How The Queen’s Gambit Became A Video Game – A Visit To Ripstone

Gamepur recently visited Ripstone to learn about the creation of The Qeeen’s Gambit Chess.

Image Via Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit was a massive hit for Netflix in 2020, bringing in around 62 million views to date. The show followed the fictional Chess champion, Elizabeth Harmon, from her humble beginnings learning the game in the boiler room of her orphanage, rising through the ranks in a game that often looked down on female players, all culminating in her challenging the best player in the world in Moscow. 

So, how do you make a video game adaptation about a show that’s focused on playing Chess? Surely you’re just making a Chess video game with some familiar faces slapped on, because if you go in a drastically different direction, you alienate people who were fans of the show. I mean, just look at The Queen’s Gambit board game, which wasn’t even a Chess set based on the show: it was its own thing. 

This task was given to Ripstone, a UK-based studio. Best known for making Chess and Poker titles, Ripstone has to bring one of the biggest TV shows of the decade to an even smaller screen, as The Queen’s Gambit Chess is coming to mobile devices and being available through Netflix Games, available exclusively to Netflix subscribers. Gamepur recently had the chance to visit Ripstone’s studio in Liverpool to discover more about how they were able to land such a huge gig and how they were able to translate Beth Harmon’s journey into a video game. 

How The Queen’s Gambit Chess Came About

Image Via Netflix

During our visit to Ripstone, a representative from Netflix Games called in from the US, laying out their plans for the future of the service. Netflix currently has over 70 games being developed for its video game service, with 16 being produced by in-house studios. The idea is to expand the Netflix IPs into multimedia brands to make games for everyone without relying on ads or in-app purchases. 

Obviously, this will be a more difficult task for some IPs than others. There’s already a game based on Stranger Things, but that’s a franchise with supernatural elements and monsters. Meanwhile, something like Bridgerton would be difficult to adapt to a video game, or at least one with mass-market appeal. In most cases, Netflix will approach studios that it believes are suitable for video game projects, but that wasn’t the case when it came to a game based on The Queen’s Gambit

There is already a baked-in concept for The Queen’s Gambit, as it’s a show about Chess. All the developers would need to do is stitch together a Chess game, throw some artwork from the show into it, and call it a day. According to Ripstone co-founder Paul Gaskall, the studio approached Netflix in 2020, as the team was passionate about the IP. One of the reasons why they were chosen was because the team asked when “Netflix will become the Netflix of games?”

Ultimately, Netflix selected Ripstone for the project due to its history of making Chess/card game titles and its love of the show. The studio also has a lot of experience with “Daily Challenge” games, which encourage repeat visits and engagement, which fits well with a game that wants to teach players about Chess and keep them actively involved.

Building The Queen’s Gambit Chess

Image Via Netflix

The Queen’s Gambit became a huge hit during the pandemic, bringing millions of viewers. These same circumstances also slowed down the production of the game, as it would take some time before it was ready to be shown to the general public. The Queen’s Gambit Chess was initially announced during 2022’s GEEKED WEEK event, with the release set to happen a year later, on July 25.

So, why has it taken so long to produce a game based on The Queen’s Gambit? Even considering the issues presented by the pandemic, a Chess game shouldn’t take that long to produce. This is because the game truly is a labor of love, with an effort to make a game that gives you the quintessential Chess experience, regardless of your skill level. 

What made The Queen’s Gambit so successful is that it made Chess accessible and charming to watch, especially as the viewer wasn’t forced to endure tedious hours of planning between moves. To this end, The Queen’s Gambit Chess aims to reflect that experience by breaking Chess down into its most accessible form and making it attractive to view. Not only that, but Netflix’s Consumer Team Report was also deeply involved in the game’s production, helping to establish the core pillars of the IP’s experience and ensuring that they’re reflected in the game. 

