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India's First Game Awards Nominee, Raji: An Ancient Epic, Can Mature Our Gaming Industry

A still from India's first indie console and PC game, Raji: An Ancient Epic. (Image: Nodding Heads Games)

A still from India's first indie console and PC game, Raji: An Ancient Epic. (Image: Nodding Heads Games)

Built by Indian game studio Nodding Heads Games on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, Raji: An Ancient Epic ranked as one of the finalists in the ‘best debut game’ category at The Game Awards 2020, and is the first PC and console game created by an indie gaming studio in India.

Raji: An Ancient Epic, India’s first console game that has been developed and designed in the country, received a nomination for the best debut game segment at The Game Awards 2020. While the eventual award for the category was won by UK-based indie game developer Kinetic Games’ debut title, Phasmophobia, Raji: An Ancient Epic’s nomination will serve as an enduring moment in the history of the Indian gaming industry. While mobile gaming has been on steady growth in the country, full-scale game designing and development is yet to see its breakthrough moment in India. On this note, independent Indian game development studio Nodding Heads Games’ Raji: An Ancient Epic will have noted its nomination as one of the best debut games of 2020 as an important moment in its still-nascent journey.

Speaking to News18, Avichal Singh, co-founder and game designer at Nodding Heads Games, says that the real trick lay in finding a publishing house to partner with and help fund the game. “Shruti (Ghosh, co-founder and game artist) left her job at Electronic Arts and I quit mine at Zynga to come together to start Nodding Heads. After we built our 15-minute demo and put it up on Kickstarter, we learnt that raising funds requires much more contacts, PR and other things, which we didn’t have. We were bootstrapped and had our savings and our family to fund our five-member team back then. Thankfully, we won an Unreal Dev Grant, and then we signed with, a game publishing studio in UK, which helped us survive and resume our full scale project with Raji in 2018,” says Singh.

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Raji: An Ancient Epic follows an action-adventure storyline, where the human realm is witnessing a demonic invasion. In such a setting, Raji, a young girl, has been chosen as the one to defend humankind and defeat the demons. After being granted powers by the gods, the gameplay comprises Raji having to cross numerous territories and fighting foes, all the while unlocking more powers for herself. Eventually, the goal in the game is to defeat the demon king, Mahabalasura, and rescue Raji’s brother, who has been held captive.

Today, Nodding Heads has a fairly lean 13-member team who work remotely, and while Singh says he isn’t at will to share the official numbers, he says that in terms of sales and revenue, the game is doing as per their expectations so far. He adds, “Our release at the Nintendo Indie World event in August 2020 as a timed exclusive was one of our biggest moments so far, and winning a nomination at The Game Awards 2020 as the best debut game has also been fantastic.” So far, Nodding Heads Games’ first attempt at a fully made in India console game has received generally positive reviews from the international gaming circles, particularly for its visual appeal and its attempt to fit in cultural mythology references to a familiar gameplay style.

Built on Epic Games’ Unreal Engine platform, Raji: An Ancient Epic has also received support from Epic in a bid to reach out to wider audiences. Being the first console game to have been designed, developed and made entirely by a team in India, Raji: An Ancient Epic’s story so far is one that industry-first events often have to tell. As Singh tells us, “Our highs today are outweighing the lows of the previous years, and I guess that means that we are on the right direction.”

Hopefully, its debut with major game platforms and featuring with leading game publishers will help define the way forward for aspiring game developers in the country and evolve a nascent gaming industry that is largely centred around mobile gaming right now.