Talking to Glen Schofield About Striking Distance’s ‘Cinematic Narrative Experience’ Set in the World of PUBG

Striking Distance

Back in June 2019, industry veteran Glen Schofield (General Manager of Visceral Games and founder of Sledgehammer Games) founded Striking Distance, a new studio within PUBG Corp. dedicated to crafting a 'cinematic narrative experience' kind of game set in the world of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds.

We were recently able to chat with him to discuss the game in broad strokes. Striking Distance is still recruiting, by the way, with twelve open positions that you can review on the official website.

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I know that Striking Distance has recently opened a new studio in Spain, right?

Yes, we have. We have a small studio in Spain now, in Saragoza.

Why did you make this choice in the first place? And how is this new studio helping you develop your project?

Well, it started with a great engineer that I know and lives and works over there. I've worked with him for years and we were able to get him to come to Striking Distance and we're building a small studio around him. He's just a wonderful engineer and since then he's been able to hire more engineers. So for us, it's more of a real tech studio.

Does that mean they're focused on technology while your studio works on the game mechanics?

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Yeah, I would say that a lot of the narrative and game stuff on the creative side comes out of
the one here in California. But it would be wrong of me not to say that the engineers over in Spain are very, very creative and do add a lot to the creative part of the game.

Fair enough. Since you mentioned that this new studio within Striking Distance is focused on technology, let's talk about that briefly. Are you using Unreal Engine to develop your new project? 

Yes, at this point, we are using the Unreal Engine.

Okay. So, what do you think of the Unreal Engine 5 demo and its new features such as 

Well, it's a pretty amazing demo. And it's an amazing engine. At some point, we hope to be using the latest technology from Unreal.

It does look groundbreaking in some ways for developers.

Yeah,  it is. It really is groundbreaking and we from what we've seen and from our perspective, it's gonna be pretty amazing.

I know you probably can't say too much about the game at this stage, but is it fair to assume you are targeting PC and next-generation consoles instead of current generation platforms like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 since the game is a bit far off from release?

The game will be on as many platforms as we can get it on, the ones that will be important at the time the game comes out.

Does that include possibly supporting cloud platforms, such as Google Stadia for instance?

We're looking at all the different ways that we could have the game in the hands of players and that includes looking into that.

Going back to the way you're doing narrative, what are you focusing on at Striking Distance for this project? Are you attempting to shake the conventions a bit when it comes to storytelling?

We're looking to always bring a great story and we're leading with our story. The gameplay of course is important, we lead with gameplay and story at the same time. But we've got a writing team and that dictates what the levels and the chapters will be like, and we work from that, we work from the story and then work our gameplay into the story.

You're of course known for your work on Dead Space and Call of Duty. Will this new game have big set pieces, too? 

Yeah, we're gonna have big cinematic moments. From our perspective, it's always better to have these big moments in the game as long as it doesn't take you out of the game. So it's important that we make sure that the cinematic moments will be in the engine itself.

We've even built our own motion capture studio. That's how important storytelling is to Striking Distance, that we want to be able to shoot scenes whenever we need them and so we built our own mocap studio and we're the only one in the area in the whole East Bay, actually.

That's pretty cool. Did you experience any difficulties during the lockdown, particularly for motion capture?

We do have some issues with actors, but we're starting to get around those and making sure that we have COVID compliant setups. We're starting to do some of that now. It's taking some time to get up and running and get up to speed and get it compliant with all the COVID rules. But I'd say we're there in many cases, and we're able to shoot our own motion capture in our studio now.

Was there any meaningful delay in the development of your project due to COVID?

We're all working from home now still. And I imagine we'll be working there for a while. What we've we've noticed at Striking Distance is actually we're getting a lot of work done at home. We meet all the time, we have meetings every day. I'm busy from nine o'clock until five, six, seven o'clock at night on different creative meetings and calls and stuff like that, so we're able to hit our deadlines so far. I imagine that we may run into trouble here and there with some of the big name actors if we use any, but right now we're up and running and doing quite well even with the COVID issues that we have to deal with. It kind of sucks because we got this brand new studio that we can't go in. I would love to get back to work in the studio, but we're very efficient at home. You know, it's been surprising to me actually, I didn't realize that we could be this efficient, but we are.

