At the campus of the University of California Riverside, Bill Merrill the Principal Engineer at Amazon, gave a talk on the gaming industry to undergrad students. Seeing as how some people reading this site may want to join the game industry themselves I thought it be a good idea to share the video. Sorry about the blond haired man throughout the video.
For Part 1: Game Industry Advice by Bill Merill
Double Helix, Turtle Rock, and Amazon Game Studios
Merrill’s career path shows us that even though Merrill isn’t from the most pristine university, he was able to achieve a leadership roll at the billion dollar company Amazon. Sure Amazon may not sound like a huge deal in gaming but with power moves like acquiring Twitch and now having their own free engine titled Lumberyard, it appears that Amazon is in this for the long run.
At Double Helix Games, Bill Merrill was an AI and Animation Lead programmer. His responsibilities at the time would result in development in AI and engine systems. A lot of the games during this time period would come from partnerships with other publishers like Capcom and Konami. Although he wasn’t a part of those famed studios, he would have the chance to work on properties like Street Fighter and even Silent Hill. Merill’s ambition would quickly evolve which would lead to his departure from Double Helix in order join Turtle Rock Studios.
To some Killer Instinct would be the selling point of the Xbox One.
Double Helix would eventually go on to reboot Killer Instinct for Microsoft using the Hex engine. Merrill shared during the talk that a big contributing factor for Amazon’s interest in Double Helix was the engine itself. Because of Crytek’s financial troubles, the Hex engine would go on to fuse with Crytek’s Cry engine into what is now known as the Lumberyard engine from Amazon.
Lumberyard is now Amazon’s open source engine that is completely royalty free. While other engines allow you to tinker with their game development aspects, as soon as you are ready to sell your game you need to buy a license from the engine’s creator. Lumberyard on the other hand promises royalty free development. Some may say this is too good to be true Lumberyard serves as an entry point for other Amazon’s services. With Lumberyard you can add Twitch integration and even have tighter integration with AWS(Amazon Web Services), the component a lot of multiplayer games are built on.
While this was a big win for Amazon, it left Microsoft without a studio to helm Killer Instinct. Eventually Microsoft would go on to find Iron Galaxy, the studio then ran by Dave Lang formerly of Midway, aka the original studio behind Mortal Kombat. One of the biggest mistakes this generation was Microsoft not acquiring Double Helix before Amazon.
At Turtle Rock Merrill continued working on AI and Animation tools for his new studio. His contributions would go on to a game known as Evolved. Composed of former Left 4 Dead employees, Turtle Rock built Evolve with a similar premise. Instead of you being chased by a horde of Zombies, the player would instead be the one hunting down a colossal monster. After the release of Evolve Merrill would receive a tip from his former Double Helix friends of an opening with Amazon and the rest is history.
Now a days Merill is Principal engineer at Amazon. Reunited with his Double Helix team, Amazon began development on the esports focused Breakaway. A competitive fighter at heart, Breakaway combined sports and a colorful art style in its alpha reveal. Unfortunately the project never went past the early stages of development and the game was canceled. That hasn’t stopped the company from trying even more ambitious projects.
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