Although the colourful, graffiti surrounded entrance on Thomas Street may look like any other doorway in Stokes Croft to some. But, pushing open the door reveals it as the entrance to an office filled with fun, imagination, and the legacy of games producer Tom Rawling’s childhood memories.
I was standing outside the offices of Auroch Digital. This is where the 21st century remake of the classic 1977 board game Ogre, originally created by Steve Jackson Games (also famous for the game Munchkin) is being produced by Tom and a team of fantastically creative individuals.
Inside a building that smelled like my primary school’s corridors and that buzzed with creativity, office manager Nina Adams greeted me and brought me into a meeting room with a million-and-one post-it notes on the wall, and Tom’s original version of Ogre from when he was a child, complete with the original box, spread out on the table.
“Steve Jackson Games had been thinking about making a digital version of Ogre, and after conversing over email with Steve himself, I was given the go-ahead for turning this project into a reality,” Tom explained. “If you had told the nine-year-old me that I would have been working with the guy who created Ogre, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.”
Tom explained how the digital version will feature a ‘synchronistic multiplayer’, which will give players the opportunity to play multiple games with several opponents at the same time. There will also be a brand-new campaign mode, and players will be able to edit their own maps to be shared through Steam – an online games marketplace.
“I always wanted to make games from a young age, but had always been told to get a ‘proper career’,” Tom continued. “People often believe they can jump straight into the games industry because they are good at art and other creative outlets, which of course are very important, but the foundations of game creating can be incredibly technical and it’s a highly-skilled field to get into.”
Nina nods in agreement. “It’s also a lot of who you know,” she says. “But with Bristol being a great hub for gamers, there’s a lot of different places you can meet people. There’s a local Games Jam which is good for amateurs to show off what they can do, and this can be a really great way for employers to put a face to a CV as well.”
However, Tom’s general advice for those with ambition is to “just do it”. “There are loads of different communities and tools available to make it entirely possible. Getting into the gaming world has never been more accessible,” he says. “On a few occasions, I’ve hired people simple on their enthusiasm and portfolios of stuff they had made in their own time. One of our artists was working at a factory before here, but in his own time he had taught himself how to do this stuff and built up a great portfolio, so we hired him. Passion and knowledge is key here.”
And it’s passion – for gaming, but particularly for Ogre that Tom has in spades. On his original childhood boardgame, Tom showed me the extra pieces that he’d made as a child, copying what he’d seen available in other versions. For him, it’s been a real labour of love to create a game suitable for this technological age we live in, but still recognisable as the original game many remember with nostalgic fondness.
“Keeping the game as close to the original as possible was one of the hardest challenges for us,” remarked Tom. “We tried our best to stay authentic, although some parts of the game had to be changed – for example, certain scenarios where the players would usually make a decision had to be replaced by AI to allow the multiplayer to flow. Steve Jackson, the game’s original creator, was very clear that fan happiness was priority number one!”
A tiny office off Stokes Croft might seem an unlikely place for such a project, but Auroch Digital disagree. “Bristol is increasingly becoming a real location for game development, and is attracting a lot of talent,” Tom says. “This contract alone has created jobs here in Bristol, and there are other larger companies like Ndemic – who created the game Plague – that have moved to here from London.”
For Tom, it’s a childhood dream come true, seeing Ogre come to vivid life in his studios. It’s proof that if you have a vision and you stick with it, you never know what might happen.
Ogre is available now for PC. For more information and to buy the game, visit www.sjgames.com/ogre