How Night School Gaming Studio came to Netflix


Netflix’s newest game studio started out over seven years ago when Sean Krankel was fired from Disney.

Krankel worked in design at Disney Interactive and Vivendi Universal Games. While his cousin and friend Adam Hines wrote for adventure game developer Telltale Games on projects like “The Wolf Among Us” and “Tales from the Borderlands”.

Both were looking for something new, and when Krankel lost his job, they decided to start Night School, a Glendale-based studio that would try to do things with storytelling that other studios hadn’t.

Krankel took on the role of CEO, while Hines became Creative Director. They brought in game veterans Heather Gross as art director and Bryant Cannon as lead developer.

The crossing line for Evening school That’s the story: uplifting player choice the same way studios they share a lineage with. The studio emphasizes the messy, complicated, and layered ways a story is communicated through dialogue, whether between unique and original characters, or the occasional game and the player himself. It also extends to how the studio team members work with each other to this day. The approach attracted Netflix, which acquired them for an undisclosed amount in September.

Neither Krankel nor the other staff members contacted for this article were also able to go into details of Night School’s new position at Netflix. But the move hasn’t changed their conversational dynamic. “People should constantly be talking,” Krankel said. “If you think you’re talking too much: you’re still not talking enough.

This dialogue-driven philosophy was evident in Night School’s first game, “Oxenfree” of 2016. A supernatural thriller set on a local tourist trap island, “Oxenfree” builds on Hines and Krankel’s early ideas in exhibiting an almost constant flow of conversation. You play as Alex, a teenage girl who is trying to adjust to the big changes in her life. What is supposed to be a night of teenage mischief turns into a series of increasingly unsettling encounters with ghosts trying to communicate from the afterlife. The main node of the game, in addition to solving puzzles with a portable radio, is navigating the conversations of the thousands and thousands of words written by Hines for the game script. You choose one of three possible text bubbles. at certain points in each conversation, adjusting the story slightly as you go.

The biggest challenge in achieving this, according to Krankel, was to “create the tools that would allow our designers to create the game. while we were playing the game. Communication became key (with proper documentation of all design decisions that were made).

Without beef”, Available on Windows, MacOS, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, was a surprise hit. Night School declined to share current sales figures, but previously reported that the game sold 1.5 million copies between 2016 and 2019. “Oxenfree” has also cleaned up with critics and peers. from the studio, winning “Excellence in Visual Art” at the Independent Games Festival Awards in 2016, and was nominated for “Best Debut” and “Best Story” at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2017.

“Oxenfree is a cleverly written coming-of-age mystery that holds promise for the future of dialogue as a game.” Polygon wrote when they named the game one of the best of the past decade. This promise was confirmed.

Night School Studio has since grown to 24 full-time staff and has released four games, with a fifth in the works. And things could get even busier soon: in September, Netflix announcement he had acquired the company, marking the streaming giant’s first foray into the game.

The studio has a “track record of successful development and in-house skills” that likely attracted Netflix, said Piers Harding-Rolls, director of games industry research at Ampere Analysis.

“The narrative and graphic nature of Oxenfree’s deep adventure may well translate into video,” he said.

How night school came to be on Netflix

In some ways, the Netflix deal could have sprung from Night School’s relationship with another TV giant.

The immediate follow-up to “Oxenfree”, “Mr. Robot: 1.51exfiltration”, Was also released in 2016. A mobile game adapted from USA Network’s hacker drama,“ Mr. Robot: 1.51exfiltrati0n “puts the player in the story, rather than having them play like someone else. Using a fake phone operating system and messaging app, Night School adapted his earlier ideas for a dating game to asynchronously tell a story over several days before the world-changing hack that occurs at the end of “Mr. The first season of Robot. The game deviates from the studio style, but in a way, an even better example of its idea of ​​conversation and dialogue – without a dynamic art style, having intriguing conversations has become the whole game.

“Mr. Robot: 1.51exfiltrati0n” brought Night School together with series creator Sam Esmail and put the studio in touch with Hines’ former employer Telltale Games. Evening school reportedly worked on a companion mobile game “Stranger Things” to accompany Telltale’s own project in the years that followed. In the arrangement, Telltale acted as both publisher and liaison between Night School and Netflix. When Telltale Games went bankrupt in 2018, Night School’s work with the hit Netflix show came to an end. Yet both the “Mr. The Robot Projects” and “Stranger Things” have proven that the studio is capable of working with existing properties.

It may also have put Night School on Netflix’s radar. Krankel maintains that Night School was in conversation with Netflix about various projects six or seven months before the deal with Netflix was made. “I don’t even know if they knew we were making a Stranger Things game,” Krankel said “Game Informer»Following the acquisition.

Happy coincidence or not, the match makes sense. Netflix and Night School have some important views in common. Existing interactive Netflix projects like “Bandersnatch” or even “Minecraft: Story Mode” (a Telltale game playable on Netflix) emphasize player choice. Night School has also produced numerous global builds in the wheelhouse of Netflix’s most popular genre properties. An interest in the supernatural and the inner life of young adults are just two reasons the creators of “Oxenfree” might have felt comfortable making a “Stranger Things” game (and possibly remaking it). another later).

Night School announced its current project in April 2021. The studio plans to return to the game it made its name for with a sequel titled “Oxenfree II: Lost Signals. “ The follow-up focuses on a whole new set of characters, loosely tied to the first, and picks up on the distinctive dialogue and radio mechanics.

If “Oxenfree II” eventually appears as part of Netflix games – Free playable mobile games available with just a Netflix subscription, managed in the Netflix app –– remains to be seen. Night School has already been developed for mobile and has even released console titles like “Oxenfree” on iOS. (Netflix did not respond to a request for comment on its plans for Night School or the studio’s existing titles.)

In the short term, Sara Hebert, Community Director of Night School, said development of “Oxenfree II” continues unabated, just as Night School promised when the two companies announced they were joining forces. . “Everything is indeed so new and it’s only been a few weeks,” Hebert explained via email. “On a daily basis, our studio remains focused on creating great games and maintaining our studio culture.”

Ultimately, working with Netflix is ​​an opportunity for a small studio to showcase its games to the streaming service’s millions of subscribers. Netflix offers “an unprecedented canvas for creating and delivering great entertainment to millions of people,” Krankel said in its announcement of the acquisition. Now the evening school must continue to develop.

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