Sunday, November 3, 2013

Will We Ever Get To Play The Sime~Gen RPG AMBROV X?

Back in September, I shared the news about AMBROV X, a role-playing video game based on author Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s Sime~Gen Universe:

Set in the award winning Sime~Gen Universe by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, Ambrov X casts players in a far distant future as leaders of an unlikely but elite crew tasked with planting space beacons which allow for faster than light space travel. The Ambrov X saga unfolds into an action-packed story of first contact. Complete with epic battles and emotional decision making, Ambrov X brings to life the single-player, story-driven RPG through a thrilling space opera adventure. Ambrov X is scheduled for a 2015 release on Windows, OS X and Linux. With alternate releases for XBOX, PS4, iOS and Android to be released at a later date.

Here’s the basic premise:

Ambrov X takes place thousands of years in the future. Imagine this almost alien future of humanity with this incredibly powerful source of energy: Selyn. The human race has harnessed Selyn into what they call “Orgonic Technology”. Suddenly you have these highly evolved humans entering an unknown universe.

When Loreful announced that Bioware’s Jennifer Brandes Hepler had joined the team, a significant sci-fi romance related detail about the game emerged:

“Ambrov X” is a science fiction RPG focusing on a future humanity that has split into two separate and symbiotic races, forcing players’ characters to enter a tight, emotional, both predatory and romantic relationship with a single bonded companion character. [emphasis mine]

AMBROV X is designed to feature the conventions of science fiction romance in a visual, interactive medium. It’s essentially the theme of "love against the odds" in a futuristic, technology-based setting. How often do we come across that kind of mix? Rarely.

Very rarely.

The SFR aspect of AMBROV X is significant for several reasons.

* It’s a savvy attempt to capitalize on the success of the MASS EFFECT franchise, one of the first video games to make various romantic relationships an integral part of the game.

* AMBROV X is attempting to help SFR grow through diversification. Not all fans of science fiction romance stories feed their interest with books. Some satisfy the itch with films, TV shows, comics, and video games.

* By its very existence, AMBROV X acknowledges and embraces the vast number of women gamers, especially those interested in story and character-driven RPGs.

I’m also willing to bet good money that AMBROV X lacks sexist and sexually exploitative elements.

That last point can't be emphasized enough. Here is a game where users can expect to find female characters who are equal in all aspects with male characters. AMBROV X would include all the fun of an RPG without the problematic gender elements plaguing other games (whether they feature a romance or not).

* The indie-driven nature of this project tells me that Jacqueline Lichtenberg knew she couldn’t wait for an established video game company to license her Sime~Gen Universe. She knew of an untapped video game niche and decided to develop it with a team of like-minded colleagues. 

It’s a case of “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself” and “If you want it done at all, you have to do it yourself.”

A longtime fan of science fiction romance is attempting to deliver this gaming experience. Ms. Lichtenberg was writing romantic SF and was involved in Star Trek TOS fan fiction long before sci-fi romance ever had a name. She gets it. She’s actively seeking ways to adapt SFR for a visual medium in addition to the books she’s already written.

That, to me, is awesome.

Loreful would probably like to profit from the game, as they well should. But here's the thing--they could have focused on any other type of game in order to make a profit. They could have said to Ms. Lichtenberg, "No--pitch us something more traditional and male oriented." But they chose to take on the challenge of a game with strong SFR elements. According to Loreful founder and CEO Aharon Cagle:

"…We have seen a significant market hungry for more story-based RPGs and in 2012 we witnessed an incredible response to the power of episodic gaming, particularly around telling emotionally engaging stories. With the episodic model at the core of our design strategy, we intend to start where the need is the greatest, in the Sci-Fi genre.” [Emphasis mine]

Sadly, the Kickstarter campaign for AMBROV X failed to reach its funding goal. The campaign only reached $68,737 of its $500,000 goal. That doesn’t mean the game will never reach fruition, but it does introduce a formidable obstacle.
The news was discouraging to me and also maddening. The odds of AMBROV X becoming a bona fide product may seem astronomical, but at least someone’s trying to diversify science fiction romance in a new way (a whole team of people, actually). As an admittedly biased fan, I'm wondering, geez, can't SFR catch a break?

I can’t imagine Jacqueline Lichtenberg or anyone at Loreful is raking in the profits at this point. AMBROV X, like practically anything associated with science fiction romance, is probably a labor of love.

I’ve already considered some of the reasons the Kickstarter campaign didn’t reach its goal. At issue could be lack of familiarity with the Sime~Gen Universe; Loreful's lack of mainstream pedigree; too little or ineffective marketing for the campaign; and/or the funding goal (i.e., Was it too ambitious? Is this a project ahead of its time?). That said, the existence of Kickstarter gave Loreful more of a chance than would otherwise be the case, and for that I'm grateful.

But even if all of the above issues are addressed (assuming any of them are contributing factors), what also needs to be taken into consideration are the cultural obstacles facing a project like AMBROV X. For example, the bias against the following: romance and sci-fi romance, women, women gamers, indie projects, and unknown artists (i.e., the pedigree issue rearing its head). Many factors conspire against people who have visions for creating something like AMBROV X. And it doesn't always mean there's something wrong with the product itself.

There's no easy solution, but word-of-mouth awareness can help. Additionally, we could provide support for those who are trying to break new ground and introduce progressive change in gaming. We may not always know who they are, but advocates for games like AMBROV X are out there. Let’s keep looking and spreading the word.

There’s one other fun character feature about Ambrov X I simply must mention:

Our story is driven by characters and companions who realisitically [sic] challenge you with their own beliefs and desires. We place you as a major player in a story-rich saga of First Contact, where your decisions have impact on the universe around you. Oh yes, we also have tentacles.

Tentacles, yay! 

I know what you’re thinking—that reason alone is important enough to fund AMBROV X. My thoughts exactly.

Joyfully yours,