"THQ had the idea and asked us to put something together. We were working on it quick to try to sell the idea," Joe van den Heuvel, owner of Cloakworks explained. "Everyone that saw it loved it. There was a spark that I hadn’t seen when working on other games. Even with nothing else going on – no combat, no gameplay, everything missing – just that environment and the feeling from it was attractive to everyone on the team. When it was canned it was soul destroying. It was a big disappointment."
Gotham by Gaslight was developed at Day 1 Studios when the developer was working on a series of pitches to various video game publishers. Development was done in two week sprints and the video Siliconera released wasn’t months and months of work. "I think people online don’t realize, the video that was shown we had worked on it for at most four weeks," said Van den Heuvel. "It hadn’t been officially greenlit. It was a proof of concept, it was a demo, and it could have changed in the course of development." Day 1 Studios continued working on Gotham by Gaslight beyond the demo above and finished a combat prototype too.
"I feel like for some young developers, they may have created something fantastic, but the project they’re on gets canned for whatever reason. Then, they’re out of a job, have nothing to put on their resume, and don’t have anything to show off to help them secure a new position. It’s tough out there," I said explaining why we revealed the Gotham by Gaslight footage and unveiled a canceled Square Enix game called Project Dropship too. "How did you feel when the video was shared?"
"Honestly, it felt great seeing the reaction," Van den Heuvel replied. "We had kept it internal. As a small team that was putting together this proof of concept demo, we were really excited by it. We thought there was something special here. And then years later, to have the entire Internet community have the same reaction, it feels vindicating. Maybe Warner Bros. will down the road continue it with a different developer. We’ll see."
Van den Heuvel’s story has a happy ending. He turned his expertise of making digital fabric as seen in the Gotham by Gaslight prototype into a business. Without any venture capital money and just a small investment from friends and family, Van den Heuvel started Cloakworks on and created Shroud. This middleware simulates cloth physics with a minimal footprint.
"It wasn’t until we had the opportunity to do the Gotham by Gaslight game I had a chance to apply them. The reaction everyone had online is the same reaction people had within the studio. It’s funny how one feature can get people really excited, you wouldn’t have expected it. When the project got canned, I felt there was a future with the technology. There was something there, there was value to it. I left [Day 1 Studios], started over completely from scratch and started developing what became Shroud," said Van den Heuvel.
"Was it scary to leave your job to start a new venture," I asked.
"Oh god, yeah. You got to remember it was 2009, the height of the recession, got a wife and three kids, so it was a gutsy move. It’s been a really rough road and it’s been a learning experience going from the development side to the middleware side," Van den Heuvel recounted.
His bold move paid off. IO Interactive licensed Shroud to create Hitman: Absolution and Cloakworks’ technology will be used in other unannounced projects. At Game Developer’s Conference, Van den Heuvel showed me a demo of Shroud running on an iPad and said a Unity 3D plugin specifically for mobile devices is coming soon.
"When it comes down to it, I’m just a geek for the dramaticness that comes from capes. You can see it in the Gotham by Gaslight video right?"