Flying Wild Hog CEO Tells Us What They’ve Been Up to (Hint: Two Game Reveals Scheduled in 2020)
Flying Wild Hog, the Polish studio known mostly for Hard Reset and the two Shadow Warrior games, kind of went underground after the release of Shadow Warrior 2.
In fact, you may not even know that they got acquired by Supernova Capital, an investment firm founded by former Splash Damage CEO Paul Wedgwood, in March 2019.
As we are now well into 2020, we thought we'd try to shine a bright light on the future of Flying Wild Hog. Thankfully, CEO Michał Szustak was kind enough to agree to chat about the recent growth of the studio, its future projects, their decision to switch engine and lots of hot industry topics from next-gen to cloud gaming, VR and more. Enjoy the read!
Hello, Michał. Can you catch us up on what Flying Wild Hog has been up to in the last three years or so?
Yeah, sure. We released our last game (Shadow Warrior 2) in 2016 and since then we were actually pretty quiet, but a lot of things were happening behind the scenes. Shadow Warrior 2 was a really ambitious project for us and we were super happy with the outcome, in our opinion it was a great success, each of our games we think is much better than the previous one, and we really wanted to keep the base but it came obvious to us that we cannot grow organically as we did before. We needed to actually be more mature to be able to deliver even more ambitious projects. So, after releasing Shadow Warrior 2, we decided that we wanted to grow, we wanted to transform Flying Wild Hog from a single project studio into a multi-project studio.
And actually to be able to do that we needed to find the right partner to help us with this growth. We knew a lot of stories in the gaming industry that at some point, when studios start to grow, they actually can collapse under the costs of this growth, underestimating that it might be more difficult than they expect to start making more projects in more locations at the same time. So we started looking for somebody that could share the expertise with us. Obviously, it was business related conversations. We talked to publishers, we talked to investment funds, and finally, we found somebody that actually connected all these experiences, it was Supernova, an investment fund built by the game veterans who created and managed Splash Damage for 15 years. The guys who actually knew how to make games but also knew how to grow business and actually to transform it into a really financially successful studio. The very important thing for us, when we were looking for the partner, was for him to actually appreciate the vision for the studio we had at the time. We really wanted to remain independent. We wanted to still be creative, we wanted to still make original action games, it was very important for us.
Also, Flying Wild Hog is based on making new, cool, proto-experimental stuff. Sometimes it might be scary for our partners that we are experimenting and prototyping and iterating a lot before actually releasing something. So we really wanted our new partner to actually appreciate it too. And it turned out that Supernova shared this vision, they really liked the values we had in the studio. So we found the right partner for us. And these last three years have been really busy for us.
Obviously, right after each Shadow Warrior 2, we spent like six months releasing the game on consoles, which took us some time, but also we grew, we grew immensely. At the end of 2016, we opened a studio in Cracow in Poland. Then in 2018, we opened an office in Rzeszów as we grew from a hundred people in 2016 to 230 right now. It hasn't been like a piece of cake to grow the studio more than twice in such a short period of time.
We didn't have HR, we didn't have PR. We didn't care about finances. We were just, you know, a bunch of guys that wanted to make awesome games. And it worked. We knew everybody in the studio, it was like 70/75 people for Shadow Warrior 2. So actually, it was still a really big family, but we didn't need anything else besides the goal to make awesome games.
However, when you want to have a few projects at once, 200 people, three locations, then you need to start thinking about all this boring stuff that actually supports your ability to make awesome games. And Supernova really helped us to understand that we needed to build IT, HR, you know, finance, stuff like that. So these last two years were also spent on doing that. They definitely helped us with the business pipeline. They are super experienced in this area. So they trained us, they showed us how to delegate things. But what we liked the most in our work with them is that they really share the same vision for the studio, which was actually to focus on making people who work here really happy. Because we always believed that only happy people can be creative. Only happy people can make, you know, awesome games. And they kept us in this area. The big step for us also was actually to change the engine we used in-house because for like seven years, we used our proprietary engine called Roadhog and released Shadow Warrior 2 using this engine.
