It’s no secret that USC’s School of Cinematic Arts is a breeding ground for new and burgeoning talent. Director George Lucas (Star Wars), producer Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind) and screenwriter David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight trilogy) have all walked SCA’s hallowed halls. While success often comes after an education at SCA, this isn’t so for two sophomores in the Interactive Media and Games division: Keenan Mosimann and Zach Suite.
Mosimann has been an active contributor in the gaming world for more than six years — he curates a YouTube game channel with more than 500,000 followers under the name Criken. Both Mosimann and Suite were in an Intro to Game Development class taught by Margaret Moser last year when the class‘s student assistant told them about a technology he had been working on. Then-senior Will Hellwarth had just taken a demo from Mixamo, a 3-D game animation company in San Francisco, and reconfigured it to read and respond to someone’s eyes using the built-in web camera in a computer — an innovative idea that had never been tested live before. Mosimann asked Hellwarth if they could further expand the use of the technology, and Suite, who had worked with Hellwarth on a previous project, jumped on board to join Hellwarth’s company, Goodbyeworld Games.
After an extremely brief development cycle of two months, the group came up with Close Your — a self-described “first-person tragedy” that takes the game player through an entire life span of an ambiguous character who has memory loss. The catch? Every time the player blinks, the game jumps forward and the player loses a chunk in time. Described as sort of the game version of the film Boyhood, which depicts a fictionalized childhood filmed over a period of 12 years, Mossiman said that “you can’t help but watch [the game] fly right before your eyes.”
Mosimann, Suite and Hellwarth acknowledge they’re a small team and the visuals are very simple; however, they combat this by making the game purposefully stylized, providing individual faces for each of the various characters despite the fact that everyone’s head is shaped like a block. The game is different for every player and gameplay lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how much the player blinks. If the player chooses to talk to one person a lot in the beginning of his life, that person will be in their wedding. But if he chooses someone else to talk to, then it will be that character instead. Mossiman says there’s this “huge branching story that you can’t get through one play-through,” and that’s why it can be played over and over again. After making the game, the group had to ask: What’s next?
IndieCade — often called “the Sundance of Game Festivals” — is a four-day independent festival that takes place every October in Culver City. More than 150 featured games are chosen for display as both industry professionals and game players alike come out to test and enjoy the various events.
The group applied to IndieCade not expecting anything to happen, but was overjoyed to learn they had been accepted to exhibit. They’re using IndieCade as a test to see how the new technology plays with audiences, assess the feedback from developers and media and hope it’s positive enough to use as grounds for developing a company. Suite and Mosimann said they had a lot of ideas for how to employ the technology on different platforms and games. Mosimann also plans to link his connections with YouTube — an avenue he says is especially advantageous because most content uploaders only use webcams for their videos. Mosimann said they’re also very excited to bring Close Your to “anyone who’s looking for a new an innovative way to play a game.”
While Mosimann is excited, Suite says he’s also anxious about exhibiting their game this weekend. But for now, they must continue to focus; the team will be busy honing and working on new aspects right up until the festival begins on Thursday. For the last month they’ve worked to change and refine the details of the game, even changing the story to be less linear and more emotional. They’ve also polished visuals and attempted to make the game more interactive in hopes of immersing the player more fully into the world. They like to call Close Your an “interactive poem of sorts” in which one of the goals is to make people cry. Whether they successfully complete their goal still remains to be seen this weekend, but it’s clear these sophomores still have a bright future ahead.