But you're still looking forward to getting back to the office, from what I'm sensing.

We've hired a lot of people since COVID started and some of them I don't even know in person, I only saw them on Zoom! We're talking a lot of people, the studio has grown quite rapidly since COVID. I want to meet everyone in person, that's part of my job, to go around and direct and look at things on people's desks. Now we look at everything on Zoom.  I'll play the game, of course, here at home to give feedback, but I always like doing it more in person. So I do miss that aspect of gaming and gaming development and I think a lot of us do, but at the same time, we're hitting our deadlines. I've talked to other friends in the industry and they said 'Maybe we can make games at home for a while'.

Maybe some studios won't necessarily go back to working at the office right away.

I think you're gonna see more people that work at home. You may have a big group that works in the studio and you still may have a lot of people that work at home, because we found that's pretty darn efficient. If people want to work at home, I'm gonna let them.

Striking Distance is a little more than a year old now, correct?

Yeah, we started in June of last year.

Can you give us a hint as to when we might see something more concrete about this new game?

Well, I don't have any real timetable to share here, sadly.

Alright. Since you're putting a focus on delivering a 'cinematic narrative experience', how do you plan to stack up to the benchmarks in the genre, such as Naughty Dog's titles or even 2018's God of War?

I have my own style of making games, I've been doing everything from Dead Space to Call of Duty and before that, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and 007: From Russia with Love, stuff like that. I've been doing this for a long time. And I think that the track record will show that quality is number one. It's important for everything that we do in the game to be of the highest quality. That to me is is sort of the hallmark of Naughty Dog and the latest God of War, so I think that what you'll see is a game that's in the same quality bar as those, at least I aspire to be that that good. That's definitely something that we look at and everybody talks about it all the time. We talked about making a triple-A game, we talked about making everything in the game, from the story to the mechanics to our technology to be of triple-A quality and so far, we're on track to be doing that sort of thing, while we're telling a great story at the same time. The way I look at it is that video games are the current medium for telling a great story. If you're going to do a narrative game you better make a great story in there, so we've hired some really good writers and to help out with the story and like I said before, we start with our story and we work from there.

In the realm of storytelling, some recent games are trying to blur the difference between gameplay and cutscenes to make them as seamless as possible. Is that something you're also planning to do at Striking Distance?

Yeah, definitely. I mean, there are going to be moments when we have the cinematic and you'll know it's a cinematic, maybe to introduce something dramatic or some big action piece, but what we try and look at is making interactive set pieces so that at least the player can try and move the camera around, he can look at different things and hasn't lost at least camera control in these big cinematics. In some cases, we're going to try and make sure that there's still gameplay in the cinematic moments.

That's interesting. Of course, we know that the game is going to be set in the world of PUBG. How does that affect your work? Is it more of a blank slate because PUBG is so heavily gameplay driven, and does that help you?

We've been working on the lore for PUBG and their backstory. We've had pretty much a blank slate to create what we want. There's this giant story that they're writing for PUBG and like I said, we've been working with them on it. Our game was able to fit nicely in a particular time period that works well with PUBG and it works well with us. Working with PUBG has been incredible.

I've been loving working with them because they're letting me make the game that I want to make. I've worked with many, many different game companies over the years. And there are times that the companies can get pretty heavy-handed and want to get really involved in it. PUBG has been the opposite. They're like, you know how to make games, so you make the game that you want to make. And that's what we've been doing.

You mentioned that the game will be in a different kind of timeline compared to the PUBG, right?

Well, we're working with them within a timeline that they have created. I can't get too specific on that, but they've created this great timeline and we've just found our own time period in it that works well for us.

Interesting. Thanks for your time, and let's chat back when Striking Distance is able to reveal more.

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