And we are really, really proud that we were able to actually make and develop the engine at the same time we were doing the games. So it was an awesome success for us, but it came at a cost. We needed to have a really big engine team and it was always like you were chasing the rabbit because there was the CryEngine, Unreal Engine, Unity. And we saw that the gap between this huge Epic team making new cool stuff, adding features to their engine, and our 10-people engine team who's trying to keep the base, the gap was getting larger and larger. So a year and a half ago we decided to actually switch to Unreal Engine 4. I think it was the first I would say mature decision we made with Supernova's help because we understood that we were kind of driven by the sentiment that we have to have an engine because, you know, father issues, but in the end they had us understand that what we really want to do is to focus on making games, experimental gameplay, original, explosive fun. And Unreal Engine 4 is great for that, it's super flexible. It's actually much easier to prepare prototypes than it was in Roadhog. So we have much more space for experimentation there. It was something huge for us.
I'm wondering about your games in development. Did you have to switch engines in the middle of the development phase? And was it hard, changing from the Roadhog engine to Unreal Engine 4, or was it seamless?
Honest, honest answer. Yeah, it was hard, but maybe in a little different way than you would expect; it wasn't hard in terms of, you know, technology or tools. It was hard because, for many years, our team was used to use our own engine. And seriously, many, many of our employees were unhappy because of the decision. Because it was our engine. We were one of few studios in the world that actually could make awesome games using their own proprietary engine, so it was more like a psychological problem or difficulty than it was in terms of technology. In terms of technology, in a few months, we actually remade all our prototypes and our games into Unreal Engine 4, so it wasn't difficult. But you know, even after a year and a half of working on UE4 with few projects in development, with really awesome stuff we created, we sometimes still hear in the corridors that it was cool when we were doing something in Roadhog because this particular thing was a little easier to achieve in the old engine. Sentiments die really slowly.
That's understandable. But, you know, at least that's what I heard from other developers, Unreal Engine usually speeds up development in most cases.
There was an interview this past November on a Polish website where it was confirmed that you have three unannounced games in the works at Flying Wild Hog.
That's right. Yep.
So is it one per office?
No, no, it's more complicated than that. In the biggest studio in Warsaw, we've got around 150 people, while the other studios have around 30 people each. So we are working on two titles in Warsaw, with some support from the other teams. And those teams together are working on the third project.
Okay. Are all those meant to be AAA or just one and maybe the others are smaller? How would you classify them?
Our dream obviously is to have all our games with the highest quality possible. We were always, you know, floating into this triple-A/indie area. So we hope that we can actually leave this area with the two projects we are going to announce this year. So it's going to be something huge for us. In my opinion, we will finally deliver a full triple-A experience with these two titles. The third title is a little smaller, but it's still an original action game with awesome quality and fun.
Of course, I know that the games are unannounced, but I have to try and pry some generic details at least, like the genres. You have made two first-person shooter games so far. Are these new projects doing all first-person shooter games, too, or maybe is there a game that's a bit different from what you've done in the past?
Our DNA is to experiment, to always look for something new. So, we will definitely not abandon the first-person shooter space but we really want to expand our approach. So that's my honest answer.
Okay, okay, that's fair enough. And, you know, that's just me thinking out loud, one game is probably a sequel to Shadow Warrior 2. But other than that, do you have any other original IPs among these games?
It's in our DNA that we really want to create original action games. So that's the answer.
All right. Of course, this year, we're going to have two new consoles from Sony and Microsoft launching, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Do you have development tools already?
Oh, I really would like to answer this question, but I can't.
All right. Well, can you tell me at least what you think of them based on the specifications that have been released by Sony and Microsoft, you know, the SSD, the increased processor power with AMD's Ryzen technology? What do you think about that?
So for us, since we do action games, we are super happy because it will be much easier to deliver 60 frames per second, obviously. I'm an old school gamer so 60FPS is important for me. So yeah, I'm super excited about it. In terms of difficulties with making the games, I think the new generation will be much more accessible. So we predict that we will have less problems to actually, you know, develop games for next than we had with the current-gen. Obviously UE4 helps a lot, but we have very experienced people in the studio, engineers and programmers, so we are ready to actually make a game for next-gen.
But just for you to know, as super excited as we are for the new generation, I can promise that we will not forget about current-gen owners and we want to deliver our games to all the people who want to have fun. So, I can promise that everybody will get it.
Okay, that's cross-gen confirmed basically! On another tech topic, I'm wondering if you are excited about raytracing. Is it something you're looking forward to using in your games?
In terms, of you know, quality of the graphics, shadows and obviously realistic lighting, it's awesome. I really enjoy looking at tech demos or games that actually introduce it. Even Minecraft with this awesome raytracing and engine upgrades looks marvelous. So yeah, this is probably the direction the industry will follow. In terms of focus, I really want us to be more focused on the gameplay experience, cool and explosive fun. So does it matter? Not that much.
