Studio Tour – Threewave Software

30 Mar

By Nick Halme

Recently I got the chance to take a tour of Threewave Software, a local developer that focuses on multiplayer in games. They’ve got quite the track record, having developed multiplayer content for classics like Quake, Wolfenstein and Soldier of Fortune II among others. Recently they’ve been responsible for the multiplayer side of both Turok and Army of Two. Threewave have been around for a while now; they’re even credited for introducing capture the flag as a gametype, and it was a real pleasure being able to see how they work. Put on your reading glasses, because this baby goes in-depth.

Now, I can only draw workspace comparisons to VFS, but the first thing I took note of during the tour was the atmosphere. Nay, I am not referring to the fact that their building is heated whilst I sit in a wind tunnel, but rather I noticed the studio is astoundingly quiet. I’m used to working around a certain level of noise and yelling, but what I saw at Threewave was a relaxing and productive environment. But what I saw next was even better; resting next to someone’s computer was a large sombrero. I soon learned that this was for use on Mexican Mondays, one of the studio’s weekly themed-food days. Fighting to remain unbiased while I imagined donning a sombrero at work and gorging on burritos, we moved on to the next room.

On the way we passed the “Fishbowl”, the unofficial secondary meeting room (it has whiteboards!) and very official game room (it has a massive television and plastic guitars abound). There are three development areas, and it was explained to me that while there are certainly core members of each team at any one time, employees have the chance to move to another team in the studio; they’re not stuck in one position on one team. Before checking out the third team we stopped by the kitchen and their old game room. The kitchen had an ungodly supply of various colas along with a hefty stock of noodles and fresh fruit. My personal eating habits have deteriorated almost entirely as of late, so it was refreshing to see they had all of this healthy food available.

The studio, while not especially small, is quite compact, and I managed to see all of the teams and visit the roof deck (where barbecues are had come summertime) within about an hour. Next was my chance to ask a few questions.

Threewave projects a pretty friendly image, and as I learned that’s really reflected in the studio’s atmosphere. But most developers have a crunch period while working on a project where the sombreros go away for a while and things get a little more tense. I was genuinely surprised to learn that in its unique position as a multiplayer developer Threewave manages to avoid any serious crunch, through smart scheduling and being able to predict progress well. Apparently the last crunch period within memory had some people leaving around 9:00 pm for a week or two. I can’t argue with that; I think I’ve actually woken up after a nap at 9:00 pm before, only to begin working again for another day, which I am certain is not an especially cunning display of scheduling on my part.

Another subject I was curious about was the unique niche that Threewave fills as a multiplayer developer. As a hardcore shooter fan I was a bit concerned – are bigger studios ignoring multiplayer nowadays and just tacking it on? My fears were quickly assuaged when I heard that there was really no trend to speak of: different studios need different solutions for multiplayer. Some developers simply can’t juggle single-player and multiplayer at once, and some would rather hand off the multiplayer component to a specialist developer while they concentrate on the single-player. Some companies plan for this kind of hand-off beforehand, and some realize it later in development, but the reasons are quite varied. Phew.

Alright, so once a developer has committed to letting Threewave take care of multiplayer, where exactly does the studio begin? The first step, I was told, is to assess the scope of the project – this is that smart scheduling thing, remember? The next step is to propose some designs to the developer they’re working with – Threewave doesn’t just produce maps; they also come up with original gametypes, so things are a bit more involved than one would think. Once those designs have been approved (usually with the help of a prototype) then a design document is put together and the team begins production.

And finally, if someone is interested in finding a job at Threewave, is it a must to have multiplayer experience? Are programmers expected to have a background in networking; should a level designer have a portfolio full of multiplayer maps? Well, first of all it seems that most of the people they hire are already nuts about multiplayer, so that’s not a problem they encounter often. Secondly, it doesn’t seem like it’s actually a problem if they’re not. If you’re good at what you do but are clueless about multiplayer, they’ll take the time to show you the ropes – as long as you really want to learn.

Sadly that was all the time I had, and it was time to leave their wonderfully heated building. I went in as a big fan of the games they’ve worked on and I feel I was able to remain objective in my opinions of the place. That said, it’s a testament to the way in which the studio operates, the environment they maintain, and certainly to the people who work there, that I still came away impressed.

Thanks to Natasha and Middy for showing me around, and congratulations for possessing exactly one more David Hasselhoff poster than VFS. For now. Enjoy it while you can, Threewave.

[edit: Threewave has politely asked that certain references be removed from the article; check for any further details about the company]


One Response to “Studio Tour – Threewave Software”

  1. Hugh Jass March 27, 2009 at 12:55 am #

    What references did they ask you to remove? Could it have had anything to do with their mutilation of Army of Two’s MP content? I fear for any developer who hands their MP over to Threewave.

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