Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games

Meet indie game developer Shruti Ghosh, co-creator of Raji: An Ancient Epic

“Anything we do in life needs to be given 100 percent, whether it's work or whether it's dogs,” says Shruti Ghosh. As Art Director and Co-Founder at Nodding Heads Games, Shruti, together with fellow Co-Founders Ian Maude—Shruti’s husband—and their friend Avichal Singh, is the developer of Raji: An Ancient Epic, described by one reviewer as “a gorgeous adventure through architecture and myth.”

Shruti comes from a fine arts background and has always been fully supported in her pursuit of art: “I come from Bengal. As a child, you are introduced to all forms of art, music, dancing, theater, that’s the way it is,” she says “That’s every child’s upbringing. My father was really supportive, but he didn’t think I’d make any money being a painter, so he wanted me to try a ‘modern’ form of art.”

This encouraged Shruti to focus on taking a course that led her to become a game artist. Her expertise lies in creating visually rich, immersive environments, and she has a talent for characters and storytelling too, as can be seen in the several titles she worked on, including EA’s Burnout Dominator, VC Arts’ Fantastic Four, and EA mobile games’ Bejeweled Blitz, to name just a few.

The Raji game passion project started as a simple conversation between Shruti, Ian, and Avichal in 2016, and was originally devised as a 2D game, but it was felt that the level of detail needed to pull off the visuals would have been too much: “It would have killed us, we were a small indie team of three at the time,” explains Shruti. So the team played to their strengths to go on to create the game using 3D tech.
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
“I always felt you can bring the traditional side of art into the 3D art world,” says Shruti. “The possibilities that we have with 3D are limitless. You know, anyone can explore into any dimension, so I guess for me, to bring the traditional and the games art style together was a challenge, but also a fascinating one. It helped to give me the drive and the passion to work on this.”
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
This determination also extends to other parts of Shruti's life: Not only were she and Ian working day and night to complete the demo game, but they were also rescuing and feeding stray dogs on the streets of Pune at the same time. And they couldn’t resist adopting the odd one or two.

“We've got 12 dogs now!” says Shruti. “What started with just adopting one dog off the street turned into feeding hundreds of dogs during lockdown, and became kind of like a second passion in my and Ian's life. We are exhausted all the time, but it does give us that inner peace, that you love what you do, and both these things make us happy.”
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
Shruti and the team of passionate developers at Nodding Heads Games embarked on Raji because they felt there weren’t any games in the industry depicting great stories inspired by Indian culture. In striving to produce a game about Indian art, culture, and myths, Raji is full of beautiful visual elements, and has been gaining awards for its unique art and storytelling style.
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
“The market lacked games that represented what we've grown up with in Indian culture,” says Shruti. “There was nothing that showcased our architecture or told the stories that we’ve heard from our parents and grandparents—it was something that we thought we could bring to the world and that we could do to a really good quality, so that it could compete with games that are made in the West.”

In the game, players step into the shoes of a young circus performer named Raji in her quest to save her kidnapped younger brother from demons. The adventure is fraught with difficulties, and contains stunning choreographed fights.
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
The journey Shruti and Ian took to create Raji was similarly challenging: the founders poured all of their savings into the project, hoping that the rest would be funded by the Kickstarter appeal they set up. But despite receiving many backers, they didn’t reach their goal.

“When Kickstarter didn’t work, it was quite a blow,” says Shruti, admitting that they hadn’t thought of a plan B. “We learned how important marketing is for a game when we failed the Kickstarter. We had no idea the amount of struggle we would have to go through. We actually had no idea what was coming next. We were just constantly emailing investors and publishers, and attending different events.”

While Shruti and Ian are not averse to challenges and hard work—in fact they thrive on it—they had to make some big personal sacrifices to continue pursuing their vision with this title. “People were really interested in what we’d made, they wanted to see the demo, they had played it and wanted the game to come alive,” says Shruti. “That was the push that made us think, ‘Yes, we might have to go all in’. We were almost literally down to the last rupee in our company's account. That's when I sold my apartment.”
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
It was a drastic move, but such was her drive in seeing the project through. Doing that gave Nodding Heads Games the right amount of time to keep going until something fortuitous happened: the team had built the game using Unreal Engine, and at just the right point, they were awarded an Epic MegaGrant. This enabled them to produce the demo, which paved the way for the indie studio to find a publisher and ultimately to release the game on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Image courtesy of Nodding Heads Games
“I had happy tears and it just bought us those extra few months that were needed to finish the game,” says Shruti. “Finally, we got a publisher, and that's when we had a moment of relief.”

And that’s not the only thing that’s made Shruti happy recently: Raji has been chosen to be included in the Nintendo Indie World Showcase. “For us to be launched on an Indie World Showcase was a big thing,” says Shruti. “When it came out, the reception we got was amazing. I guess all the struggle we went through back then all happened for a reason.”

Shruti’s philosophy of always seeking to do more has been the driving force behind the success of Raji and Nodding Heads Games. “I always ask, ‘Is there something more than we can do?’ The best answer is, ‘Yes’. We always go ahead and do it,” she says.

    Want to make your own game?

    If you’ve been inspired by Shruti’s success story, you can download Unreal Engine for free to start your own game development journey. For more inspiration, follow the latest trends in interactive 3D on The Pulse, our thought-provoking video series.