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Raji – An Indian Video Game for a Global Audience

Right from the beginning, as it sets the stakes of its mythic grandeur, the ‘Epic’ of Raji does not waver – bronze domed forts gleam under sandstone-red sun, dotting an equally soaked panoramic desolation; serpentine demons coil ‘round massive towers as richly bedecked Rakshasas rain down upon the frame of its very small, very frail heroine.

Raji: An Ancient Epic is an Indie (short for Independent Developer) game being developed by Nodding Head Studios, Pune for the current generation of the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, and PC. Its world is a far cry from the drab brutalist buildings of the much invoked Pochinki, Yasnaya from PUBG Mobile, or the generic claustrophobia of turn-based MMOs fitted into 6.4-inch mobile screens. But, it is this latter variety which currently dominates the Indian gaming market.

Back in 2010, as the console multiplayer frenzy was gathering momentum, only twenty-five video-game developing studios existed in India, working mostly on small PC titles. The advent of the smartphone created a new platform for gaming, and consequently a significant change for video-game production. The mobile platform, more accessible for both the developer and the gamer, saw over three hundred developers enter the market through the 2010s. Mobile gaming proved a lucrative industry, especially when supplemented by affordable data rates and cheaper smartphones, which, like cheaper broadband had done for consoles, further popularised online mobile gaming. These were ‘on the go’ multiplayer games – easy to boot and play, even enjoyable during daily commute or transits. They were available to almost everyone, and, most importantly, they were free.

 The mobile platform limited gaming to easy-to-consume shooters and side-scrollers, preventing developers from tapping into the potential of video games as mediums of storytelling and cinema. Powerful smartphones and data did little to change this aspect of mobile gaming, instead only encouraging more expansive, yet increasingly hollow gameworlds. PUBG Mobile released a year after Jio data and now, weaned by its success, an Indian counterpart FAU-G is set to take stage – much like Raji, as a product of nationalistic sentiment.

 What the mobile developer does is milk a single title through microtransactions of royal passes, season skins, lootboxes etc. Nothing is wrong with such a model, of course. But there remains little creative incentive within such a market, beyond hashly designed, pixelated cosmetics that take precedence over the actual gameworld and aesthetic. India may have presented the biggest market for game developers, but very few of those are Indians themselves. For those select few, there had never really been any incentive to compete with international developers, let alone not imitate them. Production and consumption thus became quicker and cheaper, settling for imitations of foreign video games and disrupting space for new stories and innovation.

But Raji is not a mobile platformer, nor does it rely on the microtransaction model. Nodding Heads studio’s vision to produce a narrative-focused, console platformer distances itself from the current market and stands to pivot this current paradigm of mobile gaming, towards a more cinematic experience. Whether this will result in mobile gaming becoming more narrative focused, or gamers moving away from mobiles, remains to be seen.

Raji is sore-eye candy for gamers clamouring for expansive, Indian aesthetic-driven game worlds, utilizing the power of current generation of consoles and bravely marking itself as an outsider not only at home, but also in it’s very potential in the international arena. It is paving its way at a new frontier of cultural export.   

In August, chronicling his call for Atma Nirbhar Bharat, Narendra Modi weighed in on the utility of toys as educational material within the current system, moving over to talking about how the digital arena may serve as a way to engage young audiences with Indian culture and Indian folk tales. With Raji, Nodding Heads seems positioned to respond to that call. Moreover, there is a notable lack of games influenced by Indian mythos, and international audiences already whetted by titles such as Assassin’s Creed and Ghost of Tsushima (which have brought various cultures in Triple A form to the western market) are ever-ready for a breath of fresh air. For now, Nodding Heads must settle for an Indie title to break into this market. A Triple-A Indian title is still a distant dream.

Indian developers currently do not have the resources to compete with behemoth budgeted studios such as Ubisoft, EA and teams of hundreds with budgets of a few millions. Raji, herself quite human in a world of giants, is faced with insurmountable odds and a huge land, much like her creators – a team of seven, who’ve worked for years perfecting and debugging the game’s huge world.

The developers of Raji came together to form Nodding Heads in 2017. At their helm is Avichal Singh, a computer programmer and graphic designer, who claims the game was inspired by a getaway to Jaipur’s forts and havelis, where he marvelled at its stark cultural milieu not having had more of an expression in cinema, let alone video games. It reminded him of the fact that Indian culture as a whole has barely made a mark on international gaming audiences.

But the incentive to enter such a market is scarce: development cycles take years, talent is drained off to more established industries, and visionaries to bring people together are not found.

Which is where Avichal comes in. The 28-year old has ensured a talented pool of programmers, graphic designers, voice actors, and has himself written the script. Avichal has ensured a shared vision between his team. ‘We all had a common vision to create a universe set in India. As gamers, we never got to experience a game like ours. with Raji we wanted to tell a story that has a global appeal yet very Indian in its essence.’ He says speaking to game environments.

Raji may just yet push developers to focus on narrative-based, expansive game worlds which take advantage of India’s multicultural traditions and as of yet unexplored traditions.

Experience Further: ‘Don’t be so serious’ from the post-rock electronica band Low roar, goads the listener into a weightless spur, of emotions, ideas or in Raji’s case action, as she traverses massive landscapes with a light tremble in every step, fitting of her lithe frame.

  1. Article written beautifully, word choice and prose are excellent. I havent seen anything about the game yet, but this article makes me feel like I’ve been missing out on the indie game of the year

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About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

Who We Are

We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture through investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society

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