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Campo Santo Games (Jake Rodkin & Sean Vanaman's new company)

posted by Rather Dashing on - last edited by Vainamoinen - Viewed by 9.6K users

Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman, project leads on Telltale's The Walking Dead, have left Telltale Games to form their own games studio, Campo Santo.

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Sean Vanaman via Campo Santo blog wrote:

Deciding to found and then actually CREATE a video game studio has felt like a mix of buying a winning lottery ticket and taking a brash detour that results in a near miss with a pedestrian. Impulse followed by action followed by sitting in your car hyperventilating. The outcome is thrilling at best and disastrous at worst.

There are so many reasons to NOT make games; but in the interest of focus, here are two.

Firstly, games hate to be made. They really would rather not be made and once they catch wind that they might be in the process of being made they break, stall, and use all of their static inertia to produce something that’s really not fun to work on, let alone play.

Secondly, the video game business — the thing that ostensibly allows a band of quixotic programmers, artists and designers to try to wrangle the stubborn monster mentioned in my previous point — is insane. It doesn’t have a very clear understanding of its (readily apparent) nature of risk-taking the way most risk-taking lines of business do. Beyond the risk, and the way it shapes the industry ecosystem, there are very few business oriented end-games that appeal to the types of people who like making interactive experiences. Sell the company? But we’re just now successful enough to make what we want! Create a hit franchise with multi-million-dollar sequels? Come on, can’t we make something new? The Venn diagram of why businesspeople start businesses and why developers choose to make games has a strange middle, indeed.

So why are we doing this? To be honest, it’s because we think we’ve found the right group of people to make the first reason not just worth enduring but actually thrilling. As we talk to our friends and industry colleagues about “doing something indie” with us, there’s a shared pragmatism informed by years in the industry that melds with the lingering youthful enthusiasm that got us into games to begin with. Some of us want to tell stories, some of us want to build systems, and some of us want to create beautiful looking worlds, but we all want to make something. The stultifying difficulty of making a good game is instantly tempered and then squashed.

Furthermore, we believe we’ve found the right partner to make the second reason — the insanity of the game business — moot (or at least insane in a new and unexpected way).

Our first game is being both backed by and made in collaboration with the stupendous, stupidly-successful Mac utility software-cum-design studio slash app/t-shirt/engineering company Panic Inc. from Portland, Oregon. Jake will probably get into it more in a forthcoming post, but, essentially, a long-standing friendship between Jake and Panic founders Cabel and Steve, along with a mutual admiration for not just what stuff we make but HOW we make stuff, lead us to the realization that we all had to work together.

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It’s an unlikely partnership that means we get to conceive of, make, and distribute a video game the way we want to and the way we know how, with no per-prescribed set of rules or formula for how it’s done.

So off we go. Check back often and see what we’re up to. Follow us on twitter, perhaps. If you know Jake and me from the Idle Thumbs Podcast than you already know we’ll have a hard time not talking about how things are going. We’re lucky enough to set off with the artists and programmers and designers we’ve fawned over and been friends with for years but we’re also striking out with you; someone, presumably on the internet, who has enough interest to pay attention to an announcement like this and has enough excitement to pay attention to what comes next. We will work very hard to not disappoint.

Did we win the lottery? (It feels like it) Are we about to hit an old lady with our car? (I hope not). The shock is the same either way.

-Sean

180 Comments
  • I like the logo. The skull is a subtle touch.

  • I know, it just scares me that there vision my be different to whoever takes over the season, conflicting ideas is not great.

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    Jennifer Moderator

    I wouldn't worry. If you look at Telltale's history, their seasons have been handed off to different people, but they remained excellent.

    Sam & Max Season One was led by Brendan Q. Ferguson and Dave Grossman, then Dave Grossman handed off duties of co-project leader to Chuck Jordan, who was the co-project leader of Season Two and project leader of Season Three.

    In fact, it's pretty much unanimously agreed upon that Season Two and Three of Sam & Max vastly improved upon Season One.

    Telltale has an excellent staff of writers and game designers, with years of experience. The game will be in good hands, regardless of who leads the next game. :)

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    Jennifer Moderator

    Rather Dashing wrote:

    I like the logo. The skull is a subtle touch.

    Wow, I didn't notice that. That's very cool. :)

  • I wish the best for them, nice to see they'll still be making games.

    Though I am admittedly a little worried about changes to season 2, I'll try to stay optimistic.

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    FreddeN93 BANNED

    I've been in contact with the so-called Campo Santo Games the past hour. I actually managed to get into a conversation with Sean; I throwed a couple of question at him regarding Season Two.

    Q: Will your absence affect the progress on the game?

    A: I don't think so. Nick Breckon is the lead writer on Season 2 and we have all the faith in the world in him (we hired him). We also helped with initial story development before parting ways. I'm gonna buy it day one.

  • Good grief. Could that announcement have been written in a more pretentious or annoying manner?

    In any event, I'm glad to see a new (adventure game?) studio emerge. I don't like the idea of Telltale being one of the only major players developing these kinds of games.

    I guess we'll just have to see how the new studio does when they don't have a hugely successful tv show/comic to base a game on. I wonder if all of their games from now on will be marketed with "from the creators of Walking Dead" above the title.

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      Vainamoinen Moderator

      Could that announcement have been written in a more pretentious or annoying manner?

      Well, I certainly learned a few words! ;)

      Cut the man some slack. Such an opening blog post is insanely hard to write. And there's never a real 'reason' to write one, never real 'material' to go on when the only thing you want to communicate is: Here we are. More next year.

