islandbackground-small

A Quest to Launch

I originally posted this on the Scarlet City Studios blog here

So here we are — 30 staff! With a game that’s been launched around the globe and drawing players at a faster rate than the Scarlet City Studios team could have envisioned in those early stages. More episodes being brought on line, more strategic partnerships being formed, more inroads into foreign “markets” being discovered and ventured along continually. And, on the back of the work we have done on the game itself, associated products such as the Companion Bible.

In many ways, the mission of Scarlet City Studios over the past few years has mirrored the quests that players of The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance love so much: lots of problem-solving, exploring, crafting, learning, and growing. And at the end of all of that, a deep sense of achievement and the ever-present sense that this is, as Alexander is fond of saying in the game … RESISTANCE WORK!

This particular mission started way back in 2009, when the Postal Sunday School Ministry trust board was pondering whether PSSM (a 75-year-old New Zealand ministry that sent Sunday school lessons to regional kids via the post) had any future in an age of diminishing “snail mail”, ebooks and video gaming. It was a bold move but the board was up for the mission, whatever obstacles and challenges it would generate. The board employed strategic consultants to conduct an audit on PSSM’s ministry, and that audit produced three clear conclusions:

  1. The vision of the trust board, to engage (primarily) children in the story of the Bible, was as relevant in 2009 and beyond as it was when Robert Laidlaw first had the vision.
  2. The vehicle for this vision needed to change. It didn’t take much imagination to recognise the postal system was in decline and that “a new day needs a new way”.
  3. The way to engage children in a story they have become disinterested in is to speak their language and use media they are familiar with, and which they enjoy. For many children, electronic games had replaced books, so this is where we needed to start.

And so the mission began.

As anyone who has played The Aetherlight will know, there is no direct line from problem A to solution B when it comes to fulfilling a mission as big as this. There are genuine challenges, many surprises, plenty of frustrations, and endless opportunities to learn and to grow. And grow the Scarlet City Studios team certainly did.
We began life in an old flat above an electronics shop, fittingly. The “office” had a kitchen and three “rooms”. There was enough parking for up to three cars. It was as cold as the Snowmoors before the big meltdown – but it was home! Our HQ. Mission control. There’s something very exciting about having an operational base. It makes it feel real. And of course it was real, very much so. This was reinforced to us when we hired our very first international team member — our first Art Lead came all the way from Italy. It’s not only the likes of Alexander/Abraham who answer the call from the far country! Somehow, in this tiny space, we grew to have eight staff.

They were uncertain but dynamic times. In 2012, we moved from this small location into an actual office building. We doubled our floor space. We had to remove a few walls and we painted some of the remaining walls with whiteboard paint. We bought some cheap curtains that didn’t look so cheap once they were up. But we did all the work ourselves — Hammer Time!! We made our Sound Designer’s room soundproof (without using egg cartons). And we purchased our very first coffee machine. Nothing says, It’s real, like a coffee machine. The amount we consumed was a sign of things to come. It was here — probably nurtured by the coffee — that the team really began to flourish. We hired animators, developers, and 3D artists. The team grew so much that in 2015 we had to move again — we doubled our floor space, which meant that — if you’re keeping up with the maths — we’re now four times bigger than when we started. Exponentially speaking. Which also meant that we had to upgrade our coffee machine. Only espressos from here on in.

So, for those of you who are still counting, here are the numbers of the mission so far: 5 babies born, 3 weddings, and (sadly) 5 funerals for loved ones; 3 different studio locations; 40 thousand lines of code; thousands of hand drawn assets; at least 3 different core game designs; countless hours of custom-composed music, sound effects, and dialogue; numerous website builds and rebuilds, blog posts, trips around New Zealand, Australia, and all over the United States; thousands of Skype calls, phone calls, millions of chat messages; user tests at four different schools with hundreds of students; infinite numbers of things checked and rechecked, fixed, double-fixed, and fixed again.

All of which adds up to this: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. That doesn’t mean mission over, by any means. There’s lots of hard work still go on many fronts. But what began as a bold decision by the trust board of a faithful Sunday school ministry has been realised in vivid, digital colour, the creation of a world in which children (and adults) can participate in the story of the Bible in a way they never have before, in a language they can understand, in an environment they love.

You’ve got to be happy with that.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: