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RIOT: The anarchy simulator from an ex-Valve cinematographer
 RIOT : The anarchy simulator from an ex-Valve cinematographer
February 26, 2013 | By John Polson

February 26, 2013 | By John Polson
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Business/Marketing

It's not often that a video game lets players take a step back and experience both sides of a riot-in-progress. But one upcoming indie project aims to do just that.

Developer and filmmaker Leonard Menchiari spoke to Gamasutra sister website IndieGames this week about his upcoming riot simulator, aptly named RIOT. The Half-Life Singularity Collapse developer launched an Indiegogo campaign for RIOT last week and has almost raised $13,000 of its $15,000 goal already.

Menchiari, who has previously worked as a cinematographer for Valve, discusses the game's current in-progress plans, his take on not focusing on ethnicity, his research goals for both sides involved in riots, and his ambivalence towards a possible App Store rejection.

Can you describe the typical gameplay elements on both sides?

The game design is still in development, but the main focus is to be able to manipulate the crowd with very few and simple commands. The game doesn't push you to be an individual hero, but part of a larger organized (and unorganized) group of people.

The purpose is not mainly to beat up and destroy the other faction, but to achieve a goal for each mission, sometimes using the least amount of violence, other times being forced to make brutal decisions as well.

The single player won't be controlled -- what you control is the mass. Each character will be an individual in a way that it's going to think on its own; it's the whole crowd that will influence each single individual.

riot 3.jpg

Why play as the cops? I can't recall when the cops or military lose in riots, compared to the casualties and injuries from protesters.

Playing as a cop is also essential. My goal is to expose as many aspects as I can of both sides, from both perspectives. Winning a battle doesn't always mean to destroy the other side; that is something I want to clarify in this game.

Will certain sides start the riots or will they already be in progress?

Usually it starts when the riot starts. It's still in development so it might change. So far it's going to be about rioters showing their case and gaining clout and police trying to remove the rioters from the battle using the least amount of violence to let the crowd gain less clout.

So if you wanted, you could beat the shit out of everyone and destroy everything, but you would lose a lot of respect and the later levels would be harder.

Will we get to play as the media? if not, what role do they serve?

The media will be there, but it probably won't be used directly. Their presence will influence what happens after each battle.

What kind of variety/ethnicity/representation of the people will you put in RIOT?

Ethnicity will only be a geographic detail, the game won't be focused on that at all.

Why sidestep ethnicity, when it seems so important?

Let's say that ethnicity makes every human disconnected, while this game is not about that. The more I dig in detail, the more I'm starting to believe that there is a deep connection between all of us.

I am not willing to tell the players what that connection is, that would be impossible -- I'm just pushing them to try to see it for themselves in the game and in the real world.

What real world events specifically are you modelling your game off of so far?

I'm going to aim for as many locations as we can afford to make. So far my goal is to have a campaign for at least Italy, Greece, Egypt, New York, possibly South Korea, and several more depending on the budget and the time.

What kind of research will you do to portray both sides accurately?

I try to experience the events in person to understand as clearly as I can what happens without being influenced by all the lies that the media forces us to believe (especially TV and newspapers).

I also limit myself to listen only to the people who experienced these events personally. I refuse to listen to media reports or newspaper articles. My focus is to bring out all of what the media won't tell us.

riot 1.jpg

And what about talking to the police?

I know a few people who worked in the police force, plus I've been trying to research a lot though Facebook and other social networks. It's not easy, and unfortunately I wouldn't be able to be 100 percent accurate since I've never been in the police forces before, but I'll do everything I can to be as objective as possible.

I assume you've heard of other games being rejected for submission. Are you worried your game will be rejected from the App Stores? What is your argument for why this game should not be rejected?

Being rejected is a risk that I'm willing to take. I am not at all worried if this game won't make it into the App Store, the main focus is to make something good and honest. If honesty will be rejected, that is not something that concerns me. Freedom of speech, sharing our ideas is not only important, it's essential if we want to make this world a better place for all of us.

Who are your team members on RIOT and when do you think the game will release?

So far I worked on most of the project by myself, just recently I'm getting a very small team together to speed up the process and boost up the quality of the game. About the release date, I'm still not sure about it, but I'm aiming to have it finished sometime this year.

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Samuel Batista
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This is an important milestone in the use of video games to raise public awareness of crucial truths that are happening around us at this very moment. I commend this developer for taking the initiative, and hope video games will continue to be used to expose political and societal issues.

Lewis Wakeford
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I don't think it's really trying to make an explicit point. It seems more like it is trying to explore the subject a let you come to your own conclusions.

Which is good, I much prefer that to preaching.

Jannis Froese
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"Winning a battle doesn't always mean to destroy the other side" is a crucial truth in many situations, even is everyday social interactions.

Of course from a scientific point of view there is no such thing as provable truth (only probability), but even in academic context the word truth is used for things with high probability of being true, so I think the term in appropriate in this context. Crucial is a subjective term, but I think if you think "human" it fits for this quote.

David Gustafson
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Anarchy does not equal riot.

Jonathan Jennings
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sounds like an interesting concept to me, i'll definitely keep an eye on this one.

Shea Rutsatz
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This looks great! Riots are a strange thing, and capturing the dynamics for both sides it quite a hefty task.

Gotta throw in Vancouver, and the Stanley Cup riot!

Jonathan Lapkoff
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Wow, this looks amazing. Seeing the comparative swarm logics in play at the same time will be impressive. I hope to see a form of storm come out of this, possibly a campaign of sorts.

Guillaume Couture
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I think that this game is an excellent idea, I'm very excited to experience it. I think media should play a crucial role in maintaining status quo in the game, as it does in contemporary politics, and I think that it should affect gameplay. I also want to underline what David Gustafson already mentionned: anarchy /= riot.

Jeremy Holla
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Very interesting idea, love the thought processes here and the potential for innovation down the line.

Nicholas Heathfield
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I hope it does well. Maybe we'll get a sequel. RIOT 2: Arab Spring.

Kevin Reese
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Really interesting and unique concept for game. I wonder if there is some sort of 'health bar' analog in this game... I suppose it would have to be money if anything (i.e how much economic disruption does it take to force concessions to be given to an angry public).

Carlos Rocha
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This sounds amazing, my only concern is that it will be too focused on the rioters, I feel the people from the police should have an objective representation as well, facebook and social networks in general tend to be very harsh on the authority, so I would think an inside perspective is escencial.

Paul Laroquod
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Speaking as someone who has been at a few protests, I would never play nor help spread the word about a game depicting protesters and the police, that is called 'Riot'. 'Riot' is not an accurate account of what goes on at these things. It's what the police call it to excuse their actions and the media often follow suit. By calling it that, you have abandoned any sense of neutrality and therefore regardless of how it is played, politically this game is dead on arrival.