Aboriginal: Developers at Monastic Hill Studios Talk About Their Journey as They Reveal More About Their Action-Adventure Game
In a nation where gaming is gaining prominence, some Indian developers have stepped up to create AAA games based on local stories. The endgame here is to rival the best from the international scene when it comes to visuals and gameplay.
The success of Raji: An Ancient Epic from Nodding Heads Games has inspired the development of a new crop of AAA titles. With multiple games in the pipeline, the excitement has reached fever pitch. Considering the movement in the industry, there’s never been a better time to be a budding developer to join the Indian game development scene.
One such developer that caught our eye is the Indore-based game studio, Monastic Hill. The developer teased its’ first-ever project, Aboriginal with a reveal trailer a few months ago. We spoke with the core dev team ahead of the launch of its latest announcement trailer, where we talked more about the aspirations and dreams of the studio with the upcoming title, and more.
Story of Monastic Hill – The Beginning
While speaking with the three main developers Aman, Rohan and Samarthya, it was clear that the collaboration extended far beyond their love for gaming. While Aman and Rohan are brothers, the latter has been friends with Samarthya since the first day of college.
Aman, a software engineer by day, shared the dream of making games with his brother since the beginning. Revisiting childhood, the duo spent most of their time playing “WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain” in internet gaming cafes, a concept that Gen Alpha gamers would have no idea about.
Though Aman, Rohan, and Samarthya lived apart in different countries and cities, the three always wanted to create a gaming startup together. “Why work for someone else when we can do our own stuff,” said Aman. Soon, the pandemic pushed them to accelerate their plans to jump into the game development industry. Rohan stated, “We thought, ‘Let’s do it now,’ instead of 5 or 10 years down the line, and that’s how we started.”
Aboriginal and its creation
When asked about their first project in Aboriginal, Aman shared that the idea for the game stemmed from his love for writing short stories during his teenage years. Aman revealed that over the years, he has accumulated around 250 ideas that can be adapted into video games. He hopes to bring many of them to life with Monastic Hill Studios.
It was easy to see that Aman is the artistic genius behind the whole operation at The Hill while Samarthya and Rohan serve as the technical backbone of the studio. Aman stated that the idea for Aboriginal first came about in 2018 when he wrote the initial draft of the story. Later, during the pandemic, Rohan attempted to build a video game involving an endless circular train on an island. Eventually, this attempt became the base idea, and it soon took off to transform into a much bigger thing.
The core gameplay concept of the endless train and the story based around an island came together to infuse with a third idea that Aman envisioned. This third aspect revolved around the Jarawa and Sentinelese tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. After researching about these uncontacted tribes, Aman was quite intrigued about Indigenous people. He was fascinated that these tribes had no knowledge of the outside world. He said, “They are untouched by civilization. So, we do not know about them, and they don’t know about us, and that created a story opportunity.”
Coming up with the name of the game
Before it received the name Aboriginal, the working title of the game was Project Game One. Aman outlined that the word Aboriginal means native to a place. This is in line with the story of the game that centers around the relationship between two brothers, their connection to the “uncontacted” island and their haunting origin. The conflict in the game draws inspiration from multiple popular stories involving brothers. This includes Rama and Bharata from the Ramayana, Cain and Abel from the Book of Genesis, Thor and Loki from Norse mythology, and more. Aman summarized the simplicity of the story with the statement, “It will be a tale of two brothers who are just trying to find their roots.”
Setting of Aboriginal
Aboriginal will feature two major locations in the game. While most of the story takes place on the uncontacted island, the title will also include a contrasting urban mainland. When asked about some of the game’s most exciting additions, Aman shared that the team is enthralled by the idea of exploring the backstories of characters through linear memory sequences. The studio has also highlighted this aspect in the announcement trailer.
Though the developers have big aspirations with Aboriginal, the trio have asked the gaming community to temper down their expectations about the scope of the main campaign in the game. “It won’t be like the big titles, which have 16 to 20 hours of gameplay,” revealed Aman. “We are aiming for around 6-10 hours at least, with a really rich story-driven experience, where each and every moment is tailored by us. We don’t want to waste your time and increase the gameplay time without any motive.”
Using Unreal Engine 5 for Aboriginal
The team is using Unreal Engine 5 (UE5) from the start to build the FPS title. In addition, the developers are also working on photo-realistic graphics, something that you may have seen on titles like Metro Exodus from 2019. Aman clarified, “We don’t want stylized graphics. Although there is nothing wrong with them, it just doesn’t deliver the punch as hard as we want.”
The developers at The Hill have shared rave reviews about UE5. This is in line with what other Indian game devs have shared with India in the past. “With Unreal Engine 5, it has become a lot easier for a small team like us today to realize big ideas,” said Rohan. Aman added, “If it was like this even five years ago, it would have been unimaginable. We would have to make our first title with a small vision, but now we feel that we can go big.”
The developers further revealed that the story will follow the perspective of both brothers. However, unlike games like Grand Theft Auto V, where you can easily switch between characters, Aboriginal will be a bit restrictive. Moreover, thanks to the game’s fantastical elements, both brothers will offer something different when it comes to gameplay. Digging into the details, the developers shared that, while the elder brother will offer strength, the younger brother possesses agile reflexes and speed.
Plans for Aboriginal extend beyond games
Monastic Hill Studios has not limited its plans about Aboriginal to their upcoming video game. Instead, the studio hopes to create a transmedia project with the upcoming title. Dubbed the “World of Aboriginal,” the trio has plans to expand upon the ideas introduced in the game, which includes the history surrounding the uncontacted tribes and more. One of their ideas also includes an animated series with different episodes that set up the lore of the game leading up to its release.
While the focus remains on developing Aboriginal, the creators are thrilled by the idea of world-building that helps them set up a major IP for the studio. Aman shared, “We are doing the easier thing first, which is telling the story and getting the people invested in the world. And then you can actually live in the world that we developed for you (through Aboriginal).”
The studio’s dream to undertake a project like this has its roots in the trio’s plans to make Aboriginal with a community-based milestone system. The trio is hoping to build a connection with the Indian gaming audience with the help of this milestone system. Aman highlighted the importance of this initiative by adding, “The most important demographic is the Indian people. We want them to play the game.” He went on to state, “If anyone outside the country plays it, that’s a good thing for us. But primarily, the target audience is Indian. That is why we are localizing it into Hindi as well.”
The next steps for Monastic Hill
With the announcement trailer for Aboriginal out now, the team at The Hill moves into the next phase. This phase centers around developing a playable demo that they wish to release during the first quarter of 2023. From there on, the team will focus on the production of the game, which includes building out Aboriginal’s mechanics, locations, and more, As part of the production, the studio also plans to expand its development team. “We are trying to hire people as soon as we nail down the publisher, investors, and everything,” said Aman. Interested game developers might want to keep an eye out for potential positions at Monoastic Hill in the near future.
Sky is the limit
In the end, when asked about the team’s aspirations for the Aboriginal franchise and the studio, Aman, and co. shared that they plan on building games for the next 20-30 years. The trio wants to create games with the stories that Aman has on his mind. Rohan explained, “We don’t have any shortage of ideas because after this, I think we love some other idea, and after that, there’s others. So yeah, we are going to put out a lot of superb experiences in the coming years.”
“The first game is going to be very constricted like my ambition is. I would say it is very limited in the game,” added Aman. “But as we move to the next game. We will have larger budgets and bigger teams. So, once we have all that, my ambition will run wild, and we will develop even bigger experiences.”
This confirms that the trio of bumbling developers at Monastic Hill Studios are looking at a bright future, which contains sequels, animation projects, and more.