"If girls don't like the way games are made," runs the popular internet adage, "Why don't they just make their own?"
Enter Giant Spacekat, an indie studio who is doing just that. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year -- bringing in $12,728 of its $5,000 goal -- the team has just released its first game: Revolution 60 for iPad, described as "Heavy Rain meets Mass Effect" in a stunning 1960s retrofuturistic aesthetic, inspired by Space Channel 5.
Giant Spacekat is a four-woman team consisting of co-founders Brianna Wu and Amanda Stenquist Warner (also development head and lead animator respectively), lead programmer Maria Enderton and game designer Carolyn VanEseltine. The game stars Holiday, an assassin in a four-woman team of covert operatives, including commander Minuete, engineer Amelia, and the mysterious Valentina.
"As a female gamer, part of what motivated me to make Revolution 60 was to tell a story where women are the heroes," Wu told CNET. "To me, what I've found most frustrating about games all my life is women being a loose collection of stereotypes -- not people. It's rare in ANY entertainment to see women solve problems together as people -- not as the girlfriend or love interest."
Interestingly, though, the Revolution 60 team did not start out as a group of women. The original script had a team of two women and two men. This evolved into four women as Giant Spacekat both ran into practical snags and realised that a team of four women would allow them to tell a story that spoke more to their own experiences and what they wanted from the game.
"I think the characters inevitably reflect our personalities. My lead animator, Amanda Warner, will often study her own facial expressions in the mirror, and then recreate them in the characters. As for me, I did most of the writing -- so each of the main characters reflects different parts of my personality," Wu said. "When Minuete is being a hard-nosed commander, that's part of me coming through. When Amelia is giving people unapologetic sass, that's part of me too. More than anything, I think the women in r60 feel genuine, like they're real, flawed people."
And the focus on women doesn't just come through in the story. The game's battle system -- designed by Jenna Hoffstein -- is a combination of touchscreen-based quick time events and a more methodical turn-based system played by leaping around a small grid to avoid enemy fire and return it.
This, Wu said, was designed specifically to appeal to everyone, with a careful eye on how women play games as compared to how men play.
"My company did something very different I wish the industry would pay attention to. When you put out a call for playtesters, the vast majority of people who write you back are 20-year-old hardcore gamers. And without work, that's who ends up in your testing pool. The means videogames are frequently developed for 20-something male gamers! We made sure that 50 percent of our playtesters were women, since almost 50 percent of gamers are women these days. As a result, Revolution 60 appeals to women in very specific ways," she explained.
"When you watch a guy playtest a game, they frequently want to attack as fast as possible. I have gone into playtests and seen men hammer on the iPad so hard I was afraid they would break the screen. What's interesting is, women generally don't approach a game like that. The twitch reflexes for an Infinity Blade stress them out. So, we made a game that relies on pattern recognition and timing," she said, stressing, "It's not that Revolution 60 is game made just for women. But, by including women in our testing -- we made it a game accessible to women.
Revolution 60 is the first in a series of three games, and Wu said the next game will see several improvements, based on what Giant Spacekat has learned from the creation of their very first game.
"Revolution 60 was written in phases, over the course of several years. Because of that, it occasionally suffers from uneven pacing. The sequel is a tighter, more focused story. You see Holiday evolve as she's not being sent to die, but the one sending people to die. The things she believes are not as simple when she's in charge -- and she wrestles with that," she said.
"I think where we can do better is to diversify the body types a bit more. I am extremely tall and skinny -- and that's reflected in our character models. But, when we made the character designs back in 2011, I did not understand just how much female gamers wanted a variety of body types. In the sequel, you're going to see other kinds of women represented -- because we are all beautiful."
Revolution 60 is free to download and try from the iTunes app store.