Ghanaian Studio Pioneering African Video Games

“Why don’t I see anyone making games in Africa?” asked Leti Games founder Eryam Tawia in an interview with BBC Africa.

Finding a lack of African-themed games and games from African developers, Tawia and his friend Wesley Kiriniya co-founded Leti Games “to create the next African Super heroes via comics and Games.”

And they’re well on their way. Rooting their games in African themes, culture, and mythology, the studio is currently at work on Ananse: The Origin, a game that features the West African god Ananse who possesses a human body endowing him with super powers.  You can catch some of the footage here.

Ananse from “Ananse: The Origin” (Leti Games)

With mobile phones being more prominent than consoles and PCs in many countries in Africa, the studio is focusing on mobile platforms, and their first mobile game iWarrior is already available on the iPhone.

via BBC News

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On Saving the World While Brown & Womany: A Gamers Perspective

So, I finished playing DontNod Entertainment‘s new video game Remember Me a month ago, and I freaking loved it. The game play was rich, the story was fascinating, the motifs were flipping genius — from the special combat powers called “Sensens” to (everyone’s favorite I’m sure) the memory remixing.  The only real frustration I had (aside from a particular villain whose super-annoying battle taunts were riffs off of  Little Red Riding Hood…) was that I couldn’t interact with more of the incredible world they’d created.

I was so taken with the game that the backgrounds on my phone and home and office computers are rotating screen shots of the main character Nilin being a total bad ass.  And this is the dead giveaway… As great as all these elements of the game are, I eventually had to admit to myself that a large part of my over-sized love for the game is about the mixed-race, hardcore, stereotype-busting woman lead Nilin.

But this isn’t a review of Remember Me. This is one of those ashamed head shakes you get from your best friend as you do something irrecoverably embarrassing and stupid. This is an exasperated sigh at the game developers at PAX East who after I asked them questions would respond to the white dude friend I brought along for the geek out. This is throwing shade at the studios who refuse to publish games like Remember Me because “games with female leads don’t sell”… And this is the eye-roll I should’ve given the doofus-face at GameStop who couldn’t believe a human with boobs was buying a video game…

When I walked into my local GameStop to pick up Remember Me on release day, I was, as usual, gaped at like some kind of rare exotic anomalous bird or a polar bear in the Serengeti. At the counter, the checkout guy side-eyes me as he rings me up and eventually initiates a conversation that went like this:

Side-Eye Guy:  “This is for you?”
Anomalous Brown Woman Gamer: “Uh…yea…”

Side-Eye Guy: “Really?”
ABWG: … [incredulous head tilt and wtf look over glasses]

Side-Eye Guy: [purse-lipped] “It’s just cause it’s got a girl, huh.”
ABWG: Ha! No! But also… So what?

Side-Eye Guy: [more side-eye, smirk and head shake]

*At this point I’m aware that I should roll my eyes and leave, but what can I say, sometimes I adore a chance to get foolish*

ABWG: Ugh, what? I’ve heard good things about it.
Side-Eye Guy: [looks doubtfully down at the game and hands it over like it’s soggy bread] What’s it like?

I describe what I know about the game, and linger over details about the memory rewind feature and how it seems like it might be  kinda reminiscent of Braid.

Side-Eye Guy: Oooh… So you don’t like shooters or nothing like that. You don’t like the violence, huh.
ABWG: … … This is a shooter.

Side-Eye Guy: But I mean like a real shooter, like… You should be playing Call of Duty or…
ABWG: Ooor?

Side-Eye Guy: [flipping a Call of Duty game over in his hands] This is the real stuff. You should play this.
ABWG: I’ve played Mass Effect, Tomb Raider, Bioshock, Borderlands, Fallout. I play EVE Online and I’m gonna but the hell out of The Last of Us when it’s out–

Side-Eye Guy: Pssh! Nah nah. Mass Effect is lame. [taps Call of Duty again and nods]
ABWG: Call of Duty all you play? Maybe you’re the one who needs to branch out.

