Neil Jones and Daniel Wilkins are frustrated with the lack of diversity in videogames. They say it’s what has driven them to make their own game, and one that hopes to provide “a better insight into African American culture.” However, everyone they’ve approached for additional funding for it has told them to “focus on a ‘different type’ of character or story.” Which, yes, completely misses the point. Their game is called Clique, and both Jones and Wilkins, two-thirds of the Detroit, Michigan-based studio Dead Art Games, are determined to get it out to people. This is why they recently launched a Kickstarter.
Clique is described as a game that’s part top-down action adventure, part first-person adventure. In it, you play as two characters: Zhora, an African-American teenage girl, and the avatar character within the game she’s playing (also called “Clique”). Jones says Clique is about playing games to escape the real world, but it’s also how he intends to show people how he, and many other people who play games around him, grew up.
To that end, while the game within the game will feature elements and mechanics players are familiar with—completing tasks for NPCs, a turn-based battle system, puzzles, and boss fights—Clique will intentionally make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome during certain segments. For example, many of the NPCs will be very cold to the player at first, but that can change if the right conditions are met. “That is how I feel at game conferences and most places outside of Detroit,” says Jones. “Hopefully [people that play the game] take some understanding out of that and have a new perspective [on] how others can feel.”
The music in Clique is another important component in representing African American culture. It takes inspirations from Supergiant Games’s Transistor (2014) and the Legend of Zelda series, and combines that with hip-hop, resulting in a genre Dead Art Games calls “Orchestral Urban Hip-Hop.” The hope is that the music will lay the groundwork for the “emotional atmosphere” present in each world. “That was all [sound designer Daniel Wilkins],” says Jones, explaining the choice of music. “Hip-Hop is a part of our culture and we want this game to represent us and our culture as best as we can.” You can hear a couple of tracks from the game on Wilkins’s SoundCloud page.
Jones is upfront about the kind of game he’s making, and the message he wants to get across to those who play it. He has several years of experience with game and app development, and he and Wilkins (who is a self-taught sound designer) have a genuine love for making games. “All [Wilkins] and I ever wanted to do with our lives was to make games,” Jones says “[We’re] really good at it, but the games industry rarely hires people of color and almost never makes a black person the main character of a game. So this game, this studio, the art, the music, it’s us trying to find our place in an industry that never wanted us.”
The Kickstarter campaign for Clique is seeking $35,000 in total before it ends in early May. Jones says that everyone on the team in confident in their game, as well as the campaign’s success, but backup plans have been made in the event that crowdfunding doesn’t work out.
Should Clique be ready for release in July as planned, it will arrive on Windows, Mac and Linux (Steam and DRM-free) first, with plans already made to eventually bring the game to the PS4, PS Vita, and Xbox One.