It's becoming a familiar scene: developers who have spent years working in AAA games development breaking away from their old lives, setting up brand new, independent studios and working on games that are released on mobile or Steam.
Silver Dice Games is one link in a chain of such stories -- but rarely do the developers in question have such impressive resumes. The studio was founded by programmer Jonathan "Rax" Gauvin, who spent over 10 years working at Ubisoft and Eidos; lead designer Pierre-Olivier "Poc" Clement, whose credits include Rayman: Revolution, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and the new Tomb Raider; programmer Tiego Francois-Brosseau, who has a 10-year history both on mainstream and independent projects; and artists Charles-Etienne Gouin and Eric Lahaie.
Rax and Poc met while making Tomb Raider, and decided after the completion of the game that it was time for something new.
"I found that when you're working on big titles like AC [Assassin's Creed] or Splinter Cell, you're just a cog in the engine. You do a job that's so precise (like eyebrow specialist for some artists or footstep guy for a sound dude) that it can be creatively numbing. You're also bound by thick layer of bosses that all have to agree for anything to get done which makes decision-making slow and tedious, all of these are absent when being indie makes you nimble and creatively free," Rax explained to CNET of the decision to leave AAA.
The studio's very first game is Order of Souls, an interesting mix of choose-your-own adventure -- in the style of Mass Effect -- and turn-based combat RPG. You command a team of special fighters: you are able to absorb the souls of the dead, assimilating both their memories and their skills to enhance your own. As you perform missions, you collect more souls, making your four characters -- warrior, priest, mage and rogue -- eminently more customisable along the way.
"Order of Souls started out to be a very story-driven game, something like choose your own adventure books but animated and with combat in a realistic dark fantasy universe with sci-fi. It ended up being all that but more oriented towards character customisation, combat and PvP (which was not in the original game plan)," Rax said.
"With Order of Souls, we created a rich universe with deep story-telling. This is almost absent from the mobile game scene. We also have a rich character customisation emphasized on souls, which can be bound to templars: elite agents. So for instance, you could have your warrior bound to 'Eir', an Epic Paladin from a distant past which would imbue the warrior with holy powers. We have deep character customisation, equipment, spells and skins and PvP to battle it out against other players. It's very rare to have both a long singleplayer experience and multiplayer experience in the same mobile game and we have both."
Interestingly, it was this game that prompted the team to move on from mainstream development, seeking out incubator Execution Labs.
"We actually pitched it at the studio that Poc and I worked on," Rax said. "The brass were interested, but it didn't get approved because 'insert political/management stuff' reason. So, we decided to do it on our own. Having the XL incubator helped a lot as we have mentors come in and talk to us, people that have serious experience in the video games industry that have gone indie too, so basically people like us but some years in the future... very valuable advice."
The experience has had its ups and downs. For example, having the budget -- and the steady paycheck -- of a job at a major studio is definitely a lot more secure. But, Rax said, he's happier in his own studio, working on his own projects.
"Rarely can you have a significant impact on the game in big studios. Ideas take time to be accepted and you have to respect the licence, not modify things too much, and often times good ideas are not done just because. So I enjoy being able to quickly modify things that don't work without having to have triple approval from different field specialist signed in blood," he said.
Order of Souls can be downloaded now for free from the iTunes app store.