Those who have been to one of our LAN parties know that our location is central to many larger cities, Fort Wayne being one. We’ve attended a few LAN events in that area, including one hosted by member Reaper from Fort Wayne Gamers. It was exciting enough to hear that John had volunteered his coding expertise for an indie game studio just on the heels of releasing their first game, but we were even more so when we learned the studio was local, operating out of Fort Wayne. We quickly made contact, and were invited to sit in during one of their weekly meetings.
Written by: Adam
Pictures by: Wes
The Sunday meeting was marked as mandatory, which meant we were going to have the opportunity to meet a majority of Rapture Game Studios. We walked into an apartment converted to studio, packed with members of the team, some working on full tower computers and others collaborating on couches with laptops open, typing away. Zach Steinke, CEO and co-founder, met us at the door and ran through a brief introduction. There was a natural organization to the room: concept artists on one couch, sound artists on another, modelers face-to-face sharing workspace and bouncing ideas back and forth, with Zach in somewhat of the center, bouncing to and from each station.
All around the apartment there are white boards with various notes scribbled including a timeline, the most bold of which stands out as “Possibly make profit”. Rapture Game Studios shares the same story of many Indie developers. They are a group of dedicated and talented individuals with full time jobs and responsibilities devoting any free time to something they believe in.
Zach: “You know the meaning of Rapture as a Christian stand point. There are multiple religions here, non-religions; it doesn’t have anything to do with religion really. When you go into the definition of it, you have another meaning of changing one’s life due to a certain event, and we put that into gaming terms: changing the player’s gaming experience.
A lot of us went to school together, in the same class. We all applied to studios and were like, you know what, we’re sick and tired of being declined, we’ll just start up our own. It was basically just word of mouth, then we got Youtube up and Facebook, then all of the sudden people started coming in. I’ve had resumes come in week after week after week, and I’m like, I can’t hire you people. I had a resume come in from 38 Studios that just went under, which was the lead character artist, the 3D modeler. And I’m like, if I could have you on the team; it would be a life saver. I’ve had guys from Infinity Ward actually email us; Robert Bowling has tweeted to us and talked to us, from Ouya. David Sanchez with GameZone, we talk a lot over Twitter and Skype. Then I’ve got a guy over in England, and he really just pushes us over there. I guess we’re really popular in England. And I’m kinda like, where are all the sales at if we’re so popular, you know?
From day one, I’ve always told all these guys that I’m not about money, I don’t care. I’m here to do this as a passion. It's just a dream to do games, I’ve wanted to build games since I was what, three? Playing Zelda, playing Mario, beating it and at that age just knowing this is what I want to do. And we’ve just kept pushing and pushing.
We were talking about publishing for one of our projects right before you guys came, and I would love to do a hard copy of this game, but I want to maintain ownership of the company. I want to maintain control, full control, I don’t want them breathing down the back of my neck saying ‘hey when are you getting this thing done’, or ‘when are you making Call of Duty? Modern Warfare 7?’ (Laughs).
Yeah, I don’t want that. If someone were to offers us 80 million dollars I think Josh and I would turn around and say yeah, let’s take the money, they can have the name of this studio; we’ll just start up another studio. Screw ‘em, you know? They can have the name.”
Though Rapture Game Studios is an indie developer, it’s obviously a team effort. The apartment is packed with individuals work, talking, chatting, at least ten people at any time and some coming and going, taking phone calls, coming or going from rest or work.
Zach: “We’ve got one animator right now, most of the guys can model though, so two animators really. Josh is redoing our website fully, that’s all on him, kinda sucks for him because he’s VP, he’s been with me since day one since we revamped. We started in 2010 and we were working on game that was so unorganized, no documentation or anything, and it fell out. We lost a couple guys; we had started with a five man crew. Josh jumped back onboard and was like, alright, if we’re going to do this we gotta do this shit right this time. So we started getting more people involved, ended up with 21 guys.“
He goes on, introducing everyone in the room in a round-table manner. We started talking about Gunblitz, which had just released on September 4th. Shawn and Debbie passed around concept art cells for a companion comic to explore the narrative behind the game. Though it’s still a work in progress, they are planning to have it ready and digitalized for the debut of Gunblitz on the Ouya system.
Zach: “When we launched Gunblitz in September that was actually our first organized game with a design document, deadlines and everything. It had a story, and we were going to launch it with a comic in between levels. Well, the deadline ended up creeping up on us too fast and we’re like let’s just launch it as beta, first levels one through eight, and we’ll release an update.”
Eric: “You’re a group of people who are involved in basically what was a civil war between Earth and Mars, and you’re part of a separatist faction. You get transported to an alien galaxy to save this race from evil that are taking over, and they have enlisted you to help them, and the only way to get back to Earth is to help. They are too cowardly to fight for themselves but have the weapons, so they give you ‘Gunblitz’, which is the ship.”
Gunblitz did officially release on September 4th as planned. We asked Zach what that night was like, his eyes widened as though reliving the stress as he set the scene for us.
Zach: “I’m probably going to go insane we have a big game with a dead line. It’s going to drive me up the wall.”
John: “We had a lot of things we were working on until the eleventh hour, for sure. I was almost pulling my hair out.”
Zach: “That night, when we launched on September 3rd , September 4th, he (John) was there at like 11:00PM, he ended up leaving, he said ‘I’m going home, whenever you guys get this thing rolling call me’.“
John: “I’m going home; I’m getting my triple monitors ready so I can iron this thing out when it’s ready. I’m doing set-up, you know, I’m doing DRM, I’m doing all that stuff so I need to have the final thing before I can process it, make the package, and then put it on the website.”
