Playing the business game

Peterborough: Three young  entrepreneurs  seek Kickstarter funds to develop computer role  playing game

  • John Devan Matthew Thomas, DuCiel Spitzfaden and Benjamin Aldrich are developing an online role playing game from an office in Peterborough.
  • John Devan Matthew Thomas, DuCiel Spitzfaden and Benjamin Aldrich are developing an online role playing game from an office in Peterborough.

Project Swordsmith is “a dieselpunk action-RPG that mixes fantasy themes with WW2 era tech and culture.”

That’s how three budding entrepreneurs describe their product at the top of their Kickstarter page, where they’re trying to raise $10,000 to get the project out.

In this instance, RPG is an acronym for “role playing game,” not “rocket propelled grenade.” It refers to a game where players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting and act as those characters as the game evolves.

As for dieselpunk, it’s a genre of science fiction based on what might have happened if technology hadn’t evolved since the 1940s.

“It’s yesterday’s future today,” says DuCiel Spitzfaden, one of the creators of Project Swordsmith. “It has futuristic airships with a World War II perspective.”

Spitzfaden, 25, her husband Benjamin Aldrich, 24, and their 25-year-old friend John Devan Matthew Thomas — “the man with four last names,” Aldrich says — have spent the last two years developing the role playing game, which they say will offer exciting battles but also explore the challenges of how an individual warrior struggles with the conflicts imposed by society.

The story revolves around a group of soldiers called knights, an elite group with supernatural powers who are the imaginary country’s best weapons. Each player gets to chose to be one of six knights and has many decisions to make as the knight goes through training and becomes a leader of a squad going into battle.

Aldrich says the game could be described as “throwing ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Hunger Games’ in a blender set for 1940s America.”

“The game is focused on how [the knights] adapt to the military, to having superpowers,” Spitzfaden says. “There is a lot of pressure on them.”

“The knights become the pinnacle,” Aldrich says. “The player goes from being a normal teen to someone being looked as a savior.”

Players also have to interact with the other characters in the game, with the decisions they make changing the course of the game.

“This is not a battle royal scenario,” Aldrich says. “ It’s supposed to be thought provoking and slightly subversive.”

“Ultimately, we want a mindset of inclusion, not competition,” says Thomas.

Spitzfaden, who has lived in Peterborough all her life, and Aldrich, who moved to Peterborough while in high school, met when they were both high school students at High Mowing School in Wilton. They met Thomas, who is from Iowa, when all three were students at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

Aldrich had been a video game fan for years and loved game design. He majored in film studies at the college and Spitzfaden studied graphic design. After they graduated in 2010, they were invited by a friend to work on a game project.

“That didn’t go anywhere, but it got us in the mindframe that we could do this on our own,” Spitzfaden says. Thomas joined them recently, after dropping his graduate school work.

“I decided I’d much rather be doing this,” he says.

Now the three friends are sharing a tiny office room off Route 101, a space provided by Spitzfaden’s parents, Greg and Linda Spitzfaden, who own the businesses downstairs. They’re busy fine tuning the pilot episode of Project Swordsmith, and they plan to release the game as a series of episodes, in formats for PC, Macintosh and Linux platforms.

“It will be delivered by digital download,” Aldrich say. “You can buy one episode at a time or a full season.”

But first they need to raise that $10,000, some of it to buy licenses for the Unity game engine that will allow them to publish to a variety of platforms and some, as they put it on their Kickstarter page, “to ensure that we can survive until the release date and work on the project full time.”

The one-month Kickstarter effort, which will end on Nov. 16, has brought in a little more than $4,000 to date. A $5 pledge will get the donor access to the first episode and $25 will purchase the first season. Larger pledges earn additional rewards, including having a knight named after the donor.

The team is committed to finishing the pilot, which they promise to release as soon as possible.

“We just need time to finish it,” Thomas says. “And to pay our student loans.”

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