Interview: Riot

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BY VLADIMIR GORYACHEV AND KONSTANTIN FOMIN

Last fall, when we were trying to come up with a name for our website, we had no idea that at the same time, a small international team of developers was working on a pixel-graphics game called Riot. Last week, the project hit Indiegogo (as well as Steam Greenlight), and instantly drew attention from both gaming and mainstream media. There is a reason — Riot is a game about the protests that shook the world over the last couple of years.

To finish the development of the game, the team needs $15 000 – not only for software licenses, but for travel expenses, because they want to visit the places of the most famous riots, including Italy, Greece, Egypt, and New York. The idea behind Riot is to show both sides of a conflict, and for this, they’ll need all the research they can get.

Leonard Menchiari, who previously worked for Valve, spearheads the effort. We asked him a few questions over email.

Riot Pixels: What inspired you to come up with an idea of such a game? When did you start working on Riot? How far along is the project now?

Leonard Menchiari: The project is at a very early stage of development, the idea didn’t come out of nowhere, it’s an idea that is also in development right now. The more you get into it, the more you see the importance to expand the idea even further. My very first concept started last year, only in the past 4-5 months I decided to focus on the game as much as I can.

RP: What is the gameplay like in Riot? Judging by the icons at both sides of the screen, we will be able to issue orders to people or police. So, is it a turn-based strategy?

The trailer created for the Indiegogo campaign.

LM: So far what you see in the video is mainly a concept design. It might not be like that, we’re trying to simplify everything to make it as pleasing to the eye as possible. The focus will be to make a game where you manipulate the mass with very little effort, without controlling the single individual. Each action helps the riot, but it doesn’t control it fully just like it would happen in a real riot.

RP: What is the player’s goal in the game (and we guess, it depends on what side you choose to play)?

LM: The player’s goal will depend on the level and the side he’s in. The objective would be most likely to win a battle using the least possible amount of violence. Rioters will be rewarded by respecting the cause they’re fighting for, while the police will be rewarded by following orders and winning each mission. The details are being developed.

RP: We also saw politicians and journalists — what are their roles in Riot?

LM: The journalists will be part of the scene and will be essential for the decisions of the respect result of each faction. Politicians can’t be avoided because we all know they’re the main ones behind all this. It needs to be expressed clearly.

RP: The official description of Riot says that the game is “primarily hotseat multiplayer but includes single player campaigns as well”. Can you elaborate?

LM: The game is mainly going to be played as a versus 2-player multiplayer on the same device. Single player campaigns will be extra packages that can be played by yourself.

RP: The visual style of Riot reminds us of the excellent Superbrothers adventure game by Capybara. What inspired you to go 8-bit?

LM: Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP was a great inspiration for the project. Thanks to that game I understood how much 8-bit graphics can stimulate your imagination. The 8 bit is not a way of replicating a retro game from the 80’s, it’s a way of showing scenes, people, faces, and all kind of details without going into details and into the specifics. The focus is on the crowds, the single person you can imagine whoever you want it to be.

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RP: Did you base Riot on real-world events, and if yes, which ones?

LM: Mainly several Italian events that are going on right now and that happened in the past. The noTAV movement was definitely a big influence, even though what really triggered my for the first time was the Arab Spring. We’re still writing the game campaigns so we’re trying to decide which other countries to involve and what other events to communicate. We’re looking for people open to show us how to experience more riots and where to go to see personally events that the television and newspapers won’t show us.

RP: How do you do the research for Riot? Do you study behavior of both protesters and police forces during actual events? What sources do you use in your work?

LM: I tend to go and experience events personally, even though many times I have to limit myself to listen only to people who experienced certain events personally. I refuse to listen to the lies of the television and the newspapers. There is very little truth in what the media tells us, and I personally got very tired about all this.

RP: Have you ever participated in street protests yourself? Maybe even clashed directly with the police?

The events at the А32 highway in February of 2012 (footage by Il Fatto Quotidiano).

