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In the world of Aikyam, special powers are fueled by kindness and collaboration 

Toronto, Canada based indie dev Thousand Stars Studio prides itself on being a culturally diverse studio. Founded in 2017 by Parth Soni and Sally Luc, the company now has five full-time employees and an additional five contractors, all working on their latest game Aikyam. It’s a whimsical, Bollywood-inspired RPG that celebrates the fun traditions and magical stories of India. 

Art Director Sally Luc believes that every team member’s origin and unique perspective on the world help shape something that goes beyond solely what’s popular. “We’re aiming to create content that resonates with a broader, untapped audience”, she says. “Aikyam exemplifies how our collective experiences and unique representation of Indian culture set the game apart from others. Our passion lies in recreating and sharing the family gaming experiences from our childhood, honoring the moments our families spent creating those memories with us.”

Aikyam was originally conceived by Creative Director Parth Soni and his father, Arvind, as a way to share stories from India with their nieces. Before immigrating to Canada with his family from India, Soni grew up hearing the larger-than-life epic tales full of magic and wonder. Inspired by these ancient tales and his love for melodramatic Bollywood movies, Soni began creating Aikyam. It tells the story about a village that is plunged into chaos when the mayors go missing. It’s up to the three heroes Vishva, Ramli, and Guru-ji to gain the trust of the villagers and unite everyone in their fight against the demons that are aiming to seize their precious heirloom, the almighty Celestial Glue.

Personal Cheer Squad

“Our main characters gain power by helping villagers in need”, explains Luc. “In return, these villagers join the turn-based battles as the player’s personal cheer squad. By helping more people, the crowd grows larger and louder, enabling both the player and villagers to unleash flashy and powerful moves. This system reflects our key underlying value of unity in the game, as we uniquely weave the theme into our mechanics. We want the player to reach out to people in need of help, and experience the satisfaction of working together with those citizens to overcome really difficult and menacing foes.”

The team designed the game in such a way that the core values of ‘unity’ and ‘collaboration’ are echoed throughout every corner of the game’s world. For this reason, Aikyam is created to be much larger than its inhabitants. “Even the simplest task of walking sometimes requires the citizens to work together”, Luc says. “We put a lot of focus into designing a large world that really emphasized the scale difference. By creating the characters using toy-like methods, we were able to create a whimsical juxtaposition.”

Adorable characters

Aikyam’s characters are certainly eye-catching. They’re the result of combining the drawing and painting skills of Parth Soni’s father Arvind and the specialized character designs of Sally Luc. Drawing inspiration from Indian folktales, old Pahari paintings, and Rajasthani art, Arvind created characters that appeal to younger audiences, including his grandchildren. Art Director Sally Luc then took the designs and added her own flavor. 

Her art and designs often feature adorable characters that are inspired by vinyl toys, small figurines, and blind boxes. She gave the characters three-dimensional depth and a toy-like appeal, thereby defining the art style for the rest of the game. “Additionally, our 3D artist, Sam Dayomi, is also an exceptionally talented filmmaker. By blending his knowledge of lighting and cinematography with Arvind’s character concepts and my designs, we were able to create very refreshing stylized art for our game”, she says. 

Extreme patience

The whole process has taught the team a valuable lesson: creating games is a marathon, not a sprint. “Initially, we relied on service work to build our portfolio and secure funding, leading to numerous small deadlines unrelated to the project. While these deadlines sometimes made us feel as if we were moving further from our goal, we reminded ourselves that they were stepping stones toward a larger objective. Once we reached a point where we could commit to full-time production, we spent countless days developing and testing ideas and assembling a strong team.”

Securing funds to develop this passion project has proven difficult. With limited time and resources to build the game to a pitch-ready state, the project has been floating around the studio for a few years now. “We had to exercise extreme patience to secure various pieces of funding while avoiding extreme business risks. We are fortunate to reside in Ontario, where we have access to funding sources like Ontario Creates, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council, who provided us with the initial push to expand our opportunities.”

Cool vinyl toys

“Our studio believes that good ideas do not stem from a single person or role, and so we always encourage our team to suggest ideas for the game”, says Luc. “This allows the project to stay special to each and every person who has worked on it. However, if we do run into situations where we have a disagreement, Parth as Creative Director has the final say in design and programming, and I as the Art Director in visual directions.” 

Looking ahead to the release of Aikyam, Luc has some clear hopes and expectations for the game and the future of Thousand Stars studio. “From a business standpoint, we aim to leverage the game’s success to create more content in the future and sustain our team, similar to other indie developers. Our big dream is to expand into multimedia, producing fun animated series or cool vinyl toys of our characters.”

Spreading kindness

“From a content creation perspective, we have even higher aspirations. In the game, we pay homage to many aspects of Indian culture that some of our team members have grown up with. We want to share these experiences with our players, offering an offbeat interpretation of India that may be new to them. Ultimately, we hope our audience connects with the protagonists’ hardships and embraces our message of spreading kindness by helping those in need. Like the game, our world will only thrive if we collaborate as a community.”

Wishlist the game now on Steam, PlayStation and Xbox.

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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