Xgen Studios' the Low Road Channels the Ethos of Startup Edmonton

By Michelle Ferguson October 17, 2017

You're Noomi Kovacs — an overeager graduate of the LeCarre Institute for Exceptional Spies, or L.I.E.S. for short. It's your first day on the job at Penderbrook Motors' Division of Outside Intelligence and you've been confined to your desk. Determined to get in the field, you begin to lie, cheat and steal, until you gain the attention of the CEO, who engages you in a covert operation.

Welcome to The Low Road, a classic point-and-click adventure video game set in the 1970s world of corporate espionage and developed by Edmonton-based independent game-development company XGen Studios.

Since the release of The Low Road on Steam in late July 2017, the dark spy-comedy has gained international attention and a growing list of accolades. The game has won several awards, “Best Character Design” at the Game Design Awards in Dundee, U.K., “Best Gaming Experience” at the Ember Awards in Alberta, and the prestigious "Best in Play" award at the 2016 Game Developer's Conference.

With 32,000 words, 17 voice actors, and 15 in-game puzzles (which emulate spy activities such as pick-pocketing, opening locks and splicing tape), The Low Road is XGen's most ambitious undertaking yet.

It was featured at Launch Party 8 on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017 at Ford Hall.

From left to right: Jordan Dubuc, Scott Carmichael, Leif Oleson-Cormack, Kaelyn Boyes, Jed Lang at the 2016 Game Developers Conference.

Founded in 2001, by then-19-year-old Sky Boyes, XGen made a name for itself by creating simple , addictive games such as Defend Your Castle for Nintendo Wii; Motherload, an online digging game that was a partial inspiration for Microsoft's Minecraft; and its sequel Super Motherload, a day-one release on PlayStation 4.

Inspired by games such as Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer and Broken Age by Double Fine Productions, in 2014 Boyes set out to do something a little different.

"The team thought there was a shift in gaming and that [point-and-click adventure games were] something that we could deliver well and uniquely. Our past games were quick puzzles, so if we could combine puzzles with point-and-click, we thought that would be a unique approach that XGen could bring to the video game world," says Kaelyn Boyes, XGen CEO and Sky's wife.

It was the first game the company had built from the ground up in a while, and the process was made more complicated by the unexpected loss of founder and CEO, Sky Boyes, who died suddenly in October 2015, after suffering cardiac arrest.

Though the team forged on with Kaelyn at the helm, it wasn't until demoing at the 2016 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco that it knew it had created something truly special.

"In comparison to our other products, this product has done a good job of bringing together three creative types," Kaelyn says.

Written by award-winning playwright Leif Oleson-Cormack and illustrated in a unique handpainted gouache style by XGen's art director Scott Carmichael, The Low Road also incorporates an original soundtrack composed by Eric Cheng. 

The game was released on Nintendo Switch in August 2018, and is also available for play on Windows, Mac and Linux through Steam. 

As the city's flagship startup event, Launch Party celebrates and showcases some of the hottest startups in Edmonton. It gives Edmontonians and investors alike the opportunity to meet the city's brightest entrepreneurs and demo their products.

Launch Party alumni include MoverGranifyPoppy BarleyJobberMailout Interactive, and Showbie — local startups that are rapidly growing, attracting investor funding, and earning revenue.

Though many of these success stories include software and application development companies, Startup Edmonton supports all tech-enabled companies, which according to Tiffany Linke-Boyko, CEO of Startup Edmonton, is defined as using technology to scale your solution or product beyond your own time or expertise.

This can include companies that sell and manufacture physical products. One such company, Sidekick, also showcased at Launch Party 8. A Startup Edmonton's Preflight program alumna, Sidekick uses e-commerce and social proof to sell its patented soft tissue mobilization tool.

Launch Party is part of Edmonton Startup Week. To learn more about Startup Edmonton, visit their website or check out Make Something Edmonton's interview with CEO Tiffany Linke-Boyko.

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