Cardboard Utopia’s experience proves that Montreal is the perfect place for game developers who want to do things their way.
“We’re game developers, not business people. Creating Children of Zodiarcs was really a trial by fire,” says Jason Kim, the president of Cardboard Utopia, the independent video-gaming production studio he created in March 2014 after leaving his job at Ubisoft.
Children of Zodiarcs is his first game ever. It is set in Lumus, a society plagued by oppression and class inequality. In this game, players step into the shoes of Nahmi and his companions, who are thieves in search of an ancient relic. Navigating both the sumptuous residences of corrupt aristocrats and the lowliest slums, they try to elude the guards chasing after them while confronting rival gangs and psychopathic criminals.
At first glance, Children of Zodiarcs appears to be a tactical role-play game that draws its inspiration from classic RPG video games such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. What makes it stand out, however, is that it emulates the mechanisms of table games like Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons where players use cards and dice, which can be collected and personalized, so as to improve their luck and set their strategy.
The team at Cardboard Utopia brings together several seasoned professionals from the video-game industry. In September 2014, the Children of Zodiarcs concept was presented for the first time on the Square Enix Collective platform. The product drew an approval rating of 93%.
In January 2015, building on this popularity, Cardboard Utopia signed an initial financial partnership with Execution Labs, a project incubator based in Montreal. The team then moved into quarters at Gameplay Space, in close proximity to their new partner.
In November 2015, as development was moving smoothly ahead, they received huge help in the form of a funding commitment worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Canada Media Fund as part of the organization’s Innovation Program in its Experimental Stream. In January 2016, the studio launched an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, enabling it to raise more than $250,000, exceeding by far its initial objective of $50,000.
Also during this period, the game was presented to the public for the first time, at Montreal DemoNight. And so began a long tour of events in Quebec and elsewhere around the world. In March 2017, just as a community was starting to come together around the game, the studio signed a publication agreement with Square Enix.
When it was finally completed, the game was launched on July 18, 2017 on PC and PlayStation 4. “Now that the adventure that was Children of Zodiarcs is over,” says Jason Kim, “We’ve started on a new adventure for our second game. We’re really looking to take everything we learned from Children of Zodiarcs and make sure we apply it to this new game.” It will be interesting to see what the studio comes up with.