You may or may not be familiar with n-Space, a studio that's spent the better part of its existence working on licensed properties and work-for-hire projects. Though n-Space's past is filled with projects that have ultimately faded into the background, it may garner a significant reputation boost next week when it formally unveils its latest project, a fantasy RPG set within a well known franchise.
OK: I don't blame you if your first reaction to that generic pitch is "so what?" However, what if I told you that the team at n-Space is currently staffed by influential ex-BioWare members that helped sculpt series such as Dragon Age, Baldur's Gate, and Mass Effect? That pitch suddenly sounds a lot more interesting.
What is n-Space working on, exactly? Unfortunately, while I couldn't suss out exact details from n-Space President Dan Tudge or CEO Dan O'Leary (the full reveal is coming on Feb. 12), they're committed to the idea that this game, when it's finally unveiled, will wow people, both for the series that it's attached to and because of how it will satisfy hardcore RPG fans. "That's certainly my goal," said Tudge, "to fill a void in the market as a hardcore fan of RPGs. I love my RPGs, so I think that there are some things as a fan and a consumer that I haven't been able to do, and I think that we're really doing some unique things that will be really exciting."
O'Leary boasts that "we're doing this game for us, first and foremost. It's kind of the one that we've earned having done everything before it. It's only a possibility because we made a huge commitment to it."
The RPG in question has been in development for over two years and is n-Space's first independent project. Rather than being tied to a publisher for the sake of funding, n-Space has teamed up with Digital Extremes, a studio with experience in the BioShock and Unreal Tournament series. Warframe, it's most recent product, developed and distributed independently, is what lured n-Space into bed; that and a chunk of financial investment that's made n-Space's project a reality. Beyond funding, Digital Extreme will share its expertise as an independent, guiding n-Space along the way.
O'Leary detailed the relationship: "Digital Extremes is investing in the game and sharing the knowledge that it has gained from successfully self-publishing Warframe. We've got a great team of passionate developers with access to basically all of the industry tools that larger publishers have, and without the heavy overload that comes with that. That allows the two companies to move quickly, react quickly, and take real care in making this effort as successful as possible. We've known the folks at Digital Extremes for some time now and have had a friendly relationship."
The Dans both have past connections to AAA publishers, and they believe the traditional funding and publishing model will stick around, but not without stiff competition from independents. "We mentioned previously that there's new accessible technology and direct to consumer digital [publishing], that you're really seeing...I don't want to say a secondary market, but a really great piece of gaming emerging from independents," said Tudge. "I think that's in large part to the way the industry is changing, but I don't see the large model going away."
Tudge sees the independent method as an opportunity for them to give passionate fans what they really want, rather than what publisher's believe will sell the most games. "I also think that independent developers like ourselves can market to niche markets with our product and speak directly with consumers now, creating products that fill opportunities that the traditional publishing model ignores these days. I think that there will continue to be big publisher kind of business models, but the opportunities that they pass by are right for independent developers and other kinds of collaborations, like what we're doing with Digital Extremes."
Given that three out of the five leaders on the project are ex-BioWare leads, I had to know: does the new game look and feel like a BioWare game? O'Leary mostly deflected the question, but he's honest about the potential for BioWare-esque traits making an appearance. "We can't really say at this point, we really can't talk about it. We can tell you that it's fantasy, and it's a beloved franchise, but really it comes down to the DNA that's in the studio here, and in the DNA of the influx of BioWare staff, and that DNA really is focusing on making the game that we've always wanted to make, both with n-Space and with the ex-BioWare guys. That DNA that we've injected has been focused on quality and great storytelling, and those are things that we'll definitely be bringing to the title."
Tudge followed up O'Leary's statement, detailing the role and pedigree of the team's leaders. "I was the director of Dragon Age Origins and I worked at BioWare for several years. People like Ross Gardner, who's the tech director, he was on the original Baldur's Gate. He scripted the first sequence in Baldur's Gate 2, he's been involved in Neverwinter [Nights], and even the Old Republic. Of course, he was my tech director on Dragon Age Origins. You've got Jay Turner, who wrote with me on Dragon Age Origins, he's been involved in Mass Effect, and he also worked with me at EA. That's three out of the five leads on the team, and I think that's really obviously going to influence the creative title, but I will say that there are definitely a lot of new, fresh, and innovative ideas that n-Space has brought forward. They certainly have an extensive background, certainly in loving RPGs and making Heroes of Ruin and some of their previous titles, so there's some really unique and exciting things that, blended together to make what I think is a really new and innovative approach to your classic RPG."
The Dans are very confident in their team and their game. They're confident that you, the hardcore RPG fan, will love it. Until we have an idea of what this game is, those claims are debatable. We'll know more on February 12 when n-Space and Digital Extremes unveil what they've been working on for the past few years. Until then, one can only wonder what's up their sleeves.
What do you think they might be working on? If you had your way, what fantasy series would you like to see from a team with the experience and pedigree of n-Space and it's BioWare recruits? Share your predictions and hopes in the comments below!