Microsoft’s New Santa Monica Studio Poaches Naughty Dog Melee Animation Lead

The Initiative, Microsoft’s Santa Monica game development studio, has spent the last two years recruiting top talent from the global games industry. Operating under the umbrella of Xbox Game Studios and Microsoft, the Initiative was first unveiled at E3 2018.

Now, the studio has landed Naughty Dog’s former head of melee animation, Lee Davis, who will take on the role of lead gameplay animator in Santa Monica. Davis’ impressive CV includes Uncharted 2, Uncharted 4, and both of The Last of Us games.

A subsidiary of Sony Computer Entertainment, Naughty Dog, which won Studio of the Year at the 2013 Spike Video Game Awards, is best known for developing games for PlayStation consoles. Founded in 1984, the studio was acquired by Sony in 2001.

The Initiative is considered a triple-A studio, meaning it usually works with higher development and marketing budgets. In July, Microsoft reportedly wanted Xbox Game Studios to release a new triple-A game “every other month” to sustain its user-base, according to an insider. The company has already purchased over a dozen studios in the past two years.

Davis will join other talents such as the writer and designer of Red Dead Redemption, Christian Cantamessa, God of War producer Brian Westergaard, and Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider co-director Daniel Neuburger. Although The Initiative has remained relatively low-key since its launch, the studio is reportedly gearing up for its first project.

In addition to Davis, The Initiative boasts studio head Darrell Gallagher, an industry veteran who’s worked with Crystal Dynamics, Activision, and Square Enix; Drew Murray, the studio’s design director, who has overseen Sunset Overdrive and Ratchet & Clank; and lead systems designer Sean Slayback, who was previously a designer at Respawn, Treyarch, and Infinity Ward.

Sources say the studio’s first game could be within the Perfect Dark universe, though nothing has been officially confirmed. Back in January, Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, tweeted, “Great update today with @DGallagher_LA @mattbooty and the team @TheInitiative. Incredibly talented studio challenging themselves to do new things (and old things 🙂 ) in new ways.”

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