We recently caught up with fellow Australian, 2013 QANTAS Australian Woman of the Year in the UK, Co-Founder and Studio Director of Media Molecule Siobhan Reddy to chat about the studio, LittleBigPlanet, Tearaway, and the journey so far. Here’s how it panned out.
Q: Can you divulge in how Media Molecule was founded?
Siobhan Reddy: So basically the company was initially founded by Mark Haley, David Smith, Alex Evans, and Kareem Ettouney, and that would have been right around the end of 2005. I was talking to Mark, Kareem, and Alex at a Christmas party in December and they were telling me what they were going to go and do.
The company actually began on the 4th of January 2006, and they emailed me at the end of Christmas asking if I’d be keen to head up the production side of the company and I was like “yes!”
We’d all known each other for a while, though. I’ve known Chris [Lee] since I was at Criterion and Mark, Alex, Kareem, and I had all been friends for a long time so for me it was a bit of a no-brainer. I’d been at Criterion and they’d been at Lionhead so by the time I ended up joining it was the end of February or early March.
During that first period we had a green-light period where we had to show Sony our pitch in August, so we had eight months to get something prepared. They gave us a bit of funding for that and also put in some money towards the company, too, and eventually we were green-lit by Sony and then we really started to get going from there!
Q: What’s it like to nurture a studio during the early days? What are the risks associated with that and is there ever a feeling of doubt?
Siobhan Reddy: Yeah I think it’s very healthy to have a feeling of doubt! My parents had a shoe shop when I was growing up and I’d seen what it took to run a small business. When we started Media Molecule I felt like that was probably the first time I’d had a chance to really apply any of those things that I had learned there.
I think one of the things that was really important was that we had to take it seriously. We had to know what we were trying to do and know how we differed from other people. We had to throw questions around like “why are we here?”, “what do we want to do?”, and “how do we make something that we’re all really proud of?”
Mark was really passionate about making something that got people making games again, and so the ideas were all there, we had a great little team, and we had a goal where we wanted to make these genre-defining console games that were in this space that we called “creative gaming.”
So we really had a bit of a mission from the beginning, and then not long after we had one staff member, Anton, who had a little girl and also one of our artists Francis, his wife got pregnant really early on and there’s nothing quite like feeling like you’re responsible for people’s children being fed to make you take things really seriously.
David had made this physics demo called Yellowhead early on and it acted as a foundation for the concept of LittleBigPlanet that combines with this idea of sharing and this idea of people, which enabled us to get off to a really good start.
Q: How’d the Sony acquisition come about?
Siobhan Reddy: Like all things it just came about through conversation really! Sony are a wonderful company to work with, and if you look at all of Sony’s first party studios, all of them are unique and they’re all making games that are personal to them and they’re all given space. And that was really a very attractive part of working with Sony, as they have a really good reputation of not trying to meddle with what was working.
So we were all excited by the idea of working with PlayStation as we felt that they’d be the right people to do it with.
Q: Where do you see the studio now had that acquisition not happened?
Siobhan Reddy: That’s so difficult, who knows! One of the things that was happening when LittleBigPlanet was out and everyone was going ga-ga over it was that we were being approached by people all over the place. It was amazing, you know, but it was dizzying.
So a big part of the choice of getting “married” to Sony was that it really eliminates choice. And it gave us the platform to really just focus on the PlayStation world and everything within it. So that’s really been a good thing and if we’d had all of the choices in the world I think we may have really struggled with that.
Q: LittleBigPlanet 2 followed just under a year after the Sony acquisition, were there other ideas swirling around before you decided on pursuing a sequel to LBP?
Siobhan Reddy: There was a whole lot of stuff that we wanted to put into the original LittleBigPlanet that we didn’t have time to do, so it was a fairly natural decision for us to do LittleBigPlanet 2. But by the time we’d finished the sequel it was natural to want to change and move on to something else.
We felt like with LittleBigPlanet 2 that we’d given it a really good bash with things we hadn’t put in the original and felt that a lot of people could really create quite a lot of things, so we’re really proud of what happened with LittleBigPlanet 1 and 2 and it just felt like it was time to move on and do some new things.
Q: So how’d Tearaway come about then? What was the driving force behind it?
Siobhan Reddy: We wanted to do a bit of experimentation and one of the things that we’d wanted to try was to set up a small second team and to give a selection of our staff a chance to try creating a small game together. This also happened at the same time the PlayStation Vita was around so it felt like a good opportunity for us to have a go at that.
So we had people working on the LittleBigPlanet Move Pack, a whole bunch of people finishing up on LittleBigPlanet 2, and then there was a small group who started up on the Vita project. And so that’s really how it came about, and it was more of just “let’s have a go and see how this goes,” and it developed into something much bigger than that!
Q: How’d the decision of bringing Unfolded to PS4 come around? Was that a natural progression following Tearaway’s success?
Siobhan Reddy: Yeah, so the team were really proud of Tearaway and when we finished the Vita version it was the first handheld game we’d made, we were all really happy with it and really proud of it but we felt like we had unfinished business. It felt like a natural thing for us, just like we had taken and utilised the Vita’s features, we wanted to take the PlayStation 4 and utilise the DualShock 4 in the same kind of ways.
It’s not like the next thing to do was to adapt it to PlayStation 4, as we wanted to breathe new life into it. I think if anyone’s played the Vita version of the game, they’ll find that Unfolded feels familiar but actually very different. It felt like bringing something from Black & White to Technicolor and we were able to make the world look amazing and implement all of the new lighting as well. We wanted to put it on the PlayStation 4 and tap into a whole new audience.
Q: What’s been your favourite thing about working at Media Molecule?
Siobhan Reddy: I think just the fact that we’re turning ten next year! That feels like a pretty cool achievement, and we’ve also created two IP’s in ten years which I think is pretty great!
I’m really lucky to have met such excellent people and so I think the whole journey so far has been very positive. I don’t look back on the last ten years and think “oh my god, that was a chore” – I think of it as “wow! That’s gone so fast!” and it still feels like we have so much to do together.
We’d like to thank Siobhan for taking the time to chat with us about all things Media Molecule. The studio’s latest game, Tearaway Unfolded, is out now on PlayStation 4. You can check out our thoughts on the game here.