ASK any Scottish person and chances are they’ve been left frustrated or even mildly offended at some of the on-screen representations we’ve all seen over the years.

From Braveheart to the latest Kingsman entry, it’s safe to say there’s been some divisive portrayals of Scots in Hollywood history.

For Jake McCullagh (below, left) and Chris Walker (below, right) though, that frustration was channelled to create their latest video game – one which puts players at the heart of the Scottish Wars of Independence.

The National:

As part of our Scottish Games Week Coverage, the pair spoke exclusively with the Sunday National on their company Eclectic Synthesis, their new game Red Rampant and telling Scotland’s story through video games.

Looking for something new

The story behind the company’s origins is one of chance. McCullagh was wandering around Glasgow Central on New Year’s Eve when he saw Walker sitting with a board game.

“I was thinking about this confusing situation whereby there wasn’t a mainstream title that takes place in medieval Scotland when we see such success in film and TV and we have a prolific Scottish games industry,” McCullagh says.

“I remember being in the train station on New Year’s Eve and I saw Chris sitting there so I went up, introduced myself and talked about my idea for this game.”

He added: “We also see the bombardment of every other time period in history, we see the future and the universe but we don’t see Scotland so that was what this would be about.”

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In Walker, he found someone on exactly the same wavelength when it came to telling Scottish stories.

“This isn’t a judgement on other creatives but we felt these stories were being told out with Scotland,” he says.

“Where were Scottish stories from those who lived here? Why are we letting Hollywood tell our history?

“Creativity is free-flowing obviously but we found that there was a lack of Scottish companies exploring our history, be that games or film and TV.”

Red Rampant

The creatives weren’t exactly short of choice when it came to finding a Scottish story captivating enough to engross their audience given the country's rich history. 

Specifically, the game Red Rampant is a first-person narrative set during the Scottish Wars of Independence.

The National: The game's cover artThe game's cover art (Image: Eclectic Synthesis)

The lead character is a “boy turning man” as McCullagh puts it, from around Glencoe who becomes caught up in Robert the Bruce’s wrestle for the Scottish crown.

At the heart of the development process though, was a focus on giving the player as much choice as possible.

“Within the game, we have a rewind potion which allows a player to go back through their memories, wake up there and then play the game forward from that point on using the knowledge of previous playthroughs,” Walker explains.

“They can use this foresight and hindsight to change history how they see fit and that’s the central mechanic but also the central offering.

The National: The game is set in ScotlandThe game is set in Scotland (Image: Eclectic Syntesis)

“It’s about tapping into that 'what if I chose differently' idea which is such a human need, and we have a grand narrative.

“I’ve spoken with people who play the game and we’ll all have wildly different experiences and I’ll feel I’ve only pulled at a thread slightly so every decision you make has six potential responses.”

Needless to say, creating such a narrative was ambitious but it’s a challenge that they both enjoyed.

McCullagh laughs as he tries to think about piecing together all the game’s variations in his head.

“It honestly just spins with it because we’ve designed everything to happen in so many different ways.

“The player's choices define the story. The default narrative means that England invades and defeats Scotland, so the player has to go back in time and find a way to change the tide of international conflict so Scotland wins, as they did.

“Sometimes you’ll find yourself triggering catastrophic consequences and encountering dead ends.

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“Maybe players would feel frustrated or time-wasted with this previously but you’re able to learn and go back.”

If there’s one element of the game the team are most proud of though, it’s the writing and narrative structure.

It even manages to weave in the legend of Robert the Bruce and the spider where the King of Scots allegedly watched a spider try time and time again to spin its web and get back up again every time it failed.

“We’ve agonisingly spent all this time writing all this content so you never feel like you’re repeating yourself or like you’re playing the same level again and again,” McCullagh says.

Staying authentic

The game’s creators, of course, didn’t want to let any inaccuracies slip into their narrative, but at the same time, it was important not to let that feel like a “straitjacket”, as Walker says.

“It was very important to us that there was a faithfulness which is why we worked with historian Fiona Walker.

“But at the same time, it’s not a documentary. I think what annoys people with inaccuracies is when it feels flagrant or that it’s not rooted in the story.

“If you are going to do something different, then justify it through your narrative. There’s a responsibility that comes with telling a historical story.

The National: The game places emphasis on player choiceThe game places emphasis on player choice (Image: Eclectic Synthesis)

“We wanted to reflect on the human story and not just say that Bruce won the battle and look at all the glory and crowns.”

As well as a Scottish-focused story, the game also features a variety of voice-acting talent with all parts taken by Scottish actors.

Looking to the future

The game is currently available as a free demo on the Eclectic Synthesis website although the team has big plans for the future.

The pair’s presence and talk at Scottish Games Week has helped them pick up some good contacts.

Walker explained: “We see the game as being told in three acts. It would be dozens of hours if we made the whole thing so we want an episodic release structure. We’re ambitious but realistic.

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“The demo is one portion and then the first episode would take the story forward from where we have left off and it would be about £4 for each subsequent episode.

“Hopefully that lets us build a bit of momentum. Ultimately, we want to expand as the company expands.