If you’ve spent any time around creative people in Alaska, especially college students, you get used to the idea that at some point they’re probably going to leave the state. Most of he music and visual arts scene in Alaska is nearly self-supporting, but it’s not at the point where it can sustain a band trying to make it big. There’s plenty of natural inspiration for artists, but not a large variety of galleries to display their work. So, like the aspiring lawyers, doctors, and rocket scientists among us, creative-types follow the siren’s call of the Lower 48 in the hope of better opportunities.
It’s a little depressing, when you think about it.
But one area of creative innovation may not require airfare to parts unknown. University of Alaska Anchorage student Rusty Hayes is sticking around. He is part of an international team in the midst of launching something new into the independent gaming market. It’s called “War Command.”
War Command is a role-playing game, commonly abbreviated as RPG. Players use decks of illustrated cards representing different characters and weapons to challenge other players for total domination of the board. Think of it like chess…with guns and alien races. While familiar RPGs like Magic the Gathering have been around for decades, Hayes says that War Command is straying from one of the traditional marketing models for RPG-producing companies. A common first move by an RPG startup is do a limited release of rare, powerful cards that can be used to essentially trump the average player’s carefully-arranged decks. Hayes thinks this takes some of the fun out of the game.
“And it’s not satisfying when somebody beats you because they have spent more money…bought more Pokemon cards. It’s satisfying to know that your victory came from the strategy that you played out on the board and nothing else.”
And so Rusty and the rest of the development team at Fringe Games has been working to create a game that can deliver that satisfaction of victory through skill, instead of simply acquiring one powerful card to rule them all.
Fringe Games was founded by Rusty’s brother, Raymond in Salt Lake City. Raymond, who works as a commercial fisherman in Southeast Alaska during the summer, had mostly been disappointed with RPGs he played growing up and wanted to make something better. After recruiting some of his friends in Salt Lake City and his brother, Rusty, the newly-formed independent gaming studio began creating a storyline and recruiting artists. Did I mention that almost all of this was done online? Rusty says working remotely has been “mostly a non-issue.”
“Most of our team does our work independently, and we confer primarily via email. This is true regardless of whether we are in the same building together. So it’s not that big a change. The only thing we absolutely needed to be down there for was for the convention tours. A lot of the other people who work on the game, our artists, a lot of them don’t even live in the country. We have artists from Portugal, Australia, just all over the world. It’s been sort of a project from the start that was handled almost entirely over the internet.”
Fringe Games plans to launch War Command at the end of this year as a game app which can be played on a smartphone. But in the midst of shopping the game around at conventions like Comicon Phoenix, Leprecon, and of course Saltcon, the team had to put together a physical game for demonstrations. But then they ran into a problem: people really wanted the cards.
“Everybody was so excited about it, our tables were busy, even at the smaller conventions. It was overwhelming in a lot of ways for us. But at the same time a lot of people were disappointed when we told them that it would only be coming out in a digital format. And that was by far our biggest feedback and request. “Oh, that’s awesome, but I really wish I could get these cards and just have them.”
In order to accommodate what Hayes describes as the “culture of collection,” Fringe Games is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to produce an initial run of the cards as a boxed set. If the campaign succeeds, there will be enough funds to produce close to 2,000 game units, as well as pay some of the artists who were recruited from online gallery sites like deviantART and joined the project for a stake in its success.
While Hayes says they’ve learned a few things from setting up the Kickstarter campaign, the team has contingency plans for whether they fail, meet their goal, or go beyond it. He doesn’t anticipate leaving Alaska other than the occasional trip to one of the gaming conventions. Who knows, perhaps as the world grows further connected online, Alaska might be able to keep more of its young makers and artists here at home.