Rebellion are the biggest independent games developer in the UK, best known for critically acclaimed games such as the Sniper Elite series and Alien Vs Predator.
The studio recently celebrated its 25th anniversary so we took the opportunity to chat with co-founder Chris Kingsley about the studio’s legacy, and its continued success.
Escape Technology: How did Rebellion start?
Chris Kingsley: Before we started Rebellion, both my brother Jason and I were freelancing. I was focussing on programming while he focussed on art. We were pretty good at delivering projects on time and it got to a point with freelancing where we found ourselves project managing, which is way more work than what we were initially hired to do. Because we weren’t getting paid to project manage we thought we’d move away from freelancing.
We decided to make our own company not only to move away from freelancing but to also create our own IP. We pitched our first game idea to Allister Bodin of Atari for the Falcon. The Atrari guys liked it so much that it ended up being one of the first games for the Jaguar. From there we went on to create more games for Atari and then started developing games for the PC.
ET: Why did you decide to make your first game, Eye of the Storm?
CK: We wanted to create a sci-fi game where players got to fly around in space. Jason in particular also wanted the game to feature an ecosystem that comprised lots of different alien animals. Jason even started doing extensive research into wildlife in order to make Eye of the Storm’s ecosystem as authentic as possible.
The technology behind our games has always been important to us. Eye of the Storm was coded in Assembla and was one of the first PC games to feature texture-wrapped and curved objects, which was quite innovative for the time.
ET: How important is it to you that Rebellion is a family run business?
CK: That’s always been very important to us. Both Jason and I complement each other - he tackles the art side of game design while I focus on programming. We always joked that we needed a third sibling with a musical background so we had every element of game development covered.
It’s also great to see other family led companies out there. You’d be surprised how many developers are brother led.
ET: What’s it like running the UK’s biggest independent games developer?
CK: It’s the same as it always has been since we started the company in 1992. The only real difference is that I’m running the company and pitching ideas instead of doing the programming.
Now that we’re a developer and a publisher we’re spending time on prototypes and pitches, meaning we get the best of both worlds.
ET: You’ve worked on so many games over the past 25 years, do you have a particular favourite?
CK: That’s a tricky one. I’ve always liked Gunlock because it was the last game that I did some serious coding on.
I’ve always loved the Sniper Elite series because I can play them at my own pace. A lot of shooting games at the moment are based on reactions; Sniper Elite is great as it lets the player take their time when taking out a target. And if you mess up a shot you‘re able to recover instead of getting taken out straight away by the enemy.
ET: What’s it like working with high profile properties like Alien and Dredd?
CK: Dredd has always been a bit different for us because we own the property. As for the others we’ve worked on - such as Aliens, The Simpsons and Star wars - we find that we have to stick to the their rules a lot of the time.
That’s not a bad thing as there’s a lot we can cover within a single property. It’s all about finding the secret sauce and creating gameplay mechanics that work for that title. Alien Vs Predator is a perfect example of where we were able to create a lot of fresh mechanics that gamers hadn’t necessarily seen before, such as the way the Alien can crawl up walls and ceilings. And when the game was released there weren’t many titles out there that would allow players to play as the bad guy. It’s about distilling the essence of a property and adapting it for video games.
ET: Alien Vs Predator was one of the first games to heavily feature online multiplayer, what made you move the focus away from single player?
CK: It seemed like a natural thing to do. We wanted to make a good multiplayer title and we felt that Alien Vs Predator was ideal for that. As I mentioned before there weren’t really any games out there that let users choose between playing the good guy and the bad guy. AvP was perfect for that.
ET: If you could go back and remake one of your games again, which one would it be?
CK: We recently remade Rogue Trooper and I always loved him as a character. It was a great experience going back and recreating that game.
ET: What do you use Escape Technology for?
CK: Escape Technology helps us with our software. The biggest benefit we get from Escape is that we get a lot of help when purchasing new tech. They help us understand what we’re purchasing and give us worthwhile information, which is very important to us. They also come up with good ideas and help us navigate the way forward with our new purchases.
ET: What do you think the future hold for indie game devs?
CK: This is a very exciting time for indie game development as the studios out there aren’t tied down to what publishers want. That means we see games that are truly original and allow developers to really express themselves creatively. I’m excited to see what ideas indie developers will come up with next.
Rebellion continues to make some outstanding video games. It’s great to see an independent game developer achieve so much and we’re excited for their next titles Strange Brigade and the remake of Battlezone: Combat Commander.
To find out more about Escape Technology’s work in games visit our industry pages, or contact our games expert, Neil Parmar.