Microsoft Game Studios Vancouver, recently rebranded as Black Tusk Studios, is revving up to work on a new franchise and "looking to build the next HALO here in Vancouver," according to Studio Manager Mike Crump in an interview today with The Vancouver Sun. The studio started off with only 5 people and has grown to 55 since 2010, and they are expecting to double in number very soon, as they are actively recruiting for a new IP that Microsoft has officially greenlit. "We are working on Microsoft's next big entertainment franchise, building something from the ground up."
What that something is isn't immediately apparent, but self-proclaimed internet extraordinaire @supererogatory stated months ago via Twitter that he has an idea and called it:
Apparently it is some big new IP space shooter thing on the scale of a Gears or Halo. Lead designer of Crysis 2 is working on it."
Black Tusks Studios' newly relaunched website lists a number of job postings, from designers to artists to engineers. They have already begun development on the new IP, and as they recruit more people, expect to hear more news about the alleged space shooter in the new few months.
While console video game companies have been shutting their Vancouver studios, a handful of Microsoft game developers have been quietly building a presence in Yaletown.
Today they are taking the wraps off the venture, which started with five people and grew to 55 before getting the official go-ahead from Microsoft's head office to launch as a separate game studio, Black Tusk.
"It is a good news story for us," said studio manager Mike Crump. "We're excited about the opportunities here, we think Vancouver has a bright future."
The launch should also spell good news for job seekers in Vancouver's hard-hit console video game sector. The division's website, blacktuskstudios.com, includes job listings for everyone from engineers to designers, and Black Tusk plans to double its numbers within a year.
"We are actively recruiting," said Crump, who added the studio has outgrown its Cambie Street location and will be moving to take over two floors on Beatty Street, where Microsoft's Big Park studio is located.
Black Tusk had its start when Crump and four others, all alumni of Electronic Arts, took over a floor at Microsoft's Cambie Street location about a year ago and started planning for the studio, which will focus on the Xbox 360 video game console.
Studio staff have an average of 12 years experience in triple-A games, the industry's equivalent of Hollywood summer blockbuster movies - "big games, big teams, big budgets, long timelines," said Crump.
"What that means is we are working on Microsoft's next big entertainment franchise," he said. "We're not working on an existing franchise, we're looking to build the next Halo here in Vancouver, for example, which is really exciting. We are building something from the ground up."
The launch comes only a few months after Microsoft halted development of two games - Microsoft Flight and Project Columbia, a move that came shortly after announcements by Rockstar Vancouver and Radical Entertainment that they were closing their Vancouver operations.
Crump said the Black Tusk group wanted to operate in stealth mode until it recruited enough talent to reach critical mass and got the go-ahead from Microsoft head office.
"We have been officially green-lit by Microsoft executives to go ahead with the project that we're on," he said.
"That's the way game development works - it's just like making a movie, you go through pitching and concepting and then at some point you have a very large meeting with the executive team and present your full pitch with the business plan and you get the green light, so that's happened for us."
Crump said Vancouver's proximity to Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, headquarters is a factor but it is not the only attraction.
"First and foremost is its heritage, there is a history of gaming in Vancouver that goes back decades and what that has left us with is a pool of talent that is really unparalleled, I think, most anywhere in the world," said Crump.
"And the last piece of it is - the reason we really believe in Vancouver is it's such a great place to live that when we are going out and we're recruiting, whether it's California or Frankfurt, it is never a tough sell to convince somebody to move to Vancouver."
Named for the iconic pinnacle between Vancouver and Whistler that attracts hikers, the studio is opening at a time when several video game companies have headed east to take advantage of more favourable tax credits in Toronto.
While Crump said he can't comment on what other companies in the sector are doing, he noted that Microsoft has all its Canadian gaming studios in B.C.
"Tax credits, for sure, are a challenge here in Vancouver," said Crump. "But Microsoft's commitment to Vancouver goes way beyond tax credits.
"Microsoft has opened two studios in the Vancouver/Victoria region this year and now there is investment in Black Tusk here in Vancouver, so there is a deep commitment to Vancouver and a belief in the potential of this region, what it can be in this space."