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Grand Cru A Finalist In the AWS Startup Challenge, Tells Us About Scaling Supernauts

Grand Cru has made into the finals of the Amazon AWS Challenge, and out of the 12 finalists in 4 different categories, they’re the only ones from Northern Europe to make the list. At ArcticStartup we normally don’t cover a lot of company-sponsored competitions for the PR flurry that they are, but it gives us an excuse to talk about the fairly secretive Helsinki-based Grand Cru and their upcoming title, Supernauts.

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For those of you who haven’t seen our past coverage, Supernauts is sort of a sandbox game populated by Superhero-styled worldbuilders. Thorbjörn Warin, their Marketing and Business Development Director says that the easiest (but not the most accurate) way to describe the game is “Minecraftville”. “We’ve had a lot of Minecraft players test the game, and they really like the touch interface for example. You can see small parts of it in the video, you just take your finger and drag and all the sudden stuff happens.”

On the competition, Grand Cru is competing to win $50,000 in credits with Amazon Web Services, $50,000 in cash, one-on-one mentoring, and access to Amazon’s backend guys.

“We have presented to [Amazon] how we’re using their services. And to us it comes down to the sheer amount of data that we’ll be tracking. You see a little bit of our game in the video, so basically in the game, think about it as a version of Minecraft. And each individual block will have different assets, different connections, and every player’s world will have thousands of these, and we will store and scale all of it on Amazon,” says Warin.

“Compared to traditional social games, it has way much more data per user,” adds Markus Pasula, CEO of Grand Cru. “Everything is user generated content, all of the worlds are made block-by-block by the user. The other thing is that it’s all synchronous in real time, so it’s way more complicated in the back end than Farmville type games…”

“Yeah take Hay Day,” Warin butts in. “We love Supercell, we’re not talking bad about them, but it’s fairly standardized. Ours is a huge box of LEGOs with different colors, shapes, and sizes. And like Markus says, there are thousands for each individual.

“Clash of Clans is a better comparison because it has multiplayer head-to-head,” says Pasula. “But you’re not playing in the same place, and are never connected to the other players. Like in Supernauts you can be in the same place together with other players, and you’re in sync. So it requires way much more traffic and way much more storage.”

A good chunk of their backend team has come from Sulake, where they have gained a lot of experience building real-time synchronous worlds for Habbo. The team has been working on Supernauts for the last 18 months, so they’re feeling confident that they’ve built a solid system and are working to be sure the system scales as designed.

Grand Cru is going with the tablet-first strategy, and will launch on the iPad and iPhone hopefully sooner than later. It sounds like it’s in the later stages of production, testing, and tweaking, but they’re not willing to share when it will hit your iOS device just yet.

“I think it’s the same learning that the Supercell guys are talking,” says Pasula. “You design the game from the beginning just for iPad; you’re kind of putting the level of expectations for the game much higher than if you were working on an iPhone game. And once you make a perfect iPad concept and bring it to iPhone, it’s usually way beyond the usually iPhone quality.”

“Our main challenge is that we have so many things we want to put in the game, we have to stop and ask, ‘Ok, what do we save for later?’

Warin says that Grand Cru been staying under the radar because they don’t want to build up expectations and keep people waiting, but their lack of released information is having the opposite effect in the ArcticStartup office. We’ve been hearing such good things from the rest of the Helsinki gaming community about Supernauts, that I’m willing to already call 2013 the year of Finnish mobile gaming, considering the growing influence of Rovio and Supercell. How’s that for not building up expectations?

Here was Grand Cru’s pitch video:

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