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Interview #023: Ross Brierley - Ghostlight & Laughing Jackal

We are joined today with Ross Brierley, Community Manager for Ghostlight and Laughing Jackal, UK-based video game studios that not only provide publishing for developers, but integral roles within the production services. Plus, with their first Nintendo Switch title, Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force! being ported to the Switch, we couldn't wait to learn more!

Thank you Ross for taking the time to speak with us today? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

No problem, it’s good to speak to you. I’m Ross, I’ve been working at Ghostlight and at our sister company Laughing Jackal for roughly 11.5 years. At first, I started out as a games tester, but since then I have also taken over the role of Community Manager. Outside of work I enjoy video games, watching live music and Japanese culture, and I am currently learning Japanese.

What was your first console and game you remember playing?

My first console would have been the NES, and the first game I played on it would have either been Duck Hunt or Super Mario. However, before I got my NES, I used to play Chaos: The Battle of Wizards on my cousin’s Spectrum whenever I visited him.

What is your fondest childhood video game memory?

That’s a tricky one! While I have very fond memories of Super Mario 3 on the NES, and a game called Majesty on PC, I think my favorite two were both from the PS One. I find it quite hard to choose between them, but the first is playing the original Crash Bandicoot with my brother and sister. Every time you lost a life you had to hand the controller over and if someone failed to make at least one checkpoint on their turn, there’d be some serious teasing. The other memory is being blown away by Final Fantasy VII, which was my first JRPG.

Before we focus entirely on video games, your profile states that you are a Metalhead and anime geek. Let's start with the former! Who is your favorite musician/band?

A few years ago I would always say it was NoComply, a punk band from Plymouth who I used to be really into. I saw them 17 times in a four year period, as they’d always play Harlow the week before London on their UK tours, so I’d go to both dates. However, while I still like them, I don’t really listen to them so much any more.

These days I’d say it might be Iron Maiden. I saw them in London this August and was blown away by how good they were live.

In regard to anime, do you have a favorite series?

The first series I watched would have been Full Metal Alchemist, and I’ve always been very fond of it, but I’d say my favorite is Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Moving back to the world of video games, you first began as a tester for Laughing Jackal, Ghostlight, and Midas games. Was this field one that you always wanted to be in?

To be honest, while I’ve always loved video games, I never actually thought I’d have the opportunity to work on them. While I was younger I used to write up lots of ideas for video games, but as I grew up I assumed that I wouldn’t get a chance to work in the industry. It wasn’t until I saw an advert in the local paper for a games testing position at Laughing Jackal, that I thought it was something I could possibly do.

During your time in this role, what are the top three favorite games you got to be a part of?

My favourite is Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky on PSP. A game I fell in love with as soon as I saw it. I remember first hearing about it on Twitter as some people I followed were discussing it and I thought it sounded really interesting. As a result, I spoke to the rest of the team and we got an evaluation copy in, at which point I completely fell in love with the game, particularly its excellent storytelling and the fantastic localisation from XSEED. I actually ended up borrowing a work PSP so I could finish it at home. After I gave it an extremely positive evaluation and spent quite a bit of time talking to anyone in the company who couldn’t chase me away quick enough about the game, we managed to license it and I got involved with almost every part of the release. I handled quite a bit of the testing, the PR and community work for the game and then on release I was actually down in the warehouse helping to ship it out 🙂.

After that I would probably say Persona 3 Portable. I was already a bit of a fan of the original release of Persona 3 on PS2 and having the chance to work on such a hugely successful PSP remake was tremendously exciting.

I’m also very pleased to have been involved in the release of Way of the Samurai 4 on Steam. I’m really pleased we got the chance to bring such an incredibly high profile, fun and quirky open world action game to a new audience. It’s a game that both feels very Japanese and yet at the same time very accessible to western players.

Although you still test, you moved into the Community Manager role for Ghostlight and Laughing Jackal back in March 2011. Can you describe your role to those that be unfamiliar?

My job as Community Manager is to be the bridge between our audience and the company. On the one hand, I post news to let people know what we’re up to and spread the word about our upcoming releases, whilst on the other I pass on the views of our audience to the rest of the team here. I think it’s fair to say that it has become an increasingly important role in recent years.

Let's get to learn a bit more about the two companies you work for, starting with Ghostlight. A UK-based publisher formed in 2004, the studio is a European publishing leader with many titles under various consoles. From Shin Megami to Agarest and more, are there a few that standout to you?

I missed out on Ghostlight’s early PS2 releases such as Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call, but the first title I worked on was Shadow Hearts: From the New World. As a JRPG fan it was incredibly exciting to actually get to work on such a high profile title and I loved the dark atmosphere the game had, plus the Judgement Ring battle system was really cool.

I’ve already spoken about a couple of our PSP releases, but I’d also like to mention Fate/EXTRA, just because I was really excited to work on something in the Fate universe, and I loved the rock, paper, scissors combat system.

The Agarest series also stands out, and not just because I’ve spent so much time working on it. The original game in the series was not only the first PS3 game I worked on, but it went on to be our first ever port to Steam and was one of the earliest JRPGs on the platform. The multiple generations featured in the game give it an epic feel and really give you an idea of the scale of the conflict and the writing is really very humorous in places.

