Vertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David Adams

Continuing the Vertical Slice series, we look to the developer of Remnant: From the Ashes, Gunfire Games, and its CEO David Adams.

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Gunfire Games is a studio you have probably heard a lot about these past few years, but its history is relatively young. From the sleeper hit Remnant: From the Ashes to Darksiders 2: The Deathinitive Edition, Gunfire Games has produced plenty of amazing titles, but its core team, led by Gunfire's current CEO David Adams go back even further.

I had the opportunity to chat with David Adams, to dive into his career and how it led him to where he is today, at the top of Gunfire. As part of our Vertical Slice series, we started our chat looking around 15 years ago, when one of Adam's first studios was founded, in Vigil Games.

Vertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David AdamsVertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David Adams

Vigil Games and the creation of Darksiders.

Vigil Games was the studio that brought Darksiders to life. Founded on the basis of a previous studio called NCSoft, Vigil's first project was the original Darksiders, a title they started developing in 2005. When asked about the founding of Vigil and what he hoped to achieve there, Adams stated;

"We really, really wanted to make a console game. I had only done PC stuff, NCSoft only did PC stuff, but my heart was really in games like Zelda or Metroid, Devil May Cry - more traditional, action console games. So, when we left to form Vigil, it was really a foray into something we had never done before."

Adams and his team had the idea of Darksiders on the tip of their tongues, however, it took an entirely new studio to get the Horsemen of the Apocalypse idea rolling. "The type of game we wanted, which Darksiders ended up being, remained the same no matter what thing we put it under, but really solidifying it as one of the Horsemen, that just came about."

An acquisition by THQ in 2006 allowed Adams and Vigil to double down on the likes of Darksiders. This extra support from a large publisher gave the team the necessary time to produce a quality game that shipped and captivated players across the world. Naturally, this success changed things at Vigil. "The biggest impact was just how big we got. When we started Vigil, there were five of us... then after that, not only did we start work on Darksiders 2, but we started on another game, and eventually the studio got to be 250 people."

Adams detailed how at the release of Darksiders 1 in 2010, fans came to see other THQ titles, stumbling on Vigil and the Darksiders franchise, however, things were a little different the second time around. "It was way different with Darksiders 2 because people actually came to see Darksiders, which was pretty cool."

The reign of Gunfire Games begins.

While Vigil was reveling in the success of Darksiders 2 in 2012, THQ filed for bankruptcy, ultimately leading to Vigil, an asset of THQ being sold to the highest bidder. Crytek entered the fray here in, acquiring Vigil and its IPs in early 2013, consequently turning Adams' studio into Crytek USA, where he and a few Vigil employees worked for around 18 months, before leaving to create another studio, by the name of Gunfire Games in July 2014. When asked about what happened with Crytek USA and why he only stayed for a few months, Adams said;

"In both cases, us leaving was pretty much out of our hands, we loved the games we were working on, we didn't want to leave. We were like, hey, let's go start our own studio so we won't have anyone else to blame except ourselves if something bad happens. On top of that, there was this particular type of game that we really wanted to make."

Going from a large studio to starting a new one can be polarising to say the least, especially when you don't have hundreds of hands at your disposal suddenly. For Adams this wasn't necessarily the case, "It was pretty nice actually," he mentioned. Adams and his small team always planned on creating one specific title at the beginning of Gunfire, however, young studios often have to take alternative routes to ensure they survive.

Vertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David AdamsVertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David Adams

Oculus joins the party.

"When you start a studio, you are very susceptible to whatever comes your way as far as opportunities go. Oculus came to us and they said, hey, we'll fund you guys, and you can make whatever you want, and they were extremely easy to work with.

In the early stages of Gunfire Games, Adams and his team developed several virtual reality titles for Oculus. From Chronos (2016), or Dead and Buried (2016), all the way to the Herobound series (2015), the team produced a bunch of VR games that set them up for an opportunity to dive back into the world of Darksiders.

