Following our discussion about the barren game development scene in the Midwest, I came into contact with Bad Rhino Studios, located in Kansas City. They are the only development studio in the area working on a major product that we know of.
While the studio is young, they have an interesting story to tell as they begin work on their first project, Rising Tides, but we’ll talk more about that later. First, we’ll take a look at Bad Rhino Studios and the unique game development scene in the Kansas City area.
Ryan Manning heads the studio and has a degree in computer animation and business. “I have been rooted in the entertainment industry for probably about 13 years now,” Manning told me. “I’ve done some freelance stuff on the side for many years, but my core vein has been geared towards the military, doing simulations and kind of being a subject matter expert in game, mobile and VR technology, and how to adapt that for training using commercial games.”
Bad Rhino Studios is primarily located in the Kansas City area, but as of right now they don’t have a central studio location. Three members of the team are based out of Kansas City, with others located around the country and overseas. Manning is currently running the studio from his own home, but plans to keep the studio centrally located in the Kansas City area as the studio continues to grow.
Game development provides challenges wherever you are located, and the Midwest provides its own set of unique challenges as I discussed in my previous article focusing on the area. However, Manning has a rather positive outlook of developing games in the Midwest and is up to take that challenge head on as I learned in our interview.
A NEW FRONTIER
“I was kind of pondering the best way to describe it, and being a new frontier kind of encapsulates it the best,” explains Manning. “Kansas City is a great city. I’ve pretty much grown up here my whole life. It is a really thriving city, especially in the past five to six years or so there’s been a lot with infrastructure technology helping to boost startups that the city has taken a focus on. So it’s really a great, I guess, fertile soil is the best way to describe it.”
Manning is aware, however, that there is very much a lack of AAA game development studios in the area, which makes it a bit more of a challenge to find resources and talent. The closest AAA studio to Manning is a couple hundred miles away, in Dallas, Texas. Again,though, Manning sees it as more of an opportunity than a deterrent to starting up a studio in the area.
I asked Manning if he thought the Midwest would gain popularity in the gaming industry once the area released its first major and critically successful title.
“That’s certainly my hope,” said Manning. “It’s something that I kind of take on as a cool responsibility and opportunity. We definitely want to show the rest of the gaming industry, east coast, west coast, etc, that you can be a viable studio in the Midwest, and that it’s a great place.”
“Growing up here, I know that the city itself is great for raising a family. The cost of living is substantially lower than the coasts, and from the business aspect, there’s a lot that the city offers, a lot perks, things that will make sure that studios grow and thrive,” described Manning. “I have no doubt that part of our opportunity to be able to show that we can make great quality games that players want and be based in the Midwest, that’s certainly my hope that other studios realize the benefits and begin migrating this way.”
Manning believes that if there were more studios in the Midwest studios would have a much easier time retaining their staff as well, especially in the programming and art departments. Often, when a game is completed, these talented people are often forced to find work elsewhere on new projects and at new studios.
In the Midwest, Manning thinks studios would have a much easier time holding onto these people as they wouldn’t be “pressed to always be fighting for the next paycheck” like is often the case in coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles where cost of living is much higher.
There are a few other studios in the Kansas City area, but most are working on mobile titles, or haven’t shown signs of life in the past few years. Bad Rhino studios has a unique opportunity to become one of the first successful studios in the Midwest area, and that journey begins with their first title, Rising Tides.
You might find it a tad ironic that Bad Rhino Studios, a studio located in the middle of the country, is working on a game that takes place mostly out on the sea. Laughing, Manning tells me, “Thank goodness we have Google!”
“Rising Tides is an open-world, RPG and it’s set in the 1600s — 1800s,” said Manning. “Players embark on a journey to discover clues about the disappearance about their late uncle and kind of this mystery surrounding the involvement of the Dead Fleet, which is a cursed race of sailors, merchants, and former living persons.”
The game has been in development now for around only six to seven months, so the studio isn’t quite ready to show off the game yet, according to Manning. As of now, the core storyline, mechanics and what the game is going to be, has been established by the studio. Currently, they’re working on getting backend components and visual assets finished up before they start revealing the game to the public.
Rising Tides is being built using the Unreal Engine 4, and Bad Rhino is partnering with Nividia to help create a beautiful and believable world.
“One of the key pieces of tech we’ve been working is with Nividia and their waveworks technology,” said Manning. “Part of that decision was to really have realistic oceans. Unreal Engine gives us some beautiful tools for making the worlds, terrains, and vegetation — another part obviously being with the nautical base theme is the ocean. So that’s one of the pieces of tech we have been working with to try and get that implemented to have a very realistic, beautiful ocean with waves and so on and so forth.”
Rising Tides will be a single player title and, as of right now, I wasn’t able to get a whole lot of details from Manning regarding what the game will be like. We know it’s open world, and when asked whether the game would play more like Black Flag or Rare’s upcoming Sea of Thieves, Manning told me the game is more similar to Black Flag in terms of gameplay.
The game will have a narrative, but as Manning describes it, the game won’t exactly be narrative-focused. While Bad Rhino is going for a more realistic approach with Rising Tides, the game will also have its share of mythical fantasy elements.
“As far as the narrative goes, obviously being an indie studio we have a very limited budget, so there will be an undertone narrative, I guess is the best way to describe it,” explained Manning. “You’re definitely going to see the storyline and progression to it. However, because we don’t have that massive AAA budget, it’s not going to be real narrative driven in the sense that you’re going to be interacting with NPCs and they’re going to be talking you through the whole thing.”
“There will be some side things that players can do to kind of slow down a little bit in the game or pursue their own pathway. However, that narrative will be there to help direct and guide players through the gameplay experience.”
As of now, Manning and his team haven’t decided if they will be bringing the game to crowdfunding services or Early Access. Manning, much like a good portion of the gaming community, isn’t too happy with the crowdfunding and Early Access scene.
“I’ve got some mixed feelings on crowdfunding in particular because I think there have been a lot of studios that have come out — and I’m not picking any out per say — but there’s been a lot of studios that have gone the crowdfunding way, and I personally feel like they haven’t done it in the right fashion,” explained Manning.
“A lot of these studios have pursued that route and, unfortunately, have made this huge campaign/big push, and were like “Hey this is going to be an awesome game,” people contributed funds to it, and then they just disappear. I think what has happened is its set this negative taste for people wanting to back games.”
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the extent of the detail I was able to get from Manning regarding the game at this point in time. But, if you take a look at the pieces of art that have been released for the game so far, Bad Rhino seems to have a pretty clear idea of the world they want to develop with Rising Tides, and if the concept art is any indication, it will be a world very much worth exploring.
Once the game is farther along in development we will certainly have to follow up with Manning and his team again to learn more about how the game plays, what kind of things we will be doing in the game world, and so on.
Manning expects to start releasing the first in-game screenshots and footage from the game within the next six months or so. We will continue following the story of Bad Rhino Studios and Rising Tides here at Gameumentary, so don’t forget to keep up with us on our social media channels for future stories.
You can learn more about Rising Tides at Bad Rhino Games’ official website for the game.