Rich Vogel & Mark Tucker Interview: T-Minus Zero Studios on Game … – Screen Rant

A group of gaming industry veterans have started a new studio with technology company NetEase. Called T-Minus Zero, the developer has ambitious plans for a new multiplayer sci-fi project, though most of its details are still under wraps. The core focus of the new game will be facilitating an online community and creating a multiplayer space in which players can connect with one another in ways that aren’t possible with solo titles.

The idea for T-Minus Zero came from Rich Vogel, who previously built up three other gaming studios in his career: Sony Online Entertainment Austin, BioWare Austin, and BattleCry, a Bethesda Games Studio. He’s overseen countless multiplayer experiences over the years, including Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies, considered one of the best Star Wars games to date. Vogel has partnered with other veterans for T-Minus Zero including Mark Tucker, a developer with over two decades of experience that include other online experiences like Fallout 76.

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Screen Rant sat down with studio head and founder Rich Vogel and studio game director and founder Mark Tucker to discuss how the studio came together, their years of experience, and what the future holds for T-Minus Zero’s first title.

Screen Rant: To get started, I would love to hear a little bit about where the idea for this new studio first started,how long has this been in the works for you?

Rich Vogel: It’s been in the works for about a year, a little over a year we’ve been talking about it. We were obviously looking for funding and developing our concept in the meantime, a pitch that we wanted to do the game we wanted to build. Mark and I have been talking for a little over a year.

Mark Tucker: Rich and I have worked together in the past, and we really didn’t start the serious conversations until about a year ago. Our work history goes back much further, as does the rest of our founders. We’ve all worked together prior at some point, it’s like getting the band back together, which is really great.

Yeah, the team you’ve assembled is really impressive. Can you talk a little bit about sort of the process behind putting this group together in the first place?

Rich Vogel: I mean, I think Mark and I reached out together, and then from us we branched out with people we know to help. Every time I start a studio – this is my fourth one – I look around and see out there who would make the core team; to me that’s the really important part of the piece of the puzzle, is make sure we have a very strong core to do this job. We started talking to each other, and then there are people we know we work together with, and we reached out to them and they became interested in working on the concept, the pitch, and forming a studio.

Mark Tucker: Rich knows a lot of people, he’s got a lot of connections in the industry. It’s making me think of like – so Rich and I even, we worked together years ago at BattleCry Studios, but we’ve stayed in touch. And I distinctly remember having lunch with Rich one day and I tried to plant the seed with him, like, “If you ever want to start another studio, you just you keep me in mind.” And fortunately he did.

This pitch that you gave to the team members, was it always sort of the same? Did it evolve over time at all from the original idea?

Mark Tucker: So it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’m a very collaborative, creative person; I don’t take pride in being the idea guy. I’m someone who likes to work and bounce ideas off and get input from others. So while I had an initial idea of what I thought would be really cool to build, once we started getting the the founders together and talking through it more, the idea has evolved. And so and it’s gonna continue to evolve, we’re still very early on in the process. But it’s been great working with them and getting their early input and helping to kind of shape the game that we’re going to build. It’s very ambitious, I’m super excited about it. I really want to talk about it, but it’s too early to talk about the game. It’s gonna evolve and change, but we have a core vision that we know we want to build, and I just can’t wait. Some point in the future we’ll be sharing a lot more on that for sure. As far as the studio goes, I’ll let Rich speak more to that.

Rich Vogel: Yeah, basically, I came to the point – I worked at another company called Certain Affinity and I was thinking, “It’s time now to start another studio.” This will be my fourth one. And then I looked around and figured out the pieces of the puzzle I need to make a great studio: a good game director, a good operations person, a really good art director, really good technical director. So we all started putting our heads together as I was getting more people involved to search around and see who would be the best fit for what we want to do. We certainly aren’t going to make a third person action game – it’s going to be games as a service, because that’s what I’ve always loved and built for the past 20-plus years.

I enjoy building games that have an effect on people’s lives, and certainly online games do. You form lasting friendships with online games and love that you can’t get that with single player games, and they form a life of their own after their launch so it’s just the beginning. It’s exciting when you get to launch one of these games, so I keep doing this because I just love doing it. I think that this is a great opportunity we have for us. One of the reasons I went with NetEase is since they have very similar philosophy to me about building games; they’re run by game developers, they really understand and they share the same vision that I did. I want to make sure wherever we do this understands the journey that we’re going on. And because it’s original IP, that journey is filled with many crossroads where you have to make decision points to move forward and challenges, so I enjoy working with a partner that understands that.

Related: Diablo Immortal Is NOT a NetEase Reskin

And you you touched on it a little bit just now, but actually one of my next questions was about both what inspired you to go in a sci-fi direction with this title and also what made you want to return to the world of multiplayer, as you said, instead of going in a single player direction with this new project.

Rich Vogel: I just like multiplayer games because of the way they touch people’s lives. Like I told you, it’s about building games that form lasting relationships and awesome communities around them, and something that people talk about for a very, very long time. And I’ve had people come up to me and talk about Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online and how they changed their lives and how it made them want to go into gaming and made them love online games. So that kind of thing you just never get from single player games. And by the way, I enjoy playing single player games. There’s certainly a place in my heart for single player games. Just where I’m at in what I like to do is I like to affect people in different ways. And I think online gaming just allows you to do that, with a emergent game behavior and all sorts of things. Again, forming lasting relationships is what I love about games.

