The people behind Vigil Games turned Crytek USA turned Gunfire Games believe in a new sort of studio: A core team of seasoned developers that can create AAA hits on an indie budget.
Founder David Adams calls it a AAA indie, a mid-sized studio approach born out of today's environment of gamers' acceptance of a myriad of price tags for games, and the plethora of funding options for developers.
"For us it's really exciting, we learned a lot of stuff, we are a really strong, efficient team and I think we can fit a spot in the industry where we can build games as an indie team that at first blush may not look like an indy game," Adams said. "We can deliver a level of fidelity, of polish but do it with our small team and the industry is at a place where you can actually do that and put it out and be successful."
For Vigil Games, maybe this third time will be the charm.
Founded in 2005, the developers behind the Darksiders series were purchased by THQ a year later, only to go under with the company when it went bankrupt in 2013. But much of the team was picked up Crytek to form Crytek USA.
That didn't work out either.
Last year, Adams and a core group of the original team left Crytek to form Gunfire Games. Of the 22 people who make up the team, all but two are from Vigil.
"We just like working together," Adams said. "It's a really talented group."
The decision to leave Crytek was fueled by a number of things, not least of which was how welcoming the development scene is today to small and mid-sized developers. A major shift, Adams says, from 2005.
"When we started Vigil, either you got a big-ass triple-A publisher or you just didn't make games," he said. "Going from there to now where it's like there's a full spectrum: there's $60 games, there's $20 game, there's free games, there's 99 cent games. There's a lot of slots you can fit your game into."
"That element of adventure is something I would always try to incorporate in a game we do."
Gunfire games has been paying the bills by doing work for hire for a variety of studios and games, including some work with Oculus Rift. Now, Adams said, the studio has gotten to the point where it can also do a bit of work on its own original title.
"We've been working on it for a couple of months," he said. "It's still pretty early.
"It's not a triple-A game, it's not Grand Theft Auto, it's not the next God of War, but we're also not making a four man team 2D game."
Instead the title fits neatly into what Adams sees as a new niche.
"I look at a game like Payday or Left 4 Dead, they could have been made by a mid-sized indie team, they're not like big budget games, but they're still fun-ass games," he said. "That's a niche we'd like to fill."
In approaching this first new IP for the studio, Adams said they looked at a variety of ways to seek funding but settled on using the money raised through work-for-hire to pay for the game.
This month the team went to the annual DICE conference to look for publishers not just for the game they've been quietly working on, but two other pitches they could get behind.
Adams said he couldn't tell me much about the title they've been working on most, when I asked.
"I can tell you the kind of games we like to make, it's in that spectrum," he said. "I love any game with some element of adventures. That was one of the big things in Darksiders, we didn't want to make just a God of War game, we wanted to make a game where there was an adventure and cool secrets and places to explore.
"Pretty much our entire existence was making Darksiders."
"Even Hunt, Hunt was kind of that way where you had these cowboys going out into the swamp to hunt down these guys. But it had that really cool kind of pick up a gun and go on an adventure element. It was always more than the combat.
"We like a lot of different genres and settings, so it's not necessarily going to be tied to a setting we've done before, but that element of adventure is something I would always try to incorporate in a game we do."
The game Adams was talking around is an original IP, one that is still pretty "formative," he said. "We have three pitches: The stuff we've been working on, but we also want to keep our options open."
In some ways, that's what powered the decision to suddenly leave Crytek last summer. Essentially, Adams said, it came down to who they'd rather bet their futures on: Crytek or themselves.
"There was some ups and downs at Crytek and at some point we were like, 'You know what, we might as well run our own studio,'" Adams said. "It's the same amount of headaches and pressure and work and not near as much upside.
"So we just took the leap."
The decision and the shift away from both Darksiders and then Crytek's Hunt: Horrors of the Gilded Age, still feels odd, Adams said.
"It's weird, I founded Vigil with a couple of different guys," he said. "Pretty much our entire existence was making Darksiders and that was a good seven, eight years.
"We were just flying by the seat of our pants, but after the first game we sat down and kinda figures out where we wanted the trilogy to go. So yeah, it's a little frustrating not getting to finish it, but you know, I guess that's just what happens sometimes in the game industry."
If and when Nordic Games, the owners now of the Darksiders IP, were to make that third game in the trilogy, Adams says he hopes they would turn to Gunfire Games to do it.
"They said they would want people from the original trilogy involved," he said. "It's tricky though, we had 70, 80 people working on Darksiders 2, now we're this small indie team. It's not necessarily a good fit, so who knows."
Then at Crytek, the team was given a new project, one that Douglas always wanted to make. He calls the Hunt a cowboy hunting monsters game.
"THQ went bankrupt, so we went to Crytek and then Crytek had some issues so we left there," Adams said. "It was hard, in both cases. In one case we walked away from Darksiders, which is an awesome game. Hunt was also an awesome game. I always wanted to make a cowboy hunting monsters game, it was on my bucket list of games to make. It's just awesome, how can you not like cowboys hunting monsters? That's just bad ass.
"It was hard to walk away from that, but the situation dictated what we did, and now we're working on another game that is on the bucket list.
"Fingers crossed, hopefully that will come out."