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Rebellion Interview: Eye of the TIGA

Rebellion Interview: Eye of the TIGA

As we've written previously in our history of the UK games industry, after getting off to an explosive start in the 1980s, and growing rapidly in the 90s, the 2000s saw something of a slow down. A side effect of that is that there are fewer well-known individuals among British developers. While the US has the likes of John Carmack or Will Wright and Japan has Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima, the UK doesn’t have any names quite as big.

But we do have Jason Kingsley, founder of one of the UK’s most successful and recognised studios, Rebellion, as well as the UK’s leading trade association for the games industry. As well as helping with The Independent Games Developers Association (TIGA)’s successful push for developer tax incentives in the UK, Rebellion’s latest game, Aliens versus Predator has gone on to sell very well indeed.

So, considering that we’re running a week of content celebrating the UK games industry, it was only natural that we’d want to talk to him…

Bit-tech: Can you give us an idea of how you got started in the games industry and what it is that made you want to work on computer games?

Jason Kingsley: I've always played and made games up. I think it was when I was about eight that I first got started. I made a Monopoly mod - I allowed the player to buy missiles as well as houses and hotels. Missiles could be used to destroy buildings on another player's square. I'm not sure whether it unbalanced the game or even if we ever played it with those rules, but the fun was in the making for me.

Rebellion Interview: Eye of the TIGA Rebellion Interview: Eye of the TIGA
Rebellion's latest big game is Aliens vs Predator

Anyway, I continued with standard education but playing paper based RPGs and wargaming on tabletops until I finally got a summer job in the games industry while I was at university. My brother Chris was also a programmer by then, having made his own games and computers, so it made sense for us to combine our abilities and set something up, which we called Rebellion.

BT: How has the games industry changed over the years? Do you think the shape of the UK market in particular has changed? Are those changes in keeping with the way the global market has evolved?

JK: It's got more professional, with fewer risks being taken, and the games have become much more expensive to actually make. They take much longer and require bigger teams to complete. Yes, the UK developer share of world-wide game sales has dropped and continues to drop as tax competition simply makes it cheaper to set up elsewhere, but things are looking up.

BT: It’s been suggested that the UK has lost some of the eclectic appeal and inventiveness it had back in the days of Jet Set Willy and bedroom coders. Why do you think that is (if you do)? Is it to do with the way the industry as a whole has changed, or something that’s shifted in UK culture?

Rebellion Interview: Eye of the TIGA Rebellion Interview: Eye of the TIGA
Rebellion also owns 2000AD, the comic publisher behind Judge Dredd

JK: It's simply something that comes out of risk management and size not to mention the expectation of the mass audience. It used to be possible to get a game commissioned with about 6 pages of dot matrix printed presentation and a screenshot or sketch, now it takes a huge amount of work from prototyping gameplay to concept art to technical review documents.

BT: Do you think that with the recent surge of interest in casual games and mobile games (which typically aren’t as complex to develop as mainstream releases) that there’s a chance the UK could make a name for itself as a hive of bedroom coders again?

JK: Yeah. This is the exciting bit, right now. It is possible for a handful of talented people to make a game and get it to the game players. It’s something we're looking at too - to allow a more fluid type of creativity for smaller ideas. Digital distribution is now firmly possible and can bring in a reasonable amount of money for a small title.

BT: Do you pine for the ‘old days’, when design teams were smaller and there were less constraints on what developers could do or do you the larger teams and more sophisticated practices of modern developers?

JK: Um, yes and no. Nostalgia is a great thing but sometimes colours your memories and it makes you forget the horrible interfaces, the frustrating designs and the basic graphics. Having said all that, I have noticed that modern games are a lot easier to play these days.