Mark Tucker: And I’ll speak to the sci-fi part of it. Some of it you could call it personal preference. I’m a kid that grew up with Star Wars and lots of great sci-fi, so I definitely am drawn to that just on the creative side. But I’m also a designer, I’m very much a form follows function kind of designer. And sci-fi can mean a lot of different things and do a lot of different things, and for the game that we’re wanting to build, that’s the best wrapper for it I guess is the best way to describe it right now. Like I said, sci-fi can be a lot of things, and since we can only say so much about the game right now that’s probably the best way to describe it. But it’s also just my kind of personal leanings; I’m a sci-fi nut. I love to dabble in that, love to read it, I like to watch it, and I love to create it.

As you said, there’s very little you can actually talk about in terms of specifics on the game right now, but in very broad strokes is there any sort of look you can give players about what they can expect from the title other than a multiplayer sci-fi experience?

Rich Vogel: Yeah, it’s really hard to talk about that. The IP that we selected, a lot of it’s public domain. So it has been done before. It’s public domain, it’s really kind of cool. And I think it’s going to have global appeal. When I say that it will have global appeal, that’s another thing about multiplayer games that I love is the ability to play with others around the world. I mean, I play with people all the way to Europe to Australia, and it’s great. Because I’m a night person, it’s perfect for me to be playing with someone in Australia. And so I enjoy that part of it. I think that our game will definitely be something that we want to make sure people can jump in and out and have a great time. I wouldn’t call us a MMO RPG, that’s for sure. I think we’re trying to strive for something different.

Mark Tucker: Very, very action oriented. I’m action oriented, the games I love to play are very action oriented. Get to the fun, fast. It’s definitely not your traditional – it’s not an MMO. So when you think of MMO, most people think of like, World of Warcraft or something like that. Great game, but that’s not what we’re building.

How do you feel like your past experience has impacted and influenced this new project?

Rich Vogel: I think that one of good things about being able to work at Certain Affinity is we’ve worked on a ton of very well known shooters, all the way from Call of Duty to Halo to PUBG, all sorts of games at action games that I really enjoyed. And I actually enjoy playing the bottling. So I think this has given us great skills to work on something like this type of game that we’re thinking about making.

Mark Tucker: Yeah, with the exception of really one game – which was a mobile game that I’ve worked on – every game I’ve worked on has been a multiplayer experience in some form or fashion, whether it’s competitive, co-op, massively multiplayer. And I’ve had the privilege to work on the Fallout franchise, the Doom franchise, and I got to work a little bit on Halo. So I’ve spent a lot of my time working on action-oriented games, shooter-style games, and I think all of that experience is going to help us here. There’s a lot of experience I gained on projects, you’ve never heard of some; being in this industry as long as I have I’ve worked on some games that unfortunately never saw the light of day.

But in terms of development experience, I’ve learned a lot from that, I probably learned more from that than the things I’ve shipped. And so I think that prepares me pretty fairly well to take on the challenges of what we’re about to do. And in addition to that, going back to our leadership team, who we’ve got – we have a fantastic team, and our experience combined really sets us up I think for success. The game we’re trying to build is ambitious, and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing it with just anybody. But we got a great team together, and I’m really confident in our ability to pull this one off.

What does this game and this new studio mean to you too?

Mark Tucker: That’s a good one. There’s so many words that come to mind. For me, it is just a creative freedom. I still kind of have to pinch myself a little bit because it really is an unbelievable career opportunity for me to have the backing of a company like NetEase that’s going to support us through this and the team that we’ve been able to assemble thus far. And to be able to go create a new IP in a game as a creative person, you don’t get many opportunities like that, and you don’t get many opportunities where you really are set up for success. So in some ways I just have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not stuck in a dream, because it’s really hard to fully comprehend. The day we announced it was like, “Oh, now it’s real. Okay, all right, we’ve gotta go make this game.” It really is truly a special moment in my career.

Rich Vogel: I wrote a LinkedIn Post this morning and kind of summed up why this has meant a lot to me, and why we came to name our studio what we did. I said, “Take the Apollo program, and how they launched their Saturn V to the moon.” And we use the analogy of what T-Minus Zero means. And right before a launch, it takes a tremendous amount of energy and precision to take a rocket out, launch it, and get into a good Earth orbit. It’s an orchestra, basically, conducting everything all at once. And when you get down in t-minus 15 seconds when the huge arm swings away from the top, and then all the different plugins start retracting from the rocket, engines are full, and then a- t minus zero, it’s when there’s clips that hold on to the keep the rocket upright are now going to release.

So if the rocket is on its own power, whether it falls or goes straight, it’s up to everything that’s going on at that time. And that’s where we came up with T-Minus Zero, it’s the exact moment of launch where the rocket propels upwards. And then that’s when you’ll hear Mission Control saying, “We have liftoff,” because that is when they released and it’s actually going up. And so we use that as our moment. The amount of energy it takes to build a game that’s successful is huge, and it’s like an orchestra. You’ll have many adjustments along the way in your journey that you have to do your game great. And we want to make sure that we have that time to build the game we want to make and be able to make those adjustments, those decision points, and be able to reach our goal of making a great player experience that will form lasting relationships. And that’s really what we want to do, we also want to develop a very open, friendly, inviting game environment.

I’m a big believer in diversity, and every studio I’ve started has had a big huge key on diversity hiring. We’ve had a lot of women in every studio that I’ve worked on as well as different types of ethnicity and different preferences. And that’s the way I want to continue building studios. In Austin is where my studios were, now we have remote first, so now I don’t have to you know to say we’re anchored in Austin anymore. We’re actually going to be all over North America to get the talent where the talent is, which is very nice. I love that aspect of building a studio that I didn’t have before. And every studio that I’ve done before, we’ve gotten voted Best Place to Work, LGBTQ, all that kind of stuff, most diversity. And I want to continue that in this studio. And our goal is to actually make something great that people can form lasting relationships and have a very vibrant community around. That’s what we want to build and talk about for a long time. That’s our mission.

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