Return to Adventure Mountain Studios leading a double-life
By day he is one of many, writing software for a computer company. But, by night, he is something different entirely – he is a game developer.
His name. Zukowski. Chris Zukowski.
“I write software for an enormous computer company that makes servers that store so much data that almost no one, except for a few banks and government institutions would need them,” said Zukowski, founder of Return to Adventure Mountain Studios. “It pays the bills and I like it, but I also need a creative outlet. So at night, I toil to create something in the medium that I know best, video games.”
Zukowski started his creative release designing something a little different than games.
“I actually wrote walkthroughs for other games like Okami (PS2) and Shadow of the Colossus (PS2),” said Zukowski. “I would analyze the story while I told players how to get through the game.”
He said while he anticipated people enjoying his walkthroughs, he received a much different reaction.
“[The walkthroughs] took a lot of work, and readers thought they were just a funny gimmick,” he said. “[The readers] never really considered them the same type of criticism I thought they were, and I soon realized that if I wanted to impact the way people think about video games, I needed to actually make one.”
So, Zukowski started working on his first game, learning new processes and techniques as he went along. However, the project took a few years to complete – the cost of living a double-life.
“I would cobble the game together on weekends and after work,” Zukowski said. “I had to take breaks to get married, backpack across Italy and move.”
A few years later, and the game Zukowski decided to make, City Tuesday, was complete. The game follows a man as he is stuck reliving the same five minutes before a terrorist plot, and he has to use the knowledge he learns each time to his advantage to thwart the terrorists’ plan.
Even a week before the release of the game, Zukowski is certain City Tuesday will have a greater impact than his walkthroughs.
“When I was writing those walkthroughs I had to push really hard to get people to even read them,” he said. “I can already see that my first game is going to affect more people than all my walkthroughs combined.”
With the impending release of his first game, Zukowski remembers the seed that sprouted City Tuesday. He said he got the idea for the game from a sign he saw while riding the Bay Area Transit Rail in San Francisco after attending a gaming conference.
“For City Tuesday, I wanted to explore a theme that involved the signs that we see all the time on our way to work,” Zukowski said. “It might be the directions on how to ride the subway or the info graphic that is published in the NY Times.”
Along with focusing on signs, Zukowski said City Tuesday is his attempt to show something not typically seen in games today.
“I tried to make it very contemporary and rooted in the real world,” he said. “There are no wizards or bald marines. It is a game that is based on common people doing common things. It is a world that can you explore and interact with dozens of NPCs (non-player characters) and it might be funny and it might be a bit enlightening.”
With a real-world concept in mind, Zukowski reflected on something that is also present in the world around us – fear.
“I also tried exploring that anonymous terrorist fear that is always coupled with these attacks,” he said. “There are always stories of the perpetrator being the guy next door.”
Zukowski’s slighted version of “The Monsters are due on Maple Street” – an infamous episode of The Twilight Zone where a community begins turning on itself because of its hysteria, panic and fear – is not something foreign to many of the players of City Tuesday. Zukowski said the fear in the game is reminiscent of the state of fear in the United States following the September 11 attacks. Even the name of his game evokes the tragedy.
“The day of the week ‘Tuesday’ is such a boring day,” Zukowski said. “But it was also the same day as that horrible tragedy that brought us into the 21st century.”
Although the game draws on elements of the attack, Zukowski did clarify City Tuesday is not a game about September 11.
“The actual attacks did not have a direct impact on this game,” Zukowski said. “It is such a sensitive, personal experience; I didn’t want to even tread on that ground. Instead, I think this game is actually more about the time we live in after that period.”
In an odd set of coincidence, Zukowski requested to have his game released on the first Tuesday of the Uprising III schedule, which would have been September 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of the attack. Michael Hicks, founder of Michael Arts Studios and a coordinator of Uprising III, suggested the game be released on the second Tuesday to limit the association of the game to the attack.
As City Tuesday’s release day looms, Zukowski is already planning for future games.
“I want to make something for the iOS,” he said. “I think it is so cool that we have these game machines that are with us in the real world instead of just in our living rooms. And these devices can take pictures and they can connect to each other, and they can listen and make sounds and can sense orientation they are being held. It seems like there are just so many possibilities.”