Almost Human was founded between February and March in 2011. It started with Juho Salila and Olli Pelz from Futuremark with Antti Tiihonen and Petri Häkkinen from Remedy. Both of the studios had just wrapped up a project, so it was a convenient moment to splinter off and focus on an original project with a smaller team. The four already knew each other from before, and had over thirty years of experience in game development between them.
While the first office was founded next to a horse stable, Almost Human now resides in Keilaniemi, a modern business center, just a stone's throw from downtown Helsinki. Favored by companies such as Rovio, the new setting offers Almost Human some fine views as well as an open office environment where the team shares a single long table. This table is also shared by a new addition to the group, graphics artist Jyri Ullakko.
The idea of resurrecting an almost dead genre with Legend of Grimrock was born out of the developers' own interests rather than market research. The studio's own marketing was limited almost completely to their blog and Youtube, but when the father of Minecraft - Markus "Notch" Persson - tweeted about the project, it crashed the studio's webpage.
According to Juho Salila, Almost Human does not require a vast marketing machine, because they do not aim to "make billions". It is enough to get their game into distribution. This philosophy has thus far worked very well for them, seeing as Grimrock's development budget was covered several times over just on pre-orders alone.
The studio expected the game to sell perhaps 50,000 copies, but that milestone was overtaken quickly, and Legend of Grimrock has now sold over 600,000 copies worldwide. Almost Human has been pleasantly surprised by the appeal of the old genre, which has captured the nostalgic interest of the old guard, as well as that of gamers who were not even born when the Eye of the Beholder was first released.
Grimrock's success was made especially happy, since the game was entirely financed by the developers themselves. And while nobody sold their car or mortgaged their house to make it, money did eventually run out, but Almost Human remained independent and did not accept any of the multiple offers they received from publishers.
Even if Legend of Grimrock had not been a success they were fully intent on continuing along their chosen path. Being an independent studio comes with challenges, as do all business enterprises, but the freedom to work on an interesting project of your own design outweighs the negatives. All the responsibility rests on the creatives, and not on "some guy in a suit".
This February, Legend of Grimrock was given the award for Finnish Game of the Year at the Finnish Game Awards. The award was accepted by Juho Salila, as the sole representative of the studio, simply becuase he was the sole team member with a suit that still fit him. The award came as a complete surprise to the team, but it was gladly received. Antti noted that it was their first award not to have a jpg-tag at the end of it.
Almost Human is currently working on Legend of Grimrock 2, but beyond that their future lies open. The studio blog mentions Grimrogue, which could take the franchise in a slightly new direction, but right now, all of their energy is invested in the sequel.
Legend of Grimrock 2 was initially planned as DLC for the first game. At the time, it was a good way for the exhausted team to produce a bit more material for the series. As weeks passed and energy levels rose, the original game engine started to feel far too confined for the new ideas that were flying around the studio and finally the decision to make a fully fledged sequel was made.
Legend of Grimrock 2 has grown rapidly. Back in December, the amount of new graphical assets had already passed the amount featured in the original game. The quality of the graphics has increased along with the quantity, and players will be treated to a new level of variety thanks to the new environments. The inclusion of new outdoor areas has had the internet buzzing, and there are those who have voiced some flighty ideas about a large, open world.
Almost Human has not wanted to stray too far from Grimrock's original, compact vision though, because it worked so very well. There was discussion about separate dungeons, scattered over the world map, but in the end, they did not want to turn Grimrock into Skyrim, sticking instead to the original concept. The familiar balance of fighting, puzzling and exploration will thus make its return in the sequel.
The developers jokingly told us that there will be "more outdoor areas than in the first one", but they did not want to give us any specifics yet. Frankly because they have nailed those specifics down yet. Legend of Grimrock 2 is now at the end of its pre-production phase, and the final content is still taking shape. The outdoor areas will however be tile-based.
The development will be made swifter thanks to Almost Human finally having some actual tools for creating the dungeons. The map editor was published after Legend of Grimrock was released, but it was not only designed for modding, but it's also an actual development tool, which would have no doubt come in handy a little earlier on. Legend of Grimrock was build entirely using a text editor. As old school as it gets.
The new game engine and editor are much more flexible, and with them it is possible to create a whole new level of variety as far as environments go. This will be evident in the game itself, which is going to be more open to modding than the first Grimrock was. The original game has so far proven to be surprisingly popular with modders.
There is no word yet of when the game might be published. Animator Olli Peltz feels that the game will let them know when it is getting there. Although the success of the first game has afforded Almost Human a more relaxed schedule, the boys do not intend to be lazy about it. The sequel will be polished far more than the original was, and all of the extra time will be put into good use.
Almost Human would like to encourage all the fans of Grimrock to read the studio blog and to participate in the development of the game on their forums. During the development of the original game, the community effectively became an extra member of the team, and the studio gave serious consideration to the feedback they received. They would like to continue this sort of open development process with the sequel, so you too can have an effect on the final product.
If you want to learn more about the development of Legend of Grimrock 2 - head over to the official dev blog.