Villordsutch interviews Philip Oliver and they talk about SkySaga…
I met Andrew Oliver earlier in the day as he was setting up the SkySaga stall. Philip had decided to drive up. The stand place was already getting busy and I was also chatting with Boomkin the Community bod. When I returned later for my interview, a PC had decided to crumble at the side of the stand leaving Philip to man the interview alone. He wasn’t aware of the interview initially however, and we had a map off. He insulted my t-shirt, then he flashed his copy of Fantastic Dizzy so I flashed mine and I bragged that my copy still had the map, at which point he pulled out the Trump Card which was the original pencil drawn Dizzy maps for me to have a look at. I was fourteen years old again, instead of the spritely forty that I actually am. Having to wipe the drool from my chin, I told Philip I have some questions for him and he took me into the back of the booth with sheets of metal and wires to dodge, as we sat on the floor and metal panels we began. Keeping it real to the end.
Villordsutch: SkySaga where did it come from as an idea?
Philip Oliver: Originally SkySaga came out of the concept from when we were working at Blitz, the industry was changing very much to games as a service. Digital,online and smartphones were coming in and they were kind of disrupting the market. So at Blitz were very very good at making boxed games, so we had two-hundred people making boxed games for the PlayStation 2,3, for the Wii, but with everything changing we had to make a decision on which way we were going to change and which way we were going to go. A lot of people were saying, “Well you need to go to mobile phones because that’s where it’s at”, but we wanted to make big awesome games so we thought what we really need to do is make a game which is just incredibly large, all the technology needs is the skills and the talents and then we can keep improving overtime, rather than start-stop-start-stop.
So we had this concept that we could kind of create a very creative online MMO for people, so that’s what the kind of idea was. A few guys in the office came up with a couple of ideas and one of the ideas was we can have these floating islands in the sky, a bit like Avatar, so we have these floating islands in the sky and every player gets their own island, and I’m like, “I like what you’re saying, I think that’s an awesome idea can you run with it and thrash it out?”. Unfortunately he didn’t and a few months went by and I thought, ‘Man I still think that was a really good idea’. It came to Christmas and all your workforce go on holiday, Christmas does that, but I can never stop thinking about games so I sat in my conservatory made lots of pencil sketches and roughs and diagrams and lots more pencils sketches that look a bit like that [pointing at the decades old Dizzy maps] of basically what we could do.
That was about four years ago, so in the following January I took it in to show people and Andrew [Oliver] and said, “What do you think of this?” and they said that’s really really nice, but the problem is if you take that into a publisher say Activision, EA or some other publisher they’re going to go, “A game that never finishes we’re not going to commission that!”. They would only do that internally, so if I put that idea on the table they’re going to go, “Thank you very much for that idea we’ll run with that. Bye!” So then we have the problem of where do we get to fund a game like this, so roll the clock forward about four years, and I did actually talk behind the scenes to a couple of people asking, “If I had an idea, IF, would you fund it or would you take it?” and a lot of producers were like, we’d just take it thanks.
About fourteen months later we were contacted by a new company – we’d never heard of – called Smilegate and it was GDC in March 2013, they told us they were looking for, “A new online game, that was quite revolutionary that will run for years and we want to commission somebody to make this, but we don’t know what the idea is, we do know we want to make something that is very appealing globally, it has to start in the West and develop from the west. It has to have a big team, with technology and lots of creativity and they have to come up with a passionate idea.” I was like, “Wait a minute I think I might just have the thing for you, but if I declare what this thing is I may have how do I know you won’t do it internally?”, and they replied, “Because we’re busy in Korea making a game called Crossfire which is keeping us very busy, but we have an enormous amount of money to fund a new game but it has to be with an independent studio.”. So I said, “That’s marvellous here’s the idea.” And they loved it, they loved it, as it was exactly the sort of thing they were looking for.
V: How do you plan on keeping the game active, how do plan on keep the game running?
PO: I believe the Internet is going to keep running for a few years.
V: How do you plan on getting the Community involved in keeping the game active?
PO: We have already asked the Community to come on board and we have already got an enormous number of players, being very very creative, building lots of stuff and we are still only in Alpha. We’re creating a massive game and we are only two years into the development of it, this is a long-term thing and we’re talking a decades long project.
V: I was looking at some YouTube videos and some of the creations are amazing.
PO: It’s amazing! The Community are awesome, what can I say, it’s our job to empower them.
V: With games like GTA and numerous others they allow the implementation of modifications into the games, will SkySaga also allow this?
PO: We definitely want players and the community to have more and more flexibilities, options and features that are bespoke to them and their creativity and all that, but we won’t be doing it the way you expect. We have got plans, we have got designs, they are coming, people will be delighted when they see them and it’s not what you expect.
V: That’s quite interesting. When you designed the game did you use a set gaming engine like the Unreal Engine or did you go with something different?
PO: You’re probably aware of our background and that we used to be Blitz. Blitz Games was built up over 23 years, that was off the success of the Codemaster Dizzy games and other games. Over that time we learnt a lot of stuff and I don’t just mean me and Andrew, I mean all of the people at Blitz. We not only learnt a lot of stuff, we honed our skills, we created an amazing graphics engine, along with lots of tools and techniques and so we’re bringing all of that to SkySaga.
V: It’s excellent to see you bringing so much skills and knowledge to a project. You say you’ve been working on this for four years?
PO: No the idea is about four years, we only started two years ago.
V: It’s been in Alpha for how long?
PO) One year, we announced it one year.
V: So you’re not rushing ahead to get it out into Beta?
PO: No. No rush, we’re in this for the long-game. Some people do games for short-term-ism, but our aim is to make the biggest and most popular game on the globe. So we’re not going to rush anything, we’re going to do it right and we’re going to do it well.
V: So you have a very definite idea of we don’t want to get this game out on the shelf and fix it as we go along?
PO: We kind of are! And that’s what the beauty of Alpha allows you to do. The beauty of Alpha is that the Community understand is what their seeing is not the finished article and that it’s a growing, evolving game and we need it to grow and evolve with their help. We’re looking for their feedback, we’re looking for their contributions, we’re looking for their creativity; that’s how we’re making the game with their involvement.
V: Do you have any idea when you would want to say this is the official release?
PO: The game will never finish!
V: This is very true. So we’ll always see an Alpha or Beta?
PO: There will be a time when we change from Alpha to Beta and I will say that time will be when we don’t delete people’s islands. As the moment when we do huge updates and they are huge updates we are deleting people’s islands. Which is understandable, there are technical reasons, we don’t like it but we have no choice. When we can stop doing that and there are plans, and there is a schedule to stop doing that, then we can call it Beta.
V: My final question is will there be another Dizzy game?
PO: The answer will be on the 24th October at 4pm.
Flickering Myth would like to thank Philip for his time on the day and Indra for arranging this interview.
For those that want to know what Philip Oliver was hinting at on the 24th October click here.
To read my report on Play Expo at EventCity, Manchester click here.
Villordsutch likes his sci-fi and looks like a tubby Viking according to his children. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter.