Whether it is a classic arcade game or the more intricate Minecraft, video games always have been a staple everywhere from grocery stores to living rooms.
They captivate an individual’s attention through an alternative, animated reality that is full of action, emotions, competitiveness and brilliance.
Those are the characteristics that Anthony Forman, who is based in West Michigan, Rebecca Roman and their team that is made up of developers from around the world have decided to tap into by creating their startup, StarForged Studios, a video game company. They are developing their own video game, “Edge,” a three-dimensional game that merges two separate genres.
“There are two really popular gaming genres of adventure and building, but each one of them has something missing sometimes,” said Roman, creative director for StarForged Studios. “In a game like Minecraft, it is just about building for the most part. When you go into Minecraft, you just basically decide things that you want to do and you just do them, like, ‘I am going to build a treehouse.’ But the game doesn’t tell you to build a treehouse, you just decide that is what you feel like doing and once you do it, the game doesn’t tell you to do anything else. It doesn’t encourage anything further, so it is just what you can come up with. That leaves people feeling weird and they log off. There is just a lack of closure.”
She said adventure games can present the same sort of problem.
“In adventure games, it can feel like there is just this one-size-fits-all experience because everybody, in a lot of adventure games, goes through the exact same story. There are not a lot of choices to make. It is just you going through the same experience as the person that is sitting next to you. We wanted to combine those in a meaningful way so that building has this kind of extrinsic motivation, there is a reason to build more and continue expanding your adventure. You have something creative and unique to you.”
With that in mind, Roman describes Edge as a world that was split up into floating islands with fantasy races of people who also got split up and are hiding from each other. They also are trying to build a town that was once the hub of the entire world, but they are now isolated. They go out to try to find people to bring back to their town — people who are traveling and don’t have a home. Once they are together, they gather at the center of the town and they find blueprints and decide to build buildings. Along with building, they can create new food recipes, new weapons and things that did not previously exist.
“It is about as strong as we are alone, we are stronger together,” she said. “That community aspect. But the hook is that unlike any other game, we combine these two ideas that whenever you build something it actually helps you and your adventure.”
StarForged Studios became incorporated in 2019 while it was in the pre-production stage.
“It was probably a little too early for us to be incorporated, but it lit a fire under us because we could say we had a company, we had something to attach ourselves to and it made us work harder,” Roman said.
Forman and Roman first pitched their idea for Edge at the Burgess New Venture Challenge at the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“We had a very basic prototype of a game,” said Forman, technical director for StarForged Studios. “It captured the rudimentary element of the game, but it wasn’t the art style we wanted because art is probably the most expensive part of any game. You have to spend a lot of money on art to make it feel like an actual video game. We wanted a painted landscape and it cost a lot of money to just go through different styles and different edits. We didn’t have any of the art. We had a mannequin-looking person walking through the town with a sword that looked like a baseball bat at the time so the character could attack.”
Roman said the team had to get creative.
“A lot of the things that we got were either free online or things that you could buy,” Roman said. “There is an asset store for the game engine we use. It is used by people who are either just making games for fun or smaller studios like us, and they can buy little pieces that are licensed to them like an animation for a character or a model of a tree. It is really helpful at times, but it is really a skill to put all those things together and create a game that feels like it is not just a bunch of pieces fitting together but instead make it feel like it was made by a team.”
She said the process was painstaking.
“Especially for this game, we weren’t really good at that at the time. It looked bad, but honestly, I think it shined because we were really nervous about pitching it in real time and having to maybe play through the game while we were pitching our idea. But (because of the pandemic) we got to make this really nicely edited video where we got to pitch our idea virtually while the game footage was being shown.”
They were awarded funding from the venture challenge, and Roman and Forman later enrolled in MSU Foundation’s Conquer Accelerator’s 10-week program during the pandemic, where they began to realize the intricacies of establishing a startup.
Roman said when they initially went into the Conquer Accelerator, they overestimated how much money they would make and underestimated how much the production would cost.
“Small games can cost up to $500,000 to produce and then larger games can cost a million (dollars),” she said. “Our game is probably going to cost between $3 million and $5 million, and I estimated that we could do it for $800,000. Once we got accepted into Conquer, we had a lot of work to do. We completely redid our pitch and were not super optimistic about things. We started to get real, and we had to come up with a timeline for everything. Now, we have a really solid budget and timeline for this. We just need to get full funding to be able to bring on new team members and not just work from grant to grant.”
Roman said they are in the “pre-alpha” stage of development where all the features in the final game are not completed as yet, but the art style is built, and the basic system is complete, including the ability for the character to prepare meals.
Once they receive adequate funding, she said it will take StarForged about three years to get its product on the market.