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Bill Roper unveils Lunacy Games studio with survival game demo and a new Hellgate license


Game veteran Bill Roper has unveiled Lunacy Games as a new studio working on an open world survival RPG set in the post-apocalyptic American West.

On top of that, also announced that his company has acquired a license for the Hellgate: London franchise to make a new Hellgate game as a separate title. The deal is with Hanbitsoft, which inherited the license, said Roper, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Seattle-based Lunacy Games ( a remote-first company) aims to redefine the gaming experience with its unique approach to cooperative gameplay and immersive storytelling. Roper is an award-winning game industry veteran best known for his work on the Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo, and Disney Infinity franchises.

The studio’s inaugural project is an ambitious survival RPG set in an apocalyptic Old West, with an emphasis on innovation and storytelling.

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“It feels like it’s been a long time in secretive hibernation. So I’m really happy to be able to start publicly talking about what we’re doing,” Roper said. “We’re announcing the Hellgate license on the 27th and that’s my birthday. So I can’t think of a better birthday present to go and play in those demon apocalyptic waters again.”

Bill Roper is working on an open world survival RPG.
Bill Roper is working on an open world survival RPG.

Roper isn’t naming any other members of the team just yet. He is based out of Los Angeles and other team members are spread out, with some in Seattle. He started telling people more widely at last week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The game set in the Old West is the first project under way.

“The setting is the American Old West, but this is truly the Weird West,” said Roper. “I describe it as a game that’s grounded in reality and with the graphic fidelity like Red Dead Redemption 2 mixed with the exploration and environmental storytelling of Skyrim and many of the survival elements and player freedom of Conan Exiles. In gamer short-hand, it’s Cowboys vs. Cthulhu, and you can transform into a werewolf.”

“We’re living in crazy times, and crazy times demand crazy ideas,” said Roper. “With Lunacy Games, we’re not just building games; we’re building communities. Our focus is on crafting deep, meaningful worlds that resonate with players everywhere.”

Bootstrapping

Images from Hellgate: London.

Although he is an accomplished game developer, Roper had a bumpy ride in recent years. He was working at AuthorDigital in Seattle. But during the pandemic, the funding for the company dried up. And while the work was promising, Roper decided to move on.

Back in 2022 and 2023, Roper was a skeptic about Web3 and blockchain games, but he figured he would rather roll up his sleeves and see what he could make work at that previous job, rather than “stand on the side of the road and throw rocks,” he said.

But the Web3 company that hired him took a different direction. It cut staff and Roper was laid off. At that time, he decided to go all in on his new studio. Starting around GDC 2023, he started bootstrapping the company from savings.

He talked to people about what he wanted to do and began recruiting the team. During the downturn, he learned that it had become harder to raise money. In the past, he had always gone out with a “dream and a deck” to raise initial seed funding for previous companies.

As for this funding environment, Roper said you have to realize it’s different. It’s nice to see companies like Toys for Bob preserve their teams in the midst of a layoff, cutting a deal with another company (presumably Microsoft) to hold that team together, Roper said.

But it’s also hard to get investors on board. In the past, they might invest based on a pitch deck presentation, but now they are more cautious and want to see a demo. Hence, that’s why Roper had to spend the last year coming up with that demo before getting investors on board.

The game industry’s slowdown has made fundraising tougher and others advised Roper to get a company off the ground through sweat equity and then pushing as hard as he could to create a demo and more evidence that the team had a good game going.

“It’s exciting” getting the demo in front of more people now, he said. “We’ve got the genre, setting and thematic demo for the game.”

And now the company is ready to raise its round of funding either through investors or a publisher.

“We are doing the absolute scrappy startup indie game studio thing,” he said.

Good for game developers

Key art for Hellgate: London.

At the heart of Lunacy Games’ philosophy lies a dedication to empowering both developers and players. Through radical transparency and a culture of trust and respect, the studio aims to create an environment where creativity flourishes and boundaries are pushed. Roper wants the studio to be good for devs.

“Lunacy Games is dedicated to changing how companies treat their employees. We’re creating a studio based on trust and respect where our people and our players are the top priority,” said Roper. “For example, we practice radical transparency with our people. Executives share every aspect of what we’re doing and how we’re getting there with everyone in the company.”

Roper said he has been shocked at what has happened with all the layoffs in gaming.

“I think that there’s just a humanity that has been lost in our industry. And I think it’s up to us to try to bring it back,” he said. “I really think we’re going to see a onslaught of small companies starting up that are driven by this desire to create better workplaces in order to make better games.”

While Roper wants to be practical, he also wants to be innovative.

“Our heads are in the clouds, and we’re reaching for the stars, but our feet are always firmly on the ground,” he said. “We don’t want to overspend to make a game. But we want to spend enough to where we’re going to come up with that fantastic experience for players.”

The Old West

Lunacy Games’ survival RPG title.

The Old West game is a PC title first, but it could also release on the consoles. The PC is the starting point because it offers the “richness and depth of experience.” But Roper is happy to see how far crossplay has progressed in the game industry.

The post-apocalyptic title is using Unreal Engine 5 and Roper said that working with the engine has been a treat as the team prepared its open world survival game set in the post-apocalyptic Old West.

“Having spent so many years either in proprietary engines, or Unity, this is the first chance we’ve really had to stretch our legs and Unreal has been a joy to work with,” Roper said. “It’s been really fun showing it off behind closed doors.”

Drawing inspiration from classic genres while introducing fresh twists, the game promises to deliver an unforgettable gaming experience, Roper said.

