If you take a shot at the king, you best not miss. Toadman Interactive is a recently established Swedish company made up of Dark Souls fans who want to cement their place in the annals of Soulslike history with their upcoming title Immortal: Unchained. The studio plans to do this with the help of a lean, experienced team of around twenty passionate developers who love the genre.
“Being a small studio is fun,” says CEO Robin Flodin. “I really enjoy it. We have quite an experienced team for the games industry. They’ve been in the industry for at least seven years. Some up to 15 or 16 years.”
Staying relatively small means that more members of the team are able to get their hands dirty. Long-standing industry veterans are able to muck in rather than directing from on high.
“We get a lot of people coming from the bigger studios wanting to work with us because they get to be involved again in game development,” says Flodin. “Not just tell other people what to do, but actually be part of the process. It’s much more fun and it’s much more engaging and you actually get more done in a small team than you do in bigger teams.”
It’s with this philosophy in mind that the developer goes about creating its unabashedly double-A title Immortal: Unchained. This is despite doom-mongers decrying the death of games that dare to tread the no man’s land between triple-A and indie. Flodin rolls his eyes at the very notion.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” he says. “But I am kind of happy about the fact that people think that, so we get to be alone in this space. This keeps happening with the game industry. And then someone releases a game that’s great in that genre and it sells a lot and then people say ‘oh, double-A is back again!’
“It’s kind of like when the PC was ‘dead’. And then Valve made Steam and then it wasn’t dead anymore. In the end I think for gamers all that’s important is: ‘Do I get to play a great game? Do I want to buy it?’. Of course there are things that happen in the market, but I think it’s silly that as soon as something doesn’t work for maybe a year or so or someone keeps fucking up around something they just decide that it’s over.
“In the end you have to look at: are great games coming out that were marketed well that didn’t sell, or are the games not good enough? Or did they not reach their audience in the right way? That’s how I perceive it.”
Bold words from someone looking to enter one of the most hardcore genres, with its passionate fans that expect high quality. When you’ve been brought up on Dark Souls it’s easy to be disappointed. So how is Toadman going to ensure the level of quality that their audience anticipates?
“I think it’s all about execution,” Flodin says. “When we launch this year we’ll have been in development for three years and a lot of that time will have been spent on the basic mechanics of the game. The controls, the feeling of movement, how enemies interact. That is one of the hardest things. I would say that didn’t fall into place until six months ago. I’ve worked on a lot of productions and that’s usually the case.
“You have to be able to keep investing. Our investor has been very understanding, and I’ve had to explain to him over and over again how we work and we want to work. A lot of reasons I think that games end up the way they do is because they don’t have the time to actually get to that feeling that you need to have when you play a good game. You know, when you start up a game and it just feels right. I think that has been one of the bigger problems with the less successful [Soulslike] titles. Maybe they’re great ideas but they’re not executed to the level you need for these types of games.”