Australian dev house IR Gurus is one of the country's oldest and largest studios, and was recently purchased by US-based Red Mile Entertainment in August this year. The developers--who are best-known for Heroes Over the Pacific, Heatseeker, and various AFL games--have also recently undergone a name change to Transmission Games, and are now working on games based on the Sin City series of graphic novels. GameSpot AU talked to CEO Mike Fegan during the recent Game Connect Asia Pacific Conference to find out more about the recent takeover and how Sin City development was progressing.
GameSpot AU: The company was bought by Red Mile in August. How long was that buyout process happening behind scenes?
Mike Fegan:We've been talking for the last two years about it. It was a bit like a marriage. The engagement period was working on Heroes of the Pacific, because they were an active part of that. The second step of the relationship is the marriage--which is yet to be consummated, because the closing of the transaction comes through on December 28 this year.
GS AU: How will this affect your day-to-day work here in Melbourne?
MF: What Red Mile brings to the table is two-fold. Firstly, licensed IP. For example, they've signed a 10-year licensing deal with Frank Miller to develop the Sin City franchise based on the comic books. They also bring in substantial amounts of money--subject to due diligence--to a project. If we were developing original IP--like we did with Heroes--they can give us the resources and the cash to ramp up. From our point of view, the aim over the next three years is to become a top 20 development studio here in Melbourne.
GS AU: How does this factor into your own original IP? Does it give you more or less freedom to work on your own products?
MF: At the end of the day we're subject to head office. Red Mile is a publicly listed company, and we have shareholders to appease. But essentially, they've given us the scope to create a franchise. And what I mean by that is they've given us a decent budget and a decent time frame. Heroes Over Europe, for example, we've been working on that for 18 months, and it will be finished in September next year. When you add all that up it means we've been working almost three years on a project. Whereas if you're contract-for-hire for any of the major publishers, the reality of that is you'll probably get limited time and budget. What it means for us is we get to produce a world-class product rather than a product that suits a specific time frame.
GS AU: Will you be keeping the IR Gurus identity?
MF: Transmission Games is our new name. The main reason behind changing from IR Gurus--which will remain our operating name--is because we've made the transition to the PS3 and 360, and we wanted to start a new chapter in the company's evolution. So with the Sin City project and with Heroes Over Europe, it'll be branded Transmission Games.
GS AU: What can you tell us about Sin City?
MF: It's early days. We're in preproduction at the moment--so far so good. Red Mile has hired some excellent game designers out of LA who are working with us here. The preproduction phase is critical in any project, and Frank Miller has had a lot of input. Frank is actually writing us some brand new characters--he's essentially driving the storyline.
GS AU: So it's a new storyline completely?
MF: Yes. We want to create something unique and a new experience for people. And Frank is pretty keen to expand this into an interactive experience.
GS AU: So Sin City will come out on next-gen platforms?
MF: Yes absolutely. PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
GS AU: What style of game will it be?
MF: We've licensed the Unreal 3 engine. It will be a third-person action adventure game, but we're not really at a point to talk any more about that.
GS AU: But it will retain the graphic novels' art style?
MF: For sure. It will be very loyal to the Sin City brand.
GS AU: The next thing for Transmission is Heroes Over Europe, is that right?
MF: We're due to finish Heroes Over Europe in September next year. At the moment we have three development teams. One is obviously Heroes and where we take that [franchise]. Another is working on Sin City, and our third team is working on Brian Lara International Cricket--which is Ricky Ponting International Cricket here in Australia--for consoles. We had a very good relationship with Codemasters, and Red Mile has allowed us to continue that relationship.
GS AU: So the Codemasters relationship will be ongoing?
MF: Yes, we have a four title, four-year deal with Codemasters. The first title is due out next year. We're excited about it because the heritage of the company is AFL, and we've just released Gaelic Football 2 in Ireland with Sony. So that sports team is pretty enthusiastic.
GS AU: So with Brian Lara, are you building everything from scratch?
MF: Yes. We had a lot of input obviously from Codemasters because it's been a very successful franchise for them. But essentially we're building everything from scratch because we have to make the transition to next-gen with PS3 and 360 versions. Fortunately, we've got a decent budget and a decent time frame, which unfortunately we didn't have in the AFL days, where we were always pushed for time and budget and it was always a niche title for one market. The good thing about cricket is that it does very well in certain territories.
GS AU: What is happening with your AFL games?
MF: Sony controls the license, and I think they're weighing up the options and they'll let us know. From our point of view, we're there ready to go.
GS AU: So Red Mile has no impact?
MF: Not at this point. They're saying keep on doing what you're doing, we're very happy. The boss just tells me as long as we don't screw up on Sin City, we're fine [laughs].
GS AU: The Games Development Association of Australia has been lobbying the Australian Federal Government for a 40 percent industry rebate. What do you think the chances are on getting that rebate after this year's federal election?
MF: Our biggest problem is in the past, we've been totally ignored by the Federal Government. We're a legitimate part of the arts and technology sector. The other thing is once we get that accreditation, so to speak, we want a level playing field with the film industry. We're not looking for a handout. What we're looking for is financial incentives that stimulate financial contracts coming to Australia. We've watched the Canadians over recent years get to 9,000 employees and create over 300 companies in the game development space. [Australia has 2,000 employees and roughly 30 game development companies --Ed.]
As for whether we'll get the rebate, on that front, call me a skeptic, but it's an election period. I think it's early days, but it's promising. A year ago, we couldn't get near Canberra--now we've got ministers speaking to us.
GS AU: Mike Fegan, thanks for your time.