth has added more managerial activities to the company’s agenda. “A systematic approach to company-wide project management methods, people management, finding new partners that are needed and ways of working with them, financial management, PR and marketing, to name just a few,” he says. “All that has to be managed, as we want to constantly look at current and future opportunities. And we are likely to go for those opportunities that seem like exceptionally interesting ones and that best match with our internal strengths and our culture.”
Being one of the top sellers on XBLA, Ilvessuo confirms that RedLynx will remain on the the path of downloadable titles. RedLynx is currently hard at work on their MotoHeroz game planned for the WiiWare platform.
But for Ilvessuo, there’s also a desire to avoiding limiting themselves to a specific platform or game distribution type. “Especially seeing how fast the world changes,” he explains. “That applies also to distribution. Digital distribution, of course, is a key area for us, but who knows, there might well be new opportunities on the retail side, and there can even be a third way. Let’s wait and see.”
For Ilvessuo and his team, the relationship with their own audience of gamers is almost a sacred thing in their daily development. “We try and learn something from everything we make,” Ilvessuo says. “One of the key things we’ve learned from Trials HD is to listen to people and value their opinions. As long as you keep in mind the gamer, you can ask yourself, ‘Is this fun? If I was a gamer, would I like this? Would I want this?’ That will keep you on target.” That even includes their own team members, RedLynx’s external partners and testers.”
RedLynx is currently working on their Wiiware title MotoHeroz, which is scheduled to be released late 2010 or early 2011.
Vlad Micu is managing editor of Gamesauce.org. He previously has been a freelance game industry professional for over five years and traveled around the world while running his company VGVisionary. Starting VGVisionary during college, Vlad was able to work independently as a pr & marketing consultant, event manager, industry journalist, speaker and game developer. He just returned from Bangkok, Thailand, where he pursued his dream of making video games as the game producer at arkavis, an up and coming casual game studio.