Supergroups can be risky propositions. Whether in music or in games, it's easy to think of examples of people who've done great work in the past forming groups that add up to less than the sum of their parts.
But for Tim Longo, CEO of Twin Suns Corp, it's not so much the projects the members of his new Seattle-based studio have worked on that are important (though it's certainly a fine list, encompassing Halo, Tomb Raider, Hitman and Gears Of War) but the fact that they've worked on them together. "I use this silly phrase of 'getting the band back together,'" he tells us, "but it really does feel that way."
Longo describes himself as the "common denominator" of the team. Before his time at 343 Industries, where he served as creative director on Halo Infinite until his departure in 2019, he had worked with fellow co-founders Jeff Morris on a cancelled Star Wars project (a casualty of LucasArts' closure following the Disney acquisition) and Forest Swartout Large at Crystal Dynamics.
The rest of the staff (15 have been hired so far, of a projected 20) come from similar backgrounds, we're told. Longo isn't ready to share names yet, but promises "a lot of ex-LucasArts folks, Crystal Dynamics, 343… We basically just looked back through our careers over the past 25 years or more, and asked, 'Who do I want to work with again?'"
Longo was taken aback, he says, by the number of people who said yes. "I think all of us were in a similar headspace or a similar point in our careers where we were like, 'If we're going to do this, this is probably the time to do it.'" The appeal, aside from the band-reunion aspect, seems to have been the chance to put aside the big franchises and make something new.
The studio already has two projects in the works. Longo confirms a few scant details: both are being made in Unreal Engine. Both are in the realm of first- and thirdperson action games. (He won't commit to it being one of each, but that seems the safe bet.) And both are original triple-A titles.
That's something of a rarity these days, and Longo acknowledges the risk, saying, "I think anyone who [doesn't] is fooling themselves" – but, after long months of pitching potential investors and publishers, he says he's encountered a surprising degree of enthusiasm and hunger for new ideas. For investors and Twin Suns alike, the risk is offset by the potential rewards of striking gold. And for the developers, newfound freedom.
"It's fun to work with big IPs," Longo says, "but of course they come with restrictions, and things that you need to abide by." So, with so much experience mining these established universes, how does it compare to be starting from scratch? "It's completely different and terrifying, to be honest."
Longo leaving his role as Halo Infinite's creative director grabbed headlines in 2019. So how does it feel to watch the game's gradual unveiling from the outside? "It's a bummer to not be a part of it, but I'm excited for them." He says he can see "a lot of the glimmers of hope I always had about that project" in the footage that's been released since his departure. "They have a lot of challenges, and it's been a rough road – and I was there for a lot of that – but it's a good team, and I still believe in the vision."
Longo acknowledges the temptation to take all the games the team has worked on, along with all their other influences ("games, comics, movies, Dungeons & Dragons – everything") and try to pour them into a single product. "We have to not be swayed by the kitchen-sink approach."
This is vital to the studio's triple-A ambitions – "a loaded term," Longo admits, one he's a little hesitant to use, not least because of the associations with how "it can impact quality of life". But Twin Suns has chosen to stick with the label because it communicates the studio's ambition, the kind of games it is hoping to "go toe-to-toe with".
On the horizon
When we suggest that the studio's headcount seems small for a single triple-A project, let alone two of them, Longo clarifies that this number is just for the initial demo and prototyping, before the hiring process ramps up later in the year. "We can't make the kind of game we're talking about with 20 people," he says. "We don't want the company to balloon, but we will be a small- to medium-sized studio when we reach our peak."
As the company grows, Longo is keen to maintain a healthy culture. The studio's landing page declares its dedication to "fair and ethical development". That includes more diverse hiring practises, Longo tells us, as well as more equitable pay. He never explicitly raises the spectre of crunch but is up front about the "dysfunctionality" he sees in the videogame industry right now: "There are a lot of broken cultures out there."
Twin Suns is hoping to do its part to remedy that, by learning from its staff's experience, all the successes they've had and the mistakes they've made, and seen made, along the way. "We've been through the mill in a lot of different companies," Longo says. "If we're going to do this, it might as well be in a way that's better than we've felt it has been in the past."
This feature first appeared in Edge magazine. For more like it, subscribe to Edge and get the magazine delivered straight to your door or to a digital device.