Jul 13, 2023 - Technology

New Immortals game is a big risk that got a big boost

Photo illustration of Bret Robbins surrounded by abstract shapes, the Ascendent logo and a screenshot from the Immortals of Aveum game.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Courtesy of Ascendant Studios

Next month’s promising Immortals of Aveum, an EA-published first-person game that puts players in control of a magic-wielding soldier, owes much of its existence to its lead designer’s killer resume and his wealthy friend.

Driving the news: Immortals is the debut game from independently owned Ascendant Studios, and a rare, wholly original non-sequel from a major publisher.

What they’re saying: “I wasn’t getting younger,” Ascendant founder Bret Robbins tells Axios. “I wanted my own studio and my own game.”

  • Robbins is a veteran game designer who was creative director of the acclaimed 2008 sci-fi horror adventure Dead Space from EA. He led development of several Call of Duty single-player campaigns for Activision before leaving in 2019.
  • Years before his Activision exit, Robbins had befriended investor Brian Sheth. Their wives had met in a swim class; their kids were born a few months apart. He was rich, Robbins remembers, “but he got much richer over time.”
  • Robbins cooked up an Immortals treatment, an idea that germinated when he was reviewing a Call of Duty level and musing why the helicopter couldn’t be a dragon or the soldiers magicians. Sheth liked it.
  • “At one point we just shook hands and said, like, ‘Let's f---ing do this,” Robbins says.

Between the lines: With Sheth’s backing, Robbins built Ascendant throughout 2019 and into 2020, in a world suddenly in pandemic lockdown. He recruited broadly but also found a lot of talent near him in San Rafael, California, due to the 2018 closure of Telltale Games.

  • The funding from Sheth was gradual. “It wasn’t like he wrote me a $100 million check,” Robbins says.
  • Robbins won’t disclose Immortals’ budget but says it’s a “modestly budgeted triple-A” game with a development team that was 30 to 60 people for much of development, and peaked at 100, compared to a Call of Duty’s 500.
  • Ascendant signed with EA’ s Originals label in 2022.

As for the game: Ascendant and EA offered hands-on sessions for the press in Los Angeles last month, showing off a slick, two-handed combat system that involves mixing magical spells. Some replicate the feel of machine guns or sniper rifles, with time-slowing powers and a magical lash to pull enemies in.

  • “I didn’t want to just do fantasy Call of Duty,” Robbins says, promising a much longer game (25 to 30 hours vs. a CoD campaign’s five or six), with lots of puzzles and opportunities to explore.
  • The story follows the player, Jak, who discovers he’s adept at multiple forms of magic, enlists in Aveum’s spell-casting military forces, and, as Robbins teases, experiences some “pride before the fall.”

What’s next: Immortals' release was recently delayed from July 20 to Aug. 22, for polish.

  • Robbins says the game needs to be a decent-sized success to keep things viable.

Sheth, bitten by the game investment bug, is building a nine-figure gaming fund through his private equity firm Haveli.

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