A few weeks back I received an invitation to attend a local gathering for Multivarious Games’ Kickstarter launch. A new game development studio launching their Kickstarter for their XNA based game, Dangerous. A game which is partially influenced by Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” A game that gives me great pride to write about, considering it hails from a city I call home, Columbus, Ohio.
To add a bit of perspective, this unexpected invite came from an old artist friend I’d known through college, Chris Volpe. I’d known Chris as a pretty advantageous photographer in the early oughts, but I’d soon learn that his life in Columbus has lead up to this very special moment. Chris is the current COO of Multivarious Games and I decided to bend his ear on his current undertaking as a game developer, and the arduous task of making a game stand out in a vastly growing indie scene.
Seeing people my age, at a local bar, gathered around a large screen waiting to hop into a game they’ve never played was pretty inspiring. What was Dangerous all about? How difficult is it to make an independant game in Ohio? I asked. “Dangerous is based on a few layers. It's like an onion, but more fun to play with. We wanted dangerous to be a really fun to play game that was quick, and frantic. Each "match" is generally 2-5 minutes, with a ton of stuff happening the entire time. We also want each to build to a crescendo of sorts, the way the old super bomberman used to. Everyone starts off, but as the game keeps going, things become crazier, platforms get destroyed, the environment is becoming more dynamic, until finally it culminates in a winner. It keeps people on their toes, and makes every game unique.” Volpe explains.
Dangerous is a local 4-player game, that is still in the early stages of development. Multivarious Games are hoping with the help of contributors to their Kickstarter, that the local studio can grab the attention of gamers everywhere. I naturally jump to a cynical viewpoint when I think indie game and Kickstarters, because the boom of Kickstarter games have come from densely populated cities. I imagined this would be a large feat for a game getting any support in the Midwest, but Volpe was quick to respond. “That's the big question. As a small start-up, we don't really have any name recognition, no clout. That means we have to do two things, make an amazing game, and bust our ass to network.”
Chris goes further by saying, “networking is often considered one of those things you do because you have to, but we see it as a way to connect to like minded people in our industry. We have spent a tremendous amount of time talking to people from all industries to build those kinds of connections. You never know who's going to be interested in what you're doing, and help support you and connect you to other people. I couldn't tell you the number of times I've been in a random conversation and I told them I'm developing an xbox game, and the whole conversation shifts. Just last night, I was at a bar for a show and a conversation started that ended up lasting over an hour. We were literally outside talking while the band we came to see was playing inside. People are excited about video games, it's really incredible.
We try to be involved in as much stuff as we can in Ohio. We attend conventions and expos, we're a major partner in both the Central Ohio Gamedev Group (COGG) and the Ohio Gaming Incubator. The game development community in Columbus is small, so there is a lot of opportunity, but there are also a ton of challenges, so we have to support each other.” Chris states.
A great deal of local artists at the fundraiser contributed art, buttons, handmade items to incentivize attendees contributions to Multivarious Games idea. The developers weren’t just a group of people making a game. They were friends asking for help reaching a goal. Chris continues. “Ultimately, we have a long road ahead of us in terms of breaking into the mainstream parts of the industry, but I think we're doing the right things and fostering relationships with a lot of really great people.”
So with a strong local network, the Kickstarter fundraiser was supported by a local bar, Seventh Son Brewing. I noticed the immediate familiarity this party had with many local fundraisers and functions. Young people talking games, news and beer -- made me wish that there was a Kickstarter for games every month.
Why is it so strange to think that in the era of social media evolving us to be more connected, that we actually use the format to meet more frequently? Perhaps a question for another time.
While there I had the chance to pick the brain of Wesley Adams (Chief Design Officer) and Jake Donovan (Creative Designer) to get a base level knowledge of their history with games. The most interesting aspect of Dangerous is that it completely reflected how the local Ohio attendants found themselves at this fundraiser. We all wanted to play games, with each other, in person. Considering I had a great deal of trepidation for the game when it was revealed that Dangerous is local multiplayer only. I asked Volpe was this a purposeful intent with the fundraiser, and game design. Chris responds. “That was actually our major intention. We wanted to recreate the experience of hanging out with friends, playing games and joking with each other. Like how we used to when you'd go to a friends house and hang out in there basement all night.
That's one of the reasons we brought in the tv and the old school consoles, so we could bust out some Mario Kart, or Goldeneye. This type of experience I think is something very unique to our generation since we were growing up during the first "Console Boom" of video games, so people were just starting to get into games through the NES, Sega, SNES, etc. But at the same time, there were no internet consoles, so if you wanted to play the newest super nintendo or N64 games with friends, you had to all go to the same place and hang out.
Dangerous is influenced by the simple designs of the past, in order to draw fresh eyes to their modern game concepts. Chris muses further about why it is important to remember why local multiplayer is important, as well as the incorporation of familiar game design. “This is a driving factor for Dangerous, we want people to be playing together next to each other, so you're not only getting the game experience, but you're also getting the more meta-social experience of people laughing and joking with each other. Obviously this is the internet age, so we'll have to incorporate online features, but if we have to make the choice between over the internet play, or one of the core features of the game we think is really important, the online stuff will be what goes. It's probably not the best marketing decision, but we feel it's the best way to go for the experience we'd like to create.” Chris says.
The potential for Dangerous’ success seems to be representative of the area it is being brewed. I’ve always thought this about local companies that start in this city. However, asking Chris his feelings on being a major part of a development studio in Columbus, comes with several sobering views.
“I think Columbus is an amazing city. It's young and energetic, and people are wanting to try new things. And most importantly, local businesses support each other here. Almost everything we got for the event, raffle prizes and whatnot, were donated from other local business, and Seventh Son gave us the space to use for free. That says something important about the city. We want to bring the video game industry to Columbus. I'm not talking about pulling California into Ohio, I mean we want to build a hub for the industry using the amazing talent and desire we have here already. Columbus alone has the largest university in the country, pumping out tons of software engineers, programmers, artists, musicians, administrators, PR folks, and that's not counting CCAD, Columbus State, or any of the other colleges and universities surrounding Columbus. The sad thing is, that everyone who is interested in game development as a career can't really stay in Ohio.” exclaimed Chris.
A harsh truth, but a truth that doesn’t deter him and the rest of the team at Multivarious Games. With a positive outlook on the Kickstarter for Dangerous, it’s hard to believe that there could be something much larger that comes from a game developer studio based in Ohio. Chris is humble and recognizes the scope of Multivarious Games and wants to carve out another path. “We do have some real small 2-5 people companies that do video game development, but if you want to get into a mid-level or AAA development shop, you have to leave. We want to change that. I would love to have several 15-50 person development studios in Columbus/Ohio where people wanting to make games can go and use their skills. Otherwise, we're losing all that amazing talent.” Chris, states.
Below are the stretch goals for Dangerous to be Kickstarted. I wish Chris Volpe and the hard working talent at Multivarious Games the best of luck.