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The organizers of Slush 2014 paid my way to Helsinki. Our coverage remains objective.

HELSINKI — Matias Myllyrinne is a good sport. When I suggested we do our interview in a sauna, the chief executive of Finland’s Remedy Entertainment didn’t mind. And he said, “Let’s do it” when I said the sauna would be 300 feet above the ground, with just the two of us, hanging from a giant crane. It was just one of those things you do at Slush 2014, the startup conference that drew 14,000 attendees to Helsinki a couple of weeks ago.

Only in Finland would you do an interview in a sauna hanging from a crane. But the Finns do things different, and their way of doing things has become very successful in recent years. Finland has become a hub for both gaming and mobile technology, and it’s worth a lot of attention. In the case of Remedy, the company is on the forefront of both mobile games and the combination of traditional TV media and games.

Myllyrinne runs a 19-year-old game studio that has become world-famous thanks to games like Max Payne, Alan Wake, and the mobile title Death Rally. The company has expanded to 132 employees as it works on the upcoming Quantum Break and mobile efforts such as Agents of Storm for iOS. The former is a game with a time-warp theme that will debut on the Xbox One in 2015. It will also be a television show with a seamless plot that crosses between the game and the television experience.

We talked about Remedy’s big projects, its rare achievement of surviving for 19 years as an independent studio, and the Finnish gaming culture in a one-on-one interview. Then, we went up in the sauna hanging from the crane to get a view of Helsinki. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation.

Matias Myllyrinne in a sauna, 300 feet above Helsinki.

Above: Matias Myllyrinne in a sauna, 300 feet above Helsinki.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: How are things going at Remedy? Do you have any interesting updates?

Matias Myllyrinne: It’s a cool time for us and for the games industry as a whole. There’s a lot going on. It’s very active here in Helsinki, as you can see. I’ve said before — this is turning into a bit of a cliché — but it really is the golden age of gaming. There’s so much happening on the console side. That’s gathering momentum. This is going to be a tremendous holiday for Xbox and PlayStation. We have some really cool high-end graphics coming to mobile as well.

I don’t know if you played Vainglory, but it’s getting to be pretty gorgeous. We want to do our shtick with characters on mobile as well. There are interesting things that are possible today that weren’t possible before.

GamesBeat: You guys have some perspective on this. You’ve been at work for how many years now?

Myllyrinne: We’ve been around for a long time. The company was founded in 1995, so next year’s our 20-year anniversary. … It’s more about success than it is about survival. I’m proud of the way that we’ve shipped our games. I’m proud of the games we’ve made. The years, not really. That just comes naturally.

GamesBeat: There aren’t that many 20-year-old game studios, though.

Myllyrinne: True. It’s a quickly shifting industry. With every generation of consoles in the past, you’d see some people who couldn’t make the leap technology- or production-wise. They couldn’t mature enough to make the jump. On the other hand, if you look at the amount of studios that have been acquired and assimilated, that’s another thing. There’s natural attrition, and then there’s the exits happening. A lot of the studios we’ve grown up with and learned from have either gone away or been assimilated into a larger entity. That’s just natural. It happens in any ecosystem. It’s a healthy sign.

Quantum Break will be both an Xbox One game and a TV show.

Above: Quantum Break will be both an Xbox One game and a TV show.

Image Credit: Remedy

GamesBeat: How much multitasking are you doing now between mobile and console?

Myllyrinne: A lot. It’s never been this busy. We’re trying out our new TV stuff with Quantum Break. Quantum Break in itself is a massive production for us. It’s the largest entertainment thing ever done out of Finland. I’d guess, work-wise, it’s at least three times as large as Alan Wake was. It’s a huge undertaking.

The mobile side of our operations, these are guys who love the kinds of games we create, but they want to see them applied into the mobile space. It’s a different clock speed. It’s really interesting to see that move forward. One of the things we’re doing is taking bits and pieces of console technology — this is [the Northlight game engine], our character pipeline, stuff like that. The tech is running on top of Unity. We’re able to run pretty decent-looking characters on an iPhone in real time. It’s much better than what we had on 360 with Alan Wake just a few years ago. It opens up interesting opportunities.

GamesBeat: So this technology is on Unity, but you still have to do a lot of your own tweaking?