Luckily the conversation was interrupted by a friend of his who ended up leaving at the same time as I did and walked with me to the train. This conversation had it’s own problems, including a goodbye that involved him trying to get my number as he says how cool I am because I’m “like, a guy’s girl you know?” But let’s not get into that one.

Instead, back to the point here. Yes, I was attracted to this game by the female lead. Even more so by the brownness of said female lead. And so? What about it?

I also bought it because it sounded interesting as all get out and the art from the previews looked dope. The brown lady on the cover just made me that much more excited about it. It’s rare, outside of an RPG with custom characters, to get to run around and punch things in a video game world as a hero who looks like me.  Even rarer to see the interracial couple that created her…

Nilin & fam
Nilin & fam

That said, in the past I’ve definitely refrained from opening my wallet just because a game/movie/book is making an effort towards diversity or race & gender awareness. I’ll happily clap from the side-lines or given a nod of appreciation to these ventures, but I don’t feel obliged to see/play/read something that doesn’t appeal to me, just because it’s not as exasperatingly white (or painfully stereotyped) as the rest of popular entertainment.

Remember Me completely won me over with its fun and strategic combat and the whole crazy interesting world DontNod created, as well as with it’s dynamic and mixed-heritage heroine. It was amazing to play a character that wasn’t the standard big boxy white guy. It was almost like nourishment, like eating a steak after a month of nothing but rice. I couldn’t help but wonder if white male gamers felt the same excitement to play characters that looks different than the typical big boxy white guy. So I asked my big boxy white guy friend, who basically watched me play the whole game (since I basically took over his PlayStation 3 for a week to do so).

His answer? Well… he rarely plays games where he doesn’t get to customize his character. In his own words:

“I played Final Fantasy XIII. You play a thin blonde white woman… And, well, it’s not weird if that’s what you’re asking. It’s no different from reading a story with a female protagonist. If there had been a love interest, maybe it would’ve been more jarring. But the story was about the end of the world. The sex of the character doesn’t come into the play of the story. It’s cool to have a woman that’s bad ass with a big ass sword, but ya, I mean… I guess it didn’t really make a difference. I was just kinda like [shrug] ya, okay, that works.”

Lightning is a former soldier in Final Fantasy XIII

About Remember Me in particularly, he said, “I mean, ya it was different, but mostly cause you were so excited at first. The game itself didn’t really draw attention to her race…”

It’s true, as Evan Narcisse writes over at Kotaku, Nilin‘s race didn’t really matter in the world of the game itself. In no way was her mixed race relevant to the game. And my own enthusiasm for Nilin as a mixed female hero doesn’t stem from some kind of special  brown woman empathy or self-identification with her. Players empathize with Nilin because we can broadly relate to her hardships, and brown gamers with lady parts are no exception. It’s true that I was excited to see a brown woman on the cover of the game before playing it, but Nilin wouldn’t have made it to the honorable place of my cell phone background if the game had totally sucked or she’d been a lame character. I definitely love that she looked like me in a culture where heroes generally don’t, but did I have a more immersive experience because she looked like me? Nope.

Joel being all boxy in The Last of Us

In fact, now that I’ve moved on to playing The Last of Us, I’ve found much more to empathize with in Joel, the big boxy bearded white hero of this super-creepy post-apocalyptic world, whose story is simply more humanly relatable, despite the zombies… Seriously that game is so immersive, I’ve had to take breathers to spare myself the emotional trauma.

This is what bothers me about the representation argument for diversity in video games. The argument comes from both sides.  On the gamer side the argument often invokes the question “where are the games for us? With heroes who look like me? Women/Minorities are gamers too!”  And the developers retort: “But most gamers are white dudes, and we gotta sell games”.

The argument not only assumes that a gamer needs the hero to look like him/her, but also underestimates the imaginations of gamers immensely.  Like with most fiction, gaming is about immersion. Gamers let go of reality in order to put themselves in the shoes of a Roman general or a futuristic space ronin. What makes developers think that gamers don’t have the imagination to immerse themselves in a world where the hero is a mixed race woman or say a queer Vietnamese man? And representation for non-white gamers simply because we exist is hardly the best argument either… because, what if we didn’t? What if the majority of gamers were/are white males?  Would that mean that the lack of of non-white and female characters would be okay?

