New Hi-Rez creates Global Agenda

The chances are that if you buy a video or computer game today from a retail store, it’s been published by huge companies like Electronic Arts, its recent rival Activision-Blizzard, or THQ.

While companies like these make up a majority of the video game market, the industry has more than enough room for smaller, independent studios to make a name for themselves.

The state of Georgia certainly has aspirations to stake a claim in this burgeoning frontier with a slew of incentives and benefits for game studios based in the state, whether it’s to attract bigger companies to Atlanta or for local talent to form their own companies. One notable example on the rise is Hi-Rez Studios, founded and stationed in North Atlanta.

Founded in 2005, Hi-Rez Studios was created as an independent game studios based in Alpharetta and currently has over 40 people on their team developing for their sci-fi shooter MMOG (Massively-Multiplayer Online Game), Global Agenda.

Last week, I attended a tour of Hi-Rez Studios for a look at what goes on behind the scenes of an upcoming video game. Though it was situated throughout a rather large office building, my first stop in the studio was the workspace for the artists.

Most of the people working there were too focused on the level and character design to take much notice of visitors, either keeping their attention on a character model in their 3ds Max software or scribbling new designs into a Wacom graphics tablet. That wasn’t the case with all of the artists, of course.

Coleman Bryant, a Computational Media alum who graduated in May ’07, currently works at Hi-Rez Studios as a level designer. He’d taken an internship with them for a semester and had heard of a job opening from his cousin.

“Working for free in an internship isn’t a bad thing, since experience is a really good thing,” said Bryant. “It’s nice to be able to work in Atlanta, rather than have to move to California to find a job at a game studios.”

My tour through the facility continued into the offices, where more design work was going on, though the grouping of team members seemed very relaxed and informal. One particular block of cubicles consisted of a mix of programmers and designers in what was termed the “A-Line,” joking around with one another amidst their work. It’s not even really fair to label their workspaces as cubicles though, given that team members had decorated and set up their own space to their personal liking.

The next stop brought me to Hi-Rez Studio’s motion-capture room, where the movements of actors are recorded and then translated onto a digital model.

Here, actors (mostly team members at the studio) can put on the required equipment and then get to run, dance, jump, roll and kick in order to add to the animations of the in-game character models.

Though a demonstration would have been thrilling, all the equipment and work that went into the process was impressive enough. Finally came the point where I had an opportunity to experience the progress of the studio’s work. I sat down with testers to spend some time playing the alpha build of Global Agenda.

Drawn mostly from high schools in the area, Hi-Rez Studios allows students to participate in the alpha testing for the purpose of bug-finding, feedback and getting ideas on content.

Though I can’t say much in detail about the game, Global Agenda is certainly shaping up to be a competitor in the growing market of online gaming.

The future remains uncertain as to whether Georgia will become a new focus for the video game industry, even with economic incentives and colleges starting to offer studies in video game design like the Computational Media major here at Tech.

Though local studios like Hi-Rez will have difficulty matching larger companies for resources and recognition, talent and resolve are not in short supply.