As such, the story mode in The Queen’s Gambit Chess is all about teaching every aspect of the game, with the early stages acting as basic tutorials in Mr. Shaibel’s boiler room, to the matches against Chess pros, which feature puzzles that teach more advanced tactics. Once you’ve gotten to grips with the game, you can challenge the AI or other players in local & multiplayer modes. 

Capturing The Look & Feel Of The Queen’s Gambit Chess In A Video Game

Image Via. Netflix

So, the developers of The Queen’s Gambit Chess made a Chess game? Not the most shocking revelation in the world, but there’s more to it than that. It’s not enough to build an expansive Chess experience, as countless games already do that. The developers were tasked with making a game that would appeal to fans of the show, and capturing the feel of The Queen’s Gambit was essential. 

Ripstone was given a tremendous amount of access to production materials and set photos from The Queen’s Gambit to make it look as close to the show as possible. This is reflected in the stunning locations, as the team had side-by-side comparisons with footage from the show, and they did an incredible job matching the look and even the cinematography of The Queen’s Gambit. The character designs, by comparison, are a lot more cartoonish and only appear in cutaways rather than in the locations themselves. It’s understandable why this artistic choice was made due to the hardware limitations involved. Still, the team managed to evoke the spirit of the characters, even if they don’t look as impressive as the stages, Chess boards, or pieces.  

In terms of elements that relate directly to the show, there is also the unique Chess predicting talent of Beth Harmon. If the player has assistance levels switched on, they will have access to a meter that builds up over time, picking up speed as they lose pieces. Once the meter is full, they can look at the ceiling and see a Chess game played out, as Beth does in the show. This gives the player advice on what move to make next, which is a great way of using The Queen’s Gambit license in a way that feels natural. 

This isn’t to say that The Queen’s Gambit Chess didn’t face issues. As a game produced for mobile devices, some limitations were faced to ensure that it could run on as wide a range of hardware as possible, resulting in the game’s Chess engine being able to predict fewer movements than the ones used by personal computers. The Queen’s Gambit Chess also faced issues with Unreal, as Beth’s ability to see Chess played out on the ceiling caused issues when it was implemented in-game. The game’s developers told me how this caused a problem where the camera is reversed, so to fix it, there is a replica of the room just outside of the player’s field of vision, which is what’s seen in-game. Someone get the Boundary Break YouTube channel on the phone!

Ripstone & The Task Of Making A Game Based On The Queen’s Gambit

Image Via Netflix

The staff at Riptstone is composed of a small team of around 40 overall, yet it’s clear how much they love the show. You don’t put this much care into a project if this is just another soulless cash grab. If that were the case, The Queen’s Gambit Chess would have been shoved out the door long ago. Instead, I saw a team passionate about bringing this TV show to life on the small and smaller screen, even when people were mocking the concept of a video game based on The Queen’s Gambit (if only in a lighthearted way) a year ago. 

The Queen’s Gambit might be a massive show, but creating a video game adaptation couldn’t have been easy. That is unless the studio involved was willing to throw a picture of Anna Taylor-Joy on a generic Chess game and leave it there. It’s clear that the team at Ripstone are huge fans of the show and wanted to do it justice, even within the boundaries of the source material and hardware limitations. The Queen’s Gambit makes you want to play Chess, and the video game now has to follow up on that desire by giving people a way to jump straight into their Chess journey via Netflix itself or through their phones.

YouTube commenters were quick to poke fun at The Queen’s Gambit Chess when the final preview trailer was released in June 2023, joking about how excited they were to see Chess finally adapted into a video game. Still, they didn’t see the bigger picture. The Queen’s Gambit Chess isn’t some shovelware title released to cash in on a trend: it’s a title that’s good enough to stand on its own merits, made by people who adore the source material enough to try and bring it to life. The Queen’s Gambit created a surge of interest in Chess, and now Ripstone’s efforts can let people follow up on their desire to try the game out and give fans the same chance to become skilled at Chess that Beth Harmon had.