Last week, Sony sent the world into a frenzy, when they revealed the new Playstation 5 design, which is set to hit the market in late November. Sony though didn’t stop there as they shared a few trailers for upcoming new games, including the first Israeli developed game for the Next-Gen console.
Created a tribute to Portal, and almost got sued
Ido Tal and Hen Matshulski met back in the early 2000s on an internet forum and started creating Flash animation: “We would chat on MSN Messenger, play online, then we slowly learned programming, which led us to create different animations and games together,” Tal remembers. Over time, the two began to develop games together. Then in 2007, while unable to contain their excitement for the release of the legendary game, Portal, they decided to jump the gun and develop a 2D flash tribute to the game.
“It suddenly took off and became one of the all-time most popular Flash games,” Tal recalls. “What we didn’t understand though, is that you can't just take any existing brand and make a game out of it.” However, surprisingly, the two were never sued by Valve (the company who developed Portal, as well as other uber-popular game Half Life and countless others), but rather they received an offer from the gaming giant to purchase their in-game level designs. A deal that eventually led to include their creation in Portal: Still Alive for Xbox.
From nerd gaming parties to a real game
Since then, the two had split up to follow their own paths, as Matshulski took lead developer on a Source engine developed horror game called, Nightmare House. The game received raving reviews and became super popular after Youtubers PewDiePie and Markiplier exposed it to their millions of fans. In the meantime, Tal was hard at work developing a Flash strategy game called, Echoes. During that time, Ido and Hen met Yoav Landau, who along with Or Cohen would be known to the gaming and music circles as The Living Tombstone - a gaming-based music channel that has over 4 million listed followers.
“We were shy kids,” Ido Tal recalls. “We used to joke that if we would ever meet up in real life the world would explode. Understand, all our projects were developed over chat. Then at some point in high school, we finally met face-to-face, and we would throw Lan Parties, where each person brings their own computer and we would play games all night long. Or in other words, a nerd party.” However, then came military service and life in general which saw each one go their own way, leaving the website they started, We Create Stuff, paused in time for nearly a decade.
Two years ago, Matshulski developed a demo for a horror-like game called Town, which was based on a game-design he had created a decade before. Tal remembers that “It was like, back at that time, we were just waiting for someone to ask us if we wanted to develop a game together again. And sure enough, the stars aligned in a way that was good for all of us and we dove straight in.”
Apparently, it was in the stars for the group, as fantasy became reality with Ido Tal becoming CEO and Game Producer; Hen Matshulski took charge as Lead Game Designer; while Yoav Landau and Or Cohen laid down the music for the game; and Amit Arnon led development. Matshulski’s Nightmare House became the basis for the company’s In Sound Mind game. A first-person psychological-horror game, where gamers dive into the main character’s consciousness, solving puzzles and facing off against terrifying bosses, all while original background music courtesy of The Living Tombstone intensifies emotions.
The team funded game development out of their own pockets, and then at Gamescom 2019, Arnon and Tal presented the game to publishers. “We presented our short demo, and after a lot of networking, a couple of beers, and a few pitches we finally met our publisher, Modus Games.” According to the agreement, the publisher fully funds development and handles the marketing and distribution of the game. The publisher also receives all future proceeds until they fully recoup game development costs, after that all profits will be split according to the agreement. “We don’t have any foreign investors, we own the IP,” Tal explains.
They were going to make history until reality kicked the door down again and again
Not long after partnering up with Modus, to their utter surprise, the Israeli gaming company received an exciting proposal, in the form of an actual invite to demo their game at E3, the biggest gaming convention in the world. “We were so excited. In our industry, E3 is the dream for most.” Although, the excitement quickly died down after the COVID-19 virus hit and brought with it a title wave of cancellations for events around the world, including for the first time ever canceling E3. “We were so bummed out… but after only a few days we realized the severity of the situation and put things into perspective. We understood that others in the industry were hit harder than us, let alone various industries all across the economy.” Quickly though, a new opportunity popped up, when PC Gaming Show, which is usually done in front of a live audience, went virtual, allowing the Israeli team a second chance to show off their game.
As a condition for the proposed event presentation, the Israeli team needed to quickly create a free demo for the crowd to trial. Tal explains that the team began working on elements that are usually saved for the end of development, like polishing user experience, supporting the different game controls, in-game saving system, stability, bug solving and more: “It’s a small controlled demo, it must easily run on thousands of different computers.” Amazingly enough, the team met the tight deadline, until reality knocked on the door once again.
The ongoing protests across the U.S. led to the virtual event being postponed for a week, though luckily for the Israeli team not canceled. “The world stood still for a moment. I’ve never seen anything like it, especially not in this industry. Considering the immense stress and sadness, it turned out to be a very cool moment in the gaming world. Never before have they just stopped everything and said, ‘hold on, there are more important topics to talk about now’. It really showed maturity and a sense of unity,” notes Tal. Finally, on the 13th of June, the first trailer was revealed, and with it the option to download the free available demo. “We got the gamers’ approval, they want to see more.”
The first Israeli developed game for the major gaming console
Just a day later, the team received even more reason for excitement, when In Sound Mind’s trailer was shared by Sony Playstation’s official social media accounts. An incredible accomplishment for the Israeli gaming industry with what will be the first Israeli developed game for Sony’s new console. “Even though I can’t give away too many details, the game is intended for both PC and Next-Gen gaming console play - including the new Playstation 5, and we are super excited about it,” reveals Tal. It took little time, and the trailer hit YouTube with roaring success, amassing more than 450,000 views and a bunch of positive comments from gamers who claim that they can’t wait to play the game with music from The Living Tombstone.
The game, In Sound Mind, employs 10 people at different positions, with half of them based in Israel and the rest spread out around the world. Tal explains that before the pandemic the team worked out of Ludo, a workspace for game developers, but now lately they have moved mostly to working remotely. Tal claims that following the trailer and demo release that they have received a lot of positive feedback from the gaming community. “All in all we’re satisfied, but there is still room for user experience and stability improvement. For example, the game’s inventory system got some negative feedback. Though it didn’t hurt the overall gaming experience.” Tal invites the community to join the company’s Discord channel and offer the team live feedback.