In many respects, EA's Guildford office - now known as Bright Light Studio - remains the motherlode of English game development. After all, it's only a stone's thrown away from the room above a shop where Peter Molyneux kickstarted the entire sector to global success in the late 1980s with his intelligent strategy games. Indeed, some of the staff who worked with Molyneux at his Bullfrog studio - which was bought by EA in 1995, becoming EA's main UK studio - still work at Bright Light; albeit their recent years have been spent recreating the stories of a certain book-turned-film boy wizard.
Now, however, finally, something new is being born at EA UK. Three years in gestation, it could prove to be very big indeed.
"The reaction to Zubo has been amazing," says Harvey Elliot, head of Bright Light. "During the development, we've focus tested the ideas with kids a lot and the concept's changed form a couple of times, but you're never really sure about it until you can open up to a larger group of people."
Suffice to say, having experienced a hands-on session earlier this week, we were certainly impressed with the creature collection and rhythm action game that in places reminded us of Pokémon, Viva Piñata, Patapon and LEGO Star Wars.
"The development process has been interesting," Elliot continues. "We've been using Agile programming techniques like Scrum to quickly create something that's playable and then we've tried to iterate to make sure we've pinned down the concept."
This way of making games is becoming increasingly popular throughout EA - its LA studio is using similar methods - with the advantage that although the prototyping phase is relatively messy, it's also cheap. So when everyone decides the concept is right and more staff are needed to actually make the game, that part of the process is relatively straightforward and quick.
One example Elliot uses concerns debugging the game.
"Unlike usual development, we're not fixing all the bugs at the end," he says. "We've been fixing them thorough so there's only about a hundred left and they're not major problems. That means we've got plenty of time to focus on tweaking and polishing the game. Basically making it fun. It's my favourite bit."
As for the question of what happens if Zubo - currently a DS exclusive - is successful, Elliot's playing his cards close.
He'll admit Zubo's been designed as a franchise, but he says it's got to be a good DS game before anything else will happen.
"You can't say to kids, 'Hey, come and play our franchise'," he jokes. "That's not the right way to launch a new game. Being EA, we could have gone down the route of shipping Zubo pencil cases and pyjamas but we want to make a great game first and from that hopefully will grow a big tree. Of course, if it works we'll try to scale into other areas, but only if it's right for Zubo, not because we can."
So even if you won't have the opportunity to buy a branded lunchbox just yet, do expect to hear a lot more about Zubo before its expected release in September.
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