Indie Studio Proletariat Explores New Video Game Frontiers

proletariatA still from "Streamline," Proletariat's stream first video game.

Last year was a good one for the developers at Proletariat. The fledgling studio’s first release, World Zombination, was met with fan and critical acclaim, including a mention as an editor’s choice in the App Store and a nod from Apple as one the best games of 2015.

So of course, like most indie game developers, they’re taking what they learned from that early success and applying those lessons toward a new game, building on those experiences slowly, gradually ramping up the intensity and complexity of each subsequent project. At least, that’s what most developers would do.

“We were like, ‘Nah,'” laughs Proletariat producer Kristen Mukai. “[That success] kind of allowed us to go in a different direction and pursue a totally different kind of game.”

Instead, the company, which got its start in Cambridge, is exploring a field that’s not only foreign to them, but one that few developers have any knowledge about. This new gaming frontier is called stream first, and Proletariat’s latest project is Streamline, a revolutionary 3D action game that’s being developed specifically for the livestreaming platform Twitch.

Even if you’re not a gamer, you may remember Twitch from the headline-grabbing Twitch Plays Pokemon, which found 75,000 people simultaneously playing a single game of Pokemon Red, meticulously typing the same commands into the site’s chat field. (Miraculously, they beat the game. It took 16 days, 7 hours, 45 minutes and 30 seconds.) Another Twitch phenomenon: a marathon of every episode of “The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross.”

Proletariat’s Streamline won’t be like the hacked-for-chat version of Pokemon; theirs is intentionally made for livestreaming platforms. “You were interacting with the game, but you weren’t getting the experience you expect from a game,” Mukai explains of Twitch Plays Pokemon. Streamline takes the gameplay out of the chat function and actually integrates it with Twitch. As for the project itself, Mukai calls it an arena-based, “cat and mouse” multiplayer game. Players get points and work to eliminate other competitors, while spectators change the rules of the game in real time—making the floor lava, taking away someone’s weapon, slowing down time—at their whim. Mukai says that while players catch on quickly, it’s a game that takes skill to really master.

There are other production companies building stream first games of their own—Schell Games is working on one called Wastelanders, Pipeworks is currently in production on Superfight—but this is a field that’s new to everyone.

Mukai jokes that it’s like saying, “Oh, I think I’m going to build a game for my toaster.”

“It was absolutely a crazy risk for us to be like, ‘Okay, we did one game that was a success. Let’s throw all of that out of the window and do something completely different,'” she adds, admitting that the last eight months of “insane growth” have been challenging. The company was new to mobile when they made World Zombination, but there was a lot of documentation on building games for mobile devices. Questions had relatively easy-to-find answers.

Still, the benefit of building a new type of game from the ground up is that it’s opened the Proletariat crew up to a whole new network of players and developers. They’re asking gamers what they want to see—literally, Mukai says they’re having people name anything they want—and seeing if they can apply that to their game. And there’s a whole community of World Zombination fans who are following Proletariat to Twitch, even though it’s a totally different platform.

Because while the company has grown a great deal in the last year, moving to a new office in Boston and pushing the limits of what video games can be, they’re still a pretty small. They’re working on one game at a time—and they haven’t forgotten where they came from.

“We made a great game [with World Zombination]. Visually, we pushed the boundaries of what you could get on mobile,” Mukai says. “Building games for Twitch or for livestreaming is this whole untapped area. We can just kind of invent whatever we want to.”

You can watch Proletariat play Streamline at twitch.tv/proletariat_inc or playstreamline.com.

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