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NERO - Storm in a Teacup

NERO: Storm in a Teacup / 27th of August 2014

Storm in a Teacup is an independent development studio based out of the beautiful and historic city of Rome, and whilst it may not be a name that most gamers will currently recognise, the team’s debut project, NERO, looks like it may very well be set to change that. Looking akin to an evolution of Cyan’s adventure games, such as Myst, and featuring a dreamlike world of ancient ruins and floating jellyfish, NERO might just be one of the most original, and utterly beautiful gaming experiences ever created.

STC was formed in September 2013 by Alberto Belli (acting as Executive Director) and Carlo Ivo Alimo Bianchi (the studio’s Creative Director), two undisputed industry veterans, who, between the two of them, compile a most impressive resume that includes such notable companies as Crytek, Eidos, Midway and Ubisoft among them. Through Storm in a Teacup, they have since recruited talented and experienced individuals from all across Europe to assemble a team capable of realising their founders’ vision, and perhaps most importantly of all, as Mr Belli tells us, “everyone is enthusiastically working on NERO”.

From the concept artwork to the high quality, CG announcement trailer, the game’s visual style is set to be nothing short of breath-taking, and perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the whole project. “Bioluminescence is the key,” says Belli, “and you’ll find the world of NERO filled with glowing stuff and creatures floating around”. He goes on to add that “the trailer shows an environment, but you’ll see a lot of other places to explore during your adventure. Quite different spots, keeping a bioluminescence identity”. The footage seen thus far depicts a dark, mysterious setting, reportedly taking place within a young boy’s mind, and as him, players explore this mystical and incredibly beautiful land of lush forests and rivers. It may be some time before development on the game is concluded, but already, it has a standard of visual allure akin to a AAA retail release, though its visuals are certainly not the game’s only attraction.

Aside from the game’s rather obvious visual allure, NERO is set to feature an especially strong emphasis on storytelling, so much so, that its style has been dubbed as a “first person visual novel” by its creators. A fascinating concept indeed, but what exactly does that mean?

The idea of the visual novel comes from the amazing visuals that we are going to produce,” explains Mr Belli, “fully integrated within the gameplay mechanics and plot. The experience is something more than an adventure and something different from anything else to be classified. The PC version featuring Oculus Rift is so immersive and the story is so intriguing that we decided to move on this definition as that is maybe the closest thing to the idea we have in mind for the final product. A game is about interactivity. An experience is about feelings. Mixing both of these things in a unique box, filling it with love, beauty and lots of questions that need answers is how we named NERO”.

Puzzle solving will be a core aspect of the game design, but the team at Storm in a Teacup are keen to avoid the pitfalls of a high difficulty level, and are striving to ensure that their debut game will be as universally accessible as possible. “You’ll have to deal with puzzles to go on with the story,” Belli tells us. “Then you’ll have to deal with puzzles to unlock stuff only. Exploration is a great part of the game, to understand more about the plot and the world of NERO. There are plenty of things to discover, lots of things to understand and a lot of challenges to deal with”.

It is especially rare these days to encounter a studio that dares to create something unique, to stand on their own, away from the myriad shooters and sports games that clutter the gaming release calendar, but with NERO, Storm in a Teacup in a Teacup appear to be doing exactly that. So where exactly did the project come from? Mr Belli explains:

When I met Carlo last year, he arrived with his idea of a game that wasn’t NERO. I was trying to understand how to build up my own studio and we started talking about numbers. We spent a lot of time with analysis and forecasts. Our vision had to match-up with the reality of starting up a studio in Italy, that is maybe more difficult than in any other country actually. We decided to move on coming to a brand new design of the game that took the actual shape day by day. Carlo is an amazing artist and he spent two years thinking about the story that we adapted to the concept we decided to pitch around. He loves Studio Ghibli and Final Fantasy VII has always been is greatest inspiration”.

The team at Storm in a Teacup is relatively small, amounting to just twelve artists and programmers, but Mr Belli and his team are shrewd, recognising the dangers that can claim the lives of independent studios whose ambitions outweigh the resources that they have available to them. As he tells us:

The problem that any small studio has to face is delivering in time. We’re a small team but we’ve spent time to build-up a company before starting, and budgeting took great part of our time. We arrived at the kick-off with a very well realised production pipeline, and it is has been a great start for us. A problem that a lot of indies usually do is thinking about that ‘anything is possible’ and ‘my game will be the greatest game ever and I’m not delivering it until it will be perfect’. The problem is that the first question any indie should ask of himself should be ‘is the project that I’ve in mind deliverable?’ If yes ‘which resources I should need to go on with the work?’ That is under a development point of view. Then we’ve the rest of the world: we decided to go on with STC because of our background: we’re in the business since a long time, we travel a lot, and we have parties. Shaking hands stays as one of the most important thing since the beginning of our industry. Having a great game could be risky anyway. Having a good game with great friends in the business (publishing, press, whatever) low risks”.

Where can gamers expect to get their hands on this stunning title? Well, we asked him that too:

We’re in touch with a few publishers that are asking things of us,” he tells us. “Platform holders too are in with this discussion. Hope to announce an official release date and target platform before this summer”.

Microsoft’s Xbox One console has since been announced as a launch platform for the game, and whilst the Storm in a Teacup website would appear to indicate that NERO might be making its way onto PC, Wii U and 3DS, it remains the only confirmed destination for the game. Also, when queried about the studio’s long term plans for NERO, Mr Belli responded coyly; “We can’t answer that at this point. Spoiler alert!

Evidently, we can surmise that the team’s plans for NERO are as bold and ambitious as this first step in the project, surely making this one title that ought to be appearing on the radars of gamers everywhere. With an unconfirmed rumour that Icelandic maestros, Sigur Ros, will be lending their typically ethereal sound to the project, there can be no doubts that the audio will be a faultless counterpoint to the already lush, and highly stylised visual design, making it a standout against an ID@Xbox program already jam packed full of intriguing titles. With the game now looking likely to see a release in early 2015, it shouldn’t be too long before we get to see more on this astoundingly beautiful creation, and quite frankly, it simply cannot come soon enough. And so, with that in mind, to Alberto Belli, Carlo Ivo Alimo Bianchi and the rest of the team at Storm in a Teacup, we say “benvenuto”.

Special thanks to everyone at Storm in a Teacup for taking the time out to chat with us

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