Darewise is bringing an all-star team’s sci-fi MMO to fruition
How Darewise is bringing a sci-fi MMO by Viktor Antonov and Randy Smith to fruition
For such a young company, Paris studio Darewise has already weathered a great deal of change. Founded only three years ago by two former Ubisoft producers, it set out as a publisher of midtier games – but after a rocky first game launch and finding itself facing yet another tectonic shift in the game industry, it’s gone all-out into in-house development. Its first game, Project C, is an MMO with production values worthy of a creative team led by Randy Smith, director of Thief: Deadly Shadows and founder of Spider: The Secret Of Bryce Manor developer Tiger Style (and previously an Edge columnist), and Viktor Antonov, visual designer behind Half-Life 2 and Dishonored. And it’s powered by Improbable’s future-facing multiplayer technology, SpatialOS, which promises to give all its players a single large, deeply simulated and persistent sci-fi world to play within. In other words, Darewise is making one hell of a pivot.
Back in 2015, though, its founders, Benjamin Charbit and Vincent Marty, were riding on a principle that seemed cast-iron. Sandbox multiplayer successes such as Rust and Ark: Survival Evolved seemed to be paving the way to a new model for business, and Marty and Charbit figured they could use the expertise they’d learned in helping to run Ubisoft’s free-to-play and multiplayer divisions by producing their own. “The original vision we had for Darewise of being this publisher, this executive production house, came at a moment in the market,” says Marty. “The selfpublishing scene was booming, Early Access was booming; at the time it was a true development strategy. That changed pretty drastically over Rokh’s development.” They signed Montrealbased Nvizzio Creations to make Rokh, a sandbox survival game about establishing a base on Mars, but on its Early Access launch last May it was roundly criticised. “It’s a sensitive topic for us,” says Charbit. “The problem when you operate a game like we did is that you lose so much control over it. We lost a lot of control on that project.”
Rokh continues to
be improved and updated, but hasn’t amassed much of a player base. Its specific issues aside, though, greater industry changes have made Charbit and Marty shift their approach – changes which make them believe that a middle-tier approach to game development is too risky today to be viable. “You cannot push to the quality
of triple-A games, and you cannot spend the level of resources of an indie, who can be very nimble, and be super creative,” says Charbit. “In terms of risk and reward, we were in the worst-case scenario with Rokh.” With Darewise’s reinvention, they’ve chosen to go big, looking towards Bungie and Ubisoft’s Massive Entertainment, but also to Pixar, particularly its maxim of never compromising on quality. “The only way to really do that,” says Charbit, “is to basically have an unlimited budget. Thank god we raised a lot of money in the past.”
Currently 20 staff strong, and aiming to scale up to 30 by the summer, Darewise is aggressively hiring, and not just locally. Hence Randy Smith, who brings with him a progressive and systems-led attitude to game design. Despite his more recent history with indie-scale projects at Tiger Style, Project C’s codename purposely evokes LMNO, Smith’s cancelled project for EA, a collaboration with Steven Spielberg. Project C is not at all the same kind of game – LMNO was a firstperson action-adventure, while Project C is a thirdperson action-MMO – but it has much of its ambition.
For now, Darewise isn’t talking specifics, but in thematic terms a close relative is Smith’s own Waking Mars, Tiger Style’s 2D game about exploring complex systems of caves filled with alien flora. Being entirely systems-led, each cave presents the player with an ecosystem to understand, play with and exploit, and that’s precisely what Project C is aiming to do in a shared MMO world. “We want to bring players a new type of experience, of emergent gameplay, which can only come through systems – and this is where Randy’s vision is tremendously helpful,” Marty says. They envisage players being able to sit in their vehicle and watch the planet change around them, and for the interactions between its native life to present them with opportunities for play and advantage, even as the MMO side of the game is about one player faction being pitted in a grand war against the other.
With Antonov’s skill at making believable videogame worlds, at once monumental and rich with visual narration, the PvP war might not be as important as the planet itself. In fact, Charbit reveals that there is a system in the game which introduces a creature which will destroy the entire planet if all players don’t band together to deal with it. The scale that these kinds of ideas demand is down to Improbable’s SpatialOS, which will fully simulate the world on the network at all times, whether players are there to see things happening or not. That’s an intoxicating promise, and it will lead the team into countless challenges. Charbit and Marty are entirely aware of what lies ahead, but argue that a systemic approach sidesteps the old problem of having to laboriously author content – the quests and events – which comprised World Of Warcraft’s generation. “With new tools and with players contributing with the content itself, it’s game-changing,” says Charbit.
“The problem when you operate a game like we did is that you lose so much control over it”
Benjamin Charbit (top) and Vincent Marty
Smith and Antonov are headline names, but Project C’s staff contains veterans of COD, Doom, Mafia and The Division