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It has not been long since the focus of digital entertainment shifted from motion pictures and animations to video-games. The concept was simple, players get to control tiny pixels on the screen in a standoff against a trained AI or a human partner.  And although its roots can be traced back to the West, or more particularly, The United States of America in this case. The inventive idea did not stay adhered to its birthplace for long. In fact, the entry of virtual entertainment in the garb of video-games in the East was rather nimble. Japan, being one of the first countries to flaunt the first in-home developed consoles had taken the Americans as role models after their defeat in the Second World War. This was speeded up due to a number of facts. Western Influence and the assimilation of western etiquettes into Japanese culture with fleeting time fused to bring about heterogeneity in the society. But nonetheless, its expansion to other parts of Asia was even swifter, partly hastened as a result of profits procured from it after the Japanese video-game industry became somewhat mainstream, and during its zenith started to compete with its western counterparts on equal grounds.

India, being a country which freed itself from the claws of the British Raj is a very young nation and boasts an exceptional reputation for being a Democratic Republic even after being near the point of a break during Partition. So, it is not surprising that the entry of video games in India lagged behind that of its other Asian brother and sister nations. It is debatable whether video games made it to India with the advent of the PC or even later, but statical outputs suggest that the Indian video game industry accounted for a total of 30 million dollars as of 2006, comparatively underdeveloped than countries such as China and South Korea. But with the conclusion of every year, the numbers keep on swelling as brilliant inventors from within the nation join the competition.

underDOGS The Studio is one such independent indie video-game development company that emerged as a prominent contributor to the sector in 2011 and since then, has only progressed in the rat race for achievements.


WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT UNDERDOGS THE STUDIO & MUKTI

underDOGS The Studio was founded back in 2011 with the primary objective of creating intellectual properties with international standards and gamifying businesses across various sectors with a touch of brilliance. Since then, they have created over 200 games on the web, Mobile (Android and iOS) and Desktop across India. Mukti is a first-person exploration video game and underDOGS’s first big venture in the market.


THE INTERVIEW

It has been some time since I have written something in here. So, when my hands were itching for some late night typing my colleague phoned me up and informed me about Mukti. I obtained the materials and did some research and came upon something that I believe is extremely professional and noteworthy. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of Mukti as we talk to Vaibhav Chavan, the founder of underDOGS The Studio:

To begin with the names is always a great virtue. So, let’s start with an introduction.

Vaibhav: I am Vaibhav Chavan, founder, and CEO at underDOGS Gaming Studio. I head the business and mostly look at product and Game Design internally.

How long have you been in the industry and what games have you worked on in the past?

Vaibhav: I have been in the industry for over a decade now, started as a game designer after quitting a software job where I was doing DotNet Programming. Worked for few big names in India like Indiagames, Games2win, and Hungama as a Game Designer/Producer before starting underDOGS. In the salaried career, I have worked on usually casual flash and DTH games back during 2007 and 2011. After starting underDOGS, we have entered into more of casual to a mid core category that includes simulation, adventure, narrative games etc. all on Mobile and Desktop.

How did you come up with the idea of establishing your own startup?

Vaibhav: During 2011 there were only a few companies making games and most of them were on Flash. Bigger companies were focusing on Telcos and OEMs though. The mobile phone was just evolving and I wanted to be among the first few people to bring games on mobiles back then. The idea was to do some work-for-hire for money rolling and start making small original games for mobile. That’s where we started making games in simulation space.

Do you believe that the video game industry is capable of prospering in India as much as it did in the West? What are your thoughts?

Vaibhav: Though it’s still 3-5 years behind the western markets, I definitely see a growth potential. Purely because we’ve seen the gaming industry in India evolving since 2015 and developers getting the required limelight to compete against the best in the world. In terms of mobile gaming and monetization, the In-App models are still not as matured as the west, but developers here are bringing some amazing quality games and designs on the table that are near successful globally. Though Indians as consumers will take some more time to start spending on games, developers, on the other hand, have already figured out ways of making money through games by having Western audience and launching games on global platforms where the actual money is coming.

What exactly is your game Mukti about?

Vaibhav: Mukti is a first-person story exploration game setup in an Indian Museum that revolves around one of the hard-hitting social issues, Human Trafficking! It’s basically a collaborative work between underDOGS Gaming and WanderMind Labs. It’s like a Sundance movie which you can experience in one sitting and go through a variety of emotions throughout the game. The game is planned to be around 3-4 hours depending on the exploration ability of the players.

Quick Synopsis:

“Vikram Roy, was on his biggest excavation to the mesmerizing lands of Sundarbans in West Bengal for discovering the ruins of Pala Dynasty. Nearing the end of excavation, news broke out all over India that Vikram and his colleagues executed mass killing of a tribe protecting the dynasty to acquire the century-old artifacts from the excavation and they are on a run.” 

