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Latest local game release shows London, Ont. can punch above its weight in a $300B industry | CBC News

A London game development studio is reinforcing the city’s reputation as a game development hub with their latest release.

Ember Knights was officially released Tuesday by developer Doom Turtle, with an official launch party taking place on Wednesday at The Mana Lounge in downtown London.

The game was available for purchase one year prior to its full release, in a development stage called “early access” during which players can buy the game to play an incomplete version, and weigh in on development with feedback.

During this period, the game racked up over 2,000 positive reviews, earning it a 95 per cent positive score on Steam, a popular video game distribution service. It also sold roughly 150,000 copies.

“One of the things that you’re always kind of cognizant of when you’re releasing a game is, boy, I sure hope people like it,” said Kyle Wolf, the lead designer for Ember Knights. “When it does get out there, and you see people really picking it, picking it up and saying, ‘Oh, wow, this is really fun,’ it’s very special.”

This still shows the game Ember Knights in action, with three people playing, represented by different coloured characters. The players can be seen dodging projectiles from enemy robots.
This still shows the game Ember Knights in action, with three people playing, represented by different coloured characters. The players can be seen dodging projectiles from enemy robots. (Doom Turtle/Steam)

Ember Knights is a hack-and-slash roguelite, a type of game that sees the player typically crawling through dangerous dungeons and battling monsters, and is defined by the permanent death of the player’s character upon losing. It’s a genre that has exploded in popularity in the past decade. 

“It’s the 90s era vibe that we’re going for. It’s very replayable and it’s fun to play with your friends and see, ‘Alright, what are we going to get next time? What’s going to happen on our next playthrough?’,” said Wolf.

Online reviews for the game say its merger of striking retro visuals and engaging, snappy gameplay, make it an obvious choice for many who want to play alone or with friends.

Not all swords and sorcery

Bringing a game from concept to reality is harder and less glamorous than many realize, according to Wolf.

It’s a careful balancing act between a number of different factors.

“It just kind of springs from an idea,” said Wolf, who explained that Ember Knights was conceptualized while the team was working on a separate project that had an in-game combat system. “We kind of took that and said, ‘All right, well, this is a lot of fun. How about we just expand on that?'”

Doom Turtle's team consists of 13 people, with jobs ranging from art to programming.
Doom Turtle’s team consists of 13 people, with jobs ranging from art to programming. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)

That’s where designers come in to plan largest sections of the game, while producers schedule and programmers build out concepts.

From this, the team at Doom Turtle was able to create what Wolf calls a “vertical slice” of what their finished game might look like.

And that’s just the beginning.

Developing a game usually involves artists, programmers, producers, designers, writers and a multitude of other roles that work independently, and together, to form a finished product.

One important part of game development is art design.
One important part of game development is art design. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)

One thing Doom Turtle did differently in terms of the development process is taking a player-informed approach through offering early sales of in-development versions of the game.

“Early Access can kind of get a little bit of a bad rap. I think you see it get abused, and you’ll see games that don’t get finished, or they just don’t wind up kind of living up to the expectation. We really wanted to make a conscious effort to not be one of those studios, and to, you know, be talking with the people,” said Clinton Prince, a game designer at Doom Turtle.

What the future holds

Unlike the past days of the early gaming industry, internet connection and online game marketplaces mean games often are supported and updated long past their release date. 

That’s something Doom Turtle plans on doing, according to Evans. 

That doesn’t mean that they’re not working on anything new, though. 

“There’s 13 of us now, and we’re kind of split between [Ember Knights and something new],” Evans said.

Left to right, Clinton Prince, Brad Evans, and Kyle Wolf. The three are employees of Doom Turtle and worked directly on the Ember Knights project.
Left to right, Clinton Prince, Brad Evans, and Kyle Wolf. The three are employees of Doom Turtle and worked directly on the Ember Knights project. (Alessio Donnini/CBC News)

With the release of Ember Knights, Doom Turtle joins a multitude of successful game development studios, like Digital Extremes, that call London home.

Good game development has become something London is known for, said Evans.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to travel to events and shows in the U.S. and Germany. London definitely has a world notoriety for being a densely populated area for good game development,” he said.

“It’s quite impressive to have people know where you’re from based on that location and our history of game development here.”


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