An avatar walks towards a mountainous ledge in an imaginary world. On the horizon, four more avatars plummet from the sky, like comets. Beneath them lies a mysterious planet, Indus, which was home to the Yaksha, an advanced, intelligent civilisation that is now lost.
“Mythwalkers” face off against each other to explore “Virlok”, one of the many floating islands on planet Indus and a source of “cosmium”—a substance of unknown origin that can affect space and time. These “mythwalkers” are a diverse set of individuals—recruited by a criminal syndicate called the Coven—who use avatars, or artificial bodies, to be on Indus.
No modern-day video game is complete without a good storyline. In Indus—Battle Royale, a battle royale mobile game designed and developed entirely in India, players will encounter a gaming environment that has never been seen before. It’s set to be released later this year in closed-beta.
Roby John, CEO and one of the five co-founders of SuperGaming, the game’s creator and developers, says Indus is a “blue ocean opportunity” in a red ocean of battle royale shooters which involve players battling each other in a combat zone while including elements of survival, scavenging and exploration. “Every game is made in three steps. I want to get your attention, retain it and then monetise it. To get everyone’s attention, we thought about what’s the biggest story I can tell anybody,” John says in a video call from Pune, Maharashtra.
“If you think about India’s aspirational generation, which is us, we have always been told about our rich culture and history but we have never been able to project it into the future.... We (at SuperGaming) decided to take a step back and start with a chapter from everybody’s history textbook, which is the Indus (Valley Civilisation). We all studied Indus and know the keywords: Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa. That’s it. Nobody knows what happened to it.”
John and his team of more than 150 people, who work out of Pune, decided to add a twist to this tale: “1.5 billion people in the Indian subcontinent have heard this story... But what if the Indus Valley Civilisation didn’t really die? What if it was so advanced that it flew off to a distant galaxy and you are now discovering it in the year 2500? That’s the premise of the game,” he adds.
It’s hard to miss both, the “Indianisation” of the game and the impressive futuristic take on it. Will it be able to capture the imagination of the huge mobile gaming market in India, which has emerged as a global gaming hub in recent years?
“Virlok”, the game’s map, roughly translates to “a world of the brave”. The game’s cinematic trailer offered a glimpse of the unique monuments and structures on Virlok. Minarets, domes and more—they are reminiscent of what we see in many Indian cities. Then there are characters like Mor-ni (translation: a female peacock) that SuperGaming describes as a folk hero amongst the Yaksha. Mor-ni flaunts peacock feathers on her head but is as lethal with a knife as she is with bigger weapons. Big Gaj, another in-game character, has a godlike resemblance and ears, tusks and a trunk just like an elephant. Even the weapons get an Indian touch.
John points to a lifelike model of a semi-automatic combat shotgun hanging on a wall behind him. This weapon, called Kismet (which translates to luck), will be available to players in the game, apart from a host of other assault rifles, hand cannons and snipers.
John, who describes the overarching theme as “Indo-futurism”, explains that the game is inspired by the success of the 2018 superhero film Black Panther. “It showed the history, tradition, art, culture of Africa but also said that Wakanda is the most futuristic city in the world.... This whole combination of two things—of being proud of our history and culture but also saying that this (Indus) is the most futuristic city—is what Indus really achieves. That is how we defined the concept of ‘Indo-futurism’,” says John.
Indus will be a free-to-play game, and, like other battle royale titles, SuperGaming plans to monetise through in-app purchases. The gameplay will also include vehicles for players to explore the game map and feature both a first-person and third-person perspective. The game will release first on both Android and iOS, with PC and console versions planned down the line.
SuperGaming, founded in 2017, is also betting on its experience of building popular mobile games such as MaskGun (2019), Silly Royale (2021) and Tower Conquest (2016). MaskGun, an FPS, or first-person shooter, game, has seen more than 65 million players since its launch.
The early signs are encouraging for Indus—Battle Royale, which has been in development since November 2020. In April, Indus opened for pre-registration on Android. It has crossed the 5-million mark. SuperGaming has also partnered with Olympic pistol shooter Heena Sidhu, planning to introduce her as a character in the game.
It hopes to bring about a revolution of sorts in a market that is set to be a $5 billion (around ₹41,500 crore) industry by 2025, according to a 2021 report by BCG and Sequoia India. The battle royale genre in particular has garnered considerable interest among casual and professional gamers alike, thanks to its competitive nature and ability to work as a platform where individuals can play and communicate at the same time.
The gaming community in the country has been seeking a battle royale game that’s different from the rest. The clamour has been particularly loud since the government ban in 2020, citing security reasons, on PUBG Mobile, which was a big hit among gaming and esports enthusiasts. PUBG is created by China-based publisher Tencent Games.
Another version of the game, Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), available only in India, was introduced in 2021 by the South Korean video gaming company Krafton, but the title ran into similar trouble in 2022 and was removed from the Google Play and App Store. That ban was lifted earlier this year. As of 2022, BGMI had more than 100 million users in India.
Will Indus succeed? “I was quite surprised by the smooth gameplay. That isn’t something you would expect from an Indian publisher. In the past, there have been other Indian titles in the battle royale category but they didn’t really work out,” says YouTuber and gamer Pranav Panpalia, 28, who is also the founder of OpraahFx, an influencer marketing and management company that represents some of the biggest gamers in India.
“The big difference is the Indian touch, which is missing in other games,” says Panpalia, who participated in a community play test for Indus earlier this month in Pune. In play tests, games are tested privately by a group of players to try out new features or mechanics. “Two battle royale games have done well in India: Free Fire and PUBG, which is now BGMI. Free Fire is at the low end of the spectrum, while BGMI is a high-end game. I feel Indus is at BGMI’s level. The animation also looks very promising and it should do well with esports players as well as casual gamers,” he adds.
Addressing player feedback on the game and making improvements has been the biggest challenge so far, says John, adding that the company has approached players from different parts of the country for the play tests it has been organising for more than a year.
He adds: “Our original vision used to say that we are putting India on the global gaming map because games are an expression of art and culture. We found ourselves under-represented in the world of gaming.... But after a year of play tests, we feel it is bigger than that. It’s about building an Indian gaming revolution.”