Last month, we spoke with some of the people behind the star attractions at the India Game Developers Conference (IGDC 2022). Along with several panel discussions and other exciting activities, many Indian gaming developers held playable demos for players to try out some of the upcoming titles.
One such game that caught our attention comes from the Hyderabad-based studio, BornMonkie. At IGDC 2022, the studio revealed more about its upcoming third-person action-horror adventure, Occult Chambers. To know more about the title and the aspirations of the studio, we caught up with BornMonkie founder VK Samhith. Samhith was quite excited about his game’s prospects following the reactions from fans at IGDC.
“The reaction was pretty overwhelmingly positive; we thought that a lot of people would butcher us,” revealed Samhith. “But it was nice to see how the community reacted.” Samhith further believed that since his studio is making a horror game, it was important for him to catch the reaction of the players during the demo. He said, “We had a lot of people saying that this was a very bold game that we picked to make, and they praised the graphics a lot as well.”
Unreal Engine 5 Empowering Game Developers
BornMonkie is part of the new breed of Indian gaming developers who are working on AAA console and PC titles instead of smartphone games. Samhith shared that one of the biggest catalysts for this change has been the introduction of Unreal Engine 5. Backing up this claim, BornMonkie is using UE5 to develop Occult Chambers.
“Single-handedly, the popularity of Unreal Engine 5 had the biggest impact,” said Samhith. Along with that, the BornMonkie founder stated that the cost of developing such AAA titles has also decreased drastically with the advent of Epic Games’ new engine. “(With UE5,) We have reached a place where you could get good rigs for INR 50,000-60,000, and you would run Unreal Engine,” explained Samhith. “This was not the case when I started the company in 2018, as rigs were very expensive.”
Existing Problems That Game Developers Face in India
However, Unreal Engine 5 hasn’t completely eradicated all the problems developers continue to face in India. Samhith described that his team currently faces two issues, one surrounding the lack of motion capture technology in India to create animation for the game. The BornMonkie founder explained that the lack of easy availability of such technology required the developers to do a lot of keyframing for the animations in the playable demo. “That is a challenge because keyframing would not give us the quality that we want,” said Samhith.
Another problem that developers continue to face to this day is funding. Samhith claimed that since BornMonkie is entirely bootstrapped, the studio has yet to raise any money from external sources. “Making a project of this scale is almost impossible with the funds that we have,” explained Samhith. “Right now, we are talking to a lot of publishers, and hopefully, we can convince someone to believe in us.”
And it won’t be long before that belief arrived, especially after BornMonkie received validation from none other than Epic Games. The company was accepted into the Epic MegaGrants program. “We waited until we had a decent quality title before we applied for the grant,” shares Samhith. “But in the long run, I would say the recognition will go a long way, and it will signal the publishers as well about what we are doing.”
Occult Chambers Inspiration and Game Details
Speaking of the game itself, BornMonkie is doing something different by developing a horror title for its first AAA venture compared to other Indian developers in the scene right now. Samhith pointed out that the inspiration for the title stems from the horror elements present in action games that he has adored over the years. This inspiration includes franchises such as Amnesia and Bioshock.
The founder clarified that Occult Chambers is an action game first, with horror elements sprinkled around it. “It starts out being a horror game,” divulged Samhith. “The first three hours is an intense, hard experience, and as a player becomes more powerful and gains a lot of abilities, it slowly transitions to action.” As Samhith pointed out, the best comparison for Occult Chambers is the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics.
Before the game’s reveal at IGDC 2022, Samhith and his team unveiled several details about the title and its development on 80 Level. He even spilled some beans on the intriguing combat system in the works.
The BornMonkie founder shed light on it during our conversation when he explained that it was heavily inspired by mythical aspects such as occult practices. “We don’t have modern weapons in the game,” added Samhith. “We only have a staff that players can use for casting spells.” Even then, players will have access to secondary weapons alongside the single primary weapon that can be upgraded. Samhith noted that the weapons system was built in such a way that it fits the narrative structure of Occult Chambers. Hence, they were born out of necessity to match the story of the game.
Challenges in Making a Horror Game
Despite being an action game, the developers are making sure to give equal focus to the horror elements of the game. This focus does come with its challenges, as Samhith explained. He explained that the developers had difficulty building scary moments and testing them out. Developers could not involve game testers early as they can’t tweak and improve a scenario. The tester could not provide a better reaction after they had already played the game and knew what was coming. Samhith said, “That has been challenging because we had few good jump scares and some that did not work, which we couldn’t have tested if we did not go to IGDC.”
As seen in the trailers released by BornMonkie, Occult Chambers has taken some inspiration from ancient Indian mythology, with elements of Aghora and whatnot. However, Samhith has clarified that the game will be set in modern times, with a protagonist who starts as a non-believer in these elements. “The whole game is set on a classic hero’s journey, where by the end of the game, he’s a changed man,” shared Samhith.
Constant Focus on Stories Related to India
At the moment, BornMonkie continues to look for a publisher to support Occult Chambers. According to its founder, the game could be up for release in 2025 if the developers lock in a publishing partner in the coming months. Despite working on its first AAA title, Samhith is already looking past the horizon with the hopes of creating an action-adventure game.
Moreover, even though the team has a global vision, the stories they want to tell will have roots in India. “We want to be on as many platforms as possible, and the only choice is to be globally appealing,” revealed Samhith. “But the stories that we tell are predominantly going to have some sort of Indian aspect.” Ultimately, BornMonkie’s vision for building its future games can be summarized in a single sentence from VK Samhith, “Even if we try, we cannot tell a story that is not out of India.”