LM: I’ve been in several riots, even though I still haven’t experienced anything that got close to death. A big peaceful protest I found myself into that turned out very badly was last February 2012 during the A32 Highway attack. Hundreds of people with their hands up got completely smashed by an endless army of police officers for going against an illegal government project.

RP: By the way, what is the situation like in Italy right now from an insider’s point of view? How bad is the civil unrest in the country?

LM: The situation is very bad. Even though we’re drowning in debts, the politicians in power are still stealing billions of euros through illegal projects, protecting banks, spending billions to brainwash people into voting for them again. Thanks to the very little concern that the ones in power have for our country, 50% of the Italian population doesn’t have internet and can’t be informed with anything else other than the dozen of television channels that the politicians have in their hands. The game will try to get out those truths, in as many places around the world as possible, so that people can be informed on what’s happening and what the television is not telling us.

RP: Do you follow Russia’s political events? We have our share of riots, too! (Unfortunately, Italy’s government is not the only one corrupt to the core!) What do you think about what is happening in our country?

LM: I saw only a few riot events in Russia, but I’m very glad to hear that you know something about it. I am very open to know as many things as possible about the situation so that I can also develop a Russian campaign. I am willing to travel to Russia to experience some riots over there as well so I can personally get an idea of what is the situation over there as well.

RP: Riot seems to show both sides of the conflict. But what is your personal point of view on recent protest movements? Which causes do you support?

LM: I am not trying to go against the police, nor against the rioters. At the same time, I want to show the immoral aspect of both sides as well. The game is not meant to be a «f… the police» or «counter strike» kind of game, but something that gives you the chance to understand both sides, and that shows you that there is a much larger issue that lies between all these conflicts.

RP: Are you worried that Apple may remove Riot from the App Store, like they recently did with the game about the ongoing civil war in Syria?

LM: I am not at all worried about the app being removed from the App Store. This game is about freedom of speech, sharing ideas and understanding perspectives. If Apple wants to block the application for being honest and open to more truths, that is not something that concerns me.

RP: How many people are working on Riot? Are they local, or scattered around the world? What previous game projects have they worked on?

LM: I’m the main developer of the game, I started working on it in the past 5-6 months and only recently I started putting together a team. So far I have a German programmer Ugur Ister, an Italian PR/Game designer in the Netherlands (Mattia Traverso who also worked on One and One story — finalist IGF), a German composer Simon Michel (simonmichel.de), and a good SFX team in Los Angeles.

RP: The trailer features excellent music. Is it safe to assume that this is the style you’re aiming for in the full game as well?

LM: The music will be very various. Even though I want to keep everything very realistic (therefore not too much guided by the music), I am going to have music playing in the scene either from some musicians in the background, or some speakers in some rioters’ public meeting place. So far Simon Michel did the score for the trailer, but he’s not going to be the only composer on board. Several composers are willing to create some form of music of every kind and genre that you usually hear in protests.

RP: Why did you decide to turn to Indiegogo? Why not Kickstarter?

LM: Flexible campaign was something that made me decide Indiegogo rather than Kickstarter. I admire Kickstarter as much as Indiegogo, they are both changing the world and giving to all of us the chance of developing our own projects.

RP: You also promise PC/Mac versions after the initial release on iOS and Android — how long will be the wait?

LM: We’re aiming to finish the game by the end of the year.

RP: I noticed a mention of a game called Aztlan Warrior in your Twitter feed. What is it?

LM: Aztlan Warrior is another game that I’m working on. The creator of that game is Justin Yngelmo, director of the Hey Ash HAWP series, but it’s still in development and I’m working only on the art in that.

Half-Life: Singularity Collapse, a short movie directed by Menchiari.

RP: You also made a short movie based on Half-Life. Do you plan to create more fan movies like that one?

LM: Certainly.

RP: Thank you for great answers, Leonard! And please come to Russia!