You play as ‘Arya’, Vikram’s grand daughter exploring the insides of this beautiful Indian museum filled with rich heritage and culture to unfold the truth behind the mystery and Vikram’s whereabouts.

The protagonist, as you mentioned, is out on an excavation in the Sunderbans studying the ruins of the Pala Empire. Since the game is taking place in a museum will it be focusing exclusively on prehistoric remains from the Pala Empire or will it be covering all the major periods in Indian history, up from medieval to modern?

Vaibhav: Yes, the game is set up in a museum, one which has a collection of almost every big aspect of the Indian heritage, culture and history and not just details about Pala Empire. In fact, you can find very little about the Pala Empire in the museum because that is the reason the protagonist is on the excavation to West Bengal. Though the main game takes place in the museum with “Arya” as the lead, the whole journey of the protagonist is portrayed via beautiful cutscenes.

There have been plenty of exploration games in the past and most of them come with an open-world setting. Something that particularly grieves the audience is the incapacity of developers in providing an element of depth to the world design. Sometimes the pacing/progression feels simply tedious. How are underDOGS aiming to tackle this issue?

Vaibhav: The game has 2 parts of storytelling: One is when the player actually plays the game and that is completely set up in an Indian Museum. Second are the series of events Vikram Roy goes through during the excavation and these are basically told in a very unique Cutscene mode. Since the first part, where you actually play the game is based in an Indian museum; there are over a thousand artifacts – realistic, historical as well as fictional that player can explore and learn about. Most of the elements do not have a connection to the primary story but if the player explores these artifacts/elements he/she can find out more about the characters in the game. Even if the story is linear, every player’s exploration style and experience will be different. So a player with a curious mind can end up playing the game for over 5 hours.

Will the gameplay be restricted to the interior of the museum or will the players get to experience the lush green landscape of the Sunderbans as well?

Vaibhav: The game currently is only inside the museum, but we are planning one episode where you switch from ‘Arya’ to ‘Vikram’ and experience a part of his journey. Though it’s not yet finalized, we might go ahead with it.

Is every instrument or material in the game based on real-life artefacts?

Vaibhav: Around 95% of artifacts/materials are based on real-life artifacts. Only few that drives the story in some manner are fictional as that was the need. Every artifact that you see has a history and some information that the player can explore and learn about it. Right from pieces of Mahabharata to miniatures of Jallianwala Bagh to Harappa Civilization, the Taj Mahal to today’s Bombay Stock Exchange; the player can explore everything with information in the museum.

What techniques are you employing to replicate them?

Vaibhav: Basically, all these are just 3d elements at the end, but to best fit them into the game’s environment takes an immense research on every artifact and historical elements. Study from over millions of images and data about every piece is being done.

Will there be an in-game encyclopedia so more information regarding the artefacts in question could be obtained?

Vaibhav: Yes, something we right now call a DICTIONARY (WIP). Consists of 2 things, one is it acts as an encyclopedia to every artefact that you encounter and reveals the factual information about it. Second, the game has a lot of INDIAN slangs as it’s an Indian set up. It’s kind of a collection to interpret those Indian slangs into its actual meaning.

For a country like India which is of continental proportions, there are plenty of prehistoric sites to focus on, to use as a venue for the game. What is it in particular that draws you to the Sundarbans and Bengal so much?

Vaibhav: As it’s out already that the game hints about one of the core social issues in our country, that is Human Trafficking, our research took us to Bengal which statistically has a bigger number of such incidents. We’ve also heard the stories from survivors themselves and we will definitely talk about those as we come closer to bringing the game out. So basically it was all about the realism that we wanted to reach rather than just visuals that are beautiful, hence we wrote a story that unravels one tiny aspect of it in the mentioned region.

Does Mukti have any real-life objectives that it wants to achieve or any positive message it wants to convey?

Vaibhav: As storytellers, we just want to tell a beautiful story of people involved on both sides – The traffickers and the Trafficked. It portrays a realistic side of human trafficking that is often not spoken out bluntly. This story about Love, life, and humanity has eventually turned out to be pretty engaging that hooks players in it till they don’t find the mystery behind it. We’re making sure it leaves an impact on the players even after finishing the game.

Do you believe that your game will be able to instill a sense of moral righteousness in people and help generate awareness?

Vaibhav: We’re doing our best in bringing the right emotions into the game basis the stories we’ve experienced and heard. Our end objective is to let people sit and go through the whole journey in one go just like a Sundance movie.


That concludes our interview with our guest, Vaibhav. Mukti is currently in works without an announced release date. Upon release, it will arrive  on Steam, the PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. Don’t forget to subscribe to our push-notifications and never miss an update on Mukti. Until next time, Happy Gaming!

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Ishan is an e-sports correspondent from Bengal turned reviewer and essayist. Formerly, he used to specialise in CS:GO news, but now, he's into everything videogame related.

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