Zach: “So a half hour passes, its eleven thirty, and Keith is like zooming in code and everything. 11:59, we release. Okay? We did release at 11:59. But here’s the problem: Keith had missed one line of code from the first level, the one that would take you to the second level. So when you bought the game, it would’ve just played the first level, and when you beat it, it would go right back to the first level. And it would just continuously loop. We’re like, ‘really?! You tested it right before!’ Yeah, it worked!’ “
John: (laughing) “And here I was, worried that my DRM had somehow goofed it, because what I’m doing, is really, really nasty.”
Zach: “So when he changed that line of code, it screwed something up in level four, way down the line, because, I don’t know, Game Maker is wonky on code and developing games, we probably won’t use it again. So he goes to test it to level five, and level four crashes the whole game. This is like 12:30, okay? He’s sitting there like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on’, he’s got headache, he doesn’t feel good, and it was awful. I’m outside smoking up a storm and on the phone with John and I’m like ‘I’m about ready to kill this dude’ ( laughs).
It’s now like 2:30 in the morning and Keith is yelling at the computer. Keith didn’t even leave until around four, and I had to work at eight in the morning. After Keith had it ready to go, levels one through eight, I bought it to make sure it worked.”
John: “I was glad I was home because I just passed out after.”
Zach: “I wanted to run through a wall. It’s going to be a nightmare when bigger games come out.”
John: “I think what really hurt us is that we didn’t have a true QA cycle. We really didn’t, and I think that as long as we work that in, with future games, we’ve got a lot of things that we learned, the hard way. Now, once we get a proper QA cycle that’s going to alleviate a lot of that."
Zach: “And I think every indie studio starts off hard.”
John: “You put a date out there and you say, people, we’re going to have this out by this date, and then you got to do it.”
Gunblitz is now public, but the work is far from done. Rapture still struggles getting the game in front of the eyes of consumers.
Zach: “Wild Game Studios is another one we’re working with, they are starting up their own digital distribution like Steam and Dsura. We’re actually one of the first indie studios jumping on board with them, so we’ll see.
Then Ouya, in March, we were the first Indie studio to publicly announce working with them. It’s great because Julie Uhrman emails us personally and we talk to her. It’s nice to see these guys focus more on the indie based market because no one cares about indie developers, especially like the big publishers, EA, Activision.
Joystiq jumped on that, we said we were coming out for the PC and for Ouya, and the next day there was an article. I didn’t even know they had written an article. One of our friends was like, ‘hey good job getting on Joystiq’, tweets this to me, and I’m ‘Joystiq? Like, really? Send me the link!’”
Eric: “We were mentioned in an article with Final Fantasy III? Because they’re releasing on the Ouya as well, and that was like, Final Fantasy? We’re in the same article!”
Zach: “Being in a headline of ‘Ouya gets Final Fantasy III and Gunblitz’, that is just awesome. And we’ve had articles written with ‘major developers: Robert Boling from Robotaki, Rapture Game Studios, and Square Enix’…wait a second, does that say major developers right at the top? Yes. We win.”
We started discussing future projects, looking at the project names time-lined on white boards. Zach explained that the development team splits in another fashion, into small groups each working on a different title for future release.
Zach: “We’re working on, what, four or five projects right now? We did a timeline one night, we were just sitting here drinking and eating Taco Bell, and we were writing on the board, and what did we get out to, 2029, 2030?” (Laughing) “Just all these projects were laid out, these ideas, and every idea that we’ve had is a written down synopsis or fully written out.
We haven’t started a Kickstarter, but we’ve considered it, for future projects. We haven’t announced any other games aside from Gunblitz. I think we are going to announce the next game in Decemeber, to launch for either April or March.
Every single game we are working on now is fully 3D. One game is highly detailed, actually two of the games, the other is more of a cell shade type of game, but it is three dimensional.”
Eric: “Genre wise, it spans RPG, first person, third person; we’re already developing the functionality of something else.”
Zach: “We are working on a game that will be LAN based initially, and then we are going to do a multiplayer set up where you are going to hook up to servers or some sort of servers when we get it working. I think every single game we’re working on has some sort of idea with LAN and multiplayer.”
Eric: “Personally I’d like to do something you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to play the game with other people. That’s a pain in the ass. I remember playing back in the day StarCraft, Halo, games like that where everyone had to have a copy of the game but you didn’t have to connect to the Internet.”
Gunblitz is available from the Rapture Game Studios website, and is also at the time of publication a candidate for Steam’s Greenlight program, which allows Steam users to vote for the games they want to see available on the digital distributor.
Zach: “Greenlight, we’re at like 25% upvote.”
Eric: “We’re actually in danger of being booted off, aren’t we? We’ve stagnated I believe.”
Zach: “We started off at a ten dollar buy, we had a couple of sales on it, we dropped it down to seven, and we’re talking about dropping it to five, just because we want people to buy it. That’s what our main focus is right now, is getting it out there, and getting our name out there.”
Wes and I talked for a while there after, checking out concept art, chatting with writers and designers about their plans for future projects. Hearing people talk so passionately about video games made us feel right at home. Each of the 21 team members has lives outside of the studio: jobs, commitments. But they share a common passion for game design, and a dream to someday see fellow gamers enjoying their work.
Zach: “You know who Naughty Dog is? When you talk Uncharted or you talk about their games, it’s more or less a Naughty Dog production. I want to get to that point where it is a Rapture Game Studios production. I don’t want to be known for the game, like Call of Duty for instance. Who the hell makes call of Duty? I mean, I know who it is, Activision or Treyarch, or who is it now? Hammerhead? You don’t know who these studios are but you know the game. I don’t want that. I want to be known for the studio and the quality of work.”