“An animator one week ago reached out and told us that Raji was the first game he sat with his parents and they played the entire game together. That has never happened before in his entire life.”- Avichal Singh
Raji: An Ancient Epic is developed by Nodding Head Games. It is an action-adventure storyline, where the human realm is witnessing a demonic invasion. In such a setting, Raji, a young girl, has been chosen as the one to defend humankind and defeat the demons.I was fortunate enough to interview the founders Ian, Avi, and Shruti about their development and the importance of Indian representation as a growing sector.
Introduction to Raji Game and Indian Representation
Avi: “The fact that we come from the hard transition of gamers to game developers ourselves means we had grown up knowing that there wasn’t a game you play as a Indian character moving around in a Indian environment. I think that was the first kind of inspiration. That and knowing that we had the skills to pull it off. I mean this is going back in 2014 when Ian, Shruti, and I met. This was at a design college and we knew that we were surrounded by tal
ented folks. We knew we had the competency to pull this off. After that we were able to become a team, and things started to materialize for the following two years. We set out on our ambitions to put India on the game development map, but through a high quality game. That was the mission and now that the game is out, so many people have reached out to us with great reception. For example, like a few minutes ago, one of the biggest rappers in the Indian scene messaged us on Instagram saying it was his dream to make something like this. And we’ve done it for him. And we’ve got a lot of messages like that since release that makes all this a very humbling experience to see the full circle becoming complete.
Game Dev Scene in India
Avi: The game industry in India is very young. There’s only like a handful of studios doing games for PC and consoles. But the market has had exponential growth in recent years and now there are three-hundred plus studios in India. The elderly are still not aware of it, though. Because generally, we, ourselves, still have a lot of trouble explaining what we do back home. People think I’m an animator and I have no idea how to explain to them what a game designer is. Actually, forgetting the older generations, even explaining what I do to the people who studied with me in school can be a difficult experience.
But with Raji, we see that changing. For example, an animator one week ago reached out and told us that Raji was the first game he sat with his parents and they played the entire game together. That has never happened before in his entire life. In addition to that, the Prime Minister of India also came in support of making games on Indian folklore. So it says this is a start. But, of course, these things take years and even decades and generations to go into the mindset of people that making games is an actual industry and something that your kid can pursue.
I think Ian and Shruti can speak to this more and saw this throughout their teaching experience for College. They were game trainers and they had parent teacher meetings all the time and could talk more about the students’ experience.
Shruti: In India, there’s a lot more game artists in general who are working on animated series and movies. So I think that artists are a lot more accepted as a profession in India. There’s a lot more people who are aware about how animators, character artists, and environment artists can work in games and movies. However, a designer or programmer is something still not in the grand picture yet. Definitely artists are something parents are slowly opening up to because there’s so many studios in India that are outsource studios and it’s a profession people commonly look into. There are many resources for learning 3D softwares and stuff that are available.
Ian: When I started out in the industry 20 years ago. My dad would ask of me, “What do you do?” I think the best way I could describe it was “Listen, I’m a virtual painter and decorator.” Soon as I said that he would understand.
I had to go back and get my visa sorted out a couple years ago and I was working on a character. My mom sat down with me and then she just literally just looked over my shoulder watching what I was doing the whole time. I was able to break it down for her and showed her how everything works and so on. In very layman terms. She responded by saying “The dedication to your craft is amazing. You’ve all got very good work ethic to do this.”
Another story I can share is about my sister. She’s got a young boy and he’s about twelve years old. So he loves Fortnite and stuff like that. And he’s got our game recently and was playing in his living room and messaged me saying he’s loving the game! It is a generational thing. I think people in India have the same expectations as England. The expectation is that you follow in the footsteps of so and so. So you’re going to be a lawyer, engineer, doctor, etc. But when you say something about the arts, that’s when people are a little bit worrisome, I suppose, because they don’t know too much about that.
In terms of game education in India…
Ian: There are very few decent schools that offer competent courses. When we were teaching we had to rewrite the curriculum because it wasn’t up to present standards. It’s funny because I recall how some students were complaining about how our standards were too high and we had to respond that this is industry standard. It is one of those things that if you can’t hack this then you’re going to have to really sit down and practice or really question why you want to do this?
