At the 2021 Canadian Game Awards, EA’s Montreal studio Motive walked away with two awards. For their work on the flight-sim title Star Wars: Squadrons, Motive was awarded Best VR/AR Game and Best Audio Design.
Although Motive has been in operation for six years, Star Wars: Squadrons is the first title the studio has developed on their own. Previously, Motive worked in collaboration with DICE on Star Wars: Battlefront II. Since then the team at Motive has worked hard to bring touchstones of the iconic franchise to the PC and console space for players.
We sat down with Motive GM Patrick Klaus to talk about the lead-up to releasing Star Wars: Squadrons, and how being a Canadian studio has allowed them to create a diverse team.
Steve: With Motive now entering its sixth year as a studio, how does it feel to look back and reflect on the successes of the past?
Patrick Klaus: We’re only six, you’re right! We’re so young, and it feels really good. Star Wars: Squadrons was the first fully-fledged game led out of Motive. Releasing a game which we can all be proud of was important for us, and being a Star Wars game made it extra special.
As kids, many of us on the dev team grew up dreaming about being starfighter pilots. We knew fans all over the world were clamoring for the pilot fantasy to return, and with the support of Lucasfilm we were able to make that happen for them. With the experience we have built over the last six years, we have rock-solid foundations. The team spirit is high and we’re only at the beginning of this exciting journey. As the saying goes, success brings success. It brings confidence and an appetite to do great things, and that’s what we intend to do.
Over the last six years, how have you seen the landscape change in regards to Canadian studios getting the spotlight?
Canada has an amazing history of making games over the last 30 years or so, and that history gets more impressive every year. The landscape is incredibly dynamic and vibrant. There is such great talent.
You have new studios of all sizes setting up shop across Canada. In Montreal particularly, I think about 10 new studios have opened since the beginning of the year and we’re only in May. There’s a healthy competition and it motivates us to keep getting better. We’re lucky to be part of this ecosystem with such conditions of success.
Developing games in Canada, what sorts of advantages have you experienced in regards to having access to a diverse talent pool?
Canada is a land of immigrants. I myself am from France and moved to Canada nine years ago now, and am now a proud Canadian citizen. It’s an incredibly attractive country to move to and start or continue your career in games. The mix of cultures is great for the games industry, and ultimately for the players.
We are seeing some progress in the diversity of our teams, and this is encouraging, but we need to continue to do more. There is no silver bullet, though. We need to be intentional if we are to have dev teams as diverse as our players through talent acquisition and our hiring practices, as well as through the retention of our diverse talent and a highly inclusive culture where we make it a safe place for everyone.
We also need to encourage the programmers, artists, and designers of tomorrow, from every background, gender and race, to consider a career in making games. That’s something that we certainly want to focus on in Montreal over the coming years.
What was the studio’s reaction upon learning that Star Wars: Squadrons won for both Best VR/ AR Game and Best Audio Design at the 2021 CGAs?
With us working remotely, it was mostly a digital reaction from a very human team. Our Slack channels went crazy with all kinds of emojis which I don’t entirely understand. Certainly, there’s lots of pride from everyone. Some of us whom I won’t name were hoping for more awards, but we will have plenty of chances in the future for that.
Hearing the audio in Star Wars: Squadrons, you’re immediately sucked into a galaxy far, far away. What was the process like to develop an audio-scape that drew longtime fans in?
Being true to Star Wars was top priority for the audio team. [That meant] starting with the legacy and being inspired by what already exists out there. The pilot fantasy was a big focus for the team, with 3D engine sounds to give a true sense of speed, acceleration, turns, rolls, and so on. On the music side, we created a specific theme that is unique to the game, but blends wonderfully with the well-known melodies.
With all that’s happened in game development throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, how has Motive adjusted?
If you had asked me 12 months ago about whether we could ship Star Wars: Squadrons while working remotely, I may have been slightly hesitant in my response! I still can’t believe that we were able to finish the score and soundtrack for Squadrons. This required individual recording sessions with 45 different musicians, before bringing all recordings together to create the final orchestra sound. That was no small feat.
A team working well together can achieve incredible things, and the Motive teams keep getting better at working together without being physically together. We have embraced online collaboration tools, and iterated and improved on our practices in order to be creative and efficient.
We care for our employees. Mental fatigue is a real thing during this pandemic, and the lack of separation between work and home is tough. We’ve been fortunate that Electronic Arts has been fantastic in supporting its employees during the pandemic. At a local level, we connect regularly to see how everyone is doing. We pay particular attention to the workload and make sure the pace is sustainable, and encourage our teams to take some time off to switch off. Ultimately, the health and well-being of our teams is more important than anything else.
Without touching on unannounced projects, are there any studio-wide initiatives that Motive is taking part in over the course of 2021?
There is great momentum at Motive currently following the release of Squadrons. We made some big decisions on our direction as a studio and what type of games we intend to focus on going forward.
We are hiring for many roles and expect to continue to grow over the coming years. I am hoping this year will also see us start to progressively meet up physically with some colleagues, because we miss each other’s company. But we’ll see how things evolve.
In the meantime, we’re going to continue to pour our heart and soul into creating new and unique experiences, never forgetting to have fun working as a team.
[This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]
Congratulations to the Motive team for their awards this year!