Q&A: Nihilistic's Rob Huebner

With Starcraft: Ghost no longer on the agenda, what's on deck for the development team at Nihilistic Software?


When Starcraft: Ghost was announced some years ago, it came as a surprise to many that Blizzard Entertainment had enlisted the help of Nihilistic, a studio whose previous experience included the PC role-playing game Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption. The recent announcement that developer Nihilistic had parted ways with Blizzard Entertainment on the development of Starcraft: Ghost was equally surprising, but the studio is now firmly off the project and has moved on to new things.

We sat down with Nihilistic president and lead designer Rob Huebner to get his insight into Starcraft: Ghost as well as information on the studio's future plans.

GameSpot: What can you tell us about what you had accomplished with the Ghost code thus far? Did it meet your expectations? Was it a fun and challenging game to have had the team on? And can you repurpose any of what you created for subsequent projects at Nihilistic?

Rob Huebner: We develop all of our titles using our in-house technology and development tools--the core basis for all game development--so everything that we developed and learned working on Ghost has gone into improving that technology base. It was a challenging project. We’re very happy with the art and technology we developed for the game.

GS: Blizzard said the reason Nihilistic is no longer working on Starcraft: Ghost is that "the development agreement on the RTS-inspired shooter ended." Do you have anything to add to that?

RH: Our work on the project was completed, and we have other contractual obligations that make this the best time to mutually part ways.

GS: What does the news mean to the staffing at Nihilistic? There appears to be a slew of new talent mentioned on the company Web site. Does anyone get let go?

RH: Nihilistic has grown very carefully since its inception, and we continue to do so. We like staffing up at a rate we can easily sustain and manage. Over the past three years, we’ve grown from our post-Vampire number of about 12 to our current count of about 24 employees. That slow growth has enabled us to provide a very stable, collaborative environment. We’re looking to hire a few more people and fill in some resources needed for our next project. Check our Web site and send in those resumes!

GS: What can you tell us about the new project? How long has it been in development? Is it an original project from the mind of Nihilistic, or did it come your way with a publisher already attached? What platform is it for? What genre? Is it attached to a license or is it an original intellectual property?

RH: Unfortunately, we can’t give away any details right now. We’re looking forward to an announcement soon, and we’ll be sure to let everyone know!

GS: Have recent events related to the Starcraft project soured you in any way? Does it bode well, badly, indifferently for the industry and how independent studios do business with larger entities?

RH: We’re in an environment today that is generally favorable to independent studios, with a lot of excitement about new platforms and competition among publishers that are looking for great talent. The most important issue for independent studios is to be very careful when they select publishing partners and to make sure that the publisher has the resources, focus, and stability to see things through. With a number of publishers closing their doors or on the verge of doing so, competition to work with top-tier publishers who dominate the Top 10 lists is fierce.

GS: Where does the company stand in the "strong license versus strong original property" debate?

RH: We have a good track record working with strong licenses and will continue to do that when possible, but we also are developing a number of in-house properties when time permits. Personally, I don’t think a really great original IP is something that can be forced into existence. But keeping a creative group of people together and letting them brainstorm and throw around ideas organically over the course of months or years, occasionally you’ll get that spark of a great idea. The trick is to capture and nurture that spark until the right publisher and timing come along to bring it to fruition. Hopefully the timing will work out for us, but we recognize that it isn’t something you can force or rush.

GS: Nihilistic's previous experience had been with PC games. Then the studio switched to consoles with Ghost. Do you foresee greater attention to either PC games or console games in the company's future?

RH: We’ve been working strictly on consoles for over four years now, and most of our team members have been working on consoles since the origins of the N64, so at this point, going back to the PC would be quite a radical change for us. We still love playing PC games, but during work hours (except for the occasional lunchtime beat-down), we’re very console-oriented.

GS: Finally, do you have anything else to add about Starcraft: Ghost's development or about Nihilistic's future?

RH: We’re just moving into full production on our next project with a strong, tested design and a focused and experienced publisher. We look forward to announcing the project as soon as we can.

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