Dare­wise is bring­ing an all-star team’s sci-fi MMO to fruition

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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

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