Robert Bowling – Robotoki Interview
X360 chats with ex-Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling about his new business venture Robotoki
When Robert Bowling, creative strategist on the Modern Warfare franchise, announced that he was to leave Infinity Ward earlier this year the internet immediately cried foul play. Turns out he just wanted to forge ahead with his own business venture Robotoki – a new developer that will prize narrative storytelling and the fostering of creative talent above all else.
What was it like being the ‘face’ of the Modern Warfare franchise for so long? What are you going to miss about the role?
Being the most public facing and accessible member of the Call of Duty franchise for the last 7 years taught me a lot about the value of being connected to your userbase. It was always important to me, from a development perspective, to have transparency and direct access with your userbase, and when you’re userbase is over 30 million people globally, it allowed me a unique advantage of learning a lot about how varied your userbase can become in the type of experience they’re looking for. This knowledge has shaped a lot of how we approach game design with Robotoki and how players will be able to shape their own experience in our first IP.
Robotoki’s cross-platform approach to game development seems like a break from tradition…
Our design philosophy is all about creating a platform-agnostic universe that creates experiences specific to each player’s device. This is why we approach the universe first, experiences second, and game mechanics last. That’s not an order of quality but an order of process. It’s about making sure how you experience the characters, stories, and experiences within the game universe are specific to the device you’re playing on, not an after-thought, while also allowing your contributions on each, whether you’re playing on tablet, console, or PC, to have influence on your overall character progression and the state of the universe as a whole.
Many developers would argue that game mechanics are the most important element to focus on, rather than narrative. Why do you consider creating the universe first the most important part of the process?
Designing a universe first allows you creative freedom on how your players experience your gameplay mechanics, and allows you to tailor the experience per device. It has no impact on the quality of the game mechanics, there is no denying you have to nail those, otherwise the experience is ruined. It’s about ensuring that the game mechanics fit within the universe, and more importantly, the device the player is engaging the universe from.
What makes a great shooter mechanic (smooth, fast, and tight controls) on consoles and PC is not the same as on the tablet. Therefore, if you start with purely the mechanic in mind, you’re just making a great shooter. We think games have evolved beyond that, and that an interesting universe is made up of more than just a great shooter, but a variety of player styles that engage the world, characters, and universe in a variety of ways, and through a variety of devices. This thought process requires you to design from the top down, looking at the different strengths and weaknesses each player style, genre preference, skill set, and device interfaces can impact and change the overall state of the game universe and world.
For example, when I’m at home, sitting in front of a monitor or on my couch with a console, I want a more immersive, cinematic experience when I’m engaging this universe. However, when I leave the house and I’m on a tablet; I still want to engage the world, my character, continue my progress. This mobile experience should allow that, but in a way that is unique to the console and PC experience, it doesn’t need to mimic the first person experience nor does it even need to be within the same genre. However, the contributions and actions I take, can still impact and affect my world, character, story, and experience on console and PC in a meaningful way.
It feels like you have set up Robotoki as an alternative to the norm in game development. Do you think it’s necessary to break from tradition in order to survive as a business?
Absolutely. Our philosophy at Robotoki is ‘Team First, Everything Else Second’. I feel strongly that great games can only be made by great teams and great teams are made up of happy people. This happiness comes from being emotionally and intellectually invested in the projects you’re creating and the studio you’re helping build.
This is why we take the focus off the product and on the team, because if you make a great team, that is fulfilled emotionally, you’ll create a great game.
I think it is essential as an industry that we acknowledge this on a unanimous level because we’re are falling severely behind with our partners in film and music in recognising the value of creative talent to the success of our business. Creative talent and especially creative teams are not interchangeable parts that can work the same in every machine; they’re organic and fluid and the quality of their creations is impacted by emotion, and personality, and environment. At Robotoki, we are focused on crafting that environment and nurturing that development. This is why we encourage all of our employees to ignore their job description, to allow it to be their launching off point, rather than their confines.
So how will Robotoki’s team dynamics work differently?
We’re focused on creative freedom and investment in every project from an emotional and intellectual level. When you work on a project, especially the same franchise for many years. You create two lists in your head. On one hand, you have the characters, stories, and experiences that fit within the universe you’re creating. On the other hand, you have the characters, stories, and experiences that simply don’t fit for one reason or another. Over time, one of these lists will outweigh the other and when this happens you’ll become frustrated and resentful at your current project, because it’s not allowing to follow your creative need to express these other experiences because “they don’t fit”.
As a studio, we encourage the freedom to explore that other list. It’s about baking in development time and budget that allows for that exploration outside the feature list and priority list. While there will be times that whatever you create may not fit into the main project on hand, there will be bits and pieces, little nuggets of those creations that can be fed back into the existing universe and enhance it, innovate it, take it in new directions. If not, //that’s okay//, because you can be laying the foundation for an amazing new universe and amazing new experiences that you may not have never initially designed for.
Related content on X360:
- Robert Bowling leaving after MW3 – why it’s no surprise
- MW3: Elite Premium or Content Collections?
- MW3 Callsigns – Top 10 Titles in Modern Warfare 3