First, the relevant information and linkage: Midnight Star, the video game for which I created the overarching story and whose development I otherwise contributed to, is up and now available worldwide on iOS in the iTunes store. The game is free to play, with the ability to make in-app purchases (the game can be played without them if you so choose, however). The game is a science fictional first person shooter game, designed specifically for mobile platforms and how people use them. I’m fantastically proud of this game. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun. Try it!
Second, some longer thoughts about the game and how I came to be a part of Industrial Toys, the team that made it.
I love video games. I’ve played them since the Magnavox Odyssey days, when a console was a big chunk of plastic with two knobs, that you used to play Pong (or whatever the non-trademarked version of the game was). I’m particularly fond of first person shooters, games in which the point of view is your very own head, and you wander around the game maps, taking aim at all the creatures who are hell-bent on killing you in some shape or form. These games have been a part of my entertainment and imagination for decades, and I always wanted a chance to make one, one day.
Fortunately for me, I know Alex Seropian, and Alex Seropian knows me. Alex, in case you don’t know him, co-founded Bungie and co-created Halo, which is a game that, unless you’ve spent the last decade in Amish splendor, I’m almost certain you’ve heard about. But even before Halo Alex and Bungie were making great games — I remember many a long evening playing Marathon, one of the earliest first person shooter games for the Mac.
Even if all Alex had ever done was Halo and Marathon, he’d go down in history as one of the primary architects and influences of the modern era of video games. But as it turns out Alex isn’t interested in being an “influence,” he’s still interested in shaping the industry. And in this case he was thinking about was first person shooters and mobile platforms.
Video games don’t exist independently of their technological platform, and — provided you wish to have a successful video game — you have to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the platform you’re using. You can port games into different platforms, of course, but when you do that the game still comes with the legacy of that previous platform; it’s an adaptation. That process can be done well or poorly but it’s still an adaptation. Likewise, a game can be made for a platform, but if the designer is thinking about it using old design metaphors, it’ll feel like an adaptation — it won’t take advantage of what that new platform can do.
There are a fair number of first person shooters on mobile devices and tablets these days. Many are adaptations from console or PC games; some are designed for the mobile platform but use design and control elements derived from console and PC platforms. What Alex wanted to do — and what he co-founded Industrial Toys to do — was to create games that had mobile computing at the core of their design philosophy: Make a game that is meant to be mobile, in other words, and takes advantage of how people use their mobile devices today.
What does that mean? In the case of Midnight Star, it means (among other things) that you can control all aspects of the game with one hand: You can shoot, block, reload and do other actions through pointing, swiping and pressing — in other words, all the actions you already do with your mobile devices, at this point almost instinctually. It also means that individual encounters in the game are quick to get into and quick to get out of — because we use our mobile devices in bursts, when we’re in line to get coffee, while we’re waiting for friends, when we’re on the subway on the way to work, and so on. You can fire up the game, have a blast for a minute or two, put it away, and then catch up again when you have another spare minute.
These are only two examples of thinking mobile first; there are others you’ll discover as you play the game. The point is that Midnight Star isn’t just on your phone or tablet — Industrial Toys (Alex, Tim Harris and their entire staff) made it for your phone and tablet, and for you, when you’re on your mobile devices.
Which I think is pretty cool. When I’m playing a video game, what I don’t want to be doing is fighting with the tech platform or the controls of the game; I want the game to suck me in and make me a part of its world. That doesn’t happen without smart people thinking deeply about game design. Industrial Toys is packed with people who do just that — and have applied it to my favorite genre of video game to boot.
So when Alex called and said, hey, we’re making this game, do you want in on this, my response was pretty much you had me at ‘hello.’ What, make a first person shooter with the guy who had created two of the best and most significant shooters in the history of the industry? Yeah, let me think about that. Let me think about that real hard. Saying “yes” to this gig was one of the easiest professional decisions I’ve ever made.
We’ve been working on this game for a couple three years now. Most of my part of it was early on, in the initial worldbuilding and character creation. Alex, Tim and everyone else knew what they wanted to do with game mechanics, and my job was to give them a story to hang all the cool stuff on. We ended up doing so much worldbuilding for the project that we simultaneously developed the graphic novel Midnight Rises, which came out last week. I wrote Midnight Rises directly; Midnight Star’s dialogue and other bits were written by folks on the Industral Toys team with me coming in to do editing, to give character notes and to otherwise offer advice and thoughts. The universe that both Star and Rises exist in has whole lot of me in it, and it’s very cool to see the thoughts that I had in my head turned into a game I really like playing.
Creating the game was also a satisfying work experience. When I write novels, it’s just me and a keyboard; I’m responsible for every choice and every line. With Midnight Star, I was part of a team and not the head of it — Alex and Tim had those jobs. My job was to help make their job easier, and to give everyone at Industrial Toys something that would make the game they wanted to create better. The ego in this project, in other words, was in making sure I did my part as a team member, not just in showing off my writing chops.
It’s easy to be the person who wants to drive the bus. But the thing was, writing and worldbuilding are only a small part of this overall project, and there are a lot of other things about the project that I can’t do, aren’t qualified to do and frankly shouldn’t do. This would be the case with any video game I might ever make, not only this one. If I ever wanted to write a video game, at any point — a video game that I as a gamer would like to play — there would have to be a team of people with whom I would work.
And the fact is I got really lucky with the team at Industrial Toys. The shop is packed with people who are, simply, spectacularly good at what they do. It’s a great thing when you can do work, hand it off to people, and trust them to make something amazing with your work as part of it. My role in making Midnight Star was big to me, but the truth of the matter is I had the easy part. It was the team in the shop who made it happen. I get to call it “my” video game when I talk about it, but believe me when I say that “my” video game is really about so many other people, all of whom I can’t thank enough for allowing me to take part in the ride with them.
Finally: people, I can’t wait for you to play this thing. Dig the cool art by Mike Choi and Prashant Patil. Groove to the score by Serj Tankian. Thrill to the game architecture and play by Alex and his crew of game nuts. Every time I fire the game up, what I mostly think is, how cool is this. I would play the hell out of this game even if I had nothing to do with it. This is very very close to the game I always wanted to make. And now it’s here.
Come play our game. And I hope you love it as much as I do.