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Usually, D.C.’s video game industry isn’t exactly shrouded in mystery. A handful of established companies in the region earn a healthy profit making the sort of sword-and-sorcery games that sell. But recently, a new kind of locally made video game has emerged—-and it raises more questions than the local gaming community might be accustomed to.
“Players who die in-game die in real life,” promises the maker of “Radio the Universe,” a video game project that premiered on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter in late December. The project site includes a 90-second video ostensibly produced by its D.C.-area creator, the largely anonymous 6e6e6e. On his Kickstarter page, 6e6e6e promises to develop an indie game that doesn’t skimp on psychological intrigue.
The game’s concept has found an astonishing amount of support: As of this writing, it’s raised north of $78,000, more than six times its original goal of $12,000.
In design and play, “Radio the Universe” revisits a ’90s Nintendo aesthetic. The hallmarks are there: wobbly headed heroes, scurrying characters, and obstacles like magmatic death pits. The gameplay borrows the top-down view of classic role-playing games like “Legend of Zelda.” But it’s not just a nostalgic rehash: Unlike “Zelda” or the panoply of 16-bit adventures, the game’s motif is much darker than a princess rescue.
The scant plot details on “Radio the Universe”‘s Kickstarter page suggest an anguished, dystopic fever dream: “An unnamed protagonist whiles away aeons in deep, solitudinous sleep. She watches the tides in sunstruck dreams of an empty shore, patiently waiting for her life to end. Alone in a skyless and desolate labyrinth-city, there isn’t much else to do. But then…” Elsewhere, its beautifully and fully rendered animations show the hero’s scarred torso, reflected in a mirror; in the trailer, a character appears to overdose on pills. All in all, it’s haunting stuff.
The creator’s evocative pitch clearly swept gamers off their feet. The project reached its funding goal within 48 hours of its Dec. 21 premiere. Niche gaming sites and Gawker fanboy enclave Kotaku praised the game’s promise. With only a day left in the campaign, backers were still throwing money at “Radio the Universe.” In response to the overwhelming support, 6e6e6e doubled down on his ambitions, promising more levels, more animations, and more music with each additional $7,000 raised.
Despite the heaps of attention his game has attracted, however, 6e6e6e has remained more or less anonymous. He declined Washington City Paper‘s request for an interview, saying he preferred to spend his time working on the game. Michael Pierce of game blog Isometric Robot expressed concern about 6e6e6e’s low profile, citing Kickstarter’s accountability rules as reason enough for 6e6e6e to be more forthcoming about his identity. When Pierce contacted the creator, he responded, saying his name is John S Park, and he lives in Fairfax County, Virginia. Park wrote, “kickstarter has my full personal info and amazon has my verified legal/tax info (creators are actually not permitted to launch a kickstarter until that happens) so there’s also that in case anything goes haywire, but i’m fully confident that i can deliver.”
Anyone seeking confirmation of 6e6e6e’s good intentions, however, won’t find much on his Kickstarter page. In a recent update, he removed what was once a polished solicitation for donations, leaving in its place a mysterious communique that reads simply, “And the end came thus.”
Artwork via Radio the Universe’s Kickstarter page