Former Call of Duty, Tomb Raider devs jumping AAA ship to make their own next-gen title

"Most experienced and motivated developers in the industry are jumping the AAA ship and swimming to indie life rafts."

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The recently formed studio Tangentlemen has a new game to announce and a lot of big-name talent behind it:

  • Richard Smith (art director) was a former Infinity Ward senior artist and he contributed to the art of Respawn's Titanfall
  • Cory Davis (lead designer) was the key creative force behind Spec Ops: The Line
  • Toby Gard (game director) helped launch the original Tomb Raider and create Lara Croft back in 1995
  • Five additional team members come straight from working on Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z with Davis and Gard

Davis describes their new venture as "an esoteric alliance of ancient game development aristocrats," and he's hoping to harness this industry know-how to create AAA-quality games within the scope of a 15-person team. Their first game has the working title Daedalus, "an existential horror trip into a surreal, half-forgotten dream."

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For Davis, the opportunity to continue working with a few of the most talented members of Yaiba developer Spark was a seminal factor for going indie. However, he also recognizes mainstream gaming's inevitable shift to smaller-scale operations and knows now is the perfect time to make the move. "From my perspective, many of the most experienced and motivated developers in the industry are jumping the AAA ship and swimming to indie life rafts," Davis said. "There are tons of great recent examples of talented, creative people leaving larger teams and having success on their own–such as Supergiant Games' Bastion or Fullbright Company's Gone Home.

"I was finding the structure of making big games to be too rigid and restrictive," Smith admitted. "There seems to be a problem with chasing after photorealism--it makes everything else about the game very myopic. By moving into an illustrative space, the look of the game can become a voice in its overall intent, rather than a limitation to that intent. It's indie games that understand this, and because of that, it's indie games that are really progressing the art form of game making."

"We're looking to stay small, but our games won't look or feel limited," he explained. "That's the opportunity we have when we control the vision, scope, and overall production of the game. We expect to stay nimble, sleek, creative, and experience-driven. We want our games to feel hand-crafted, and our vision to be strong and auteur."

The group is currently working out of producer John Shelton-Garcia's garage, which is a dizzying departure from the AAA environments many of the creators have grown used to. "It's an awesome experience to be in our own new space, even if that space has heating, electricity, and claustrophobia issues," Davis explained. "It's a reminder that we're not only free to make great games, but that it's our responsibility at this point. Every aspect of the game will be hand-crafted, just like a piece of furniture, in our development garage."

"It's an awesome experience to be in our own new space--even if that space has heating, electricity, and claustrophobia issues,"

The move to a smaller, more malleable outfit was a nagging desire for Davis and the rest of the bunch after spending years restrained by big-budget operations. Richard Smith, Tangentlemen's art director and the former senior artist at Infinity Ward, sees the indie space as an ideal landscape to stretch his creative legs.

"I think most of the creative people in the industry have great ideas that they truly want to come to fruition one day, ideas that are not possible to develop in a AAA environment. Those ideas are typically the ones that push the industry forward, and prove what can be accomplished when that creativity is not stifled by group or marketing think."

Funding, like the game's name, is up in the air. The developers are exploring both a publishing deal and crowdfunding as potential sources of cash flow, and see the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One as viable platforms for release down the road. "We're looking for publishers who would be interested in smaller, more daring projects, but I'm personally really interested in seeing if we can Kickstart our first game," Gard confessed. "Being able to engage directly with game players right from the start of development sounds like an incredibly liberating way to do things."

"There are a number of programs that allow independent developers to self-publish their games on next-gen platforms, and that has potential to be very exciting," Davis added. "Tearing down the fences that kept smaller-budget, but high quality games off of those platforms is a positive thing for the entire industry. "Sony is looking toward joint ventures with indies who can fund their own development, while Microsoft is just making it easier on self-funded devs by taking down the cost and other barriers to publish on their platform. The street cred for these platforms now lies as much in the hands of indies as it does in AAA developers."

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Davis expects the full reveal of Daedalus to happen in the coming weeks, including the first screenshots and information on the game's mechanics. For now, he's just happy to be a part of a project he feels he was born to make. "Starting a video game company has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, but this opportunity is more than that," Davis said. "Tangentlemen is a studio made up of the developers that I respect the most in the entire industry.

"I feel extremely lucky to have had the chance to join up with individuals that are at least as passionate, knowledgeable, and experienced as I am to create the games that we all were born to create, in an environment where we have the freedom to do something truly unique, potent, and if we so desire, even risky."

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