Ben Wander's quest to become a household name
Wander’s view on game names comes from experience. He spent years at AAA studios building high-profile titles, including Battlefield Hardline, Dragon Age: Inquisition, X-Men: Destiny and SimCity: Deluxe. In 2015, he decided to ditch that lifestyle and build the games he actually wanted to play — rich, narrative-driven experiences that focus less on saving the world, and more on individual triumph and challenge. Wander found inspiration on the road, traveling across Southeast Asia for a year before heading back home, to Toronto. He documented the entire journey on his blog.
A Cast of Distrust is Wander’s first game as an indie developer and it’s been a success so far. It’s a stylish narrative adventure set in San Francisco in 1924, following a female detective as she travels the city, searching for a killer through interviews with a cast of suspicious folks. It has a grown-up Ace Attorney kind of vibe, and it’s gone over well with players, picking up a handful of “best in show” awards at E3 2017, and scoring spots in the Indie Megabooth and at IndieCade.
A Case of Distrust hit Switch in September and the response on that platform surprised Wander — it was essentially like a second launch day. He’s not sure if the Switch debut tapped into a new audience that hadn’t seen the game on PC or Mac, or if folks waited to buy it on Switch, or if they simply bought it again. Whatever the case, Wander is happy with the situation, the sales figures and his new life as an indie developer.
“I get to work on games and they’re like passion projects,” Wander said. “They’re games that I want to make or games that I believe in. This was an idea I had since college, and so getting to see it come to fruition is wonderful. It’s fantastic.”
Wander is currently working on a few new things, including a project with some former colleagues from Visceral Games, the studio behind Dead Space and Battlefield: Hardline. Visceral’s parent company, EA, shut down the studio in October 2017, so there’s plenty of leftover talent to go around. Wander won’t say anything about that game yet, except to add that he’s really excited about it.
Indie life isn’t all sunshine and roses, of course. Wander said there’s still pressure to perform, but instead of stemming from external sources like managers or producers, it’s all internal.
“It’s a different world,” Wander said. “I would say the pressure is more self-inflicted. I didn’t want to release this until I thought I had a really good game. I started making it and said, OK, I’m going to make this game and it’ll come out in a year. And then it didn’t come out until two-and-a-half years later.”
But A Case of Distrust did eventually come out — complete with “Ben Wander Presents” at the top of the box art.
“I didn’t want to launch something unless I believed in it,” Wander said. “And, you know, my name’s on the front of the thing.”