Doorways: the Amnesia-style Argentinian horror game funded by an exterminator
Doorways is funded with bug money.
This Argentinian horror game from the mind of Tobías Mateo Juárez Rusjan and Saibot Studios never would have been made if people in Buenos Aires weren't paying to have their houses and businesses fumigated.
Back in 2011, Rusjan had nothing but a prototype and some experience as a programmer at one of the biggest gaming companies in Argentina, NGD Studios, but thanks to fumigation, Doorways has become the first Argentinian game to be accepted and released on Steam Greenlight.
“The first month was hard,” said Rusjan with the type of thick Spanish accent that makes every 'h' sound painful. “I wanted to make something to my uncle's expectations. So there was a time when I worked day and night, and there were no weekends or holidays. I worked everyday. It was a crazy time.”
Doorways wasn't funded by the traditional sources we're used to in the game industry: venture capitalists, publishers, or Kickstarter users. It was funded by Rusjan's uncle, a partner in a fumigation business.
“It was something personal,” said Rusjan. “Because I love him and he loves me, and I had a responsibility as a worker and a programmer or whatever… but also he is my uncle and he supports me and I will do my best to bring him a great game. So I think that pushed me to today, because I don't think I could have made it to today without that support. And it's not just about the money, but also the moral support. He trusted me from the start.”
“And he trusted me like he always did, and I always did for him,” Rusjan said. “We made a deal, and he was in charge of the economic part and I was in charge of everything else. He was going to pay the salaries of the artist and musicians and voice actors.”
It's surprising when you take a moment to think about it. Rusjan was just a programmer in 2011 with no experience shipping a game. What's more, this was before Steam Greenlight existed, and Steam was notorious in the indie world for being whimsical in how games were selected to be added to the service. There was a fairly good chance this game might be finished without distribution.
I asked Rusjan if he thinks his uncle actually believed he would make money back on this project.
“I'm sure he did it for me,” he said. “I think he did it to support my project first, and he knew there was a big chance of losing everything that he put in.”
Doorways is a game heavily influenced by the likes of the Amnesia series, as the game places great emphasis on atmosphere. Rusjan talked excitedly about creating a sense of place for the player.
“We think that's very important. ” said Rusjan. “We try to put more emphasis on psychological scares. You are a person. You are not a superhero with a rocket launcher, and if you make the people feel that they are an actual person or character then they feel like they're part of the story. If you play a super powerful character it creates a seperation with reality.”
For a game that is about immersing people into a horrifying surreality, it's strange to think that Doorways began as a prototype built at a game company noted for making the cartoonish action game Bunch of Heroes. Rusjan said he loves those types of games too, but he wanted to make something completely different.
His company allowed him to make a prototype of the idea he had in mind, but when he brought them the idea back in 2011 it became a difficult struggle.
“There was some trouble with my bosses, so to speak,” Rusjan told the Report. “I was just a programmer at the moment, and I wanted to input my own ideas about what the game would be about. We had some troubles there, because I wanted to also be the director. We couldn't get to a point where I worked there, but the game was theirs. So they allowed me to take the game, and I needed to quit the job.”
The only problem was that he had no money, no team, no job.
“It was a really crazy journey. I was without a job… but it's OK because I live with my mother,” he said with a laugh.
Frustration and pride
Ultimately, Rusjan's uncle became the angel investor needed for the game to continue development, but it was no easy road to getting on Steam despite the help of Greenlight.
The game resonated with Steam users though, and it became a popular entry on the service, reaching #6 on the Greenlight charts before being accepted.
Which, oddly, was actually a frustrating moment for Rusjan. He told me that the team worked incredibly hard to reach #6 in the rankings, and worked with top YouTube Let's Play personalities in Argentina before getting picked up by the likes of YouTube juggernaut PewDiePie.
Greenlight traditionally only accepted the top 10 or 15 games in the voting, but Steam approved the top 100 in the batch that gave Doorways entry. It turned out to be a lot of effort for nothing, but the work helped Doorways build an established fanbase up until it's release earlier this week.
“We are the first game from Argentina that comes to Steam from Greenlight,” he said. “We are so glad and so proud of what we did,” he said. “It's awesome.”
Doorways was released on Steam this week, and the first two chapters of the episodic release are available for $9.99.