It's usually the case that the indie developers behind a Kickstarter campaign are amateurs looking for a big break, veterans who've broken away from “AAA” publishing, or individuals who are otherwise involved in the videogame industry. It's surprising then to see 3D platformer HomeMake presented by two architecture students with no substantial game design experience and no previously published games.
The students in question are Matt “Archgame” Conway and Cory Seeger, also known as Franklin Cosgrove. Together their skill set includes animation, 3D modelling and DJing, all underlined by a love and appreciation of architecture. Now the two budding polymaths have turned their sights to videogame development.
“We hope our backgrounds in architecture will bring something new to videogames,” Cosgrove tells me. “As architects, we have this backlog of architectural history and theory to draw from – this is one of the main reasons we want the city to be the main protagonist of the game.”
Looking over HomeMake's Kickstarter page, my intrigue shifted from the credentials of the game's creators to the game itself, which is interesting both in its presentation and its concept.
As Cosgrove stated, HomeMake's cosmic city of Sumimoto is the star of the show. Laid bare along the inside of a spherical, artificial planetoid, players will be able to view the entirety of Sumimoto from any one point and watch as its structure morphs and interacts with itself and its denizens.
“Sometimes it shrinks, other times street grids are rearranged and facades are relocated,” Cosgrove explains. “Each part will also offer a different experience for each character. Some characters will be too big to go down alleys, but in other parts they will be able to see over rooftops, while this is inversed for smaller characters... we hope players awaken their curiosity and desire to explore, however, we don’t want such a rigid narrative that the player doesn’t actually feel comfortable exploring – we want to reward players for taking a risk and trying something new, especially when it comes to deciding which character to swap to.”
HomeMake features several characters who are important not only for their physical abilities, but their differing perceptions of the city itself. For example, HomeMake's first main character, Kigi the robot, can not only run quickly, but he can visually interpret sound. Sandwiches the fox, on the other hand, can fit through tight spaces, has monochrome vision, and can visually interpret smells. Switching between the plants, animals and robots that make up Sumimoto's inhabitants will be key to its thorough exploration.
But it's important to note that there'll be no urgency to players' adventures in Sumimoto. The city can be explored at whatever pace players find most comfortable, from those wishing to uncover every nook and cranny, to those content to stop and revel in the unique visual/ audio experience HomeMake will offer.
“We are both big fans of cyberpunk novels including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Gibson's Sprawl trilogy, and of course Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and China Mieville's The City & The City.” Archgame has no trouble reciting the breadth and depth of HomeMake's inspirations, which also include animes such as Tekkonkinkreet, FLCL, and Kaiba.
“I've been DJing longer than I've been in architecture and much longer than I've been into game design,” Archgame continues. “But I can't think of any video game which has a similar soundtrack to ours. Recently a lot of games have nostalgic chiptune tracks, which is fine, but we realized early on that we could give our game a completely different feel based on what the music was. Our biggest music inspiration comes from Samurai Champloo, specifically Nujabes and Tsutchie who made most of the songs for that anime.
“However, the biggest inspiration for the game is architecture and urbanism, specifically that of Tokyo.”
This last sentence speaks volumes of what HomeMake is and what Cosgrove and Archgame are trying to achieve. It would seem as though HomeMake is a videogame manifestation of their love of architecture, enhanced by their combined passion for anime, literary cyber-punk and DJing. And, as Archgame goes on to tell me, the study of architecture has more videogame-related transferable skills then one might think.
“When an architect creates buildings with idiosyncratic forms, it's impossible to manufacture and coordinate all the components without the use of advanced computer programs,” Archgame explains. “I’ve had experience working in Beijing on an opera house with 300,000 unique facade panels which needed to be coordinated through coding parameters for iterative design studies and manufacturing. This ability to create and control multiple discrete elements through coding has come in handy when designing HomeMake's environment. Additionally, having the understanding of coding languages and geometry has become useful when creating camera, physics, and control scripts.”
There's no doubt that HomeMake is an interesting project by two interesting developers. But while it would be doubly interesting to see what Cosgrove and Archgame will achieve if and when they secure their $15,000 Kickstarter goal, I can't help but wonder where such a path would take them. Surely with architecture being the focal point of their lifes' ambitions, their stint as videogame developers would be fleeting at best?
“We’ve never intended to leave architecture, nor do we intend to quit game design; we already have ideas for two additional HomeMake games that we would love to develop after the first one is released,” Archgame tells me. “We’d like to see a future labour economy that allows for more movement and collaboration between disciplines. It would be great if one day we were able to design a house and immediately turn around the next day and design a video game if we felt like it. The enthusiasm and openness of the indie gaming community has really helped us come closer to this idea; we are really excited about the future and cannot wait to see it.”