Frankly, the argument I’d make for more diversity in games is that the parade of boxy, gruffy white dudes is just boring… Hell, it only worked for movies so long before they started putting John Wayne in brownface to play Gengis Khan. Eventually they even starting making progress away from depicting minorities as offensive stereotypes, hurrah!

John Wayne as Genghis Khan

As Remember Me proves, games with POC characters don’t have to be embroiled in racial commentary in order to “justify” the POC hero (though this can and has been a great addition to several games). But just as the diversity of races and classes in a Dungeons and Dragons game or a sci-fi movies with alien races or tribes makes those worlds richer and way cool, something a little different could really make for a game that stands out from the rest of the rugged-white-guy-shoots-baddies games. I mean, what better way to set your game apart then by having the “guy” on the cover not look like ever other hero on the cover of every other game on the shelf?

And since having a female or POC lead of a game doesn’t seem to doom a game to low sales and ridicule (e.g. Tomb Raider, Remember Me, Mirror’s Edge, The Walking Dead, Guacamelee!), nor drive away the white dude regulars, it sure couldn’t hurt to catch the attention of the brown/female/queer/”anomolous” gamers out there, the way Remember Me caught mine.

Not to mention, a greater diversity of game heroes and heroines would make it significantly less “remarkable” that I walk into a game store in all my female browness and dare to buy a game with a brown woman on the cover. And imagine what it would do for sales to not alienate (or exoticize) whole demographics of consumers…

When Superheroes Get Knocked Up: A Q&A with the Creator of Hot New Web Series “Super Knocked Up,”

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What happens when the world’s hottest superhero and the world’s baddest supervillain get super hot and heavy? Well, in this case, butt-kicking baddie Jessica James (aka Darkstar) gets super knocked up after a delirious one-night stand with heroic hottie Captain Amazing.  And these super star-crossed lovers decide to raise the baby together… even though they’re kind of mortal enemies. Hilarity, hijinks, and a lot of messy diapers ensue in this geeky web series by independent writer/producer Jeff Burns.

Super Knocked Up is a brand new web series that looks at superheroes (and villains) like we’ve never seen them before — pregnant, changing diapers, and utterly terrified by the challenge of raising a baby.  The series is currently in Season 2, and has just launched a comic book based on the series. Check out episode 1 after the jump, then mosey on over to the Super Knocked Up Youtube channel for more. But if you need more convincing, we’ll let Jeff Burns take it from here…

Geek Outsider: So, first things first, how’d you come up with the idea for Super Knocked Up

Jeff Burns: I was taking an online screenwriting class through ScreenwritingU and our first assignment was to come up with a concept we would take and write a feature-length script from during the course.  I’ve always loved superheroes and comic books so I was playing around with a lot of different superhero concepts.  And I was trying to come up with something unique.  The lessons we learned in the course really focused on coming up with a unique story.  So one day doing the assignment for the course it just hit me: what would happen if a super-villain and superhero had a baby together?  I loved the idea as soon as it came to me and knew I had to write it.

GO: In a genre where heroes (and villains) never age and superkids just sort of appear, you’ve given us puke, contractions, and diapers, what inspired you to take on such a “messy” taboo topic in the awe and glamour of the superhero genre?

JB: Seeing all my friends’ gross kids.  Just kidding!  I think that’s a reflection of the whole series.  I really wanted to make this a real-world look at superheroes.  So we focus on the characters and their relationships and what it’s like to be a super-villain and commit crimes but also have to raise a baby.  I think the comedy comes from all those real situations you don’t normally see superheroes and villains in.  And I think it really helps the audience to relate with the characters.  They see Jessica and Michael struggling to raise a kid just like they do with their own kids.

GO: Super Knocked Up is, obviously, a hilarious comedy, but it’s also touches on something that the superhero genre tends to back uneasily away from… pregnancy (dun, dun DUN!). How do you find a balance between the obviously hilarious situation and the hard emotional reality of mothering?

