Q&A: Stuart Black on life after Codemasters

Veteran game maker and co-creator of revered shooter discusses leaving Codemasters and his latest project with City Interactive.

Earlier this year Stuart Black, one of the most recognised developers in the British games industry, unexpectedly ceased to be a creative director at Codemasters, leaving his Bodycount project to others. The move left fans bemused and unsure whether they would get to play another of his games. Now, having jumped ship to developer City Interactive, Black is once again doing what he does best: making games.

City Interactive's Stuart Black.

This week GameSpot caught up with Black to hear about what he has been doing since leaving the Bodycount team. In the interview, Black discusses his move from Codemasters and his current project.

GameSpot: What was your reason for leaving Codemasters' Guildford Studio?

Stuart Black: There have been some quite odd and silly rumours. At the end of the day these things are mundane. I've never spoken about it and don't have a lot to say. An agreement was broken. No one really wanted to fix it. I decided to move on. The rest seems to be self-generating noise.

My decision to leave Codemasters and Bodycount was the hardest choice of my career. However, it was clear that Codemasters were unable, or unwilling, to provide the support needed to realize the vision I had for Bodycount. Some of the marketing initiatives and trailers were not, in my opinion, doing justice for the game.

But these things work themselves out. If that hadn't happened, I wouldn't have met the guys at City, had the opportunity to visit the team in beautiful Rzeszow in Poland, and be blown away by their enthusiasm and the quality of their work, or the chance to use CryEngine 3, which is awesome.

I've never had the time to build that kind of toolset when developing a game from the ground up. It just doesn't happen. And that hurts development. From day one we're starting with a tech and tool base better than anything I've used when finishing a title.

GS: What projects are you working on at City Interactive?

SB: Ah, happy thoughts. I'm working with a highly enthusiastic, talented team in Poland, and CryEngine 3, on a new WWII shooter. We're right at the start of development, working on our narrative framing and core gameplay concepts. We want to get away from the usual, reverential treatment. If I hear one more trumpet refrain over a somber front end or see another Thompson machine gun, I'm going to put my pad through the screen.

We want to invoke the spirit of films like The Dirty Dozen, Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, and a bit of Inglourious Basterds.

One of my favourite war movies of all time is Peckinpah's Cross of Iron. The ending of that movie is genius, forced by necessity as it happens, but genius none the less.

That's what we're after; more rock and roll, spray and pray, slo-mo death, and glory, wrapped in a progressive metagame that you don't usually see in a shooter. We're opening a boutique design studio in Guildford to work on this and provide support or guidance to other projects in development.

In talking with City Interactive I was struck by their passion and commitment to gaming and, most importantly, their ability to look honestly at the successes and failings of their titles. I think it's plain to see, in their investment in CryEngine 3 and their desire to improve their design capacity, that they're serious in their commitment to gaming and improving the quality of their titles. The bottom line is, they care. I hope I can help them in raising the bar and be a part of making City Interactive a globally recognised hallmark of quality games.

GS: How do you feel about leaving the successor to your own game?

SB: I'll take the opportunity to say Alex Ward is the creator of Black. I'm happy to be labeled a cocreator, having developed the core play experience, but it was his baby. So, Bodycount was very important to me, being its creator and working through the things I hadn't done on my own before. I felt we got to the halfway mark and it was good. People who played it were digging some of the more risky choices. Then the future just shattered in front of me.

Thankfully I had a slow wind-down and exit, but the first month was just awful. David Fincher once said, "Never make a movie you can't walk away from." These are wise words.

But, to be sitting here in my new role, with CryEngine 3 in front of me, looking at stuff that just a few days in is more advanced than anything I've worked with previously is exhilarating. I'm starting to get that tingling feeling. I think we've got the opportunity to make something special, where I can take all that I've learned and really apply it. From day one we can start playing with content.

What matters to me, to all of us here, is creating a really great game.

GS: What are your thoughts on developing first-person shooter games when the genre is so crowded?

SB: FPS has been a crowded genre since forever, but the number of good ones is small and remains dominated by the usual suspects. One of my yard sticks is to ask myself; can I go out and buy this game today? Right now if I want that big, open-war aspect, that's kind of the hallmark of WWII, then I'd have to go back to Call of Duty 3. World at War was good, but that was the Pacific with jungle warfare.

There's always room for a genuinely good game, irrespective of genre.

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