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Chet Faliszek about his indie debut The Anacrusis “I hope we pull off a miracle”

Stray Bombay just celebrated the 1.0 launch of their debut game, The Anacrusis, after 23 months in Early Access. Co-founder Chet Faliszek, known for Left 4 Dead and Portal 2’s co-op campaign during his tenure at Valve, feels optimistic about the success of the game. “I hope we pull off a miracle and make enough to continue working in this world.”

Things looked very different almost two years ago when The Anacrusis first appeared on Early Access. “Our Early Access launch version wasn’t just buggy, it was just too damn hard. Players beat us up for it, and they were right to”, says Faliszek. Responding to player feedback, the team at Stray Bombay embarked on a journey of 57 updates, refining the game and aligning it with the original vision – a game where players can hang out with their friends and enjoy a cooperative experience regardless of their skill level.

Admitting that the game didn’t perform well in terms of sales initially, Faliszek reflects on the challenges faced during the Early Access launch. “The problems we faced were two fold”, he says. “The Steam audience in particular didn’t care and was mistaking our bespoke art for a Unity asset flip. The other major impact was that Game Pass absolutely decimated our Steam sales. Our number one reason for returns on Steam was: ‘didn’t know I had it on Game Pass’. People moved to sampling it instead of buying it for the long term.” 

Retro-futuristic sci-fi world

Founded by Chet Faliszek and Dr. Kimberly Voll in 2019, Stray Bombay’s set out to build better co-operative games. With his background as lead in co-op shooter series Left 4 Dead and Voll’s PhD in AI design, they are well qualified to do so. “The name of the studio comes from my cats. Their breed is Bombay, and they were strays. Which if you know me is a good basis for a name”, Faliszek explains with a faint smile. The name occasionally brings some confusion, particularly with Google alerts. “It keeps sending me updates on the problems with the local stray animals in Mumbai! Sigh…” 

“There are just so many little things in the world and the design I just want to keep iterating on, building on, and creating. While there is some extra art cost overhead from our unique settings, that sci-fi angle lets us build ridiculous, over-the-top weapons and enemies. I’m not done working in this space!”

“I love co-op games.” Faliszek’s answer when asked about the original idea behind his game really says it all. The Anacrusis tells the story of four survivors of a surprise alien attack set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi world. It’s a multiplayer co-op shooter, with 1-to-4-player cooperative story and holdout modes as well as a 1-8 player competitive versus mode. “It’s a game where you can hang out with your friends, invite people who are new to the game, jump in, understand what’s happening, laugh with each other, and just have fun. The game works for pros and newbies alike. And now we have Versus mode, designed just for fun amongst friends. Not the super-sweaty e-sports audience other games target.” 

Chet Faliszek on TikTok

That isn’t working

To get to this point, the team at Stray Bombay had to listen closely to the feedback of their players. They found solace and guidance in their Discord community, fostering a unique environment where they not only played their own game but also engaged in other co-op and multiplayer titles. This diverse experience allowed them to understand player requests and prioritize updates. Faliszek emphasizes, “When you iterate with the community, you have to be willing to try things and occasionally say – that isn’t working, let’s cut it so that you have bandwidth to double down on what is working.”

“We’ve done the work to prove that our studio is committed to the game and the process, and we have a super charged, small community that is on this journey with us. Now it’s a matter of scale, not a matter of what we made.” 

“I think we surpassed what I originally thought was possible, and some of that was oddly by getting smaller. We have a smaller core team now, but everyone is a hundred percent aligned and pushing the same way. That’s shown in the pace of updates in the last year, which has been amazing.” This way of laser-focused working with a small team reminds Faliszek of his time back at Valve. There, he created everything from gameplay, to story, and the trailer of The Passing DLC with a tiny team, compared to modern standards. “Our joke -which happens to be true- is that there were more studios working on Far Cry 6 than there are people working on The Anacrusis.” 

Move ten times quicker

It’s one of the many lessons he had to learn along the way. “You already know the answer to what you should do, what isn’t working, who isn’t working, and it is better for everyone to do that quickly. Seriously, move ten times quicker. That and the hardest struggle is just admitting ‘hey we are small, we didn’t knock it out of the park, here is where we are, here is what we are doing.’ One of the reasons I started talking on TikTok was just being honest with the community. And I got so much love back from them. Now I can say that while not a financial success (yet), it’s a design success and I am comfortable where we are.”

“Now we are trying to beg, borrow, steal and call in every favor to get noticed. But doing so with a confidence I didn’t have at early access launch, because now we’re not selling just the promise of a great game. We have gotten there through hard work and way too many grey hairs.”

In a heartfelt addition, Faliszek delves into the unseen reality of the gaming industry. He emphasizes the industry’s obsession with either massive successes or abject failures. “But the reality is that there are also a whole bunch of us just grinding it out, waking up every day trying to make things better, to listen to feedback and grow, scrambling to stay alive. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and sometimes you look back and you’ve been hustling for 10 years. I hope that we’re the latter, but we won’t know for a bit, right?”

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.
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