“But how old do I look?”
“Somewhere between 20 and 30, I guess. 25?”
My answer is so broad it couldn’t possibly be wrong. He smiles. He shakes his head.
“I’m afraid not,” he says.
Mario Funderburk is the 19-year-old leader and head developer of Twisted Time Studios. Currently, they are developing a game called Extinction: Archaic Genesis (EAG), a tactical shooter that pits humans against gun-toting dinosaurs in a world gone wrong. His team consists of artists and developers from all over the world, including Mexico, India, and our very own Fraser Valley. This is their first project.
The game itself, according to Funderburk, will be “a semi-realistic tactical approach … a mix between Battlefield, Overwatch, Ark, and Crysis.” It will be primarily multiplayer, with a co-operative story mode added some time after the initial release.
One of Funderburk’s hopes for the game is to use the medium to tackle social issues affecting the world today. In an online developer’s blog entitled “Battling Stereotypes,” Funderburk writes that “it is indeed exciting to be fighting a five-metre-tall biting machine with guns (or to be that five-metre-tall biting machine with guns) but that is not as deep as it goes.”
“We want to use it as a way of expression,” Funderburk tells me, “to share messages with the audience in a way that they would appreciate, whether that be by sharing people’s stories or interesting issues affecting the world today.
“We’re trying to connect with the community in a more humane way. I mean, yes, there’s combat and gore, there’s action, but there’s also this more humane area [of storytelling] that I feel a lot of games are lacking. Usually there’s a villain, but it’s very flat, and usually there’s nothing more than pressing a couple buttons.”
I ask whether he thinks of video games as an art form.
“Yes,” he says. “I also think video games have been focusing a little too much on trying to achieve real life, and real life is not necessarily artistic on a day-to-day basis. You don’t experience every artistic experience in real life — or at least, I haven’t had the chance to.
“I think that’s why the video game industry was so successful in the first place,” he continues. “You could get into a life full of art and experience the full range, and I think that’s something we need to get back to.”
Growing up a fan of the Mario and Zelda franchises, I wonder if these are the kinds of games he’s talking about. I’m not far off.
“Interestingly, almost all of these [artistic games] are single-player. I have played very little multiplayer games that have tried to focus also on the immersion of the story and have tried to provide the player a deeper meaning about what they’re actually doing in this world they’re put into … From the artistic and compositional perspective, I strongly think we need to get a little bit more in terms of connecting to the player.”
The diversity of the Twisted Time Studios team, recruited through such disparate methods as Facebook and Craigslist (“Craigslist was a fun ride,” laughs Funderburk), is one of the ways they have been able to keep storytelling at the forefront of EAG’s development.
“It can be a challenge, putting so many different cultures together,” Funderburk explains, a little exasperated. “But [our team] is not only from different cultures but from different sides, different locations of the world! So that’s given us a good overview of what’s an issue, what’s an exaggeration, and most importantly what is needed to be addressed.”
Beyond artistic vision, the game’s development is apparently going according to schedule. I tell Funderburk it sounds like he’s got things on track, and that’s when he asks me to guess his age.
“You’re running all of this as a 19-year-old!” I look over at the week-old pile of dishes in my sink and question my own life choices.
“Yup, it’s been tough. But it’s fun!” he says. “I started programming when I was 13, started messing around with Unity [a game programming tool] when I was 15, and I started getting into little projects just to get a little more experience when I was 17.”
Now creating EAG with his own company, he expects it to be a success. “From what we’ve play-tested so far, we’ve got some pretty positive feedback. Also we’ve gotten pretty good content acceptance, like most people who I tell it’s a third-person shooter, dinosaurs with guns, night setting, they’re like, ‘Can I try it?’”
An open beta of Extinction: Archaic Genesis launches January 2017. Time will tell whether Twisted Time Studios is successful in their mission to bring socially-conscious storytelling into the world of multiplayer shooters. Either way, there will be dinosaurs. With guns.