Just recently, Ghostlight announced its very first Nintendo Switch release: Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force! Originally released on the PS4, the Switch release will see all 25 DLC and new and improved gameplay. How exciting is it to enter the Switch market?

It’s incredibly exciting. It’s wonderful to be back working on console, and the Switch is such a lovely machine. I think the way you can seamlessly flick between big screen and portable is a great fit for JRPGS, and it’s also really exciting to be bringing a game like Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force to a new audience.

Might fans see a physical release in the future?

I wouldn’t rule it out, but as far as I know, there aren’t any plans for a physical release at the moment. The business model for physical releases has changed a lot over the years, but we’re still open to creating boxed products and possibly special Collector’s Editions, if we feel there is enough demand through our distribution channels.

Is there a release date set?

As a team we’re still working really hard towards reaching master, but while we don’t have a confirmed release date, you can certainly expect some news on that in the very near future!

Are you able to tease any upcoming projects that Ghoslight is currently pursuing?

We’ve been looking at a number of really cool titles recently, some to port to PC and others to Switch, but at the moment I’m afraid there is nothing that I can go in to detail about. Not yet, anyway.

Moving onto Laughing Jackal, this UK-based studio was formed in 2005 and provides the complete production service, including: QA, localisation, porting, and more. Could you elaborate a little more on this?

Well, I think you’ve pretty much covered everything we offer within your question. The only thing to add is that over the last decade or so, while we’ve earned a wealth of experience in all aspects of development, we’ve also found our niche in the field of conversions, working on ports across pretty much all platforms. We have a close-knit team here which I’m proud to be a part of and I can honestly say that we really enjoy what we do. Over the years, we’ve built some very strong and key relationships with a number of Japanese and US clients, with whom we are both honored and delighted to have worked with and continue to work with. I’ve personally seen a lot of development teams come and go in recent years, but I think we have managed to survive by adapting to the ever changing market and perhaps most importantly, doing what we say we will do. That might sound rather obvious, but I think it has earned us a lot of trust from our clients, which has been the key to our ongoing success as a developer.

Laughing Jackal has worked with many big name developers to localize and port games over to the EU region. Over the past 13 years, are there a few titles you'd like to spotlight?

In addition to working on all of the PC ports for Ghostlight, Laughing Jackal also got to work on a PC port of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ for Aksys Games. I spoke earlier about my love for Trails in the Sky, and it was a real privilege to get to work on the PC port of a game by the same developer, Nihon Falcom.

In addition to their PC port for other publishers, Laughing Jackal have also worked on a variety of their own games, and they really came into their own with their range of PlayStation minis. The highlights of which for me were Cubixx (which was later expanded into Cubixx HD on PC & PS3), Vibes, which was a really cool little rhythm game, and OMGZ! (which was later expanded into OMG Zombies! and OMG HD Zombies on PC and Vita respectively.) OMGZ! and its expanded versions are extremely addictive chain-reaction shooters with some seriously cool puzzle elements, and getting huge chain-reactions by shooting that all important first zombie is tremendously satisfying.

Last, but my no means least, is Flame Over for PSVita and PC. This one only missed out on my favorite three games that I got to be a part of because I spent a lot less time working on it than the others in the company, as I was focusing on Way of the Samurai 4 at the time. This is probably the best firefighting action roguelike you’ll ever get to play, and it’s definitely my favorite squirt-em-up 🙂! I really enjoyed racing around the burning offices putting out fires and rescuing cats; people too, but the cats are obviously more important. It was also an incredible experience taking the game to EGX and Rezzed and watching people enjoy the game. To see people having such a great time playing a new title you’ve worked on was an amazing experience.

The studio is working with Ghostlight to bring Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Forces to the Switch. How exciting is it for the studio to also make the "switch" to the Switch?

It’s been a really interesting experience, and as I’ve said already, it’s great to be getting our teeth back into console gaming again. We all relish a challenge and with any new console we always expect a bit of a learning curve in terms of the development and submissions processes, but the switch to “Switch” has so far been pleasantly straight forward. Plus, personally speaking, it really is a lovely console to work (and play) on so we’re all really hyped to be bringing such an awesome Idea Factory title over to this amazing machine.

Are there any upcoming projects from Laughing Jackal that you can tease today?

I’m afraid not. We’re not developing our own games at the moment so unfortunately we can’t really talk about games we’re working on for other publishers until they announce them.

Besides your own, what are you currently playing and looking forward to?

Three weeks ago I finished Tales of Berseria on PC, which I really enjoyed and I’ve just started Dragon Quest XI and while I’ve not got particularly far yet it seems really good. I’m also looking forward to getting Valkyria Chronicles 4 and the recently announced PS4 ports of the first two Trails of Cold Steel games.

Is there anything else you'd like to share today?

Thank you for having me, I hope you’ve all enjoyed this interview. If you want more information on Ghostlight, please check out our website and social media pages (links below). If you want to learn more from me, then follow me personally.

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