An education in Rebellion: Ubelly interviews the founders of this seminal studio

Rebellion is one of Europe’s leading games developers and the studio behind hit games such as Sniper Elite, Sniper Elite V2 and Aliens vs. Predator. The studio was established in 1992 by brothers Jason and Chris Kingsley, with the aim of producing innovative video games that have solid links with comic, book and movie content.

We spoke to Jason (CEO) and Chris (CTO) about their backgrounds, what makes Rebellion tick and why they’re embracing the Windows 8 platform.

Ubelly: Can you tell us your background and how it led you to Rebellion?
Jason & Chris:
We’ve both always been interested in games, and fortunately we’re two brothers with the ideal skill sets for making games – one of us is technical while the other is artistic. We started as freelancers working as part of a group of distributed developers, which we ended up effectively project managing without being paid so we thought we’d rather set up a company to do this for ourselves. It was a moment of “what do you want to do with the rest of your lives”, and the answer was “do cool stuff in games, comics, books and film”.

Ubelly: Can you give us an insight into what makes Rebellion the company it is and what you guys are all about?
Jason & Chris:
For us, it’s all about having fun and being creative in lots of areas, combining science and technology with creativity and imagination. This company was set up by two enthusiasts for games and entertainment, with the aim of making the kind of games and products that we would like to have – we wanted to have at least some creative freedom to make things that we would like, having a talented team and an infrastructure around you makes that a bit easier and much more possible.

Ubelly: You’ve released some great titles – what has been your most successful game so far and why do you think that is?
Jason & Chris:
We’ve had a lot of number one titles worldwide, from the one that launched Rebellion – the original Alien Vs Predator on the Atari Jaguar – to the recent Aliens Vs Predator game for Sega, and our World War Two shooters Sniper Elite and Sniper Elite V2, the latter of which went straight to number one in the charts in June. We like to think it’s because we concentrate on gameplay and producing titles that at their core bring something new to whatever genre they are in.

Ubelly: What is your process for developing a new game from concept to final product?
Jason & Chris:
It varies depending on the project, as you might imagine. Some projects come from people outside and are based on a movie or book perhaps, so that’s the starting point. Others are wholly created at Rebellion and they come from any number of places – it might be a great set piece, or a great location, or a period in history. The idea then needs to be fleshed out with concept sketches and short bits of written work, and perhaps some technical prototypes too. The dev teams bring their own thoughts and the final product begins to take shape before the hard work of making it a reality begins.

Ubelly: Will you be porting over any of your existing games to Windows 8 and what informs these decisions?
Jason & Chris:
Any launch of a new operating system is always exciting, but Windows has been the top OS for so many years that it’s fascinating to see how it’s evolving and how that will impact on games and games development. We intend to put as many of our games onto Windows 8 as we can, whether that’s previous projects or upcoming ones. It represents another shop window for us to put our games in front of potential customers. In some ways it represents a curated and safe purchasing experience, the flipside and the other way of looking at it is that it’s a controlled marketplace. It’s like the difference between a supermarket and a car boot sale – you can get some great stuff at a car boot sale if you know what you’re looking for, but most people prefer the convenience and safety of the shop. The business case has been proven by iTunes and Steam – people like the convenience, accessibility and security, so it’s interesting to see Windows moving in that direction. The advantage for us is that they’re going to put a lot of marketing behind the platform, and hopefully some of that will focus on the great games that are available. Media activity around games boosts sales of all games, so being at the forefront of creating and adapting games for this new platform is exciting for us.

Ubelly: What languages are you choosing to use for Windows 8 development?
Jason & Chris:
All of our games are written in C++ using our in-house engine and tools suite, which is called Asura. It was specifically designed as a cross-platform engine, which means that we can adapt it to new platforms faster than anyone using middleware. From a business point of view this is absolutely vital because it gives us an edge over other developers that rely on third parties, and we can leverage decades of work.

Ubelly: What did you have to consider from a design and UX point of view?
Jason & Chris:
New form factors are always a creative challenge and we need to be aware that there are things we don’t yet know about them, or indeed, that anybody actually knows. That’s part of the fun working in a new environment.

Ubelly: What do you enjoy most about developing games for Windows 8, for example the focus on content or the intuitive, customisable menus/bars?
Jason & Chris:
First and foremost, it’s a familiar interface and environment for users. Operating systems are bound to change over time and for some developers there are new ways of doing things so it will be interesting to see how they adapt to the new interface which combines touchscreen with the traditional keyboard and mouse set-up. It’s a challenge making games that work well with both of these input methods. We’re used to working with different methodologies and they are all trying to provide a similar experience for their users. It’s early days, but we’re sure it will evolve, as indeed iTunes evolved, in response to developer and consumer feedback. The challenge is getting as high a rating as possible so that you build that critical mass of sales that drives further sales. Support from the format owner is the Holy Grail of independent games publishing, so it’ll be fascinating to see how it works on this platform.

Ubelly: What pricing model are you planning on using within the Windows Store and why?
Jason & Chris:
It’s a new territory and it’s still early days, so we’re not sure we’ve worked this one out fully yet – but hopefully there will be lots of different business models which will allow people to create lots of different types of games. We’re looking at free to play obviously but we’re also interested in the more traditional payment model too. We may try both and see what our players think is best.

Ubelly: How will you approach promoting your game?
Jason & Chris:
The distance between developer and customer has completely changed over the past few years. A developer would create a title, a publisher would publish it, gamers would buy – it was a very linear model. Now, however, gaming is all about community: creating a community, sustaining it, communicating with it. As a developer we have to be a lot smarter and a lot more open with those who spend money on our titles. We’re very proud of the way that we’ve supported the community who bought Sniper Elite V2 on PC, providing them with both paid and free DLC regularly since June, and also now being able to give multiplayer to console players too. In the age of social media, Steam and PSN, this is how you market a game – you talk to and support your audience.

Ubelly: What advice would you give aspiring game developers who are looking to turn their idea into a reality?
Jason & Chris:
Find that defining idea, stick at it and concentrate on creating the best gameplay experience you can. Don’t over-complicate things because what gamers are looking for is good ideas done well.

Want to know more?

Visit rebellion.co.uk to find out more about the studio and their titles. Are you interested in developing an app for Windows 8? Click here for all the help and info you’ll need.

Published by Liam

Liam is a new member of the Ubelly writing team. He has a background in web, online publishing and social media; spending his time tinkering with Wordpress, Foursquare, Facebook and his DSLR. He has a love for all things creative and visual.

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