Shruti: After I received my degree, I taught a course in animation and 3D art. Students then were graduating with the thought process of replicating from a reference image. ‘This is my way and I’m not going to think otherwise and try something new.’ But when we were teaching we introduced more broader thinking. Like how this will help support the game design? We were promoting students to think about the broader bigger picture and not just copying references. But how your work is related to the design team and how it can affect the game overall.
Now that the internet is so widely available, the students have access to online communities. They can talk to artists around the world. They can follow artists on Artstation. They are a lot more aware of what the standard is and they want to reach that certain standard and have aspirations to work for certain companies or start their own game.
Ian: One of the wonderful things that I’ve said to students is that “ I might have a lot of experience, but I don’t know everything and by the end of the academic year I want you to show me something I don’t know.”
CoVID in India and its effect on Raji
Avi: We’ve been crunching since February and the Nintendo Switch release was happening in August. The hardcore crunch started and we were six months from it all being over. ‘We will finish the game and go on a vacation’ or so we thought. We would go to the beach! We’ve worked so hard to release the game and now we are just trapped because of Covid.
Ian: Like we can’t even do anything and am under house arrest.
Shruti: It has affected our team as well where before things could be easily solved by talking to each other in a room but now everything has to take place on a web call.At least, near launch where we needed everyone together it was difficult for us and slowed communication.
Ian: We saw it coming and prepared for the pandemic by dispersing the team because the worst thing that we wanted to happen was for one anyone to be sick and in turn delay the game. Obviously, health comes first. We’re constantly talking on slack and discord and have to constantly test the game. Some bugs are better to be solved locally and, of course, things keep coming up when you near launch.
Shruti: Our apartment here is both our office and our home. But before there was an escape by going to the gym or at least having some way to go somewhere. However, now we would be stuck between computers all the time and that can be a horrible experience.
Maintaining Deadlines Despite the Pandemic
Avi: I think we’ve done a pretty good job because we did release the game on time. It was insanity at some points. Well, many points.
Ian: In spite of Covid, our schedule did not change. Yeah, we did what we had to do and we had to hit our milestones all the way along. We’ve had to adapt.
Shruti: We had a Nintendo world showcase and we couldn’t miss that.
Avi: Of course we cannot let that slip, so we had to do it. When the lock down started in the early couple of months when the world was figuring out the right response. The team didn’t just go into lockdown, we just called it crunch.
But now it feels endless. We went through a lot and we just want to relax on a beach now.
Working with Remote Teams and Online Promotion
Ian: We’ve got the visual effect artist in Brazil, a composer in Greece, and one of the cutscene animators lives in Melbourne, Australia. So we had to juggle all this as well as running the company making sure everything is done. Like looking for voice over actors and working on the narrative script in conjunction. Obviously we came up with the story, and we had help with that as well in the UK. So there were several plates spinning at the same time.
Avi: You don’t get face to face feedback when working remotely. But I will say because of the pandemic, everyones is pretty much at home. So the exposure at the Steam Game Festival and we got a very good response in the Xbox Summer Festival. And by response, I mean we had good feedback at the end of it and the number of people who played Raji was in thousands. So many people took time to actually write down detailed feedback and, of course, help shape the game further. The face to face interaction is missing, but we also know that not everyone will be totally honest face to face, and it’s different when they’re sitting behind the computer.
Avi: Raji launched on Nintendo Switch and it’s on the E shop.And for everyone who’s thinking, what about Steam, Epic Games Store, PS4, Xbox games launching on October 15th and you guys can follow us on social media on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram or Reddit.
And you will find us all. Go to our website Raji: An Ancient Epic.
Ian: We just been getting so much love from everyone and everyone saying “not to give up. Keep going.” The family has been brilliant. Again, you’ve got to live the dream or else it’ll be in the back area of your mind for the rest of your life if you don’t do this. I want to thank the fans, the people at Epic Games for the grants. We couldn’t have been where we are without them because in 2018 we got a grant there that helps out immensely. And NVIDIA for their support.
Shruti: I would just like to say that I hope whoever is gonna play the game I hope they enjoy the game. We’ve really put our heart and soul into it and it’s a story that’s personal to the team. It’s a special story because it also showcases Hindu and Balinese mythology, something that hasn’t been explored in games before. So that’s hope people season finds interest in the story and the things that we’re trying to say through the game. So just really hope that everybody loves it!