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Cold Iron Wants to Change the Game

Garrett Fuller Posted:
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Cold Iron is a newly created game studio set to launch a new AAA online action game. Some of the veterans are great friends of the site and have worked on several MMOs over the years. CEO, Craig Zinkievich goes all the way back to City of Heroes. We are very excited for their new project and here is what they have to say about their upcoming plans. 

MMORPG: We're very excited to hear about the studio, can you tell us how things came about? 

Craig Zinkievich: It came about after a lot of soul searching and looking at where I was in my career. I was fortunate enough to help build Cryptic Studios way back when we first started City of Heroes. I’m proud of everything our team accomplished since. I love the games we built and was fortunate to work with incredibly talented developers. The people and culture at Cryptic are actually what inspired me to start Cold Iron. Don't get me wrong, I love Cryptic. Still love Cryptic. Many of those mad men and women are my closest friends. Stephen D'Angelo (current Cryptic CEO) and I still have a regular breakfast where he utterly shames me with his Pokémon Go collection. So, my departure had nothing do with Cryptic. I just couldn't shake that itch – that desire to strike out and do it all again, fresh and with my own spin.

I’ve also worked with Shannon and Matt for years. We enjoy playing the same type of games and have always shared a passion for development. I have the utmost respect for these guys and decided pretty early on, that if I were take on the challenge of building a studio from the ground up, I needed to have them by my side from the very beginning. They agreed. (Suckers!) Thus, Cold Iron was born!

MMORPG: You are working on a sci-fi title, what about that genre drew you into making a game? 

CZ: We’re huge science-fiction fans. It’s such a great genre that opens up so many opportunities for us to explore as developers. We're limited only by our imagination and sci-fi can always serve up something cool. From Star Trek to Star Wars to Firefly, Old Man's War and The Expanse, there's just so much greatness there we wanted to be a part of – so much we wanted to contribute to. We’re focused now on making an awesome game with compelling moment-to-moment gameplay experiences and longer-term "persistent" mechanics. With science fiction, there’s a lot of freedom to shape the setting to fit how we want that gameplay to feel. In this case, sci-fi helps us put gameplay first and then helps us expand that gameplay in ways we couldn't if we pigeonholed ourselves into a different period or genre.

MMORPG: Can you tell us about the core philosophies for the studio? 

CZ: For sure. We’ve got a few things we hold dear when we develop our games:

Focus on Quality and Compelling Gameplay. Number one. While you can add features and content to a game after launch, it’s extremely rare for a title to change someone’s initial impression and to improve on moment-to-moment quality and overall gameplay. We’ve got a million ideas for additional features and content we want to add eventually, but we’re focused right now on making sure that we have an absolutely thrilling and tight gameplay experience out of the gate. Focusing on quality and compelling gameplay always comes first. After that, we nail everything else.

Small and Powerful Studio. We could procure even more funding so we could build a massive studio with hundreds of devs, dozens of outsourcing groups and the requisite production infrastructure needed to support them. We could. But that would suck. Really, the studios that we admire most and would like to emulate are those that stay small, but remain focused on hiring and developing the absolute best industry talent. We don't want to bloat. We don't want to throw money and heads at the problem. We want to remain a small and powerful studio where we are able to express ourselves, pivot, minimize overhead and keep our core principles intact at all times. No Vogon Bureaucracy of game developers. We’ve reached out and hired people we know and admire and who’ve worked on titles we’ve loved. And we're going to keep doing that. For us, it’s about building a manageable studio that’s filled with a highly talented and driven staff who are experts in their respective fields – a mean and lean studio that owns its own destiny.

Game Developers First. It’s something that I’ve always looked for in folks on my teams. Sure, we’ve got Character Artists, Gameplay Programmers, Animators, etc., but we want everyone who works at Cold Iron to be thinking about the entire game experience before they think about their individual discipline. If we’ve got developers who are playing the game and thinking about making the whole game experience the best it can possibly be – we should end up with a better game in the end.

We also focus on diversity, a trusting environment for collaboration, open communication and other things – but that list only reminds us that we have to consciously think about building and shaping our studio culture as we grow.

MMORPG: The game market is changing so much lately, how do you see the landscape over the next few years? 

CZ: How long do you have? If I were to pick one thing – one area where we're going to see more (and more that drives the bottom line) – I’d say it's going to be in innovation. While people were worried about games becoming stagnant a couple years ago under a sea of sequels (some of which still exist) –  there’s an explosion in high-quality, creative and ground-breaking games happening right now. The popularity and growth of small indie development, partially egged on by improvements in engines and comparative ease of self-publishing, gives us brand new things almost every single day. Online play is now ubiquitous across all genres and platforms, taking well-known systems and modifying them for a changing audience. VR and Mixed Reality development is also starting to really explore the things that only our medium can achieve. I’m just blown away at just how much is brand-new and never-before-seen. I see that trend continuing. I see more innovation coming and I can’t wait for it.

MMORPG: Many of your team have worked in online games, how much of that experience are you implementing into your new product? 

CZ: A ton. That's the figurative short answer. We've worked in online games because we love it. And we’ve learned. That whole time we've learned. Now we're capitalizing on those successes and failures. We're looking at the landscape of PC and console games – they’re all beginning to integrate systems that originated in MMOs. Some do it well, some make mistakes that MMOs fixed years ago. Online is, fortunately, in our wheelhouse and can provide amazing player experiences we can integrate into our moment-to-moment gameplay. I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t exploit the substantial experience our dev team has in that field and I think we'd be shortchanging players if we didn't add the better aspects of progression, persistence, and community that have previously been the domain of the MMO.

MMORPG: Can you give us some hints on your timeline? When can we expect to hear about what you are working on? 

CZ: You’ll hear more about our game in the next 12 months. Probably.

MMORPG: What is it like running your own ship when making a game? 

CZ: Tons of work, but tons of fun, too. There’s nothing like the feeling of a small group of like-minded developers focused on their first game. It’s like a couple of the other start-ups I’ve been involved with, but with more experience. You don't have to debate everything. You have people who already know how to do most of it. The talent we’ve hired is ... amazing. I'm floored. And we have a culture that embraces and empowers this talent in a way that allows all of us to learn new things on a daily basis.

So what’s it like? Starting a new studio with some of the most talented developers in the industry? Developing a game I can’t wait to play? Creating a new universe to play in? It’s a dream come true.


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.