JB: Thanks so much for noticing that!  That’s something we try very hard to do in the series: balancing comedy, drama, action, and romance.  Again, I think it all comes from me making the decision right from the beginning that this was going to be a show about two real people who can’t stand each other forced into a horribly awkward (and funny) situation where they have to raise a baby together.  Oh yeah, and they happen to have superpowers.  It’s not a show where it’s all about the superpowers and you don’t get to learn about the characters.  Super Knocked Up is all about multi-layered characters who you can really get into.  And I think if you have real characters who are well-developed and have clear wants and needs, then those real moments organically come from there.  Jessica’s need to have a family, something she’s never had.  Michael’s need to find a woman who loves him for who he really is, not his Captain Amazing super-persona.  Those things I think create the touching and real, dramatic moments.  And then you throw in that they’re enemies and can’t stand each other and have to raise a baby and a lot of comedy comes from that of course!  I love how putting Jessica, this kick-ass super-villain who isn’t afraid of fighting any hero, as a new mother with a tiny baby scares the crap out of her and totally throws her off.  She can beat any hero.  But this little baby is kicking her ass.  That’s super-funny, but it’s also totally real and relatable.

GO: The series is called “Super Knocked Up,” but hero Jessica James is already dealing with diapers, and time seems to move pretty fast in the series. Will we be seeing Baby grow up? Can you give us a hint as to the longview for the story?

JB: We did move the pregnancy along very quickly as I wanted to get to the birth of the baby.  But time won’t move as fast after this.  The baby will always be a baby and won’t grow up super-fast like often happens in shows.  As the show progresses, the focus becomes even more on Jessica and Michael’s relationship and the choice Jessica has to make between being a super-villain and being with Michael and the heroes.

GO: With a predominantly female cast and a leading lady who’s also a mother, are there any challenges you feel as a writer writing not only mostly women characters but also writing about motherhood?

JB: Well I’ve always wanted to be a hot, female super-villain so I’m just channeling that!  Thank you for pointing out all the cool female roles there are in Super Knocked Up.  I’m really happy about that.  I love writing kick-ass female roles.  That’s what I always tend to write.  For me as a writer, I don’t see a challenge in being a man writing female roles.  And this is why.  I’m writing the character.  If I have the character really well-developed and fleshed out.  If I know what drives the character.  What they want.  What their inner, hidden needs are.  If I know them inside and out, then it doesn’t matter what they are.  They could be male, female, an alien or whatever.  I don’t think it’s about gender.  It’s about understanding people and understanding your characters.  That’s how I always approach it.

GO: So, who’s your favorite female superhero of all time? Supervillainess?

JB: My favorite female superhero is Huntress.  I think she’s so kick-ass.  And she’s definitely the most similar character to Jessica (Darkstar) in Super Knocked Up.  They’re both kick-ass, independent, don’t take any shit characters.  But both have a more vulnerable side underneath those hard exteriors.

For a super-villain, I’ve always loved Talia al Ghul.  Her father Ra’s al Ghul is a great villain too.  I love the romantic interplay between Talia and Batman.  The fact that they’re enemies but she wants to be with him and there’s obviously feelings between them.  That’s cool!  And kind of like Super Knocked Up I guess!

GO: Any plans for the (incredibly dope!) comic? Will it be ongoing? Will it be hitting the shelves at local comic book shops anytime soon?

JB: Hey thanks for the kind words about he comic book!  First, let me give huge props to my Artist Donny Gandakusuma, Colorist Kefas Armando, and Letterer MaGnUs for doing an amazing job bringing the comic to life.  I had such a blast making it with them.  I’ve always loved comic books as I mentioned, so getting to make my own was a dream come true!  We have Issue #1 out so far.  And right now, people can download the digital version for free on our website. They can also get a print copy on there too!  I actually have met a couple of artists recently online and at comic cons who want to do some shorter comic stories in the Super Knocked Up world.  So most likely what I’ll do next are some comic stories outside of the main narrative of Super Knocked Up but about the SKU characters so fans can learn more about their backstories and what brought them to this point in the main SKU narrative.  I’m definitely excited to do more comic books!

GO: Speaking of which, now you’ve got a web series and a comic, are you hoping to get this story into any other medium? Will you be at New York Comicon?

