After its first steps in a difficult industry plagued by piracy, as observed in the second part of the retrospective, Trecision managed to release two titles internationally, Nightlong and The Watchmaker, but crisis seemed to strike the studio between 1999 and 2000. In the history of Trecision part III we will see how, with making a fully 3D adventure taking a long time to develop and no publishing contract in sight, the Italian studio was forced to ask for help from an investment fund. Along with bringing quite serious funding, will allow Trecision to grow in ways unprecedented, but the investments will also bring along a fair share of problems, both in trying to work with international publishers and raising the bar of their projects.
New blood, new projects
In order for the company to grow, Trecision had decided to merge with Pixelstorm, a young studio from Naples, in the south of Italy. Associates Pietro Montelatici and Fabrizio Lagorio had met the studio during an event and were fairly impressed with their title. Led by Massimiliano Sacchi, Pixelstorm had developed a football game, Puma Street Soccer, which featured an impressive 3D engine. Lagorio remembers that there was a split in the company, following the proposal: several programmers refused the deal and left, going on to create Raylight Games. Lagorio also mentions that when Trecision’s business consultant looked at Pixelstorm’s accounts, his hair turned white. “They definitely had a… creative way of keeping their accounts. In the end, I’m not entirely sure the merge was the right business decision for us”.
Trecision also tried to interest both Riccardo Cangini’s Artematica and another software house from Liguria, Wayward XS, in the merging, but both proposals did not seem to go very far. They did manage to get other developers on board, like Marco Castrucci and Alessandro Giusti, both of whom worked on The Watchmaker. A former Artematica collaborator, Federico Fasce, had also joined Trecision in late 1999, working as a game designer on several projects.
The company, now renamed Trecision Net-ert@inment, was split in two divisions dedicated – respectively – to titles for PlayStation and PC and mobile gaming, with Agostino Simonetta filling the role of Director of Production. Trecision was the first company in Italy to grasp that the new trend of mobile gaming was not a fad, despite – at the time – the technology still being relatively young, with WAP and Java Phones.
The mobile gaming division, “MoPlay”, started out pretty small: Fabrizio Lagorio as the main programmer, Louise Barnett the director and Marco Caprelli as PR. They would soon start working on both original releases and titles based on licenses. Needing someone to work on pixel graphics, Caprelli thought about calling someone who he had work with during his previous workplace, Dynabyte software: graphic designer Massimo Magnasciutti. Indeed, years later and in a completely different situation, part of the Nippon Safes Inc. team reunited to work again on adventure games, but for mobile phones.
The software house signed an agreement with Nokia, to distribute Java-compatible games for its phones, the first titles being Hiro’s Revenge and Superdino. An agreement with UK mobile company O2 would follow, with other games like Crimson Blade and SpyGirl being developed. Trecision wanted to interest the Finnish company in the “streaming” project, originally started with Nightlong, that enabled a PC to stream the game via mpeg4, over WiFi to a mobile device (at the time, usually a PDA with Windows Mobile). “We were a bit too far ahead of the market in that respect,” remembers Lagorio “the technology and the networks to support streaming of games just wasn’t there yet. We could have been the first Google Stadia, but we were at least 10 years too early. In the end, Nokia wasn’t interested and we decided to give up on the project”.
Marco Caprelli recalls having quite some fun hunting down licenses: Trecision would release games licensed on the Martin Mystere and Sturmtruppen series of comic books. Once, he recalls visiting horror movie director Dario Argento, in his house in Rome, to discuss a possible series of mobile adventure titles designed to take place in the overall “Argento universe”. The director actually agreed to the proposal, but – as Caprelli recalls – no one at Trecision seemed to be interested in further pursuing the idea.
Mentioning game licenses, Caprelli proudly talks about the Big Brother game, designed to be played like an overly simplified The Sims clone: “it was a big deal, Italian video games published for PlayStation by Sony themselves, while the PC version was distributed by Take-two.” Because of the popularity of the reality show, at the time, Trecision ended up appearing in national newspapers, along with being one of the few Italian software houses to be featured on television. “They were filming us for almost an entire day, while we were struggling to work,” recalls Pietro Montelatici. “In the end, we were featured only on a short five minutes featurette. Talk about our fifteen minutes of fame!” A strange turn of events, considering the software house’ systematic reluctance to talk to newspapers and media, which we’ll discuss later.
Thanks to generous capitals, new teams and developers, in 2000 Trecision had become the biggest Italian software house: the studio had grown from a handful of ten people to almost fifty.
Trecision's dream team: Dino Dini and Rick Gush
Along with an injection of new blood, Trecision moved to a new office, in a stately historical building right next to Rapallo’s railway station, with developers now working on different floors. Along with welcoming young developers, Lagorio and Montelatici were looking to employ “old school” talent, as well. Having grown up with the Amiga and PC as the computers closest to their hearts, the names were pretty easy to pick out. Pietro, still excitedly, mentions them right away: Dino Dini and Rick Gush. Later, the team would also welcome Ivan Del Duca, a programmer expert in racing games that would only collaborate briefly with Trecision, then go back to working with Milestone.
