Palmer indie game developer receives good reviews at convention - Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Business

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PRIME ADVENTURE Palmer indie game developer receives good reviews at convention

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Posted: Saturday, September 15, 2012 7:38 pm | Updated: 5:03 pm, Fri Oct 12, 2012.

PALMER — One local man’s obsession with science fiction appears on the verge of blasting off into orbit as an independent video game designer.

David Board, a partner in Palmer-based Stage 2 Studios, is in the homestretch of completing his first sci-fi adventure puzzle game, “Lifeless Planet.” Since germinating the idea, Board has worked from his studio office designing characters, landscapes and developing conflicts and storylines. Now, he’s even more excited after “Lifeless Planet” received favorable reviews recently from gamers at PAX Prime in Seattle, the largest annual gaming event in North America.

Board’s game was featured in the Kickstarter booth. Kickstarter is the world’s largest funding mechanism for indie game developers, connecting designers with gamers and those willing to help finance their work. Through Kickstarter, Board generated $17,000 to help get the ball rolling on “Lifeless Planet,” and that work has paid off over the past year as he’s also struck a deal with London-based adventure game publisher Lace Mamba Global for worldwide distribution of the game when it’s finished.

The exposure at PAX Prime, however, has helped put his independent effort into the industry’s spotlight. While at the convention, held Aug. 31 through Sept. 2, more than 1,000 gamers had a chance to play a sample of the game, Board said.

“It’s one of those cool things that could never have happened here in Alaska,” he said. “We’re trying to go PC/Mac initially, but it we can get interest from one of those (major brand) platforms, that’s a whole other market.”

Those platforms include Xbox, Nintendo and Sony. In fact, Board said a “large console platform representative” talked to him about “Lifeless Planet,” but he doesn’t want to say which platform just yet.

That Kickstarter asked him to be part of its exhibit was an honor, Board said.

“My idea started small, but I’m a huge supporter of Kickstarter now seeing firsthand what it does,” he said. “They say it’s not really about the money, it’s about gaining momentum for your project, and now I really see that.”

More importantly, it gives Board and Stage 2 Studios exposure to their target audience — gamers.

“I’m sure I talked to more than 1,000 people,” Board said, adding nearly all of those gamers gave favorable reviews. “One of the main characters you meet in the game, Aelita, there’s a famous Russian science fiction novel and it’s loosely based on the name from that.”

“Lifeless Planet” is a third-person cinematic sci-fi action adventure game that forces the player to solve puzzles and follow clues to advance the plot, Board said after inking his deal with Lace Mamba Global. It’s set 20 light years from Earth where the protagonist, an unnamed astronaut, finds himself stranded on a lifeless planet, only to discover the Russians had been there before him.

“Without giving away the story, the Russians in the story aren’t exactly the antagonists,” Board said. “Things have kind of gone awry and the Russian laboratory is abandoned and devoid of life. The theme is that during the space race, American’s were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re planting a flag on the moon.’ Meanwhile, these guys were on a distant planet.”

PAX attendees embraced the apparent conflict and Russian theme, he said.

“It was awesome. We just had a short, single-level demo, but it was very cool,” Board said. “You could see the reaction from people when they walked by the booth and PAX is really overwhelming. There are a lot of indie games there. To see (gamers) go from ‘what is this’ to ‘wow, this is stinking cool’ was amazing. … Without a doubt, it was overwhelmingly positive. I had only two people out of over 1,000 who gave any kind of negative reaction. People really responded to the story, sort-of an old, sci-fi-type story.”

PAX Prime also allowed Board to get valuable feedback from gamers on how to tweak “Lifeless Planet” before it’s released. For example, simulating low gravity in the game sometimes can make it harder to control the character than intended.

“One guy who’s played games all his life had this brilliant idea to just tap the button for a short jump and hold the button for a long jump,” he said. “That’s a great idea and it’s going to make it into the game.”

Now that he’s back from PAX Prime, Board said he has a lot of work to do over the next few months and is roughly shooting for releasing the game around the first of 2013. He said he’s also confident the more than 2,000 hours he’ll have into “Lifeless Planet” will pay off in the end.

“At this point, there have been thousands and thousands of people who have seen it, not counting those who have seen it on YouTube,” he said. “I feel like I can deliver on the story I’ve set up and the environment and keep delivering the quality I’ve been doing.”

Contact reporter Greg Johnson at greg.johnson@frontiersman.com or 352-2269.

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