Dean Hall’s New Zealand studio RocketWerkz is working on a brand new triple-A game. We don’t know what it’s called but we do know where the money is coming from: Chinese online gaming behemoth Tencent.
Oh, and we know the new game is not Ion, the survival space game announced at E3 2015. That’s a separate thing; a collaboration with a tech company called Improbable in London, UK.
I spoke to Dean Hall about his new game but he was cagey.
“What I will say is it’s multiplayer,” he told me. “We’re really drawing a line in the sand here and saying … that’s where we want to be planting our flag in the ground; carving out new territory in terms of new multiplayer genres, or re-purposing different parts of other genres.
“I believe it’s a gap in the market,” he added. “For that reason I’m going to be pretty coy about exact specifics of it – also because of expectations and how experimental we are at the moment. I need to be deliberately coy; I need to avoid a kind of War Z situation.”
By that he means avoiding copycats, which is what The War Z was to DayZ back in 2013.
Hall continued: “I think a lot of people when they hear about it [the new game] will think it’s a niche game, but a lot of people would have said that about DayZ.”
Tencent is not the publisher of the new triple-A game but an investor in RocketWerkz itself – a partnership that’s enabled the studio to grow from five people to 26 in the last year.
Hall says Tencent ‘gets’ what he’s trying to do at RocketWerkz. And what Hall is trying to do is make a kind of Valve of South Pacific.
Listen to this: “We’ve adopted a very strong cell structure across the entire studio, so very experimental projects. That means that we give a lot of autonomy to the people we’re getting.
“As part of the [Tencent] partnership, and basically for the last six months, we very quietly completed what I would call a revolution in the industry, by pulling some great people out of studios like Creative Assembly, Bethesda, Bohemia – so we’ve really pulled in some very senior staff into this crazy little country at the end of the world.
“The studio will keep growing as much as we can but it will maintain the cell structure, so in a lot of cases you’re talking about teams around the seven size, and some of those cells will gravitate together around larger projects. And with this big project that is exactly what it is. It started out as independent cells working on different stuff who sort of end up on the same track and their work melds together.”
It’s no surprise Hall has been inspired by Valve’s mystical magic as he considers Chet Faliszek, arguably the most visible Valve employee behind Gabe Newell, as a “huge” mentor to him.
“He’s taken me around Valve and just really given me a lot of assistance in seeing how they do things and help me avoid making some of the mistakes I’ve made in the past – but also how to approach games in the future,” said Hall.
“I’ve really taken a lot of what I’ve learned from him and Valve and other companies I got to look around with, to heart, and that’s what we’ve really tried to do with the cell structure here.”
From that Valve friendship inadvertently came RocketWerkz’ first game, Out of Ammo – a Vive virtual reality game that transports you back to playing soldiers in the playground as a kid. It’s simple, it’s fun.
Those quickfire, experimental games are what RocketWerkz is all about – particularly when they’re multiplayer. The studio has already had many ideas, big and small, that haven’t worked out – as well as prototypes that have and he wants to come back to. Indeed, Hall said RocketWerkz has “one other IP that’s quite well developed and that’s getting quite close to release”, but we’ll hear more about that “later on”.
With the new triple-A game, Hall wants to up the ante. “I think there’s a new form of triple-A and people like Garry Newman [of Garry’s Mod and Rust fame] have been carving out this territory that I’m a big newcomer to. That’s what we’re looking at doing,” he said, “we’re looking at trying to approach triple-A without the big ball-and-chain of a publisher and maintain a very experimental avenue as we go about exploring it.”
But expectations are a tough thing to manage and Dean Hall knows all about fan backlash from DayZ. It’s for that reason Hall says “it’s very important that any messages [fans] get from me about what we’re doing are very consistent”. “We just want to make sure that, because of my history and things like that, that the messages we put out are very clear and specific,” he said.
Now, we wait. There’s no timeline attached to Dean Hall’s new triple-A game because he knows better than to do that again, and I expect it could be quite a while before we hear more. After all, this announcement is as much to help RocketWerkz attract talent as to excite fans. Nonetheless, Dean Hall is gearing up for something, and it could make quite a splash. Whether you like or loathe DayZ, it’d be shortsighted to rule him out.