      I guess we'll just have to see how the new studio does when they don't have a hugely successful tv show/comic to base a game on. I wonder if all of their games from now on will be marketed with "from the creators of Walking Dead" above the title.

      That would require lots of legal leniency from their former employer, don't you think? ;)

      It doesn't really make a difference whether you lend a franchise from the movie, TV, book or comic world or if you have established one original IP followed by dozens of sequels. The chance for achieving actual originality is far greater if you don't base your work on anything preexisting. Also, if you don't work towards sequels, the chance for closure in your story is much greater: you start to tell stories with a beginning, a middle and an end again, something we sorely miss in the video game world today.

      The customer however naturally reaches for experiences similar to good ones he had in the past. Getting him or her into a completely new story, a new genre in an edgy new art style from - god forbid! - an entirely new developer, that takes a good chunk of luck.

    • Good grief. Could that announcement have been written in a more pretentious or annoying manner?

      ...Do you have the reading level of a five year-old or something?

      I get it. Big words are hard. Hurr durr. Don't throw a word like "pretentious" around just because you don't know your own fucking language past elementary school reading levels. You don't even know what the word pretentious even MEANS.

      • You don't even know what the word pretentious even MEANS.

        Well if he didn't before, he probably has a pretty good idea now...

        I can see where he's coming from and no it's not the big words. It's the use of needless lottery ticket/near miss analogies and constant self-sidetracking. I can tell that Vanaman wrote it in his manner of speaking, which is...eccentric. Doesn't come off that well in text, but reading it in his voice makes it sound much more natural.

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    MarkDarin Telltale Staff

    Hey guys!
    Yep, we all miss Sean and Jake. Those are some seriously brilliant guys and I expect to be blown away by whatever they release.
    Also, I think you guys are gonna be pretty surprised by season 2. Sean and Jake were hugely involved with crafting the season story, and we have some amazing writers this season as well, including Nick Breckon (who Sean personally vouched for).

    Plus, I am taking everything I learned from those guys and personally ensuring that we strive to maintain or exceed that level of quality from every aspect of season 2. I wrote and designed ep2 of season 1, as well as extensive work on the final episode of season 1 and 400 days. I've been there through the whole thing and learned a hell of a lot in the process. I just wanted you guys to know that they aren't handing the project off to a whole new team who doesn't know how personal and meaningful this game is to you.

    This is a thing that matters, so I just wanted to come here and say so.

    Thanks guys.

    • Thanks Mark, really good to hear that.

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      Sean A Telltale Staff

      We will definitely miss Sean and Jake and we wish them the best in their new thing. But Mark's right on. There's still a whole lot of us Season 1 veterans around to make sure Season 2 is a great experience, and we're all really excited about how it's shaping up. :)

      • No doubt that's true but you wouldn't expect the two lead designers/writers to leave after reaching the success they did after years of hard work. They won game of the year, countless awards, it sold millions of copies..and then they leave? There has to be something inherently wrong with Telltale considering the amount of talented folks that have left. Justin Chin/Jake/Chuck Jordan/Sean/Brendan Ferguson /etc I'm not there so I got no idea what is is. I imagine it has something to do with the ridiculously long hours they have to work. Maybe they should have just given them a pay rise or something but Telltale really needs to look at staff retention if they want the company to stay on track.

        • No doubt that's true but you wouldn't expect the two lead designers/writers to leave after reaching the success they did after years of hard work. They won game of the year, countless awards, it sold millions of copies..and then they leave? There has to be something inherently wrong with Telltale considering the amount of talented folks that have left.

          I can't help wondering if "creative differences" were involved after all. Maybe not with the same degree of severity such as when AMC sacked Frank Darabont, but a disagreement over how season 2 should conclude? The ending of season 1 was instrumental in earning WALKING DEAD its popularity and respect, but there's no denying it was also brutal as hell. Could Sean and Jake have been planning to top Lee's death with an even nastier end for S2's protagonist? If that's the case, this could be the rare occasion when I might agree with a company's perspective. There's only so much misery I can take in my zombie games before I give up and go back to playing SUPER MARIO BROS.

          I realize this is all just speculation on my part, and if I'm out of line, I apologize in advance.

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            Vainamoinen Moderator

            but a disagreement over how season 2 should conclude?

            That's certainly not the creative difference we're talking about, because that's just a minor detail. Just two minutes in a ten hour game. I wish designers WOULD loose as much sweat about endings. They usually don't. ;)

            Most of all, they didn't leave wham bam. No layoff, no storm off. This is a decision that slowly grew over the years, not one that suddenly emerged out of a single neglectable dispute.

            Telltale makes a very, very specific kind of game nowadays, and it's just not for everyone. Neither all players nor all game designers. You can see some people disliking the general "episodic story game" idea already in this thread, and you'll have to respect that. It's a rather railroaded interactive experience. It's all episodic. It's all grounded on popular IPs. If we're to desperately search for "reasons" why Jake and Shaun left, these seem to be the most obvious.

            Coincidentally, these are about exactly the reasons Kevin has given us one page earlier. ;)

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          Kevin Telltale Staff

          Uh oh! Chuck is actually HERE right now working on an unannounced project!

    • Thanks for the update, it's reassuring.

      Loved yours and the rest of the team's work on season 1. I'll be looking forward to seeing more of it.

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    FreddeN93 BANNED

    Thanks alot for the information. Just what we needed under the circumstances.

  • I hope it will keep the quality! :)

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