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In ‘Riot,' anarchy is a game

In ‘Riot,' anarchy is a game


Experience both sides of the fight in the upcoming 'playable documentary'

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Riot game
Riot game

Last year, as many Italians gathered together protesting the construction of a high speed rail line that would require a potentially destructive tunnel through the Alps, one of them had an idea. A combination of his own experience at the protests coupled with what was going on elsewhere in the world, particularly the unrest in places like Egypt, led Leonard Menchiari — previously an editor and cinematographer at Valve — to start working on a game that would capture that feeling. Development on Riot began six months ago, and earlier this month Menchiari launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover some of the development costs. This won't just be a game about anarchy, though. Instead, the team wants to teach players what it's like to be on both sides of the protest line. "It is Leonard's way to tell the motivation between the rioters and the police," says Mattia Traverso, who's working as a designer on the game. "It is a way to make the world understand how it is to be on both sides."

"It is a way to make the world understand how it is to be on both sides."

How exactly the team will recreate that feeling through gameplay is somewhat unclear. Though details are light, Traverso says that Riot will play like a "simple" real time strategy game, where your objectives vary based on the scenario. "There will be moments in which the police will have to use the least amount of violence as possible, and the same goes for the rioters," he explains. "The rioters are there to spread a message, not to fight the police." It also appears that player choice will have a role in how things proceed — Traverso mentions a scenario in which resorting to violence early on in a mission could have important consequences later on. Early screenshots and videos show rioters kicking windows, burning cars, and throwing objects, while police line up in full riot gear and fire what appears to be tear gas into crowds.

When it comes to its message, the team at Riot is aiming to create an objective experience, what they describe as a "playable documentary." How closely the game will follow real-world events is still to be decided, but it will definitely be inspired by them. In addition the research that's already been done, part of the money raised through crowdfunding will go towards travel expenses, so that the team can "document and experience live riots going on in Italy, Greece, Egypt, and possibly many other places around the world." Traverso believes that this experience will lend some authenticity to the project. "We can not claim to be able to treat the matter without having first experienced it."

"A riot is an experience that needs to be lived."

It's a topic that obviously requires quite a bit of sensitivity from the creator's standpoint, and that could potentially be difficult when you're trying to create a game that people will want to play. Rioting isn't exactly fun, but can a game based on the subject be? "Riot will be fun," says Traverso, "with an extra amount of care that the fun will paradoxically reflect its not-fun-at-all theme." That said, the interactive nature of games is a key factor, and part of the reason the team decided to make a game instead of a film. "A riot is an experience that needs to be lived," says Traverso.

Aside from how the game plays, how it looks is also important to the theme. Riot features a pixel art style reminiscent of — and admittedly inspired by — the mobile hit Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. This makes the characters less definable when they're massed together in a mob, putting the focus on the group as opposed to the individual. The art is also designed to be relatively simple so that you will "fill the missing spots with your imagination," according to Traverso. The game's logo, meanwhile, is clearly inspired by a similar painting from street artist Banksy.

"I love the idea of an alternate console market for indie developers."

In spite of the lack of solid details about how Riot will play, the game has already managed to attract a good deal of interest — it surpassed its $15,000 funding goal with more than two weeks still remaining in the campaign. The plan is to launch on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android, and the team is hoping to get Riot on Steam through the service's Greenlight program. The Android version will also be coming to Ouya. "I love the idea of an alternate console market for indie developers," Traverso says of the decision to release on the Kickstarted console, "and I don't see why we should not embrace it if we can." When the game will be available to purchase, however, remains unclear. A closed beta will be released to backers sometime in the next few months, but a final release date hasn't been revealed, and the team doesn't want to announce it until they're "100 percent sure" of the date. While the generally positive response from backers and media came as a surprise to the team, Traverso does understand why the game has struck such a cord.

"We have the occasion to use the video game medium to spread awareness about a social / political issue of our time," he says. "I would be excited even if I was not part of the project."