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Developers from fabled game studio reunite in Ballston to work on new project

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Like the setting of its game, “Dark Age of Camelot,” Mythic Entertainment was a game studio of another semi-legendary time in the industry.

In true Arthurian fashion, Ballston-based Loric Games sets out to restore that legacy at a time when gaming needs it most.

Fairfax-based developer Mythic Entertainment worked on groundbreaking multiplayer games like “Dark Age of Camelot,” “Warhammer Online” and “Ultima Online,” and assisted with the criminally underrated “Dragon Age II” before shutting down in 2015.

Loric Games, based out of the Industrious coworking space in Ballston, is a new studio founded by former Mythic Entertainment leaders. The studio recently raised $4 million in funding to work on a game that CEO Brian Johnson says combines some of the best of Mythic’s narrative-led multiplayer experiences with gameplay of the popular sandbox role-playing game subgenre.

Even before closing its doors a decade ago, some developers from Mythic’s round table drifted apart, taking on their own quests. Johnson launched cybersecurity startup DivvyCloud — later acquired by Rapid7. Others worked on different games. New Loric chief production officer Jeff Hickman, became an executive producer for Bioware, overseeing ongoing development, or live services, after “Star Wars: The Old Republic” was developed.

After a few years, Johnson said he and co-founder Rob Denton started to get back together and talk about books and games.

“We were like, ‘Well, you sold a company and I sold a company; why don’t we give it a shot,'” Johnson said.

Mythic Entertainment veterans caught wind of their new enterprise, decided to join their quest, and now comprise half of the studio.

“We didn’t set out with the intent of getting a bunch of Mythic people back together,” said Johnson. “We set out to get back to our roots, back to smaller game [development] with a 20-30 person team, to make a meaningful game that can push the boundaries.”

Loric Games development team (staff photo by Vernon Miles)Loric Games development team (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Many of those who stayed in game development felt they were stagnating on formulaic projects, Johnson said.

“This was an opportunity to get back to what made us passionate,” Johnson said.

Loric Games is keeping its cards close to its chest on some of the details of its new project, including the name and the setting, but an official announcement will come sometime around the Game Developers Conference in March.

The game will have an early access period — a stage where a polished but unfinished build is available for players to test — with a launch targeted sometime in the next year. That’s the goal, but Johnson noted “it is the game industry” and those timelines can be slippery.

The Loric Games developers wear their history on their sleeves — Hickman literally has a sleeve tattoo with scenes from “Warhammer Online” and the opposing factions of “Star Wars: The Old Republic” — but Johnson said the new studio is as much inspired by recent trends in game development.

Mythic Entertainment worked in the MMO, or massively multiplayer online, genre, which is dominated by heavy hitters, such as “World of Warcraft” and “Elder Scrolls Online.” Still, smaller studios have recently punched above their weight class with hits including nautical adventure “Sea of Thieves” or Viking survival-crafting game “Valheim.”

“The one game Rob [Denton] and I teed off on was ‘Valheim,'” Johnson said. “We started talking about how much we enjoyed the game and both of us realized: part of what we loved about it was that it got us back with our friends playing a game differently than we’d experienced.”

Although MMOs drew thousands of players and cued a race to build bigger servers, the core experience still came down to small friend groups working together to overcome endgame challenges, or raids.

“Covid forced everyone back to their immediate groupings, and I think that played out in the games industry with these smaller cooperative games,” Johnson said. “Let’s take what we learned about MMO stuff with small raid parties… get rid of the fluff and focus on that.”

Johnson said Loric Games’ new project will be a sandbox RPG in the same vein as Valheim and another recent survival RPG, “Enshrouded.” Most sandbox RPGs tend to be light on story, however, which is where Johnson said Loric Games has the chance to carve out its niche.

“We loved ‘Valheim,’ but there’s a moment where you’re playing when lightning flashes and Odin pops up behind your shoulder,” Johnson said. “You can turn and follow him, but he disappears and nothing really comes of that, and I was like, ‘What a missed moment to really give me a reason to do what I’m doing.'”

Johnson said a strong narrative can help give a videogame staying power.

“Narrative not only brings people together, it’s what brings people back,” Johnson said. “Some games like ‘The Long Dark‘ or ‘Baldur’s Gate,’ you come back because the story is so good… We want this to be narrative. We want you to feel immersed in the story and what’s going on and the mystery.”

Like gameplay, the structure of the game development industry has morphed since Mythic’s closure. The industry experienced a devastating string of layoffs in 2023, a trend that’s continued into 2024.

While developers have had a difficult time, Johnson said Loric Games was able to use these market conditions to raise money and assemble a strong team while facing less competition from fewer games going to market this year.

Johnson said there are also lessons learned from the crises facing the games industry, including a strong focus on the player experience.

“It’s an art; that means you have to fly a little close to the sun sometimes to find the cool stuff,” Johnson said. “Some studios and some companies begin to put business ahead of the player experience and they make decisions poorly.”

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