Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of reports about the videogame industry in the Triangle with an emphasis on what to expect in 2011.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Epic Games is no longer the only game studio in town.

While the makers of Unreal Tournament, Gears of War and Bulletstorm are certainly the biggest game developer in the Triangle, there are plenty of studios in the area that focus on big games.

Two titles that are sure to propel local studios to the top of the sales charts are EA Sports’ Madden NFL Football for the new Nintendo 3DS and Sony Computer Entertainment’s Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One from Insomniac Games for PlayStation 3.

Insomniac’s Durham team focuses on PS3

“We did a lot of research about the Triangle,” said Chad Dezern, studio director at Insomniac Games in Durham. “We looked at a lot of different places and we really thought that the Triangle area in North Carolina was just hopping for game development. A lot of teams were there and doing well. It was obviously really possible to have a game studio there. So that really played into our decision. We didn’t want to be on an island. We wanted to be around other game developers so we can talk shop a little bit and it turned out to be a great place for us to open up our new studio.”

Insomniac Games is an independent game developer headquartered in Burbank, California, where it has made hit franchises like Ratchet & Clank and Resistance for Sony’s consoles. They opened the North Carolina studio two years ago.

“We just feel like Insomniac really has a good thing going with the culture and we just wanted to make more games and that was really the driving force behind opening up a new studio,” explained Dezern. “We didn’t want to expand the team in Burbank past the magical size that let’s everybody understand what’s going on with the game process. So the new studio in North Carolina lets us get more work done and make more games and also brings the Insomniac culture to a new place and a new team.”

Dezern has a team of 30 working on the PS3 game, which is expected to ship this holiday. It marks the first time the franchise is introducing cooperative gameplay for four-player platform action. The games are well known for blending tongue-in-cheek humor with family-friendly gameplay as alien Ratchet and his robot sidekick Clank explore the galaxy.

“Our approach has been to be like a start-up,” said Dezern. “We literally live for the day and try to push things as much as we can. We have 30 really talented, experienced people working on the game here, but at the same time we have a bigger team in Burbank who’s really got our back. So if we have a question about something, we always have people to call and we get a ton of support from the group in Burbank. So it’s kind of like we’re merging the best parts of the start-up with the best parts of being with an established company.”

Dezern is a South Carolina native who worked at Insomniac’s Burbank studio for years before heading up the new studio.

“When I started looking at places to go to, North Carolina was a no-brainer because of the great cost of living and the quality of life,” said Dezern. “This area of the country is always ranked very, very high on that. In addition, the universities that we have access to talent-wise like UNC and NC State have really great programs. Plus, I personally wanted to move back to the Southeast.”

EA’s Morrisville studio focuses on 3D football

Four years ago, Ryan Stradling set up shot for Electronic Arts in Morrisville, North Carolina, just down the street from Raleigh Durham International Airport. The team has created hit games like NASCAR Kart Racing for Wii and helped with EA Sports MMA. The latest project for the team of 10 is the first autostereoscopic (glasses free) 3D football game, Madden NFL Football, for Nintendo’s new console, Nintendo 3DS. Shipping as a launch title on March 27, this new Madden was designed to allow players to view into the field and fully immerse themselves in the gameplay experience.

Stradling, director of product development at EA North Carolina, chose the Triangle as the home for his new studio (he previously worked at EA Tiburon in Orlando) because of the talent pool based here with big studios like Epic Games, Red Storm Entertainment, and Virtual Heroes.

“Being able to recruit from other studios, having a talent pool to hire against, having a university curriculum around here dedicated towards some of those studios, these were all huges factor when you look at places to open a studio,” said Stradling. “Studios that are here are very talented and we’ve had some luck finding some people from there, as well as from the universities. The other thing that’s big and important is the new 15% tax cut that starts this year, and that’s a very important thing for our industry to compete with other states.”

In 2008, the team of developed EA Sports’ NASCAR 09 simulation for the PlayStation 2. They stuck with racing with the Wii arcade title, NASCAR Kart Racing the following year. Once that was completed, they helped the Tiburon Studio finish EA Sports MMA, the sports giant’s first entry into the mixed martial arts fighting category. With Madden NFL Football now finished, the team is ramping up for its next sports title.

“Our team is 10 to 14 people, it’s been a range over the years,” explained Stradling. “One of the things when I started up here was that I’ve always felt games could be made by smaller teams. And one of the things that I strived to do when I started this studio was to make sure we had really capable, smart people that knew what they were doing and not worry about being 50 or 100 people to be successful. We have made our success criteria focus on quality games and the way we create them, rather than the size of our team.”

The Madden franchise is one of the most successful in all of gaming and the 3DS version is sure to become a bestseller and key driver for the new 3D gaming handheld this spring. Just as the new four-player Ratchet & Clank from Insomniac Games should appeal to both the mainstream and gaming audiences when that title ships for PlayStation 3. Thus giving North Carolina two more game hits made locally.

The series so far

Part One: Epic’s president on state of Epic, the Triangle.

Part Two: Designing Bulletstorm – with a woman’s input.

Epic’s creative force defends Bulletstorm.

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