Immortals of Aveum director on the Hero’s Journey, development during a pandemic & launching a debut title
For any new studio, the release of a debut game is a big deal. But for Ascendant Studios and its debut title, Immortals of Aveum, it may very well be a little more than that. Boasting stunning visuals, a unique story and a fantastical setting where magic is your weapon, Immortals of Aveum has come through difficult circumstances to get to this point.
Having started from the ground up with a fledgling studio, Immortals of Aveum has been developing for several years, the bulk of which was made even more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in overcoming adversity, Immortals of Aveum is now almost in the hands of excited players.
We had the opportunity to talk to Bret Robbins, the game’s director and founder and CEO of Ascendant Studios, about the development process, bringing characters to life and what we can expect from the game.
With Immortals of Aveum so close to release, the first question we had for Bret was about how he’s feeling. With years of hard work about to reach a finish line, it was bound to bring out a lot of emotion in himself and the team at Ascendant Studios.
“I feel great,” he said.
“It's been five years of really hard work through very trying circumstances and to be on the other end of it with a beautiful game that I am so proud of and is so fun to play, it is everything I wanted it to be.”
When it came to developing a AAA title during an unprecedented pandemic, a new studio could easily have buckled under the pressure. But, Ascendant grabbed the bull by the horns and continued to develop Immortals of Aveum.
“Covid was certainly a challenging time,” Robbins recounts, “but we were able to keep that creative spirit alive, even though we were working remotely.”
“We were able to figure out how to communicate very effectively during that time and how to keep developing for a good, two and a half years out of the five [during the pandemic], and critical years too.”
Despite being a new studio, Ascendant Studio boasts a great many industry veterans among its ranks, with developers having worked on Call of Duty titles, Bioshock and Robbins himself being one of the creative directors behind the original Dead Space (of which its 2023 remake has seen itself emerge as a game of the year contender).
When it came to the development of Immortals of Aveum, that shared experience has only enhanced the project and helped elevate it to new levels.
“The leads and directors and my senior staff are all real veterans of the industry,” he explains.
“There's a shortcut there when you're working with people like that, that they just get it and they know.
“You don't have to over-explain why we need to do this or that to make something really good. They've been there before. They've seen the challenges before. And they can get ahead of those challenges in a very efficient way. So, that kind of experience is invaluable.
“I feel like we all really work well together. I am talking with the team all day, every day, working closely with them. And I think we all have a very great working relationship. There's not a lot of ego. There's just a lot of how do we figure this out? How do we solve this problem? How do we make this even better?
“And we came together during the challenging time with Covid and developed quite a bit during that time. So the fact that we're able to overcome that as well is just a testament to how passionate everyone was.”
Jak of all trades
When it comes to a fresh IP from a new studio, it is important to have a character who is memorable and engaging. Jak, voiced and captured by Darren Barnett, who is most notably featured in Netflix’s Never Have I Ever and continuing his video game acting by proxy in the upcoming Gran Turismo movie, may just be that.
When it came to characterising Jak, creating a complex hero and seeing what makes him tick in the world of Aveum, Robbins looked to a reliable method of storytelling.
“For Jak, I wanted a classic Hero's Journey. He starts very humbly. He’s a street thief, he’s an orphan, and he’s got a small group of other street kids that he lives with,” he explains.
“He’s got a little bit of magical affinity as many people in this world do, but it's not great at all. He has a very, very tiny amount of power and through the events of the story and through trauma becomes what's called an Unforeseen, and he erupts with all this magical affinity.”
“And that basically puts him on a path to becoming a Magnus, which is a Battle Mage. And there's been a war that's ravaged Aveum for hundreds if not thousands of years. He fights in that army and ends up being very instrumental in the war itself. He becomes what's called an Immortal, which is the best of the best, the most elite of the Battle Mages in this world.”
“So, it’s a big arc for him. Some very high highs and some very low lows. I wanted it to be a very complete picture of what happens to this guy throughout this, and he changes quite a bit over the course of the story.”
“He starts out a little cocky, even wanting some revenge for what's happened in the past. But, pride comes before the fall and he makes some mistakes along the way.”
A complicated conflict
And for every protagonist, there has to be a suitable antagonist that tests our hero’s resilience. But, in the case of Sandrakk, the Tyrant of Rasharn and leader of the opposing army, his villainous origins aren’t all plain sailing.
“The one thing I didn't want to do was just to make them Capital E evil, and have them be one-dimensional,” Robbins says.
“I think every good story aspires to the idea that the bad guys never see themselves as the bad guys, they see themselves as the good guys.
“So Sandrakk has very good reasons for doing what he's doing. He may be doing them in terrible ways, but he considers himself to be following an honourable path. It just happens to be very much in conflict with our heroes.”
One of Immortals of Aveum’s key aspects is that it is a magical shooter. Rather than your typical weapons, you’ll be cycling through a variety of red, blue and green magic, each with unique properties and abilities.
When it comes to what players can expect from their magical abilities, Robbins stressed that fun should be at the forefront, and you should play around with your powers to develop an affinity with them
“I think you should just have fun with the game.” He said. “It's not the type of shooter where you're just gonna hit one button the whole time and make your way through.
“You can do that at first, but as the game progresses, we ask you to start using your different spells, your different abilities, and you're gonna need them in order to survive,” he teases.
“You should experiment. Play with the different spells, and find the ones that suit you. There are many spells, there are many different pieces of gear and there are things you can find to make your experience richer. You can find your own play style, and you can create your own build and experiment with it. Once you use your spells in the right way, the game becomes really, really fun.”
Immortals of Aveum is set to release on August 22, 2023.