Fireproof: the Criterion alumni who made the iPad game of the year

The Room is a series of smart logic puzzles with home-console-grade audiovisual sheen, made by a small studio of ex-Criterion staffers. It was a big hit on the App Store a few months ago, but in the last week it became more than that; Apple just declared The Room its iPad game of the year 2012.

“To say we’re shocked is putting it mildly… fucking amazeballs more like,” said Barry Meade, Fireproof Studios’ commercial director over email the morning after. The Room was already a success, but further approval from Apple catapulted it up to the top of the charts again and it has been featured front and centre on the App Store over Christmas and new year.

It’s been quite a year for Fireproof, then. Most of the studio’s staff met in 2004 whilst working on Burnout 3. In 2008, six of the team left to start up Fireproof to operate independently as a freelance art studio with the long-term goal of making its own games. Meade says that he learned an incredible amount from his time at Criterion, though the work was tough and big studio politics were draining.

Fireproof Studios commercial director Barry Meade

“We were already a team in spirit long before we left. Criterion was a great place to work in lots of ways and we still see the old Criterion crew every day in Guildford,” he tells us. “The best thing we learned was focus: concentrate on the elements of the game that really matter and murder every feature and visual in sight that gets in the way. But the work rate was knackering there and the office had plenty of the usual industry complaints of the team being undervalued, underpaid and overworked. Over the years a management paranoia developed that instilled more fear than confidence which had a tremendous impact on the team. When you’re paid to be creative fear really is the mind killer so you are in a catch-22. It just became untenable so we needed a way out.”

The stress of working under those conditions plus a “flatlining” console market made setting up Fireproof the natural next step for Meade and his team. “It was all about making our own games, even from day one. We wanted to earn our own way to the creative table,” says Meade. The hardcore, hardworking attitude fostered during work on the Burnout games has continued at Fireproof, but the inner workings of the studio are completely different.

“Criterion’s culture was very over the top, great times for sure but dramatic as a soap opera in comparison to Fireproof,” says Meade. “Whereas we work much more like I remember we did at Bullfrog did 20-odd years ago – we’re content to bumble our way through development making ‘mistakes’ while we guide the software to its destination. Though we have the added shipping mentality of Criterion, It is more intuitive, we don’t much plan things on paper and aren’t believers in design bibles and all that: our method is to do a lot of research and then just make it – if you get it on screen you’ll know if the idea works immediately instead of talking about it for days’

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