LAUSANNE — Inside Studio Furinkazan's offices, the Celestial Cascades suddenly appear. The heavenly jungle, naturally, can only be seen through your smartphone screen: A red light flutters around in the room until it is caught on the corner of a desk. Then it turns into a Tudù, a small iridescent blue bird with squirrel ears.
This is a special preview of Opticale, a new mobile game that will be available for free download iOS in early September in Switzerland, and before the end of the year elsewhere around the world, landing into an augmented reality gaming territory suddenly dominated worldwide by the Japanese-based phenomenon of Pokémon Go.
The marketing campaign for Opticale will start on social networks in early August, as users are invited to explore the parallel world of Astral Lands, and discover the extraordinary AR creatures who live there.
Basement pub startup
The project was first launched in 2014 by Soufian Malhouly, the founder of the Swiss startup Studio Furinkazan in the city of Lausanne. Working in the basement of the pub Le Petit Bistro Central, the enterprise brings together about 30 people from around the world, including some French, Finnish and Canadian team members.
The company has been financed by the personal funds of the founders and their immediate circle. "This decision gives huge freedom regarding creative control," says Soufian Malhouly. "This is probably why we are able to present such an elaborate project today."
Opticale features 71 creatures inspired by various myths and tales. For example, the Grifftilon hiding in Lake Geneva refers to the strange stories about the lake, to the submarine explorations of Jacques Piccard and to the escutcheon shield of the city of Geneva.
The elaborate realism stunned Maurizio Rigamonti, a lecturer in design and programming of video games at the University of Fribourg. "When I tested Opticale, I was shaken," Rigamonti says. "The story is so compelling and plausible that one may actually wonder: Is this scientifically valid or not?"
Despite the complexity of the universe, Malhouly estimates that the total cost of the game development has been about $102,000, about one-eighth what is normally would have cost. "Some nights, I didn't even sleep, but I never thought of quitting," he adds.
The platform's revenue model relies on a system of "pay-per-win," meaning that the game will be free but with in-app purchases. Opticale uses geolocation and enhanced reality, just like the now famous Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go competitors
Even though Malhouly laments that the launching date of his game is so close to the one of Pokémon Go, he is not pessimistic. "The success of Pokémon Go proves that there is a real market," he says.
The Studio Furinkazan team is counting on the elaborate universe of their game to set it apart from the Pokémon phenomenon. Others, including French gaming giant Ubisoft and even such efforts as Moscow's city government, are using enhanced reality and geolocation. "That's the thing about successful mobile games," says Malhouly. "The next day there are dozens of others that are basically the same, but with a different look."