Welcome to the first part in our new series – Developer Focus, a section where we reach out to various development studios and talk to them about their current, past and future projects and try to find out more about the day-to-day aspects of running the studio and making games. For our first part, we sat down recently to speak with Ricardo Cesteiro, one of three co-founders for Camel 101, an independent video game studio based out of Portugal, North America and Croatia. Camel 101 are currently working on Syndrome, a sci-fi survival horror game that places players inside a living hell aboard a doomed starship.
The facts are a little bit unclear as we ask Camel 101 co-founder Ricardo Cesteiro about when the company was founded, but not without good reason: “We were founded in 2009 if I’m correct. 2008/2009, this is actually our second company, that’s why the timeline sometimes gets a bit blurry, our first company was Camel Entertainment, founded in 2006 but we were very green, made some bad business choices with investors and eventually closed the company, and started Camel 101.”. It definitely seems to have been a crazy ride for the dynamic trio: the Cesteiro brothers Bruno and Ricardo and Boris Raguza. They run a tight ship over at their studio of which they are the only three permanent employees spread across three countries.
Under Camel Entertainment, they released just a few games with another handful being cancelled as they had to close the operation down. Naturally, we were curious if that was difficult for them. “It was, the whole situation was pretty bad, closing a company is never easy, but it was a fresh start with Camel 101” Ricardo states. However, he also adds that there are no plans to resurrect the cancelled titles, as they were of a more casual persuasion and the company is trying to move away from that market currently. The fresh start seems to have breathed new life into the studio as since 2009 they’ve released a total of six games plus a collection of children’s games.
Naturally, we had to ask Ricardo which of them was his favourite. Even more naturally, he found it difficult to give a definitive answer: “I always put everything into the games. I like to expand the story, focus on small details and characters so every game is like a child to me. It’s hard to choose but maybe our previous game, Mechs & Mercs: Black Talons. It’s a futuristic wargame and it has one of my favorite settings, plus it has mechs.”.
After the release of Mechs & Mercs early last year, the team has decided to move onto the first person horror genre with the upcoming Syndrome slated for release later this year. We were curious what made them move away from strategy and tactical games to the ever-growing first person horror market: “Well, several things. Strategy games are cool, I love strategy games (and the guys from the team love them too) but we wanted to create an experience where the player was closer to the action. We wanted to create more detail, an immersive experience but we didn’t want to work on a shooter so, since we’re all horror and sci-fi fans we decided to do [Syndrome] and also business-wise we wanted to try something that works on PC and consoles as well because Steam is getting a bit overcrowded.”
Ricardo is very confident in the state of the game, as he boasts a 99.9% completion rate on the core of the game and in terms of content, with testing and polish underway. As the game is slated for a July release later this year, Ricardo’s confidence may not be misplaced even though he does confess it can sometimes be taxing to test gameplay: “Although it gets repetitive to see the same things 100 times, I can still enjoy it, I hope I can still enjoy it after a 100 more.” Syndrome will also have VR support and it was developed with VR in mind. Ricardo is a self-confessed “fool for VR” but admits that there are some issues still to look into. When asked about some of the challenges that came with exploring VR as a medium he gave us some very interesting insight: “The biggest challenge is actually in game design, some things like GUIs, tooltips, floating text, cutscenes don’t work very well in VR, cutscenes for example completely break the immersion since the player is “transported” to another camera.”
We decided to step away from discussing Syndrome and find out more about Camel 101 as a company. As we said before, the three founders are the only permanent staff and the people handling the technical aspects of development, with things outside their areas of expertise being outsourced. Sometimes it’s as easy as looking for good concept artists on DeviantArt, as Ricardo confesses, or make an actual casting call on voice123. While the team has found some promising talents in the past, apparently the freelance voice actor world is short on Nolan Norths, as they’ve had less success in having one person to playing multiple roles. Of course, searching on Deviant Art comes with its own set of “perils”: “Sometimes I go there searching for something and then I start clicking on related images and after some time I forget what I was doing there, I’m just looking at amazing images, really really talented people. I wish i had 1% talent some of them have.”. Camel 101 also elected to go with a PR agency for Syndrome‘s marketing campaign and so far they seem pleased with the exposure they’ve been getting.
With the three founders spread across three countries: Portugal, Croatia and the United States, growing a larger permanent team would be challenging but definitely a long-term goal for the studio: “If we could, we would grow the team and do everything internally. That’s what we have in mind for the coming years but since we don’t have that possibility yet we have to rely on outsourcing. The advantage is that we can “group” all the work that we need and order it at any given time since it’s mostly stuff that’s not needed at the start/middle of the project.”
We’re always curious about how a typical day at a game studio goes. Camel 101 offered us a unique perspective given their setup and structure, and it’s not one that anyone who’s ever worked from home will find alien: “We all work from home and at different times. Bruno is 8 hours behind, Boris is 1 hour in advance so as I turn on the computer, I always have emails from Bruno, who is the latest one to “leave the office” so to say. When he needs things urgently he asks me over email so when he comes back everything is ready. I’m responsible for game design/story/level design so when he has some questions or doubts, I try to answer them or solve the problem ASAP so we can actually use being in different timeframes. The only problem with working from home is that many times I tend to “forget” that it’s time to stop. “I’m only finishing this”, then a couple of hours have passed and a couple more and then it’s midnight and I’m still on the computer
I think it only happens because we’re working on something that we really enjoy, but sometimes I have to force myself to stop at a given time: “Go rest! Watch a movie or something!”. We’re always on Skype so in a way it’s almost like we were in the same space. Our number one tools are Skype, Email and FTP. Bruno is coding, Boris is creating or animating models and I’m writing something or testing or whatever, I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff.”
When asked about studios he admires, Ricardo gave an answer we half-expected: “Frictional games is one of them, I love their games. No one knew them and they kind of revived a genre and even set new rules for a horror game with no guns. I absolutely loved SOMA, a few days after I had finished the game the ending was still on my mind. [Frictional] came out of nowhere and made their mark.”. As for story, Ricardo is a fan of BioWare and especially the Mass Effect franchise. Of course, making games is not without its own set of sacrifices:
“I don’t play as much as I would like these days…lack of time, but when I was playing any of these somehow I always found time. The last months have been really full with development, the only thing I’ve played recently isn’t very recent Metro: Last Light.”. On games he’s looking forward to in the near future, Ricardo shares our anticipation and enthusiasm for Dawn of War III, Total War: Warhammer, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and No Man’s Sky.
In closing we wanted to know more about Camel 101’s plans for future titles and expectations for Syndrome: “We have several projects on paper. One of them is a space strategy/adventure/RPG the other is a first person horror game with different mechanics and we have some other ideas still in the air. But first, we want to see the reception that Syndrome has. The feedback we’ve gathered from the events where we showcased the game was excellent, folks really enjoyed the game. It was really nice, most people didn’t play for less than 30 minutes. These days a game needs exposure or else it gets buried under a ton of other releases.”
That it does. We thank Ricardo and the folks at Camel 101 for their time and we wish them good luck with their projects.
Syndrome is scheduled for release in 2016 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac and Linux.