JB: Oh yeah!  We’ve been doing to a few comic cons every year for the past couple of years now.  We just got back from Boston Comic Con.  And we will absolutely be at NYCC!  I went two years ago and absolutely loved it.  I mean I got to play Quidditch for the first time there.  What can beat that?  Last year we were in rehearsals and about to shoot Season 2 during NYCC and were super-bummed we had to miss it.  But I’ll be there all four days this year and can’t wait!  Just recently, I got to go to San Diego Comic-Con for the first time.  That was beyond amazing!  My lead actress Jourdan Gibson and I were on the “Webseries Creators Assemble!” panel there and had such a good time.  And my web series friends Jonathan Robbins from Clutch, Matthew Carvery from Asset, and Mike Donis from Pete Winning and the Pirates are at Fan Expo in Toronto this week and are representing Super Knocked Up for me there along with their great shows.

GO: What’s next for the series? Can you give us any info on fun new characters and entanglements to look forward to?

JB: I’d love to do two more seasons (we’re currently in Season 2) to finish off the full story I have laid out.  There are some new villain characters, but mostly it focuses on the super-fun characters who are already established.  Things heat up even more between Jessica and Michael.  In more ways than one…  And you’ll get to learn more about Jessica’s past and there are definitely some big surprises.  So keep watching!

GO: Anything else you’d like to say to the geek outsiders out there?

JB: Thanks so much for being fellow awesome geeks!  And if you check out Super Knocked Up, I would really, really appreciate it.  I think you’ll really enjoy it if you give it a chance.  It’s a different, fun spin on the superhero genre.  As an independent web series creator, the more people watch the more likely I and my awesome cast and crew can keep making more cool episodes.  So please check us out and support other web series too!  There are so many amazing web series being made right now.  It’s an exciting time to be a creator and a viewer!

Happy Birthday, Ray Bradbury!

Acclaimed author, rabid reader, and library lover, Ray Bradbury passed away on June 5th last year.  Bradbury’s books were life-changing for many reader’s but it was his infectious joy for life that made admirers of many.

 

“And what, you ask, does writing teach us?
First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.
So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.”

–Ray Bradbury, 1990

Archie is Going to Bollywood!

Archie650
wrap-around cover art for issue #650

This December Archie Comics will be celebrating it’s 650th issue with a world tour that will take Archie and friends to India. The tour will be a four-part story line in the comic, titled “Rockin’ the World,” kicking off with part one– “Bollywood Love.”

According to Archie creator Dan Parent, the story will feature Archie’s buddy Raj Patel as he kicks off a documentary that follows several of the Archie Comics musical groups like Josie and the Pussycats, The Archies, and The Madhouse Glads as they take on international audiences. And the ever love-entangled Veronica and Betty will meet with some new competition in Archie’s new friend and Bollywood star Amisha Mehta.

The first issue #650 will also feature a variant cover by the one and only Fiona Staples (Saga).

Issue #650 variant cover by Fiona Staples

But this isn’t the first time that Archie and friends have made the trip. In 2011 in an issued titled “Love Me Baby, Mumbai,” the friends donned saris and kurtas (in a somewhat superficial take on Indian culture) and followed Raj to India where he was directing a Bollywood film.

Archie has a huge fan base in India, so Archie Comics has a big interest in bringing the crew East.  As Archie Comics CEO Jon Goldwater said in an interview with The Times of India, “India is so important to the future of Archie that it was a natural to embrace India as the first stop.”

We’ll see where else the World Tour takes us!

via. The Times of India

South Asian Superheroes & Grant Morrison’s Motion Comic, Sci-Fi Take on the Mahabharata

Graphic India, a an India-based entertainment company dedicated to bringing comics and stories to Indian youth, launched its YouTube channel last week with a motion comic by veteran comics writer Grant Morrison and artists Jeevan J. Kang. Based on the Eastern epic The Mahabaharata, Morrison’s 18 Days is a moderned telling of the 18 days of battle described in the classic story.

