Game developer V1 Interactive’s president and creative director Marcus Lehto discusses how technology and experience have made it possible for a small studio to compete.

Headquartered in the Seattle metro, an area that is home to some of the oldest and most famous game development studios in the world, V1 Interactive is relatively small by comparison. With a staff of around 30, it’s a fraction of the size of some of its peers, and it will soon be stepping into a very competitive field dominated by big budgets and long-running franchises.

But what V1 Interactive lacks in size it makes up for in experience. Each team member was specifically recruited for their job and comes with years -- in some cases decades -- of experience. Each step in the process has been finely honed using cutting-edge technology in the hands of people that know exactly how to use it, and at the heart, the developers have a shared goal: making something fun.

With the reveal of its first title due in early 2019, we spoke to V1 Interactive’s founder and creative director Marcus Lehto about assembling a team, using technology like motion capture to balance the scales and getting back to his roots.   

How did the idea for V1 Interactive come about?

After developing games for over two decades and helping build major franchises like “Myth,”co-creating the Halo universe -- now over a 5 billion dollar industry -- and kicking off “Destiny” (along with helping Bungie grow from a small studio to the giant it is today), I decided that I wanted to get back to the root of what makes creating games so rewarding -- a small team of dedicated professionals, all of whom are hands-on making something fun together.

It all started with a core idea I had. With the help of a few dedicated students willing to take a leap with me and build a prototype, we pitched it around and landed a great publishing relationship with Private Division, part of Take Two Interactive. After we landed the publishing deal, the studio quickly took off and grew rapidly.

Who are the founders and main people behind V1 Interactive?

While the owners of V1 are myself and my business partner, Mike Gutmann (previously from Zipper), the people at our studio all play a huge role in developing what we’re making together. I had the pleasure of hiring back several people who I had worked with for many years while at Bungie, so a significant number of our devs are from the original crew that made “Halo.”

What makes V1 different from other game studios?

I set out with the explicit goal of creating a studio capable of building smaller form factor games that are more affordable to make, but with a quality level that could stand toe-to-toe with any major studio. The biggest difference is the experience we have in making high quality AAA games within the studio. We’re in an era now where game developers have matured and fully understand the very complex production and constant evolution of making games.  

In creating the studio, how important is cutting edge technology?

Very important! As a small studio our efficiency as developers is key, so finding the right tech to get the job done right was very important to us.

Why choose mocap over traditional animation or another form of performance capture?

With only two animators and one tech artist for the animation team, we needed to find ways to achieve large volumes of high-quality animation that suits the animation direction of our project quickly, with lots of iteration potential. There is still a lot of hand-keying that goes into our animation, but utilizing a mocap system like Vicon's helps us get 60-70 percent of the way there. Motion capture is a great tool in the animator's tool belt.

One thing that we didn't anticipate was how useful it's been to use mocap as a pre-visualization tool for our cinematics. The high fidelity mocap we get from the Vicon Vero cameras allows us to implement rough performances quickly for iteration. Our cinematic lead can then easily shoot around these performances using UE4's sequencer tools. Because the setup process to capture is very easy, we can experiment with acting choices without pressure, and have video reference to boot using the Vue's video overlay. Being able to have that flexibility for changes and experimentation is key to us.

How has motion capture influenced game development?

It has expedited the creation of assets for our gameplay and cinematics, especially. It offloads some of the more tedious, but much needed animation assets for a character so we can spend more time on assets that require fine-tuned hand-keying. It also helps set up the framework for cinematics and allows us to work back and forth with cinematics in an organic fashion.

What was your past experience with mocap?

At Bungie, we started utilizing mocap during the production of “Halo 2” and used it from then on in every game we developed. With every successive game, mocap became a core component of animation technology.

As a small studio with a limited budget, we shopped around for several options and were very excited when we found that Vicon had a newer, affordable solution aimed specifically at studios like us. The other solutions we had been looking into were similar in price but didn’t offer the rich features we get with such an industry standard as Vicon, so it was an easy choice for us. Our current setup includes 12 Vero 2.2 cameras, one Vue camera and Vicon's Shogun software suite (Live and Post). Vicon has been a good partner to us.

What’s next for V1 Interactive?

We’re hard at work developing and anxiously awaiting the release of our first game, which we’re excited to share a lot of information about this year. Our hope is that we can continue building upon this new franchise we are creating while keeping our studio size reasonably small.