Got game — and message: Lawrence-based indie game studio gears up for first release
A fight between brothers has wrecked the planet, leaving it cracked and broken. Monsters roam the apocalyptic wasteland. And it’s up to you to set things right. To save the world, you’ll need to fight enemies, replenish the vegetation and restore your family — while you still can.
That’s the premise of “Cede,” a forthcoming video game from the Lawrence-based indie studio BareHand. Players take on the role of Seph, one of the brothers, and battle monsters that burst into seeds when defeated. Edwin Jack, game director and CEO, and Kris Carter, concept artist, said their game blends entertainment with ethics, striving to convey moral values and relatable characters alongside high-action fun.
“I really wanted to do something that connects with people or that has a purpose connected to our spiritual beliefs and Christian beliefs,” Jack said in a Banner phone interview. “[But also] at the end of the day, it’s a video game — it has to be fun.”
On the Web
To learn more about BareHand, visit: www.barehand.co
The Kickstarter campaign will be available Sept. 15 at http://kck.st/2un5wA5
BareHand’s team comprises Jack and Carter as well as a writer, lead programmer and musician. When the team launches Cede’s crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter next month, they anticipate generating the last round of financial support they need to bring the game to completion. It will be the first game produced by the team.
The BareHand team came together gradually, starting when Jack and Carter met while attending Washington Art Institute. Jack then went on to work for Warner Brothers Turbine, creating animations for big-name games such as “Lord of the Rings Online.” When Jack was laid off, he seized the opportunity to fulfill a desire that had been burning within him while working for Warner Brothers — to make a game with personal resonance to him. As one of many workers in such a large firm, he was unable to shape the vision of the games on which he worked, but with his own small company, every team member’s voice was important.
BareHand was launched in 2014, with both Jack and Carter recruiting talent they met through connections from various gaming and comic conventions. Ultimately, they built a small cross-country team that collaborates online.
Thus far, Edwin is the only one able to work full time, while other members make contributions as best they can. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, it would help underwrite sustained effort to finish “Cede.” They anticipate attracting both fans of action role-playing games (RPGs) and farming games, as well as parents seeking to provide their kids entertainment with a positive message.
The game sprang from a character idea. Jack and Carter said they wanted to steer clear from a tale of superheroes combating overly-grand problems. Instead, they were looking for a flawed protagonist who faces relatable issues. To avoid aggrandizing, they never refer to the protagonist, Seph, as a “hero.”
“You get this character, and he’s not the most perfect character,” Carter said. “You put him in a situation. How do you handle that? How do we handle that as humans? … We hope that will resonate with everybody as they play the game. We hope that they’ll get to think about their own lives, as well.”
Jack said they seized on the idea of an oppressed laborer as an issue that would resonate.
“Our character would be kind of like a slave worker,” Jack said. “Just putting in a lot of labor hours, because one thing we felt is, a lot of people just work an excessive amount of hours at work, doing hard labor and not really getting a big reward for it. That’s something we connected to.”
As the story goes, Seph is in charge of a planet, until his brothers overthrow and enslave him. Players pick up the story after Seph has broken free and is on a mission to repair the damaged planet.
Seph’s visual design is modeled after Fedor Emelianenko, a champion mixed martial artist whom Jack and Carter said stood out for an unintimidating appearance that belied his skill, along with his humble response at the end of a ten-year undefeated streak. To the designers, he represents a fighter who values his gifts without getting carried away.
“He always told people, ‘I don’t want you to worship me or think of me as some kind of god, because I’m not. I’m a human being and because I’m a human being, I’m imperfect. I’m going to lose, I’m going to struggle,” Jack said.
The teammates’ Christian beliefs also influence the storyline via the moral choices evoked. The game avoids specific religious theology, which could put off non-Christian players.
Meaningful and fun
As Jack and Carter explored ideas of a protagonist in bondage and sought to incorporate Christian themes, they were inspired by the Biblical tale of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers. They extracted plot and theme elements such as jealousy among brothers and working on a farm, but there was just one problem:
“Alright, Joseph does farming, but … farming is not a fun activity,” Jack said. “It takes time, it takes patience. … A lot of people don’t like how tedious farming is.”
What many players do like: action and drama. The balance they chose was to blend the story they wanted with the kind of gameplay their audience craves: Players fight monsters that explode into seeds, from which vegetation grows and helps heal the ruined landscape.
“You’re in this wasteland, and by the time you complete your mission, you have this tropical utopia full of lush and beautiful crops and plants,” Jack said.
That final kick
The main barrier to finishing the game is money, Jack said. Through their participation in Lawrence’s Entrepreneurship for All business accelerator, BareHand members learned business basics, including how to identify their target customers. They’ve also pulled together grants and awards, but are not quite there. A successful Kickstarter campaign could make all the difference, they said.
Once everything is completed, the team plans to release Cede through Steam, a popular online game distribution platform