Ex illis logoEx-Illis was among the first hybrid miniature / digital games, but it went silent (but not dead) almost three years ago when its company Bastion Studios went bankrupt. Its assets and IP were picked up so the servers continued to function, but we didn’t hear much detail about who or what next.

The new company, with four of the original members of the old company, is Chinchilla Games. It’s first act is a Kickstarter project to add a physical rulebook to allow people to play offline. I caught up with Steeve Monniere, producer for Ex illis at Chinchilla Games, to ask him about the past, present, and future of Ex-Illis.


Purple Pawn: First of all, who are you and what is your relationship to Chinchilla Games and what was your relationship to Bastion Studios?
Steeve Monniere: I’m Steeve Monniere, producer for Ex illis at Chinchilla Games I was a project manager and web programmer at Bastion Studios.
PP: What does a “producer” do, exactly?
Steeve: A lot :-) . I manage the day to day project I’m the guy who gets all the others work together and push it to the public.
PP: Are you CEO?
Steeve: Not really. Chinchilla is not a corporation.
PP: Owner?
Steeve: Part owner, yes. There’s 5 of us and we one 1/5th of it each.
PP: 5 owners, and 5 total people involved?
Steeve: Directly involved yes. But we have a couple freelancer to help us.
PP: Do you have relationships with other companies (suppliers, distributors, retailers, etc)?
Steeve: We don’t have exclusive deals so far for productions but we have our suppliers for printing and we are looking at options for miniature production.
PP: You have all the IP from Bastion, right? As well as their assets?
Steeve: IP yes, assets, some of it was lost during the bankruptcy. We have lost some stocks (unshipped stocks from the suppliers in China) and some digital content were on the computers (those we didn’t get).
PP: Who are the other four people and what are their roles?
Steeve: Patrick .E Boulanger-Nadeau is our tech guy. Thierry Husser is our Art director and resident painter. Rock Mercier is our lead game designer. The 5th one prefer to be anonymous but he’s an investor (basically provides the money ;) ).
PP: Which ones came from Bastion?
Steeve: Everyone except the investor.
PP: Who else was in Bastion that didn’t make the transition?

Steeve: Many people, some of our freelancers were in Bastion, (writer, concept artist), animator, 3D modeler, warehouse and sales people. Bastion was 17 people.

PP: Was there competition to acquire the IP and assets, from within or without Bastion?
Steeve: We made an offer and the bankruptcy manager accepted. We don’t know if there was competition but i doubt it.
PP: You announced the acquisition (or deal about it) back in Feb 2011. What has happened in the last 2.75 years?
Steeve: First, we arranged to maintain the digital game properly, (bandwidth, servers etc.). We decided to let it sleep for a while because we think what brought Bastion down was the fact that people were not ready for a Digital Game of this kind. Last year we started planning for the Kickstarter campaign and started working on the rules for the new system. We have day jobs so it is a slow process ;-) .
PP: Bastion’s last words were “It became apparent that we couldn’t continue with our current financial structure.” What have you learned from them? I.e. how will you avoid their fate?
Steeve: That’a complex question. First, we [will] try to focus on the kickstarter [project] right now. This should provide us with enough funds to increase the player base without risking too much money. With a proper player base, we would be able to release new stuff and have full-time people working with us. The lesson learned from Bastion is probably not to try to go too much for a niche. Contrary to most companies, we’re not doing this for money, (at least, I’m not). I’m doing this because I love the game, I loved the people (gamers and other employees). Bastion was a lot of fun and was a dream job for me.
PP: Speaking of the KS project, your FAQ (the old Bastion one) reads “Is it possible to play the game without the software? No, not really. While it’s our goal is to expose every rule and calculation present in the game to players, the sheer quantity of calculation involved in each step makes it very impractical to be done by hand.” I’m guessing you’ve done something to streamline the game for offline play?
Steeve: Sure. First we’re reducing the scope of the numbers. [The] computer was able to calculate floating point in the millions range without any trouble… humans can’t do that. We tried to get things playable with [a] d6 and to focus on resource management (morale, fatigue, veil and hit points). We are trying to put stats in the 0-10 range. We reduced the levels to 5 (this is still [being balanced]) instead of 50. We abstracted complex rules like “ini” to simpler concepts. Things like that. We are trying to make the game playable in 2 hours. That’s our goal.
PP: So the game play is different, offline to online. How much of a difference will the player notice? Or are you also changing the online play?
Steeve: We’re not touching the online version for now. Although we’d love to update it to reflect the offline game. The rule system is different, but the strategies are the same. Someone who played the digital version should be very comfortable with the rule book. In a war game, people like to throw dice, but what makes the experience great are the choices and those are basically the same.
PP: Are there any plans for Chinchilla Games beyond Ex-Illis?
Steeve: Yes. We’d like to release that game and rekindle the community. After that, we’d love to restart a pipeline for new releases on Ex-Illis. With enough players we’d love to make new stuff every 2-3 months. With that going, we have concepts for other games, maybe board games that involve miniatures and unique features.
PP: A game that requires access to a server dies if the server becomes unavailable. The KS project is one answer to this, and I wish you luck on its success; but will the Ex-Illis server code be released to the public when Chinchilla stops supporting it (assuming no one else picks it up)?
Steeve: This is an option. We’re not sure this would actually help the game since the code is probably too complex and badly done to be understood easily. I for one am pro-open source but this is not entirely my decision. The server will not die for at least 3 years now.
PP: What are your next steps if the KS project fails?
Steeve: There will be a discussion to know if we want to go forward with the book or not. Might just release it on iBooks or something and try and see what happens. If it fails, it will most certainly be impossible to release a physical version of it for a time at least. The KS is not oriented toward the digital game; this shouldn’t change much if we succeed or fail. The only difference is, with more players on the rule book system, we’ll be able to develop new stuff for both versions.
PP:  About how many people do you estimate own or play Ex-Illis products at this point? How many active users on the site?
Steeve: I checked before Kickstarter and we had about 100 active players (people who played in the last 6 months). Bastion had sold around 2000 starters if I remember correctly (some people bought more than one). We have around 5000 accounts (including trials).
PP: Are any products currently available in retail stores right now? How can people get products?
Steeve: There might be some left at some stores, but we closed down the online store 3 months ago. We will look into a new distribution method after the Kickstarter [project]. (Again, with enough backers, we’d have a much better proposition for publishers.) If no distributor / publisher wants Ex-Illis, we’ll look into something else online (something like shopify maybe,..)
PP: One more question: Any thoughts on Golem Arcana? Does it represent a threat, a potential boost to Ex Illis by expanding interest in the genre, or a different audience?
Steeve: I wish them luck with their game and I’m glad someone else is doing something like this. I’m still convinced this genre is just beginning.
PP: Thank you for your time.
Steeve: Thank you.