I would say it's a natural evolution to make more realistic games. But the size of the industry, the number of people who play games, is growing every year. So I don't believe that realism is the only correct way of making games. I think there's a lot of space to make realistic games that use raytracing but also not-so-realistic games that use raytracing, like Minecraft. So for me, it's beautiful. It's amazing how we can actually deliver with raytracing, but it's just a tool. If it's right for the artistic vision of the game, then awesome, but it might not be necessary to actually use it.
Something else that's also going big in the industry is the advent of cloud gaming with Google Stadia, Microsoft's Project xCloud, NVIDIA's GeForce NOW and so on. What do you think about that? Both from a developer and business standpoint.
From the developer point of view, it's awesome, because the more access to the audience the better, right? For Flying Wild Hog as a studio, it might be even better because we are really focusing on delivering an awesome second-to-second experience. I can imagine that in the future, Google Stadia or any similar products will slowly evolve into pay for hour model. For us, it's cool because we are really focusing on delivering fun every minute that you're playing the game. In terms of the moment in time that it would happen with success, I don't know. Right now you can, you know, play using Stadia. It works. Is it a success? I think everybody expected much more, much more, so I still think it's more in the future.
Yeah, so maybe it'll take a few years yet.
Yeah. I mean, 5G network, that might change a lot, but still, even that is in the future.
A few years ago, just before Shadow Warrior 2 was released on consoles, we had an interview with Flying Wild Hog Tadeusz Zielinski. He told us basically that we asked about this, which was about to release and he said basically that there were no plans at the time to port the game. But three years later the Nintendo Switch is a big success, so, did you think about it, or are you still thinking about it?
I'm thinking about this a lot. Honestly. The biggest problem we have is actually our engine. If it had been done using Unreal, it would be released immediately, but to port our engine to the Switch is a big task. So we're thinking about it but I don't know what's going to happen. I would be super happy to have all our Flying Wild Hog games on the Switch.
And something else is VR. At the time he said he was skeptical about VR and it hasn't grown a lot in terms of player base but on the other hand Half-Life: Alyx is coming, so it looks like it will get larger. What do you think about it now?
I think the answer to the question is content, obviously. And Alyx is like the first. Seriously, I think it's the first, like, really, really big release that is exclusive for VR. So who knows? Valve announced that they're selling VR sets like crazy. So it changes things. Am I still a little suspicious about the future of VR? Yeah, I'm still a bit suspicious because it's not so easy to actually start playing using VR headsets. I mean, I think it was last year that they actually released the headset for VR without cables.
Yeah, the Oculus Quest.
So it took like many years to actually deliver that. And still, it's like, expensive and not a very popular choice for VR users [We have to correct Michał here, as the Oculus Quest is comparatively affordable for a VR headset and that's part of the reason it is selling incredibly well]. So maybe in the future it will be much easier to actually just take the goggles, just put them on and you start having fun, awesome. If you have to mount cameras there, cameras here. If you have to use the cords. If you have to still be aware of the things that surround you because otherwise you might break a leg. Then VR would still be niche. AR, I think it might be a little more interesting because you are aware of the surroundings and you can actually use it in creative ways. But Magic Leap I expected, you know, magic. And the magic didn't happen. So I think it's still difficult from a technical point of view to deliver the experience and the ease to use that customers would expect, but I think it's still in the future to actually overcome these technical problems.
I have just a couple more questions before I can let you go. One is probably hard for you to reply, but let's give it a try anyway. You said Flying Wild Hog is set to announce two games this year, right. So, you know, not trying to gauge a release date out of you, but are you interested in following short hype cycle from the announcement to the release date, like Bethesda did with Fallout 4 to give you an example? Or is it going to be like a year at least between the announcement and the release date that you have in mind?
So I cannot, obviously, answer that directly but retrospectively we have really good experience with more focused shorter marketing campaigns. That's all I can say.
I'll take that under advisement. And one last question, which should be easier for you to answer. Are you going to self-publish these games? Or do you still rely on partners like Devolver Digital for example?
We really love working with Devolver. We love Devolver. But honestly, we self-published only one game in our history (Hard Reset) and it wasn't a success. So we learned that we should be focused on what we do best, making games, and we find the right partner to sell the games to the audience. Honestly, I would prefer to work with a partner that actually understands our values and like working with us and just take this burden from our shoulders.
Understandable. Thank you so much for your time!