I actually remember saying something, at The Ultima Codex, about Larian Studios’ Sven Vincke’s comments about another independent game developer he had met at Gamescom. Vincke’s argument, in short, were that said other developer’s dream of crafting a Skyrim-killer were, to put it mildly, a bit insane. And to be fair, in the general case, I don’t think Vincke is wrong.
But I had no idea that the developer he was talking about was Warhorse Studios.
Warhorse first popped up on the radar a bit over a year ago, if memory serves; they were announced — or announced themselves — as a meeting of minds, key developers from several notable franchises. And they wanted to make something big: a historical, medieval, open-world (or semi-open, at least) RPG built on the CryEngine 3 technology. I’ve been following them with some interest, just as I’ve been following Vincke’s own Larian Studios with some interest, because I’ve begun to suspect that the last great hope for the hardcore RPG rests in indie developers (most of them European) who are unafraid to take risks with content and gameplay, and who are not beholden to publishers.
Warhorse’s as-yet-unannounced project is still, from the sound of it, very much in its infancy, although it sounds like they are making some excellent progress mastering the engine they have chosen:
The meeting began very formally, as these things go at exhibitions where you meet ten new people every hour. But that only continued up to the precise moment when I put on the first video. Our partner on the other side of the table watched it, then asked to see it again and called in someone else, who turned out to be another Very Important Person. He started questioning us enthusiastically about how we’d done this and that: “You did those puddles using parallaxes? And how did you do those walls? What? You implemented the secondary UV maps? …” The investor’s representative smiled contentedly behind us. An informal meeting turned into a very friendly conversation with the promise of much closer collaboration and a weight fell from my shoulders. It seemed what we had was evidently good enough for people to give us the time of day and take us seriously. The feeling was all the more gratifying for the fact that we were conversing with someone who knew well how much work had gone into our demonstration. The Crytek dudes gladdened my heart and calmed me down considerably, especially when one of them came to me next day wanting to see the video again and said he’d been thinking about our game all night.
And, for that matter, their ambitions of making a Skyrim-killer are (or at least seem) tempered by reality, to a point:
The truth is we are definitely a bit crazy, but on the other hand few fantastic things have been born of down-to-earth plans and, what’s more, we’re not so crazy as to plan on making a game as gigantic as it might look from the presentation over a few beers. Nevertheless, Sven’s remarks (among other things) prompted me to modify and tweak some things, but we’ll get back to that another time; it’s a very interesting story too.
The fact is, our first confrontation with reality panned out pretty well. We’re not jumping to any great conclusions about it yet, because this was just the first acid test of many, but at least we know that what we’re doing doesn’t look totally dumb and there are people who are interested in it, and that’s not entirely irrelevant.
I have no idea when Warhorse will announce the game they’ve been working on, if ever, but I’ll certainly be interested in taking a look at it when and if they do. And if you are too, good reader, might I suggest following their development blog? Contra the sanitized messages that some larger developers will present on their public websites, the Warhorse team are amazingly frank in what they write. But then, this is the company that featured a recruitment page on their site that rattled off a bunch of human resources buzzwords and finished the line with “you know all this bullsh*t, right?”. They take things with a certain measure of non-seriousness, which is refreshing in and of itself.