All photos by Christopher Demelo.
Fossil Hunters is the first official game from Reptoid Games, a five person indie studio based in the heart of Toronto. The team – which also includes one very cute dog – is now in the latter half of a Kickstarter launched to add features to what is already a well polished and playable game. We went by the Reptoid office to pet the dog – a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Oatmeal who doubles as the Chief Morale Officer – but also to play the game and talk to the team about the challenges they’ve faced.
So what is Fossil Hunters? Briefly, Fossil Hunters is a fun couch co-op game in which you mine for dinosaur fossils and then reassemble them in any way you please. The more elaborate the design, the higher the financial reward for the player. Creepy little crab spiders will try to break your fossils, and you have to be careful not to excavate explosives that will destroy fossils as well as kill you (death makes you lose half the money you were carrying). Like a great game of Super Mario Bros Wii, situations can turn from cooperative to hectic in the blink of an eye.
The Reptoid team came together over a year ago, but before that it was just Ryan Miller and Simon Paquette, who met years before at Mercury Filmworks, an Ottawa based animation house.
“Simon and I started working at Mercury Film years ago in the animation department,” said Miller, the Co-Founder and Technical Director of Reptoid Games. “We didn’t know each other well at that time but we had that initial connection. We ended up in Toronto again to reconnect.”
They decided to start their own company, and the rest is history.
“I had a lot of knowledge about the art pipeline through animation and my career,” said Paquette, the Creative Director at Reptoid. “Ryan had spent a number of years teaching, programming, and doing a bunch of video game work through various contracts, so that seemed like the two pieces that we need to make video games.”
While working out of Gamma Space, an open work space for indie game developers, they developed the prototype for Fossil Hunters in three months and applied for and received a funding grant from the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
“The OMDC has been the biggest help, how supportive they are of indies. They are really approachable and friendly,” said Paquette. They have free information sessions . We recommend everyone check them out. If you don’t know how to apply – if you have a question about anything on the form – just call me and I’ll tell you how to do it.”
They then brought in Jayme Last, a friend from the Mercury days and an excellent producer who found their current office space. Artist Emma Burkeitt joined the team after they settled in.
“Fossil Hunters was the first time I’ve had the luxury of spending a significant amount of time doing exploratory concept art for a single project,” said Burkeitt. “It was really nice to be able to dedicate that time to figuring out how we wanted the game to look stylistically.”
The good fortune (and hard work) continued when Reptoid got more funding through the new Ubisoft Indie Series, a windfall that came with an oversized novelty cheque.
“It’s a new thing [Ubisoft was] doing and the timing for the first round of applications was perfect,” said Paquette. “They were taking submissions and their requirements were exactly where our game was at. We were just starting our official production phase. Turns out they like our game, too.”
Along with the financial support, Ubisoft also provided meetings with marketers and developers to assist the Reptoid team. After that was the addition of Andy Peverley, a programmer with a background in woodworking and wood framing and the final member of the core team(music has been outsourced to Toronto favourite Robby Duguay, who recently completed work on Graceful Explosion Machine for the Nintendo Switch).
“It’s unlikely I’ll have to pick up a chisel or chainsaw any time soon,” said Peverley. “That isn’t to say there was no overlap between my two worlds. Occasionally in games I’ll see some interpretation of construction work that pains me to look at, but the main overlap would be that I like to make things. Simple as that. Timber framing got me hooked on creating.”
“I like being part of a small team,” he continued. “You get a feeling of camaraderie, and that has definitely been the case at Reptoid. The rest of the team are some of the nicest, most passionate people I have known. It has been a pleasure working with them.”
It all adds up to one of the most promising new studios in Toronto. Fossil Hunters – as well has Reptoid itself – has demonstrated steady growth as the founders have channeled their previous experience into a successful independent video game company. The Kickstarter is set to end near the end of the month. It is not essential to the game’s completion, but it will allow Reptoid to include player customization as well as online multiplayer. It’s not yet clear what Fossil Hunters will look like when it’s done, but Reptoid has dug up a smart game plan for game development.