Dino Dini, designer of the classic Kick-off series of football games, came to work – naturally – on a soccer title, while Rick Gush, former writer for Westwood studios and inspirator for the Command & Conquer series, mainly because he liked the idea of living in Italy. Rick recounts “The Trecisions were fans of the Legend of Kyrandia series, they emailed me several times asking me to come work for them. I wasn’t really keen on the idea, sure I had playued and liked Nightlong, but for my overall career up to that point it felt like a step backward. Then, as things happen, my business in the US folded up and I soon decided it might be a good idea to stop in Liguria, on my way to a job offer in Bruxelles. Well, in the end, I never left!”
Trecision had no plans to develop another adventure game, in the end – Rick recalls – the only “actual” thing he contributed to was the English manual for The Watchmaker. “Well, to be honest, I also signed several of the Westwood game boxes that the programmers were bringing me…!” he adds with a laugh. Lagorio recalls that Gush, in the final years of the company, worked on a prototype for a choose-your-own-adventure mobile experience: “it was very similar to book you would play, choosing the options and receiving the outcomes via SMS, written in really concise English but still mighty effective. An interesting project for sure.”
But it wasn’t the only idea that Gush was toying with, as Lagorio recalls: “he had a clear vision for the future of mobile casual games, and he was heavily researching ideas for a game that played very similarly to how Farmville would be designed years later. I think he had understood, already in 2000, that people would spend money on something like the Free-to-Play system, to buy skins and items to progress. Unfortunately, neither I nor Pietro seemed to grasp the potential of the idea, he was ten years ahead of us! We were only familiar with a business model like Ultima on-line, with a monthly fee”. Federico Fasce also recalls that Gush had foreseen that one day, people would be interested in just watching someone play a game: “he had actually predicted the success of Twitch, almost twenty years before!”
And all that could have been: Kien and Samhain
Trecision, around 2001, had debuted the “Launchpad” project, which would entail being available for consultancy work to aid young developers looking to release a game, so that they could take advantage of the software house’s know-how and skills. Among various projects, there is one on which the Rapallo software house would spend time and money on: Kien
Kien is a GBA action rpg title, originally developed by PM Studios, a software house from the south of Italy. Trecision, worked on promoting the game and helping the young software house. While they were never attached to publish it, in the end while Kien had many potential publishers, none were interested in spending money to publish it. In the end, the game never came out. Agostino Simonetta, talking about the game in 2001, mentioned how “there are too many small Italian teams that try to get noticed with projects that, while beautiful on paper, never seem to go beyond that. You need a playable demo to get noticed, otherwise, the publisher will never be interested.”
Samhain was an entirely different story: it was an in-house title on which a small team in Trecision had been cutting its teeth on. They were Federico Fasce, Marco Castrucci, Alessandro Giusti, Stefano Mariani and Tommaso Bennati. Fasce recalls “one day the guys came to me with this FPS prototype which featured a terrific gothic mood, they told me they even went to Rapallo’s cemetery, by night, to take pictures of graves for the textures! The mood was sublime, but I thought the gameplay should have been different: I much preferred the idea of survival horror, rather than a strict first-person shooter.”
But what was the narrative behind Samhain? “I remember being deeply immersed in researching Wicca and the groups practicing it” continues Federico. “I found out that these groups were historically used as refuges for people that were different, mainly LGBT individuals. I wanted to use that vibe for the story, as for the gameplay we were quite influenced by Deus Ex, we wanted an interactive story, rather than just simple action sequences.”
Samhain (2000) - cancelled title by Trecision
Federico also contacted the town of Triora to have materials for the game. Triora is a small town in Liguria where, in the 15th century, a group of women was accused of being witches and sent to die at the stake. “Naturally, nothing of a supernatural nature actually happened, it is just a sad story of people being persecuted, but since Triora is still known as the village of witches, I wanted to have photos and materials to fit the overall mood for Samhain“, Federico comments.
In the end, what happened to the game? “No publisher seemed to be interested in our idea. I remember at E3 of that year (2000), the talk of the event was actually an FPS, Kiss Psycho Circus: it was all loud and questionable marketing gimmicks. No one would even notice something moody and atmospheric like Samhain. It is a shame because it was a great passion project for us, Marco Castrucci in particular really went above and beyond the call of duty: the demo looked amazing, I still have no idea how did he manage to make it run on PCs of the time. But it was a great time for all of us, there was such an emotional connection among us that I never felt on any other projects I worked on, while at Trecision.”
Federico gave me the go-ahead to share the original demo presented at E3. You can download it here.