"Nordic purchased the rights to Darksiders while we were working at Crytek, and we had been in talks, and at the time we were happy at Crytek, then we formed Gunfire and we thought we're good working with Oculus. After enough time had gone by, I thought, you know what, I think it would be cool to get back into Darksiders."

Launching in 2015, Darksiders 2: Deathinitive Edition was a title that really allowed Gunfire to go back and introduce what they couldn't to a previous project. Whether that was bringing a new modern lighting engine, upgrading the graphics, or just some rebalancing, by coming back to the Darksiders series - even creating Darksiders III in 2018 - and by working with Oculus, Gunfire was now ready to produce the game they had originally wanted to, Remnant: From the Ashes - and for them, this project was always filled with the utmost passion.

The sleeper hit awakens.

Described as a sleeper hit due to its excellence yet limited coverage, Remnant: From the Ashes, which released in 2019, became a great success over time. But, a high-quality game like Remnant doesn't just appear out of nowhere, it requires passion, the kind that flows through Gunfire, and as Adams stated multiple times over the course of the interview; "Remnant is a game we always wanted to make."

Even with passion and determination being crucial, you also need time to make a videogame, which is why it's handy that Gunfire had plans for Remnant long before it started. "We had a lot of time to work on it. We built most of the game in the last two years before it came out, but we had been working on it to some degree, even from the moment we started Gunfire Games. We wanted to do something co-op, even going back to Darksiders, our dream was to make a four-player co-op, that's what we wanted to do."

One of the key draws to Remnant is its dynamically generated worlds that keep each playthrough feeling unique and fresh to play, for the team at Gunfire getting this right was vital. "Some games have done full procedural worlds, and the problem with them is that a lot of the time it's repetitive and boring, and it doesn't have a lot of soul to it."

"One of the challenging things when we set out to do Remnant was like, we want to generate a complete experience. We didn't want it to feel like that procedurally generated 'same-y' stuff, we wanted to have that handcrafted feeling. It took us a while to hone in on the formula because Remnant is a mix of generated and hand-crafted content, it's just how it all gets stitched together, that's the secret sauce."

Vertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David AdamsVertical Slice: Gunfire Games & David Adams

Expanding the world of Remnant and looking to the future.

Garnering great reception from critics and fans alike, an expanded universe of Remnant was on the cards, one that started with a DLC, which was quite frankly a little different to the main game. "One of the designers just had a cool idea," said Adams when talking about the Swamps of Corsus expansion with its roguelike mode. "It was a little weird, it was an interesting choice because it is kind of like a completely separate thing. I think in another universe, that would've been its own spin-off game. It wasn't originally going to be on the DLC, we just threw it in there. It wasn't a masterplan."

Shortly after Swamps of Corsus (April 2020), Subject 2923 (August 2020) was set to release, which made for quite an emotional period for myself as I knew the reign of Remnant: From the Ashes was coming to an end. Designed to be a conclusion to the arc of Remnant, Subject 2923 served as a narrative swansong, but I was curious as to the plans for the future, and if Gunfire were planning on building out this fantastic universe they had spent so long forming. "Of course, I love Remnant, I mean I was there since the beginning. We're doing Chronos [an updated PC and console version of the VR title], which is technically a prequel, but we'll definitely explore that universe in the future."

But where does the immediate future for Gunfire lie, after Chronos lands in early December this year? Adams and Gunfire are in a comfortable position, where they can leave their options open. "I feel like we are big enough to do the sorts of games we want to do. If we want to do another Remnant or another Darksiders, we have a big enough team to pull that off. We really just like to focus our efforts and just make really cool games."

Remnant: From the Ashes and both its DLCs, Swamps of Corsus and Subject 2923 are all available to play today on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Chronos: Before the Ashes, the prequel to Remnant updated for PC and consoles is set to release on December 1, on PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, PC, and Nintendo Switch. For more Vertical Slice, be sure to check out our interview with the developer of Hades, Supermassive Games.

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