Afterburner Studios is a three-person team currently developing Dreamscaper, a “rogue-lite” hack 'n slash game that successfully passed Runs Great on Intel® technology certification. Co-founder/Engineer Robert Taylor spoke to us from his Ontario, Canada office about the evolution of Dreamscaper and the role Intel plays in its viral success.
MJC: Thank you for joining us for this interview, Robert. Would you start us off by telling our readers how the idea for Dreamscaper came about?
Robert: Sure. So we’re a very small, independent game studio based out of San Francisco. I work remotely from Ontario, Canada, but I met my two co-founders at a previous game studio. We decided that we wanted to work on a project that could be more personal to us, smaller in scope, with fewer expectations—where we could be masters of our own future.
So we started Dreamscaper. It’s a rogue-lite ARPG where the fiction centers around a character who struggles with depression and the inner demons she has to fight in her dreams. They’re representations of the feelings she has such as isolation and anger.
It’s the story of a character who learns how to cope with depression—you never can get fully over depression, but there are ways you can cope with it. Dreamscaper is trying to tell that story, but with the shell of a rogue-lite action RPG game. A topic we treat very seriously, but of course we still make sure that the gameplay experience itself is fun for the player.
MJC: Was your motivation more therapeutic, or commercial, or both?
Robert: Primarily therapeutic in a sense that we started the project not thinking we would make a big game. We thought we would make a small side project—take a break from large-budget video game development, and instead just do something that came from the heart; something we believed in.
"We're not only building a game that is very personal to us...it's something that other people want to experience and share."
But then of course the game got a bit of attention when it went viral on Reddit a couple of times. There was strong demand for the game to be fleshed out into more of a full experience. So while it started off as a side project showcasing the artistic ability of my two co-founders, it became clear that there was an opportunity to turn this into a commercial product. That’s when Dreamscaper began to emerge as a full-fledged game.
Of course, we had our Kickstarter recently, which was very successful, particularly for a first-time indie studio running a campaign during the summer months, raising twice our goal with 1,078 backers. That gave us a lot of confidence that we’re not only building a game that is very personal to us, but now it’s something that other people want to experience and share.
We’re enthusiastic about delivering a full-fledged game now. We had the demo out that people got really excited about, and now we’re going to be spending the next few months leading up to the end of Q1 2020 adding tons of content: six unique procedural generated dungeons, a waking world with persistent progression, hundreds of new items, and a lot more variety in the random rooms discovered in the dungeons.
MJC: It sounds very exciting. Can you explain why you and your co-founders at Afterburner Studios invest the time and energy to engage with Intel’s GameDev BOOST program?
Robert: I do all the engineering and all the coding for Dreamscaper, so my motivation was two-fold. One, I wasn’t sure how much visibility we were going to be able to get as a small group of three people with no marketing team, and I thought this was a good opportunity to reach people who like tech, Intel and video games, to drive some traffic for us. And two, as the only engineer on the project, I really appreciated having very technical people from Intel reach out and talk to me about tech and help me do profiling of the game—it made me feel like I was part of a team of engineers again. So it’s been interesting to see what Intel’s process is like, and it's been an absolute joy to work with the people there.
MJC: That’s great to hear! Can you elaborate a bit on how the Intel GameDev BOOST program helps Afterburner Studios grow?
Robert: Intel has provided support with social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. Campaigns like these create a lot of impressions over a period of time—the familiarity you get with a product the more often you see it.
Additionally, when we talk with potential partners, I point to our relationship with Intel to show that we're a studio to be taken seriously. Working with one of the largest tech companies on the planet gives people confidence that we know what we’re doing. It is very important in business development—for relationship building.
I can say that our relationship with Intel is nothing but positive. The Intel BOOST Program is something I’m happy to put the time towards because of the potential it offers my business, and because I really like what you’re trying to accomplish.
MJC: Step-one for game developers joining the BOOST program is earning Runs Great on Intel® technology certification. You’ve done that. What does that certification mean for Dreamscaper?
Robert: We want Dreamscaper to hit a more mass-market appeal than most of the other games in our genre. I love Intel(R) hardware, but it’s not the dedicated GPU that most hardcore gamers are looking for. However, there is a growing user base of more casual gamers—the gaming market is growing rapidly.
So, we’re trying to be the “gateway drug to rogue-lites”, and the only way for that to happen is to have as low a barrier-to-entry as possible. To do that, I think we need to support Intel® Graphics Technology. I saw the opportunity to get in touch with and get to know people at Intel, so I could continue to work towards making sure the game runs as well as possible on as large an array of hardware imaginable—so we can really deliver on being a highly-accessible game that just about anyone can enjoy.
MJC: When and where can gamers get to play Dreamscaper?
Robert: Right now what’s live is the alpha demo. People can find that today on Steam, on itch.io, and Game Jolt. The game is free to download and try yourself. Some users have already put in 50+ hours in the demo, so we’re definitely offering a lot of free content that can be played.
We’ll do a closed beta by the end of this year for those who backed us on Kickstarter, and we’re allowing pre-orders on Humble Bundle. The full launch will be in early 2020.
MJC: Thanks, Robert. You have an exciting story here, and we’re glad to be part of it.
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Dreamscaper Trailer on YouTube: A surreal, Binding of Isaac-style Hack and Slash, players battle a nightmarish depression that lives in a young woman’s subconscious.
Michael J. Coppock is an expert in PC game performance and has been with Intel since 1993. He helps game companies get the most out of Intel® GPUs and CPUs.