Myllyrinne: Yeah. It’s mainly how we create the assets and animation and characters and scans and stuff like that. It doesn’t make sense for us to build everything from scratch onto mobile. It’s such a quickly moving market. You want to get content done and focus on gameplay and story in whatever you’re building, as opposed to building the tech from scratch. Northlight works for us on the console, but even there, we’re using a lot of middleware components. You don’t need to build everything from scratch. If I had the choice, I’d rather buy things like that. How you combine it all is more important.

With some of the [visual effects] and the rendering stuff, though, we have Northlight. What we’ll be able to show in terms of real-time global illumination and stuff like that, that’ll be groundbreaking in its own right. I’m really happy about the rendering team. Previously the character team has proven itself. The [visual effect] and rendering guys are doing the same. That’ll be really cool.

Quantum Break

Above: Action from Quantum Break.

Image Credit: Microsoft

GamesBeat: Is there a crossover happening with graphics quality on mobile at some point in the near future?

Myllyrinne: This is running on an iPhone 6+. Never mind the bend thing. I like a big screen. But anyway, it’s a very powerful device. With mobile reaching that level of computing power, you can do a lot. There are outliers who break the norm. Certainly, there are strategy games I’ve played for a long time, but mostly, people play on mobile for short play sessions. They consume it a little differently. Maybe their audio isn’t on. You need to be prepared to cater to that. That makes the experience a little different if you want to optimize.

We’ll see more console-quality graphics come in, but [they need] to be made for the platform in terms of gameplay and storytelling and concept. With Agents of Storm already, we put 3D into a builder. A lot of that was also about building our team, building the capabilities in terms of running a service. We did update after update. You see the stats. You’re building the competencies on the server side as much as anything. That, for us, was a first in many ways.

The view of Helsinki from above Slush 2014

Above: The view of Helsinki from above Slush 2014.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: How many people are you at now?

Myllyrinne: We’re still a small studio. I checked on Monday. We’re 132 people. We’ll grow a little bit, but I don’t want to see it. In terms of headcount, it’s not as if we’re looking for a massive boost. We’re still looking for talent. We have probably about 10 or 15 positions open right now.

GamesBeat: Are you importing people for that?

Myllyrinne: A lot. Forty or 50 percent of our people come from overseas. We have staff from all over. We have a couple of great Japanese additions on our team. Probably half a dozen folks from North America.

GamesBeat: It’s interesting. The university produces a lot of good people for you guys, but almost every Finnish company I’ve talked to says the same thing. They have to bring in a lot of people from overseas.

Myllyrinne: The growth has been phenomenal in the games industry over here. That’s one thing. Also, we don’t have a background in some of the things we’re doing now — if you look at TV or film. There’s no large background in animation. Obviously a game like Quantum Break is very animation heavy. There’s no real film industry in Finland with a lot of animators lying about, the way you [have] in the states.

There’s a lot of crossover with techniques that were previously used only in film now being run in real time in consoles. We have some people with film backgrounds who’ve joined the studio. One of our guys, [Greg Louden], he was part of the team that got the Oscar for the [visual effects] in Gravity. We’re seeing people like that gravitate toward the games industry. We’re not so far away from seeing more of that stuff moving over to mobile as well.

Matias Myllyrinne, CEO of Remedy Entertainment, at Slush 2014.

Above: Myllyrinne at Slush 2014.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: I don’t know if Ilkka Paananen (the chief executive of Supercell) is unique, or if his perspective is similar to that of a lot of folks around here. He talks a lot more about collaboration instead of capitalism. I don’t know if “socialism” is the right word, but….

Myllyrinne: The value system that we’re brought up with here, the things that we aspire to — in the Nordics in general, but particularly in Helsinki — we value cooperation above competition. We’re happy for each other’s success. Honestly, I think the wholesome values of trying to build something sustainable with integrity are something we deeply share across all these studios.

Even if you look at the younger startups in the industry, the seasoned veterans there take their values with them. We share a lot of common background. There’s a lot of cross-pollination. We’re culturally compatible in that way. People are working on different products with different business models but with high integrity. I have a lot of respect for all those guys. It helps everybody in the long term.

GamesBeat: Any other observations about the state of Finnish gaming here? Any surprises this year?

Myllyrinne: We’re seeing the second round of seasoned guys who have either done an exit or held senior positions in studios going on and doing their own startups. That’s really interesting. They have a pretty good shot on goal. Some of those guys are taking what they’ve learned, maybe a decade of experience, and deploying it now. We’ll see loads of cool stuff popping up. We also have the younger studios entering the market.

For us, we continue to be focused on our thing. If we can support the younger studios, we’re more than happy to do that as well.


Above: Artwork from Alan Wake.

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