Episode 1 launched last week in English, Hindi, and Tamil. Now up to episode 4, each episode is approximately 5 minutes long and beautifully beautifully dabs the famous text with a science fiction flavor. Jeevan Kang’s art perfectly captures this blend of modern fantasy and historical mysticism.

Don’t be too put off my the android-like monotone of the narrator in Episode 1, you get a relief from it in the following episodes when the history lesson is over and the real action begins with a host of protagonists and baddies.

Graphic India has a host of other comics and stories, featuring big names in comics and introducing heroes that bring the Indian experience to this dynamic medium. For Free Comic Book Day this year, Graphic India partnered with comics superstar Stan Lee to produce the comic Chakra, The Invincible the story of a young boy from Mumbai with the technical supergenius to create a suit that activates the Chakras of the body to unleash superpowers.  Through other partnerships, the company has produced comics like Ramayan 3392AD, the epic story of Rama set 2000 years in the future and featuring art by Powers’ creator Michael Oeming; and Devi, a modern take on the ancient myth of the warrior goddess Devi.

via. Publisher’s Weekly

Luchador Detectives, Kukaracha Kings, & Chunky SuperGirls, Oh My! Latino Comics On the Scene in L.A.

Art based on Jose Cabrera’s online comic strip Crying Macho Man

This weekend (August 17-18) in Los Angeles, a host of geeky Latino talent, packing pens and sketchbooks, will descend upon the halls of the Museum of Latin American Art to bring to geeks of all hues a taste of comics art with a Latino flavor.

Featuring veteran talent like Sonambulo creator Rafael Navarro and El Muerto creator and Expo co-founder Javier Hernandez, as well as newcomer talent like youngin’ Daniel Parada, who debuted his Mayan alternate history Zozt just this year, the Latino Comics Expo will show off the wealth of diversity and imagination in Latino comics. You’ll see everything from crime-fighting calacas to Marine zombies.

You should totally go. But if you can’t, don’t let that stop you from checking out some of these artists’s seriously amazing art and stories.

Here’s a little preview (or cruel teaser if you can’t make it) of what you might see at the show:

El Verde

When factory worker Arturo Sanchez falls into a vat of elote at the factory where he works in Fictional City, he’s certain he’s gained superpowers. Donning a mask and taking on the name El Verde, Sanchez enlists in the fight for “truth, justice, and the Mexican-American way!”  With hilariously named villains like Kukaracha King and Frita Kahlo, writer Anthony Aguilar created the superhero to bring Latino culture to the conventional superhero comics genre.  Aguilar publishes the comic online.

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Chunky Girl Comics*

Husband and wife Marisa and Jose Garcia, along with illustrator Grant Miller have teamed up as Chunky Girl Comics, to bring a voluptuous new image to the superhero genre. Taking on body image, bullying, and beauty standards, their debut comic Heavy Response Unit tells the story of four plus-sized superheroines  – Sweet Pea, Candy, Sage, and Rosie — who have to fight for equality when it becomes illegal to be overweight in California. Engaged in operation “Fierce, Fab, & Fluffy,” this diverse, curvaceous hero team is tackles bullying and empowers the body-licious.

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USMZ

Roman Montes de Oca, who describes zombies as his “passion,” has been writing his zombie comic USMZ as a free web comic, releasing a new page every week. But now he’s made the horror glossy and brought it to print. A Marine himself, Montes de Oca draws on his own experience to bring a gory, bloody, foul-mouthed zombie apocalypse that follows the Marines who are called on to save our souls!

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Sonambulo

Salomon Lopez is climbing to fame as a masked fighter going by the name Sonambulo in Mexico, before he gets caught up with the Mafia who beats him up and leaves him for dead. But before this fatal entanglement, Lopez had developed a sleeping disorder that often left him sleeping for days at a time, so when these gangsters bury him, Lopez instead falls into a 30-year sleep. Sonambulo emerges with new found powers that make him a top rate private detective to contend with the dark forces of the night. Creator Rafael Navarro first self-published the comic back in 1996, but continues to bring dynamic heroes to audiences as an animator for video games and television.

*Correction: Turns out Chunky Girl Comics won’t be making it this year, but never fear they will be in San Francisco with the Expo in June next year!