From a small, gray building in downtown Bellevue, Washington — in a rented office space crammed wall-to-wall with computers, game posters, and a jungle of cords and network cables — a young development team plugs away at an ambitious project.
It’s the temporary headquarters for startup game studio Camouflaj, and the game they’re working on is République, an episodic adventure for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch.
Set within a fictional authoritarian state, République follows the exploits of a young woman named Hope as she attempts to escape from a high-tech government institution. By hacking into the facility’s network of cameras and security systems, the player acts as Hope’s watchful guide and helper.
As one of two DigiPen graduates currently working at Camouflaj, Ryan Fedje (2005, A.S. in Real-Time Interactive Simulation) helped design the levels and cinematic sequences for the game’s recently released Episode 2, “Metamorphosis.”
“I look at [République] as a stealth puzzle game, where we set up encounters and you figure out how you’re going to get past,” he says.
The game is notable for several reasons, one being the Camouflaj team’s commitment to bringing AAA production quality to the mobile platform. It’s also a game that hits close to home with its contemporary themes of privacy and surveillance.
“We’ve been trying to look at current headlines, ‘Big Brother’ society, things that could happen — and bring those into the game,” Fedje says.
According to software engineer Greg Raab (2007, B.S. in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation), another important goal was to create a gameplay experience that doesn’t center on violence.
“It’s been a real strong vision for us to not have any knifing or guns or killing. It’s all about incapacitation at the worst,” Raab says. “I hope it’s more of a thinking kind of game rather than an action game.”
With two out of five episodes released, the game has already received favorable attention for its compelling game world and innovative one-touch controls. Game site Polygon called it “a must-play experience in 2014.”
For both graduates, the opportunity to work at Camouflaj has been a welcome one.
“One of the things I enjoy the most is the people. It feels like a bunch of friends,” Fedje says. “Everybody here is a little more flexible and does multiple jobs.”
“Because we’re all so close together, there’s lots of discussion going on all the time. That’s really cool for me,” Raab says. “And it’s fun just to be able to work on so many different things.”
In many ways, Raab says, working at a studio like Camouflaj is similar to being a student at DigiPen, where the curriculum emphasizes not only rapid learning but also application of knowledge through game projects.
“That’s something we have to do constantly — learn new systems, learn new ways of doing things, learn new features and implementations,” Raab says. “I’d say that the game classes at DigiPen very much emulate this environment.”
The Camouflaj team has even hired several of its interns directly from DigiPen — including artists, animators, and programmers. Raab says it’s a relationship that has benefited both the studio and the college.
“Just learn to break down a game. If you enjoy a game, what parts do you enjoy, and why do you enjoy it?” he says. “If you dislike a game, same kind of thing.”
For Raab, he says it’s important to embrace the collaborative aspect of game development, especially when faced with inevitable challenges and obstacles.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and don’t be afraid to discuss ideas with people,” Raab says. “It’s often way more effective and less of a weight on you to be able to think about solutions to a problem as a group.”
For a limited time, you can download the first episode of République for free from the App Store. Camouflaj is also planning a future release for PC and Mac.