A Queer Look at Indie Gaming: The Arkh Project
It's a wonderful thing that Independent Developers are becoming more popular and gaining recognition. Without the kind of pressures that the full-blown corporate publishers have to bear, they have more freedom to go in new directions, and try things that would otherwise be ignored.
That said, even within the indie gaming community, there are some avenues of design that haven't been explored; notably minority representation. It can be difficult to think of many games where the character isn't a straight white male, and it's something requiring some much-needed variation. In order to cause some pragmatic headway, a new indie RPG project, Arkh started up at the end of last year. Its aims to tell a story that have Queer and People of Colour as the main stars is a refreshing change, and as such, it's gained a lot of attention from sites that discuss minority representation in media. Additional details on plot and game mechanics can be found here.
I've had the very fortunate opportunity to speak with the head of the Arkh Project, going by the name of Riley, we can get some behind-the-scenes insight to how the project is faring!
What's your gaming history? How long have you been into gaming and into games design?
Games, since I was 12. Gaming design? Considerably shorter. There aren't many people who look like me in the game industry, it never struck me to try it until a couple of years ago.
The Arkh Project is heavily centred around representing Queer people and People of Colour, what brought about that decision?
Simply put? I was talking to people and we were all just plain tired of the token gay or the token black or the token asian. We finally decided to get on up and do something about it. The goal is really to make it big enough that major companies take notice.
The idea of this being a AAA project seems lofty. What made you decide to go for that goal, as opposed to a smaller project?
AAA is probably beyond what we can manage, but we want to get as close to that as possible. We chose to aim high because major companies aren't really going to look at the tiny games. We need them to notice us, and the way to do that is to go big. We want to be able to point to Arkh and go "Hey, look. this made money; you can make money from this. So include us already!"
Let's talk aesthetics - is the style and setting of the Arkh Project inspired by anything?
The style of Arkh is inspired by various cultures. Each level takes place in a different, little-known culture and gives players exposure to things they'd never otherwise learn about. As far as the 'main' inspiration... probably Sailor Moon, as cheesy as that sounds. I'm a huge anime fan, and Sailor Moon was my first one ever.
You've managed to get a lot of world-building done! How are players going to learn about and experience the game world?
We're working right now to tie as much of the story into the actual gameplay. Every thing you do, from changing your weapons to putting on your armour will have some kind of game basis. And of course, being an RPG, there will be cut scenes.
What has the community response been like? Minority issues can often be a sticking point with many Internet communities.
It's what I expected. I've gotten everything from confessions of love to death threats. Overall, I'd say the response was highly positive, but we are still very small and haven't hit the biggest lumps of the mainstream quite as yet.
What do you feel your next major hurdle in your production is going to be?
Absolutely it'll be fund-raising, from beginning to the end; and that's where our major focus is right now.
The donation drives have been successful so far, it seems there's a lot of money going into this! How are you ensuring the funding is used effectively?
We do have access to a lot of people who have shipped titles and are getting a lot of heading and advice from them. The group Rosegold in particular has been a huge help to us in figuring out what needs to be done, and in what order.
Tell us about Rosegold's involvement with the Arkh Project.
Rosegold does their own work - they're more of background assistance; as far as 2-D art, what sort of things we need to prioritize, and how much money/time this sort of thing can take, and they've helped us by setting up a few website-based things for us. Slowly, we're making our own way, and then they'll be around for advice primarily. :) They also have similar game design ideals, but they fund their own projects, something that's unfortunately not possible for us.
Any thoughts about what engine/programming language Arkh will be built in? Have any willing programmers stepped forward yet?
Right now we're aiming at using Unity, and thus their scripting language. Unity is pretty versatile, so we can cross that over to quite a few things without too much extra work, but unfortunately it doesn't work on Linux. We do have a programmer willing to help, but he has a regular job and we will have to hire main programmers to take on the bulk of the work.
What's the next big update that we can expect to see from you guys?
Besides concept art? Hopefully that we've completed the game design, script, and raised enough to begin programming!