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Q&A: IR Gurus' Ben Palmer

Heatseeker developer talks about working with the Wii, the Australian games industry, and hints at a "scarily huge" upcoming title.


With work on aerial combat game Heatseeker about to wrap up, Australian developer IR Gurus is starting to turn its focus towards new projects. GameSpot AU caught up with IR Gurus executive producer Ben Palmer at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco to ask him what was coming up for the Melbourne-based dev house.

GameSpot AU: How was GDC for you this year?

Ben Palmer: It's always a good educational experience, and it's good to see what other people are doing. I like the openness--people open up quite a bit and say this is what [they are] working on, this is what worked, this is what didn't work.

GS AU: What major projects is the team currently working on?

BP: We're finishing up Heatseeker on PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and the Wii. We're pleased to be getting something out of the Wii because there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of games out there, so hopefully that will do quite well--it's getting very good reviews, which we're very pleased with. We have some PS2 games coming out in the not-too-distant future, and we have three next-gen titles. One of them is quite advanced in its development, but the other two are right at the start. We've been developing on next-gen technology for quite a while now.

GS AU: How easy is it to work on the Wii?

BP: The Wii is quite an easy platform to work on because of its single core nature. It means that if you're used to other single core systems--like the PS2--you'll be up and running on the Wii quite quickly. The controller is obviously quite interesting, as you have to get quite creative with that to get anything out of it. But generally the platform is quite rapid to develop on--we like it.

GS AU: What can you tell us about those next-gen titles?

BP: One of them is scarily huge. It's going to be great, and it's an interesting project. I can't tell you about the others as there have been no formal releases.

GS AU: Is this "scary" title the biggest you've done at IR Gurus so far?

BP: Yes. By a long way, but not necessarily in terms of the number of people working on it. The budget is considerably larger, as is the scope of the design, the profile of the license, and the quality it has to be. It's taking us up to another league.

GS AU: How big is IR Gurus now?

BP: We're just under 100 people now full-time, and growing. We also contract a lot of work to other Australian companies and international ones on occasion. We're definitely expanding, and we're looking at a few options on how to do that. We're now looking for very specific skill sets.

GS AU: Is it getting easier for an Aussie developer to be recognized globally?

BP: Australia has a good technical reputation globally. There's a tendency for Australians to solve problems--we're ingenious in that manner. There's still the tyranny of distance, however, but there's a lot you can do to overcome that. I don't know if people particularly see our location as a negative--most people now see it as following the sun. So if they report a bug, by the time they wake up the next morning it's been fixed. So it can work in our favour. You do need to have a certain level of confidence with your publisher, because they do feel a little nervous that you're so far away.

We're no longer seen as a cheaper alternative to the US--partly because the US dollar isn't as strong as it could be. I think people are looking to Australia now for quality, whereas in the past some developers sold on price.

GS AU: Will you still continue to look at older platforms, like the PS2?

BP:Potentially there might be the odd title, but we're moving away from that and will be more focused on 360 and PS3. We are working on some PSP at the moment, but in the future that might make more sense to outsource it as there may people better set up to work on the PSP than we are. It's better for us to focus on a smaller number of platforms.

GS AU: Ben Palmer, thanks for your time.

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