Lunacy Games’ survival RPG is in a prototype stage.

“We’re tired of the same old tropes and clichés,” said Roper. “Our goal is to create something truly unique, something that challenges players’ expectations and keeps them coming back for more.”

The game is an open world survival RPG, with the graphic fidelity of a Red Dead Redemption 2 with an open world exploration and environmental storytelling like Skyrim.

“I’ve always thought Bethesda does this amazing job with rewarding you for exploring the world, and for giving you pieces of the story and the lore,” Roper said.

Roper likes the organic nature of things that happen in these worlds that are fun in a survival game. Survival games can feel very desolate, he said, where you’re pitting yourself against the environment or an existential threat.

“I want to do that with my friends because we’re very focused on making cooperative games,” Roper said. “But I also want there to be individuals within the world that I need, that I learned from, that I can then interact with, with player agency. I could be aggressive towards them. I can leave them alone. I could try to befriend them. You don’t want to have them join me. Because I think that idea of community building not only among the people that I play with, but in the context of, for example, NPCs in a world makes that survival setting have more meaning and even higher stakes.”

Hellgate: London’s legacy

A Templar in Hellgate: London.

But Lunacy Games’ ambitions don’t stop there. In a partnership with HanbitSoft, the studio is set to breathe new life into the beloved Hellgate: London franchise with the upcoming title, Hellgate: Redemption.

Hellgate: London was a dark fantasy action RPG that came out from Flagship Studios in 2007. It was a pioneering looter shooter title that was ahead of its time. Set in a post-apocalyptic London in 2038, Hellgate: London was a fast-paced hack-and-slash game.

The title sold about a million copies, which was good. But the company was trying a new business model. Unable to juggle its various challenges (including a second game Mythos), Flagship Studios filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

David Brevik tried to buy the Hellgate franchise when he was at Gazillion, but that deal wasn’t successful.

“We all just really loved what we built there. Warts and all. And for me, personally, I have just for a lot of years felt that it didn’t really get its due. It was so ahead of its time in so many ways,” Roper said. “And I’ve always had this burning passion to get back to it, and take another crack at it. And be humble about what we did wrong, but be proud of what we did right. And then look to how we could create another fantastic story within the Hellgate universe.”

Mythos was another Flagship Studios project that was a Diablo-like game led by a Seattle team headed by Travis Baldree. Hanbitsoft still has the rights to that game.

Hanbitsoft inherited the franchise and launched a free-to-play Hellgate: London Resurrection title in South Korea. In 2014, Hanbitsoft announced Hellgate Global, but it never released the title.

Roper said this new Hellgate deal with Hanbitsoft came along separately, and now the company will have a chance to make a second game set in the Hellgate universe.

“I had an opportunity after some big conversations with the folks at Hanbitsoft to be able to acquire the license to do another game, and I just couldn’t pass it up,” Roper said. “I would love to be able to always want to have two pistons firing and be the engineer of a company. And so for us, this was just a chance to have another great idea in our hip pocket. I would be ecstatic to be able to find a great partner to make that game with. I think we had so much promise, and I’d really like to take another swing at the ball.”

Hellgate: Redemption

Bill Roper’s Lunacy Games has the rights to make Hellgate: Redemption.

Using new tech and the rich lore of the original game, Hellgate: Redemption represents a new chapter in the iconic series. Roper said he has been thinking about where to take the Hellgate franchise next over the last decade.

“With Hellgate: Redemption, we’re embracing the spirit of the original game while pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in gaming today,” said Roper. “It’s an exciting time for Lunacy Games, and we can’t wait to share our vision with the world.”

The new Hellgate game will be set in an as-of-yet undisclosed part of the alternate-history,
demon-apocalypse world.

“I’ve dreamed of returning to the franchise we created back in 2007 for many, many years,” said
Roper. “I’ve always felt I had unfinished business with the Hellgate IP, which is why our codename for the project is Hellgate: Redemption.”

“I’ve spent the last probably 10-plus years thinking about what I would do with the Hellgate license again,” he said. “I would like to take it someplace new. I love that we started the journey in London. But there’s been a lot done there with the franchise over the years. And there’s a lot of other places in the world. There’s importantly been so many advances in the industry technologically, gameplay wise, that we really want to take advantage of in building a new Hellgate experience.”

There are so many more interesting way to take advantage of a physical space you’re in, and to tie that into storytelling, he said. And in the old Hellgate: London, everything about the environment was like London. But it wasn’t actually London. Now games can do a much better job depicting an actual city.

Roper also thinks that the combat system was exciting, but it could be even more interesting with cooperative play, much like people are having so much fun with Helldivers 2.

Raising money

A Templar in battle in Hellgate: London.

There are five people working full time at the studio and the rest are contractors. The company has been thankful to have a lot of talent available to help it get off the ground, “as so many talented developers are out of work through no fault of their own,” he said.

He added, “Some of those folks are excited to jump on while we’re still getting funding. Other ones have made it very clear to me that the second I can offer them the job, they’re all in. I’m really encouraged by the fact that there are so many people that still have a resilience and a desire to stay in the industry, after what we’ve all been through.”

Now he’s kicking off more conversations with VCs, family funds, investment groups or publishers.

“My goal is the same in all those cases, which is to build a stable, profitable company that makes great games and grows on the basis of profitability and making sure that we’re making great products,” he said. “One of the best phrases I ever heard, when I worked at Disney, was quality is the best business model. And that’s something that all of us at Lunacy are really dedicated to.”

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