EA Alums Chart Course from AAA to Indie Work on ZOR: Pilgrimage of the Slorfs
Working on fan projects and small indie games is a way to get attention and a chance for bigger roles in the industry. Toby Fox came to work on projects like EarthBound Halloween Hackbut after having made it big with Subtitle he got the chance to officially work with Nintendo – getting a Mii Fighter costume Super Smash Bros. and contribute music to Pokemon franchise. However, the reverse transition also has merit, as projects like ZOR: Pilgrimage of the Slorfs.
ORZ is a crossover, deck-building roguelike with survival and crafting elements placed on tabletop-inspired grids. Developer Righteous Hammer Games – known since 2016 Lonelya roguelike RPG on Lonely – is relatively small for the scope of its current project. Only two people work on most of ORZ from their garages: studio founder and creative director Clint Jorgenson alongside artist Gavin Yastremski (with the participation of a few entrepreneurs). However, Game Rant spoke to Jorgenson and Yastremski about the duo’s previous experience at studios like EA and how those skills have translated into the indie space.
Jorgenson got his first computer in the 1980s and said he was immediately interested in graphics and programming. He couldn’t approach this professionally while working in a lumber yard in the 90s, but the dotcom era led him to realize that a career could be made in digital pursuits and artistic. After dropping out of electrical engineering, he studied programs like ActionScript and Flash at the Vancouver Film School before briefly starting a career in film. One of his first projects was to create the fake computer screens in the 2002 live-action scooby-doo (a practice he called “fantasy UI”).
Soon after, Jorgenson landed his first gig in the gaming industry: EA Def Jam: Fight for NY. This began a 13-year career with the company, during which Jorgenson worked on every skate title, some SSX games, and Plants vs Zombies Garden War. It was during his time on the PvZ spin-off that Jorgenson met Yastremski, who also went from a brief stint in film and television to a nine-year career at EA through a relationship with a professor at the Art Institute of Vancouver who previously worked on SSX.
Yastremski said he was “blessed” to study 3D software in high school, which allowed him to dip his toes into the world of video game art. “It blew my mind,” he said. “I knew that was what I had to do coming out of high school.” He touched The Garden War, GW2and Battle for Neighborville while at PopCap Games, Yastremski got the chance to do some environmental art on Respawn Entertainment Apex Legends for about nine months.
While Jorgenson said he was happy at EA, “lucky” to be working on a number of great games, he began to feel burnt out. A few years earlier, bully and skate alumnus Kevin Ng began working on indie mobile games, eventually founding Wonderful Lasers in 2014. Ng’s success was an inspiration to Jorgenson, who said he was interested in moving away from AAA development specialization to become more of a generalist. He and Joe Van Zeipel, who also worked on The Garden Warlaunched Righteous Hammer Games in 2015.
From Solitairica to ZOR
Jorgenson and Zeipel “had ideas” before leaving EA, but decided to start recreating Lonely to learn Unreal Engine. During this process, Jorgenson came up with the “mechanical mash-up” of Lonely using the type of abilities found in iPad games like Quest for puzzles. With other audio support The Garden War veteran Rob Blake (also known for Mass Effect), the game succeeded on its “over-the-top and unbridled” energy.
“It was really fun because we were so excited to do our own project for the first time, we decided to go wild. But yeah, it was kind of an accident, it wasn’t all pre-planned. “
Prototyping for ORZ started shortly after Lonelyalthough Zeipel would leave Righteous Hammer to join Phoenix Labs as UI designer on Intrepid. After seeing colleagues receive government grants, Jorgenson “set my sights” and applied for funding through British Columbia’s Creative BC organization. The grant he received could only be used to hire people, and over the next few months he worked with concept artists and 3D animators to create a “vertical slice”. Yastremski left Respawn shortly after hearing about the project, “still blown away” by Jorgenson’s work on the UI. Plants vs. Zombies and interested in having more creative freedom in the face of the confidences of a “giant and very refined product”.
Yastremski helped solidify ORZThe artistic vision of , inspired by the works of Jim Henson and Don Bluth – in particular the “dark, slightly scary and cute” worlds of The dark crystal, Labyrinthand The never-ending story. With more complex 3D styling, plus additional funding for roles like quality assurance and audio through Epic Games’ MegaGrants program, ORZ inflated with scope. The project was supposed to last two years, but it’s lasting four before it launches in Early Access this month. ORZ was first announced with a trailer in October 2019, though Jorgenson said “we definitely announced it too soon” given that its snowball ambition made it difficult to judge the game’s timeline.
“It freaked me out at times, but I’m really happy now because I can’t believe what we did on such a shoestring budget.”
ZOR and Indie Passion projects
Righteous Hammer has worked on many iterations of the game, trying to balance not only its charming yet “weird” atmosphere, but also a gameplay loop in which every turn is a Chess-like a puzzle. ZOR: Pilgrimage of the Slorfs has appeared at events like Steam Next Fest and Yogscast’s week-long small teams, but Jorgenson thinks it’s a new concept that people need to play to understand – something the team has struggled with. transmit only through marketing.
He hopes the Steam Early Access launch will generate strong word-of-mouth, as Righteous Hammer wants to release a “clean, replayable, tight game” with frequent updates rather than “years of noodles.” Whether ORZ is taken care of, Jorgenson wants the team to make it “the ultimate version it deserves to be”, although there is also talk of returning to the world of Lonely. “I think it deserves another game.”
Both Jorgenson and Yastremski are interested in continuing to work on smaller hobby projects, though neither is sure what the future holds. They still fondly remember their time at AAA studios, with Jorgenson being particularly impressed to see EA give skate another blow. Yastremski is “super excited” to see the passion on games like Apex Legends and skatethat some of his former teammates on PvZ have moved into. Still, he feels ‘after a while you kind of need a break from the giant teams’.
“I was very lucky that Clint brought me to work on this project, and the dream for me is to continue doing what we do. To be able to explore uncharted territory and be quite free, to move around, to adjust the views on what we do. That’s the dream.
ZOR: Pilgrimage of the Slorfs is in development for PC, with a Steam Early Access launch slated for August 30.
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