NOTE: I wrote this blog entry for Bonfire Studios' website about six months before we were
acquired by Zynga. It doesn't really have anything to do with CastleVille, but the timing isn't too far
off and so I put it in this section. Either way, I like the sentiment here - these are definitely ideas
that I've tried to keep in mind as we've moved forward.
This evening, Bonfire Studios will have a small party celebrating the end of our first year as a
company and the beginning of our second. In honor of that sort-of startling milestone, I wanted to
take a minute to look back at the past twelve months and maybe share a couple of things I’ve
picked up along the way.
1. LIFT WITH YOUR LEGS
Despite our collective experience and our collection of stuff, all of us here at Bonfire are employed
by what is still for all intents and purposes a startup company. That means everyone pitches in
and everyone wears a lot of hats. I’ve personally had the chance to be a video editor, a studio
tech, a proof-reader of job listings, a voice actor, and part of our first holiday party’s (hopefully
intentional) entertainment in addition to doing all the composing and sound design tasks that are
actually a part of my job description. I think that’s a pretty typical experience here: you do what
needs to be done. And, back in the spring of 2009, what needed to be done was a really big move.
The end of Ensemble Studios as an entity also meant the shuttering of the space we’d occupied
for the previous ten years. We were nearing the end of our jobs and our lease, and had nowhere
to go but down. So down we went, literally – ten floors lower in the same building. And we did it
ourselves. Over a single feverish weekend, fueled by junk food, beer, and months’ worth of
accumulated angst, we grabbed our inherited computers, desks, and full-sized arcade machines
and hauled them down, one armload at a time. There were cuts, bruises, and people walking
around with refrigerators strapped to their backs, but at the end of it all, we had something that
was our own: a new home.
2. SHIFT GEARS QUICKLY AND SMOOTHLY
One of the most exciting (and jarring) things about being newly independent is the speed at which
we can move and change directions. In this brave new post-recession world, it’s in our company’s
best interests to have a lot of different things going on all the time. To that end, our first year saw
us churn out a pretty impressive variety of projects. Some will likely see the light of day and some
won’t, but each has been useful in its way – if only to keep the studio in fighting shape.
For my part, I’ve gotten to dabble in more musical genres in less time than at any point in my
career, jumping from very Age of Empires-like world music to Zeppelin-ish guitar riffing to subdued
electronic ambience with barely a chance to retune before moving on to the next style. I was told
that one recent track sounds like the theme for a late 60’s dating game show set on the moon
Understandably, it is of this one that I am most proud.
3. DON’T PANIC
Getting laid off from Microsoft, especially in this economic climate, was a pretty sobering
experience. The people at Ensemble Studios had become like, and in some cases were, family –
and it was pretty excruciating to witness that many close friends go through such a hard a time in
slow motion. But at Bonfire at least, I think with the uncertainty we gained something that we maybe
didn’t know we were missing: a sense of having to prove ourselves. Looking at the progress we’ve
made this past year, it seems to suit us.
There’s a sense that the industry has shifted since most of this team was heads-down working on
Halo Wars. Games are taking different shapes and sizes; even the idea of boxed copies on store
shelves seems like it may become a thing of the past. So we’re not necessarily sure of what the
next few years or, for that matter, our first released games are going to look like.
For all of that, though, we’re confident and excited about the future – and we hope you’ll come
along with us! To everyone here, congratulations on our first anniversary. See you back here this
time next year.
-Stephen Rippy, 4-2-10