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Call of Duty, The Last of Us, and PlayStation veterans form new independent AAA studio

Named That’s No Moon, the team will focus on making story-driven single-player games

A photo of the That’s No Moon leadership team and Smilegate executives Photo: That’s No Moon
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

A team of veteran game developers, who previously worked at a variety of companies including Infinity Ward and Naughty Dog, announced the creation of That’s No Moon, a new independent development studio, on Wednesday.

The studio will be focused on making single-player games, starting out with something in the action-adventure genre — which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that the studio’s team includes developers from franchises like Uncharted and The Last of Us. That’s No Moon is also partnering with Smilegate, the studio behind the multiplayer Crossfire franchise, which provided $100 million for its start up and first project.

Michael Mumbauer CEO of That’s No Moon development studio
That’s No Moon CEO Michael Mumbauer
Photo: That’s No Moon

According to That’s No Moon CEO Michael Mumbauer (former senior director of visual arts for Sony), the studio is well aware that the trend in gaming right now is multiplayer, but he thinks there’s still plenty of room for great single-player experiences.

“A lot of emphasis of late has been on massive, multiplayer games as a service,” Mumbauer said in a video interview with Polygon. “And for us, that’s not the direction that we want our careers and our desires as storytellers to go. [...] We’re big proponents of the genre of single-player, narrative-driven experiences. It’s something we feel passionate about. [...] And frankly it seems like there’s still a lot of healthy appetite for these experiences. The sales figures don’t seem to be going down on those in this genre. So it was just a great time for us.”

This idea of single-player games was also part of the way that That’s No Moon chief creative officer, Taylor Kurosaki (formerly a narrative design lead at Naughty Dog and studio narrative director at Infinity Ward), pitched the studio to developers it wanted to recruit.

Taylor Kurosaki, chief creative officer of That’s No Moon
That’s No Moon chief creative officer Taylor Kurosaki
Photo: That’s No Moon

“The ground floor pitch we’ve been saying is that we’re singularly focused on single-player, narratively driven action-adventure storytelling.” Kurosaki said in an interview with Polygon. “Starting a AAA studio is a tall undertaking, but our aspirations are to be best in class right out of the gate.”

Part of the way That’s No Moon is planning to achieve this is by recruiting familiar talent. “The amazing thing about this crew that we have, and we’re about 40 right now and we are looking to get to a little over 100 in the next year, is that we’ve all worked together in the past,” Kurosaki said.

So far, the team includes Jacob Minkoff, the studio’s chief design officer and game director on its first project, who previously worked with Kurosaki at both Infinity Ward and Naughty Dog. The studio also includes Nick Kononelos (COO), former senior development director at EA, and Tina Kowalewski, former director of product development at Sony Santa Monica, as chief strategy officer, and many, similarly veteran developers.

The early team at That’s No Moon development studio Photo: That’s No Moon

He explained that all this experience has given the studio a shared vocabulary and shorthand to help make the early days of development easier. But now that That’s No Moon is moving forward, it isn’t just looking for known talent. Kurosaki explained that one of the studio’s goals is to recruit newer developers out of college as a way of both adding new voices and backgrounds to the team, but as a way of “leaving the industry better than [we] found it.”

Another part of this idea is creating healthier, more responsible, development practices, particularly around the ideas of crunch. To help avoid those issues, That’s No Moon will use a system of prioritization that’s worked well at other studios, both Kurosaki and Mumbauer said.

That’s No Moon development studio’s logo Image: That’s No Moon

The team will break its games down into pieces — whether they’re missions or levels or sections — and prioritize each element of those sections from highest priority to lowest and work on them in that order. This way, when things come down to the wire, the lowest priority items can be cut, rather than leaving the team scrambling to complete key portions of the game at the last possible moment.

Unfortunately, one thing that Kurosaki and Mumbauer didn’t say was when we could expect That’s No Moon’s first game to be released. It’s possible that the studio’s name, an obvious reference to Star Wars, could be a clue that it will be working in a galaxy far, far away, but That’s No Moon hasn’t announced any details like that about its first project.

It is worth noting that Lucasfilm Games is now working with a wide variety of studios (not just Electronic Arts), so a partnership on something Star Wars related wouldn’t be out of the question. Then again, another recently formed studio with a Star Wars-themed name, Twin Suns Corp., has already said that it’s working on an original IP, so maybe it’s just a nice name.

But hopefully we’ll learn more about That’s No Moon’s single-player action-adventure game in the near future.

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