Criterion Games going full-force

Criterion, which was once defined by its Renderware development tools, has begun to exert more focus on game development. We talk to the company's creative manager to find out more about its current and upcoming games.

Emerging out of a research group at Cannon, Criterion Studios, which was established in the early '90s, has taken a two-pronged approach to the games business. Initially, the company provided its highly successful and widely used Renderware platform to game development studios worldwide. Now, after dabbling with PC and Dreamcast platforms for some time, the company's Criterion Games division has delved headfirst into game development with promising titles such as Burnout and Airblade for the Sony PlayStation 2. Moving forward, the company is planning no less than four new games. GameSpot caught up with Alex Ward, creative manager at Criterion Studios, to discuss the company's present and future game development projects.

GameSpot: Please give us a brief history of Criterion. How long has your studio been in existence, and what are the areas of focus for your firm?

Alex Ward: Criterion was founded in 1992. It emerged out of one of Canon's research groups here in the UK. There are two main divisions to the company--a software engineering division, Criterion Software, and a game development division, Criterion Games. The software engineering side is very well known in the development community through its incredibly successful Renderware tool kit. The games side of the company has been less well known, with some early PC titles and a couple of Dreamcast titles. The arrival of the PlayStation 2 changed a lot. The engineering group was working very closely with SCEI in Japan and got very early access to the machine. The company received one of the earliest PS2 development kits to ship out of Japan. As a result, this early knowledge and understanding was later to benefit the games division. Criterion Games went under massive changes a few years back with a complete refocus away from the PC and toward the superconsoles, specifically PS2. Today, the games division has just shipped two PS2 titles. Airblade, the next-gen boarding game, has just been published by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe [in that territory], whilst the arcade racer Burnout has just shipped for Acclaim Entertainment.

GS: How many developers are using Renderware for their games? Can you tell us about some of the high-profile projects using Renderware that are currently in development?

AW: Well more than 300 around the world. Some of the hit titles you may have seen sporting the RW logo are Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, Grand Theft Auto III, Pro Evolution Soccer from Konami, Championship Motocross featuring Ricky Carmichael, and of course, Burnout and Airblade.

GS: Can you briefly describe your Game On! service to our readers and talk about how that matchmaking service is going?

AW: Game On! was launched at ECTS here in London a few months ago. So far, it's been a good success. We aim to put some of the developers we know using Renderware in touch with some of the publishers we know so that new titles can get signed and published.

GS: How many video game development projects are you currently working on?

AW: We are currently working on four development projects internally.

GS: Are there any other specific games you are currently developing or planning to develop that you can discuss?

AW: As I said, we are working on four new titles. Two of them will probably be released next year, and the other two are slightly further out on the horizon.

GS: Burnout has received quite a bit of acclaim. Considering the game's critical acclaim and early success, will you consider creating a sequel?

AW: It's certainly something we've thought of. But, for that title specifically, it just shipped at the weekend here in Europe, so it's very early days. We've received a lot of interesting feedback (and some hostility!) from gamers through our Web site, so there are certainly some ideas bouncing around. But, it's early days.

GS: If a sequel were to be made, how would you improve upon the Burnout formula? Stick with the formula and include more tracks and cars? Or would you try some different concepts?

AW: Burnout was a very deliberately targeted title for us. It was our second PS2 development in-house. We specifically targeted this release time, pre-Thanksgiving. We had offers to continue development and ship in the middle of next year, but shooting for fall was something that we really wanted to do. The team worked incredibly hard to meet their dates, and they did a great job. If we had tried a different concept, then it would not have been a Burnout experience. The key experience was racing through traffic, driving like a maniac and smashing the car in a pileup.

GS: Burnout has been announced only for the PlayStation 2. Will the game be released on other platforms?

AW: Burnout is currently a PlayStation 2 exclusive. We've nothing further to announce at this time.

GS: Will you release games for the Nintendo GameCube and the Microsoft Xbox this year?

AW: We certainly know a lot about those two systems you mentioned, but we've nothing to announce at this time. Those systems are not even out in Europe yet.

GS: Going forward, which types of genres are the most appealing to your development teams?

AW: Well, I can safely say that RPG, Bemani, RTS, and soccer are a couple of genres that we won't be attacking in the near future. I think the new games you will see from Criterion in the future will be realistic-looking, fast, and fun. We've talked about making a first-person shooter, very much in the console vein, but we're still only talking about it.

GS: Do you have any plans to release online games for the upcoming consoles?

AW: Good question. We're quite impressed by THPS3 online for PS2. We'll see. But online doesn't really get me excited right now. I know it sounds quite backward to say that in this day and age, but we'll just have to wait and see. Online doesn't suit all games really.

GS: Thanks for your time.

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