Storm in a Teacup likes to move fast. Just over a year ago, the studio didn't even exist - now, it's showing off its debut game, the first-person, story-driven puzzler Nero, behind closed doors at Gamescom.
Think that's impressive? It's nothing - at March's GDC, it took a build of a game that had been in active development for less than a month and managed to stir the interests of several big publishers and platform holders. This is a studio that gets things done, quickly.
So what is Nero, and who are Storm in a Teacup? The developer is an all-new outfit, based in Rome and comprised of experienced Italian professionals, as well as a handful of staff from overseas. They pride themselves on being professional, and on being one of the few developers, alongside Milestone, making console games in Italy. It's a good opportunity to raise the profile of Italian development," says co-founder Alberto Belli. "It's a good moment to try and raise the bar."
Belli's partner in business, Carlo Bianchi, is an artist who's previously plied his trade at Crytek and elsewhere, provides Nero's ethereal, luminescent visuals, and its narrative drive, but it's Belli who sells it.
"Nero's not a triple-A game, but it's not the usual indie game," says Belli just prior to this week's Gamescom show in Cologne. "When we pitched the game to Microsoft, we said it's Journey meets Myst meets Avatar. Something like Journey because, the idea is the player has to think about their experience even when the console is shut down. It's something really personal, and everything is story-driven."
The story itself remains an enigma, and Storm in a Teacup want to keep it that way, leaving it for players to unravel. Nero's premise, though, suggests grand, melancholic themes, your player character being pursued by a figure draped in black who reluctantly follows you around. The only clue Belli will give is that it's a story personal to his business partner Bianchi, a Brazilian who found himself adopted by Italian parents.
"When you grow up, there's a moment when you start asking questions," says Belli. "The main concept behind Nero is what are you willing to sacrifice for the one you love? That's maybe the key of Nero, and the story influenced the design. It's a story Carlo started writing three years ago, when he was still working at Crytek. There are deep concepts you have to reason, when you're in the game."
How that story comes together also remains a mystery, though Belli pitches Nero as a new spin on Japanese visual novels such as 999 and Virtue's Last Reward. "Everything is underlined with the narrator, and it's integrated with the story," says Belli. "It's a visual novel, but without a wall of text. It's a wall of narration."
The rest is waiting to be unravelled by players when Nero launches in the first quarter of 2015 on Microsoft's Xbox One, where it's currently slated to be part of the ID@Xbox plan. From there, Storm in a Teacup has plans to expand. "The first game is the game that marks the studio," says Belli. "At this stage, there's a lot of work to do. We are exploring other paths, let's say, but the idea is to stay with a story-driven adventure experience. The idea, you know, is to deliver an RPG like Baldur's Gate. But it's expensive, you know." Given how quickly Storm in a Teacup has worked on Nero, though, don't be surprised if we're talking about the studio's epic RPG this time next year.