Missing the goal: the soccer games
In the meantime, Dino Dini and Trecision were hard at work, finally finishing a demo for the soccer game that everyone in the office was spending time on. The game was, apparently, very fun to play, but, still, no publisher seemed to be interested. The temporarily titled Soccer 2 was first offered to Microsoft: “we thought the only company without a soccer franchise could be interested and, well, they actually were. We were invited for a visit to their campus in Seattle and it seemed things were going well. But in the end, they said Xbox wasn’t doing very well in its first year, so they would wait to see what happened the following year” recalls Pietro. Trecision would never see the following year.
Despite the Dino Dini project never progressing beyond the demo stage, the Italian studio managed to release two football games, nonethless. The first, made using an updated version of the engine used in Puma Soccer by Pixelstorm, was sold to Ubi Soft for “quite a lot of money” recalls Lagorio, and released under the title Calcio Championship. The second title was a football game with the French player Zinedine Zidane license attached, initially part of a publishing contract with French publisher Cryo Interactive. Simonetta, talking about the game in 2001, mentioned it as being “the perfect meeting point between International Super Star Soccer and the Fifa series, a mixture of simulation and arcade.” The game, under that title, only briefly existed as a demo for the employees of Ford, the official sponsorship of the whole endeavor. “It was little more than a beta version, but it did work pretty well, I thought,” adds Fabrizio.
After the deal with Cryo fell through, and subsequently stripped of the Zidane license, the soccer game would be slightly modified, to be later released as Football Generation. That game was also published by Ubi Soft, on the B2B and B2C market, as an add-on in consumer products like cornflakes. Fabrizio recalls working alone on Football Generation, which would come out way after Trecision had vanished into thin air. “I did debug the game all by myself with Ubi Soft, quite a strenuous process, but it was a success. In the end, it is weird to think about it was our only title released on PlayStation 2: Trecision made the jump to a new console generation only when it was too late.”
Cryo and the thump of the click economy
In 2002, Trecision had entered into a publishing agreement with the french publisher Cryo Interactive but the studio ended up being caught in the publisher’s financial troubles. Montelatici explains “Cryo was supposed to release two titles: the football game with the Zinedine Zidane license attached and a scooter racing title for PC and Ps2, later to be known as Scooty Races, which was supposed to feature the Popeye license, and the classic range of characters starring in the game. In the end, both titles fell through the cracks and were never released.” The Popeye game, announced as Popeye – Hush Rush for Spinach, was released only on GBA, developed by french Studio Magic Pockets as a character racing game.
Federico Fasce, in charge of the game design of Scooty Races, recalls: “it was a title too ambitious, both for the time and for Trecision’s overall experience, I think. At the time, the only multiplayer experience was that of the Dreamcast, while that game was aiming at gameplay features that would only be seen in Mario Kart 8, ten years later! The mechanics were too complicated, they just kept adding more and more stuff. Personally, I think it should have been canceled even before the deal with Cryo ended up in smoke.”
“After the Cryo deal fell through, I think we all felt the end was approaching” comments Fasce “I don’t think there was much we could have done to avoid it. In Trecision everyone was very passionate about their projects, but there seemed to be few practical applications for these great ideas. The focus should have been on smaller projects, instead of big multiplayer titles.” Pietro comments “there seemed to be no place in the industry for small independent developers anymore. The contract with Cryo ended up costing us 5 million euros, but still, it seemed to me and Fabrizio that we could still survive, or at least so we figured.”
After Sacchi and Pixelstorm had also left, Lagorio and Montelatici seemed to agree on continuing with Trecision, focusing on mobile gaming, which they felt to be their strongest suit, along with the football games. Still, a visit to their business consultant would soon change their minds, when they were told that the smart decision would be to close down. “While at first, I didn’t think it was the right decision, I was still pretty sure we could have persevered for a couple more years at least, after the meeting I changed my mind and agreed with Pietro to close up shop,” says Lagorio. Montelatici confirms the decision, adding “I don’t think I have any regrets over closing the company. I just took all the books and brought them to the court to handle the proceedings, so we could have all our accounts in order. I didn’t want to persevere only to find ourselves in a situation where we could not afford to pay our co-workers anymore. I was always one to try to do things as orderly as possible”.
Trecision would formally stop existing in July of 2003, even though the court would work for several years beyond that.
Trecision: working undercover
In researching the history of Trecision, something became abundantly clear: it is not a name familiar to many, internationally or even in Italy. Which is surprising, since it was not a small company, but a big studio which released some of the more celebrated Italian titles from the 90s. But, while it is easy to find people, even in Europe, who seem to remember Dynabyte or Simulmondo, that is hardly the case for the Nightlong software house. In Italy, they rarely advertised themselves in the magazines and would almost never release interviews, not until the very end. Simulmondo was everywhere in the magazines, Dynabyte was a familiar face often appearing in press, Trecision seemed to prefer working undercover.
