Inside Independent Game Studio Dark Rift Entertainment
Published on Dec 17, 2015 by Sean Kantrowitz
Kevin Cooper was a working paralegal studying to become a lawyer when he realized he wasn’t passionate about the direction his career was heading in. Inspired by his childhood friend Nigel Nikitovich (who had attended Full Sail University, graduated from the Computer Animation program, and started a career at game studio Blizzard Entertainment), Kevin enrolled in Full Sail’s Game Art degree program. It was during his time in school that he began planting the seeds of the idea for a gaming company that would pay homage to the games that he and his friends played as kids – and expand upon them to create a new breed of gaming experiences. That company became Dark Rift Entertainment, and Kevin wouldn’t be steering that ship alone.
“The entire plan from the get-go was for me to go to Full Sail and learn to work on games, and Nigel would continue working in the game industry, and when I was done with school we would unite and start our own company,” Kevin says. “Every night after class, I would go home and call Nigel up on Skype. We would talk about the details for hours.”
The plan was set into motion after Kevin graduated in 2014 and started Dark Rift as President of the company. Nigel joined the team in Irvine, CA as Vice-President/Creative Director. Edo Von Muralt, a classmate of Kevin’s in the Game Art program and a frequent participant for many of the Skype sessions, became Dark Rift’s 3D Art Generalist. After releasing their first title as a mobile game, the group – a total of eight members – decided to focus on a bigger-scale project: the company’s first PC/console game which is currently in development.
The game – whose title is still being worked out – is a fusion of visceral first/third-person action, strategic tower defense, and hero management set in an original science fiction/fantasy universe. Drawing upon the classic archetypes of charismatic heroes going head-to-head with malevolent evil forces, the group also plans to branch off into a comic book and series of graphic novels to build upon the world that the game introduces.
“We’re not just building a game, but an entire universe. We’re attempting to build a franchise,” says Kevin. “Many franchises have different genres of games, from first-person shooters to role playing to real time strategy, and many more. At Dark Rift, we wanted to create a universe/story that allowed us to branch into all those different types of games.”
“Our inspiration came from our combined gaming history – what we all enjoyed playing when we were growing up, and what we enjoy playing now as adults,” says Nigel. “It was a culmination of our experiences and our creative passions.”
Launching such a large endeavor is challenging in its own right; doing so in the realm of an independent gaming studio can at times make the process seem even more daunting. While the company has doubled in size, adding members from companies such as EA, 2K Games, and 20th Century Fox to its ranks, the act of wrangling everyone’s ideas into one unified direction can often be quite a task to handle.
“The production is a bit slower than in a major studio, which can be frustrating at times because it takes months before being able to see any results,” says Edo. “And even though we are a small team, there are still a lot of egos to manage and we had to spend a lot of time to create a structure that can accommodate everybody.”
“The advice I would give to anyone who wants to start a company is to make sure you build yourself an awesome team. If you want to do big and great things, you can’t just do it by yourself,” says Kevin. “Great ideas are created when a group of talented individuals get together and collaborate – it’s key in problem-solving and overcoming obstacles.”
While Dark Rift has faced numerous obstacles, the fact that so many of the company’s members are Full Sail alumni has definitely been an asset to their production workflow. And their hard work is paying off. The team recently partnered with Lenovo on a tower defense action project called Gamestate. These grads definitely acknowledge that their shared background has definitely given them an advantage when experiencing the pressures of completing projects on time and having to work together as a single unit.
“It’s great to be able to work with good friends who I’ve known for many years and share the same experiences that I had,” says Kevin. “Every day is like Final Project. We come in and bust our butts every day to make sure we produce the best possible product we can.”
“Our main goal for this game is to get our foot in the door of the gaming community and to give back to something that all of us have always been on the receiving end of; we also want players to respect us as game developers and storytellers,” says Nigel. “If successful in terms of reaching the amount of players we hope to reach, we would absolutely love to continue working within this franchise that we are creating.”