Inside Pandemic Studios

GameSpot News talks to the president of the newly formed Activision spin-off about the future of its first titles, Battlezone 2 and Dark Reign 2.

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Starting a company can be tough. So how did Pandemic Studios get off so easy? Well, when you have the original development teams building the sequels to some of Activision's hottest games, Battlezone and Dark Reign, you're a little more confident than other start-ups. On Wednesday, GameSpot News spoke to Pandemic Studios' president Josh Resnick. He gave us a special insight into a crew that has a slew of great games already behind and what they're looking ahead to now as an Activision-funded independent developer.

Our first question was an obvious one: Why would you want to leave Activision, considering your accolades?

"We felt that Activision has become too big," Resnick explained. "When we began at Activision, there was only about 60 people. I felt that we were beginning to lose the close relationship that forms during game development and decided to leave. When we told Activision that we wanted to leave and start our own development company, we thought that it might be a good idea to stay inside the Activision universe. Luckily, Activision agreed and decided to take an equity share in the company. So Activision gave Pandemic access to all of its underlying technology for the games, the two teams that worked on the originals, equipment, and an advance on its first two projects. Resnick went on, "Activision figured that we were a pretty safe bet considering what we've done so far."

Activision has already signed the company to a five-game deal. Its first two projects are Battlezone 2 and Dark Reign 2. About a month ago, Pandemic Studios established itself three blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, Calif. Resnick joked, "The pictures of where the parking spaces are located should be enough to attract employees."

So what makes Pandemic Studios different? Considering all the developer start-ups rising up from tried and true internal development teams, what is going to make Pandemic stand out?

"The biggest thing that we wanted to do with Pandemic is to get back in touch with the players." Resnick began. "Throughout the development of Battlezone 2 and Dark Reign 2, we want to hear from people about what they like, what they didn't, and what they would like to add to the next game. We don't have the arrogance that some big game companies have where they say, 'We know what we want to do and don't need to listen to what people want, we already know.' Also, we want to give our players really great support. Right now, we have a great webmaster that manages the Battlezone and Dark Reign message boards on Activision's site. Pandemic wants to continue and expand on that type of support."

What can gamers expect from Battlezone 2?

Resnick wouldn't give away all the secrets but said that he really thought the team "nailed it" with the first Battlezone. Changes for BZ2 will be more refinement in the first-person strategy and action, more believable and innovative environments, more multiplayer options, and an instant-action option. Resnick made a brief comment about it "being more dangerous for one to get out of a vehicle." When we tried to ask for more details about what the team was thinking about for the game, he said that there will be more information about the title as it progresses.

GameSpot News asked what the story would be like for BZ2 since the underlying story for Battlezone was so innovative. If you don't know the story behind Activision's Battlezone, the Americans and the Russians are having a battle on the moon while the space race is going on. And no one outside the government knows that the war is going on. Resnick said that his crew "fully subscribes to almost every conspiracy theory" and said that BZ2's story will be similar in spirit to the first.

On a personal note, I told Resnick that my initial reaction to the idea of Battlezone was that it was using a well-known name as a crutch. After playing the game though, I was surprised that I liked it and didn't think it needed the name Battlezone to make it sell - it was a great game in my opinion on its own. While thinking that the crew really made a great game, Resnick said that he thought the original effort behind Battlezone was "goofed" because it tried to rely on the Battlezone brand too much, and it turned off many gamers at first. He thought the game really could have used an original name and succeeded on its own, or it could have been called Battlezone 2 instead of just Battlezone. Luckily, word that the game is much better than its brand has spread amongst gamers, and Battlezone has gained a tried-and-true audience.

So on to Pandemic's Dark Reign 2. What can gamers expect to see changed from the first implementation of the title?

"The one major difference for Dark Reign 2 is that we're going to include trench warfare," Resnick explained, "and we're going to change the game's perspective by offering both a top-down and third-person point of view."

Why the big change? "I'm bored of top-down games," Resnick said. "I've enjoyed countless hours playing top-down strategy titles, but there needs to be more innovation. We know that we're being incredibly ambitious, but we want to make a great game." He knows that it sounds like a cliché, but he believes with the record he and his coworkers have that Pandemic Studios can make some big strides in the gaming industry.

Resnick's resume over the past four years includes director of production at Activision, director for Dark Reign, and producer for MechWarrior 2. His cofounder and CEO of Pandemic, Andrew Goldman, has a similarly great history - he served as director for Battlezone and Spycraft: The Great Game. The two have also attracted Dark Reign's producer Greg Borrud and Battlezone's lead designer George Collins to Pandemic.

Right now, Pandemic is still looking to fill some programming positions so it can grow from its current 13-member crew. Resnick said that he's looking for some good network and 3D programmers (if you think you fit the bill, send him an e-mail, call, or send in your resume - information is available at the company's web site). What kind of people is Resnick looking for? A worker who can wear many hats. One perk that Resnick thinks will attract programmers to the start-up is the company's rewards program. If a game does really well, he wants to give money back to the team that put the work into a job well done. In short he said, "I'd like all of my workers to drive Ferraris - it wouldn't bother me in the least." Wouldn't we all like a Ferrari?

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