Sunday, August 16, 2009

Studio Manta -- Genesis

It's been awhile since I wrote about Studio Manta, but that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about it. Since most of my friends are game designers, I thought I'd blog about my idea and its progress. Studio Manta is an idea I had a long time ago (circa 1999-2000); it's my dream for a game company.

The original idea stemmed from a conversation with Owen Seyler while we were both working for Last Unicorn Games. We had licensed the rights to Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, and had just finished our proposal for a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game. My question to Owen was "why are we licensing intellectual properties from others when we should be creating our own?" It is every game designer's dream to create an IP that can then be licensed to others. It is this dream that largely influenced the direction of game design for the last two decades.

Beforehand, games were seen as, well, games. They generally consisted of one or two books and were complete in and of themselves. Traveller, for example, was a generic science fiction game; there was a setting, but it was only a whisper of an idea. There were planets, and space travel, and some kind of intergalactic empire, but I played that game for years and never once had a sense of overall setting. Similarly, Boot Hill was a generic, catch-all game for the Wild West. Gamma World was a post-apocalyptic game. A game like RuneQuest presented a ruleset for a different kind of fantasy from the type found in Dungeons & Dragons. It wasn't until the end of the '80s that game design morphed into creating settings and stories -- generating intellectual properties.

My idea was to create an intellectual property, but not start as a game. It was to present the IP as a fait accompli; the setting would be portrayed as though it were a licensed IP, as though I had licensed it from someone else. The intent was to generate buzz -- where was the TV show upon which the game was based? Could you buy it on DVD? Why hadn't I seen the show in the first place?

Because the IP would be presented as a Japanese anime. You couldn't get it because it was produced in Japan, and hadn't gotten U.S. distribution. But maybe, if there were enough demand (hint, hint), someone would release it here. Maybe, just maybe, someone would then come to me and offer to produce an anime based on my game... It was a crazy idea, I know.

That's where the company name came from. It had to sound like it was a game published in Japan. The company had to have a wacky "engrish"-sounding name, like TokyoPop or Studio Ghibli. I decided on the name Studio Manta.

Soon afterward, I shelved the entire idea, for various reasons. Christian Moore, by boss at the time, was uninterested in creating intellectual properties. Owen Seyler felt the idea was doomed to failure, largely because no one would ever approach us for licensing.

Recently, however, I've decided to resurrect the idea, though not to generate an IP to license, but rather to try and present a new kind of game altogether.

1 comment:

  1. I think its genius. I mean, how many popular comic book characters, movies and the like have been designed around a similar premise? Galaxy Quest, Marvel's Sentry and Spaceship Zero just to name a few. With an Anime/Manga story it would seem even easier.

    Honestly, I really like the idea. I hope you can make it happen.

    Barking Alien