Cantamessa notes: “Pietro, Fabrizio and Edoardo always thought that games should do the talking for them, they were never much for publicity. It’s very typical of people from Liguria, I think.” Montelatici takes part of the blame: “I was the one in charge of handling relations with the press for many years. I guess my shy character, in the end, came to represent Trecision as a whole, even for the outside world. That is part of the reason why I was glad when Massimiliano Sacchi came to work for us, since he became the one in charge of PR and marketing, he was definitely more suited for the job than me.”
The original members of Trecision have different feelings regarding their time managing the software house. Pietro Montelatici talks about the years with a warm tone and a smile, along with an overall feeling of nostalgia, not minding the incidents with ICE and Carlà and the lost royalties. “The gaming industry was still relatively young in the early 00s, coherently, when we started Trecision, we were little more than teenagers!” comments Pietro, “Sure, we did make many mistakes and found ourselves in some sticky situations, but I think it is for the best to treasure the good times and let go of the bad memories. I fondly remember working alongside such talents like Gush and Dini: these have been, for me, great years. To this day, I still feel lucky to have had that opportunity.”
Gervino – ever the down-to-earth type – comments “Towards the end there was some animosity towards Trecision, which I felt was unjustified, I always tried to make sure that everyone could grow professionally and improve in their craft. Despite me leaving the company, I knew that the industry had a bright future”. Lagorio comments that there were so many interesting projects still in progress in Trecision in 2002/2003, which would have been interesting to continue, even beyond the company’s closing. But, he adds, he and Pietro needed, in a way, to start again fresh and, as things happen, they ended up working in different facets of the IT business.
Working in Trecision from 2001 onwards seemed to have left quite a mark for several people. Massimiliano Sacchi refused to be interviewed, while Federico Fasce comments “when Trecision closed down, it was a small personal trauma: the last few months working in the company were filled with anxiety. There very few of us at the end, young people with nothing to do all day, except waiting for the official communication that we were being let go. Afterwards, I decided to leave the industry for a while, only to come back several years later.”
But Gervasio is right: what seems to connote Trecision over the years is how most of its collaborators ended up having quite an important career in gaming development or IT. “We cultivated a lot of talents, even though we rarely managed to keep them for us!” laughs Montelatici. Lagorio adds: “I can barely remember all the great talent that we managed to cultivate: Tommaso Bennati, Mario Ricco, Tiziano Sardone, Christian Cantamessa…”.
Sardone comments: “I had been working as a freelancer before coming to Trecision. It was my first real work in a development team, and I’m glad to have had that opportunity. To this day I still feel gratitude towards Pietro, Fabrizio and Edoardo. It is also thanks to them that I was able to jumpstart my career.” Cantamessa concludes: “I still feel gratitude towards Pietro for giving me the chance to work on The Watchmaker. It was an important chance to grow and learn how to work in the video game industry.”
Trecision might not be a name familiar to many players today, but for many Italian developers out there, working on important projects from the likes of Ubisoft Milan and Rockstar, it still evokes plenty of nostalgic feelings of working with friends and growing as a professional. Trecision, might not have changed the landscape of gaming, but it was a school for the developers of the future.
Pietro Montelatici has left the gaming industry and currently works in IT.
Fabrizio Lagorio still works in the industry, he is currently Head of Technology at Perpetuum Media, publishing and developing mobile games.
Edoardo Gervino is happily retired.
Dario Pelella, after working with Giunti Multimedia, moved on to other projects and he’s currently working at Xplored.
Fabio “Oscar” Corica still works in the gaming industry and would like to pick up his old Amiga titles and finish them.
Christian Cantamessa, after Trecision, moved on to Ubi Soft and then to Rockstar where he was the main designer for Manhunt and Red Dead Redemption.
Tiziano Sardone never left Ubisoft and has worked, among other titles, on the PC version of Beyond Good & Evil and was Lead Gameplay Programmer on Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.
Rick Gush is happily living in Liguria and still enjoys working on gaming projects once in a while.
Mario Ricco, after working in Milestone, was head of a dev team in Singapore who worked on Ubi Soft’s HAWX. He still works in IT in Singapore.
Federico Fasce, after curating the “Game Happens” event in Genua, now teaches game design and narrative at Goldsmiths in London.
Sources & References
Interviews conducted in 2021 with Pietro Montelatici, Edoardo Gervino, Fabrizio Lagorio, Christian Cantamessa, Tiziano Sardone, Marco Caprelli, Rick Gush, Federico Fasce.
Materials: Il Secolo XIX (26th of April 2001), K magazine (June 2001), Playonline (15th September 2001).
Many thanks to all the people interviewed for the time dedicated to my article and materials and photos provided.