From Russia with code: Three pals from the East have an elementary plan to create a Sherlock Holmes game in Ireland
Have you heard the one about the doctor, the translator and the musician who became detectives?
There's no punchline to this story but it is an unusual tale of three blokes from Russia who decided to make a Sherlock-esque game with echoes of monster hit Pokémon Go by setting up a company in Ireland.
With no background in game-making, the thirtysomething trio nonetheless have embarked on an ambitious project in the notoriously competitive mobile market that has garnered support from Enterprise Ireland's Competitive Start Fund.
Demid Tishin is a native of renowned aerospace city Samara, 1,000km south-east of Moscow. As a founder of translation firm Allcorrect, he had opened an office in Dublin after falling in love with the country on a visit in 2014.
"My wife and I hired a car, we went to some beautiful places," explains the soft-spoken Tishin with a hint of an Irish accent. "We loved the scenery, the country and the people, the friendliness. So we decided we're going to move there.
"I knew that Ireland was a very good environment for startups and highly technological companies and software development."
Two years later, he settled with his family in Maynooth and was pursuing a new challenge outside of translation. He had already tossed around some ideas with two friends from back in Russia. Alex Nitz is a doctor by profession but also studied visual arts, while Ilya Moshkov is a musician and business graduate who specialises in project management.
Together, they explored various avenues before settling on the booming games industry.
"I love games, I've have been playing games all my conscious life," Tishin tells me over Skype from Samara, where he is visiting family for a few days. "We wanted to do something fun and meaningful and of course try to make money in the process.
"But it's so competitive and there is so much noise in the market and it's so hard, especially with mobile games."
Gradually, the project that would become episodic iPhone and Android game Silent Streets took shape. The trio secured €50,000 from Enterprise Ireland in return for 10pc equity in their newly incorporated Fun Bakers Studio. Now they could really get started even though the team remained spread out around the continent - Demid in Ireland, Ilya and Alex in Russia, an illustrator in Belarus, a writer in England and a freelance voice cast sourced over the internet.
Read more: Silent Streets reviewed
"We could have done it from Russia, I guess, but it would be harder because there are way more venture funds and government agencies and mentorship programmes and things like that in Ireland.
"I would imagine that the UK would be better in terms of the game development scene. But thinking about Brexit, Ireland and Dublin is a good area to be."
Silent Streets puts you in the shoes of a private detective who gets drawn into a gritty mystery encompassing murder, kidnapping and shady dealings.
It employs the phone's camera and GPS chip to add a layer of augmented reality (AR) to the storyline, planting clues in the real world around the player and demanding they walk a certain number of steps to reach the next objective.
"We knew what we wanted to make, an AR detective game set in Victorian England," says Tishin. "Originally, Silent Streets was more of a walking game. We thought about making a pedometer game or a geolocation game.
"The camera aspect came later when we thought, OK, that's what's going on in Pokémon Go, this is a trendy thing and it goes well with gathering evidence."
A month on from the release of the first instalment, Tishin is hopeful Fun Bakers can extend the storyline to its planned run of 10 episodes, with one releasing approximately every two months.
But he concedes it all depends on funding, with further investment required by October. Episode two is almost in the can, ready for release later this month to coincide with Gamescom, the giant trade fair in Germany that brings the European games industry together. Fun Bakers will be there, hoping to strike a deal with a publisher or investor.
But it is the release of Apple's next iPhone update - iOS11 - that just may give Silent Streets the push it needs in a crowded marketplace where getting discovered by consumers is a real issue. Apple is building AR software into iOS11 and there will be clamour for new augmented reality games once the free update releases in late September.
Tishin, Moshkov and Nitz may be ahead of the AR curve for now but they're not counting their chickens yet. "We have Plan B or Plan C," says Tishin.