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New IP creators in Smilegate Barcelona : ①Chris Tilston (SGB Head of D… 2020-08-14

Smilegate recently opened a studio, Smilegate Barcelona which flagship project will be an open-world AAA console title. Many talented developers are joining the studio. 

Please meet Chris Tilston, head of design @ Smilegate Barcelona and find out how he will develop the new AAA title.

[Interview] Chris Tilston, Smilegate Barcelona Head of Design



Q. Can you tell us about yourself? Other than that you are a 'named' developer.

I have been a videogame professional for over 27 years. I wrote my first program as a young boy in 1983 for the ZX Spectrum. I'm still married after 25 years and have two sons who are both way better than me at videogames. Although from the UK I am classified as Welsh, being born in Wales. Wales is famous for its rugged coastline, mountains and rain. Hobbies include cricket, fishing, AI and of course playing videogames.

Q. It seems that you have participated in various projects. Please tell us about the titles and what your role was.

Before joining Smilegate Barcelona I was at DICE, working as Design Director on the Battlefield series. Most recently on Battlefield 5, although most of my work has been spent working on the next-gen Battlefield which is due to for release in 2022 on PS5 and Xbox series X.

Before DICE I was Director of Design at Digit game studios where I worked on Star Trek Fleet Command., and before that I was at Konami as Lead Designer, working on PES 2016, PES 2015  and the mobile game PES Club Manager. 

For the first 16 years of my career, I was at a studio called Rare in the UK, who had a long relationship with Nintendo before being purchased by Microsoft. Some of the games I helped make there were Perfect Dark, Killer Instinct, and Donkey Kong Country. 

Q. Which title/project was most impressive, and why?

This is like asking which one of your children is your favourite! 

•          In terms of metacritic it was Perfect Dark (97)

•          The most fun to work on was  Killer Instinct 

•          The most sequential days worked without a day off was Perfect Dark Zero (320 days)

•          The game with the biggest credits list - Battlefield V (3271 people)

•          Most delayed game that still became successful - Star Trek Fleet Command (launched almost two years later than intended )


<Chris Tilson playing ’Killer Instinct’ in 1994>

Q. PES is very popular in Korea and of course, among Smilegate employees. Which team do you play?

If it is not a serious match, then I will play Man Red (or Manchester United as they are in the real world). If it was a serious game, then Real Madrid (in PES 2016) was unstoppable due to Ronaldo and Gareth Bale both having high sprint values and shooting stats. They were so good we used to call them the 'cheat team' in the office.

Q. Is there a particular reason that you joined Smilegate Barcelona (SGB)? How did you find out about the studio?

We had lots of meetings leading up to SGB being formed, and I was very impressed with the people we met. We seemed to have a lot of shared values in that there was a determination in not giving up and a passion for quality. Making games is a tough blend of science and art, and the commitment needed to produce something extraordinary is sometimes on the same level that an Olympic athlete would need to become successful, without all of that tiring physical exercise!


Q. Before you joined SGB, please tell us how you thought about Asian game companies and especially Smilegate. And after you entered SGB, have your view changed?

After working with Nintendo for a long time, I had a lot of respect for Asian gaming companies, and they were known for in the west for their passionate dedication and hard work ethic. I only really discovered Smilegate after joining DICE and researching lots of FPS games. I was shocked that such an unbelievably successful game could exist without me knowing about it.

After working for a while at SGB, it has not only reinforced my thinking of Asian gaming companies being dedicated and hard-working. I see a lot of shared qualities that I admire in developers in our excellent colleagues at Smilegate HQ who have been tirelessly helping us with the challenge of building a new studio from the ground up.

Q. Have you played any Smilegate's games? If you have, what did you think?

I first tried Crossfire when doing competitive research at DICE. I was impressed by the number of game modes and features, even though I was very bad at playing it! I have not played Lost Ark and the new Crossfire X yet - but looking at the videos, they have made me look forwards to playing them when they get released in the west.

Q. Game is a medium that can give users a fun and at the same time, deliver an amazing new experience. What do you think is the most appealing part of a game, and how do you try to convey it?

I think appeal has many parts which maybe you could generalize as an initial attraction (reasons to buy) and then the depth of retention (reasons to keep playing)

For the initial attraction graphics and the theme seem to have the highest importance. For graphics, we look for something distinctive that separates your game from everyone else's while at the same time being current with the latest technologies. For the theme, we are looking for something which has appeal to the widest possible audience, with some unique features that players might not have experienced before that might capture their imagination to drive the desire to play.

For keeping players playing it is down to gameplay. We try and create gameplay that is accessible but deep. By this we mean there are many skill levels which players can appreciate the game and become better at over time. Strategic options allow players to customize their experience during gameplay, allowing multiple paths towards victory. A connection to something in the game that can be developed by play either via character stats, NPC's also helps towards keeping players engaged. For the gameplay, we constantly evaluate whether we are heading towards something that has the right levels of skill, strategy and connection by iteration.

Q. How do you obtain ideas related to game development? Is there a particular place or a method that you gain inspiration?

I don't have a structured method, but these are some of the places I gain inspiration from:

•          Competitive research - I play a lot of games to try and understand the level of quality that we are competing with, but also to understand where opportunity is.

•          Films, movies and books - Our industries share some similar qualities, so I try and understand the patterns and factors that distinguish between something being successful and something being mega-successful.

•          Collaboration - You cannot build a game on your own, and good ideas come from teamwork. We have gone out to try and build a world-class design team by hiring proven experts with great track records on games with quality. 




Q. What kind of game would you like to develop in SGB? Can you share your plans? 

We are currently working on an Open world First-person shooter, and our goal is to have something that can be a critical and commercial success - a game that is not only a new IP but can also have a rich enough universe that it can become the foundation for a successful franchise and future games.

If we look at Hollywood, there are lots of films that have commercial success but are not great. Conversely, there are lots of well-made films that have rave reviews but have a small audience. Our challenge is to be the film that wins the Oscar but is also the blockbuster at the box office. We want to create something unique that can be enjoyed by the widest possible audience while also having the depth required to connect with games players on a critical level.

To do this, we are trying to build a team that is passionate about solving challenges and to focus on prototyping and iterating on the ideas that will help us stand out while focusing on the development of tools that will allow the efficient construction of a huge world full of interesting content that players will find enjoyable to explore.

Q. Any other words that you would like to add? 

Really looking forwards to sharing news of our progress in the future and introducing everyone to the some of the great developers who have joined us on this exciting journey at Smilegate Barcelona.

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