Firebrand Games 5th Anniversary – Scotland in Focus
Firebrand Games have reached their 5th glorious year this month.
Starting with a very small team based in Glasgow, in four years they have shipped 10 DS games including the award winning Race Driver: GRID and the acclaimed TrackMania DS. This autumn will also see the release of their first Wii title, TrackMania Wii, along with a sequel to the DS game named TrackMania Turbo.
Formed from a core group of workers from a previous company, Mark Greenshields (CEO) suggested a new name and fresh direction moving into the console market. Their first project was Cartoon Network Racing for the DS, a taste of the company’s involvement and now respected specialisation with race games using their own Octane Engine which is now being adapted for the TrackMania on the Wii.
SquareGo went to talk to Mark Greenshields, Pete Shea and Dan Fletcher about surviving in this tough industry and what they hoped for in the future.
Octane Engines and Cartoon Network Racing
Pete Shea (Creative Director) met us at Firebrands Offices and talked about why the DS had been the console of choice, explaining “We really developed the Octane Engine on DS as this was the period when that console was really ramping up.”
Mark added, “We were looking at lots of the handheld formats but we had a core team who were leading edge, wanted to do something great and not constrained by the bullshit of their previous employers. The technology they were creating was multi-platform, very, very focused and very powerful but we concentrated a lot on the DS as we had a future project to propose that was so far ahead of anything else in the racing genre that we all felt it was something special.”
“Considering Cartoon Network Racing was a licensed game we created something that reviewed well and was compared to Mario Kart in a complimentary way.”
“I had a number of contacts in the industry and showed Codemasters a demo in 2006 which blew them away. This resulted in the start of our long association with Codemasters which has so far released 3 top rated titles and we hope, more to come.”
“One of the things that Firebrand has always prided itself on isn’t just the best technology but it’s the best game that you can do in the constraints of the time, budget and platform. So one of the things the team came up with was differentiating Race Driver from a port of the other versions; something that was worth buying as a standalone even if you had the game on other platforms.”
“We looked at the touch screen on the DS and saw it could be used for driving but better still as a creation tool which is what we did. It was so successful that it became part of the signature of the game so instead of Race Driver we had made Race Driver: Create and Race. It was something that no other game of that type had done. Almost everyone we talk to now mentions a track creator in one way or another and we’ve continued to work with Codemasters on GRID and DIRT 2.”
After Race Driver: Create and Race Firebrand Games really started creating a name for themselves with strong reviews of the products and good sales. In November 2007 they set up an operation in Eastern Florida. Mark told us, “A lot of our clients are out there. It made a lot of sense.” Creating a place to grow the team and drive things forward whilst maintaining the core team in Glasgow.
In 2008 the company started considering moving into the Wii, something which was fully realised in 2009 as the company was expanding. There was a wish to move into more that one platform as Mark explained.
“You don’t want to concentrate on one platform for ever as a games developer. There are good points to being a uni-platform developer but also bad points if the market changes direction plus you want to be able to expand your horizons.”
Not just cars
Firebrand have always been synonymous with racing games and Mark admits to being a, “car nut”, so having the opportunity to create a racing game was exciting. After seeing what they achieved with Cartoon Network Racing it became clear to him that they could follow this specific market rather than a more generalist approach seen with other developers. By doing this Firebrand have managed to stand out from the crowd in this field. This has allowed them to hone their skills, understanding the mechanics beneath a racing game.
Dan pointed out though, “It’s easy to say that Firebrand are a racing specialist but we’re also specialising in really good games. Racing happens to be a genre we know we can create these really good games in.”
Mark continued, “Our team haven’t just been brought up on racing games. The technology and skills between the team encompasses every platform and probably most genres, including multi-platform ones. If we set our minds to something we can produce AAA quality but that is probably one of the over-riding factors we all agreed to in the beginning. We’re only going to do high quality so if we think we’re going to make a bag of crap we’re not going to do it. We’re only going to concentrate on fields we have experience in. It’s all about the quality.”
Pete added, “When you’re making a racing game you’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s a vehicle on a track. When we start working we can have something basic up and running in a couple of weeks because we have the tool and skill set available.”
What’s truly original?
With a rich history of racing game development in the UK it seemed logical to ask if Firebrand Games next stage was to develop their own product.
Mark was pretty clear that they already have. “Investing in a product has certain risks and also if it doesn’t have a license on the DS it doesn’t sell – period. We’re moving into different consoles now and there’s more possibility there to do something that isn’t branded or a licensed product but most of our games are original they are just based on existing products. Original is only a word. Original games can just be a copy of many other generic games. I think we try and put a little bit of true Firebrand originality into everything within the constraints of the property.”
Pete noted, “Many of us came from previous companies who took the higher risk saying that developing your own Intellectual Property (IP) was the way to go and those companies failed. I spent five years developing a new IP at a previous company and when it eventually came out it was almost invisible. When you’ve put so much time and dedication into your idea and developing your own IP as a company finding the market isn’t interested is devastating.”
Dan added “It’s very easy to point out the companies that have developed their own IP and succeeded because they’re still here. The many more who failed have been long forgotten about and disappeared into the ether. It’s becoming more feasible to do smaller games with the likes of PSN and XBLA but there isn’t much AAA IP which isn’t owned by or funded by a big publisher.”
Mark “The money involved in getting your own product produced is so large, even on a small platform. You can use every bit of experience, research and educated knowledge to say this is it, this is great and it goes out to the public and they don’t like it. You cannot control what people will like. You can only predict”
It’s this type of careful observation of the markets and learning from others failures that keeps companies like Firebrand Games afloat and more importantly earning. It also shows they are aware of the constantly fluctuating industry they’re in and are ready to step up to the challenge of a new console or influence.
SquareGo wishes them all the success with TrackMania Wii and into the future and hopes they get at least one birthday celebration in as they work towards their first Wii titles release date.
Our Hands On impressions of TrackMania Wii plus some more words from the gents can be found here.