Australian-based indie studio Elevator Entertainment recently revealed plans to develop The Source, a videogame satirically themed around the doctrine of the controversial Church of Scientology --a sensitive topic that most of the entertainment industry steer well clear of for fear of litigation or worse. Elevator hope to fund the game's development via crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, and most the development crew wish to remain anonymous. We hit the team up with a few questions to find out more about this curious project.
AusGamers: Beyond the free exposure afforded by the controversial subject matter, what are the motivations behind creating a game lampooning The Church of Scientology?
Elevator Entertainment: Like all great things that you see in the media, Scientology has a healthy presence in the public sphere. We see it referenced in TV shows, it is the subject of news reports, etc. We feel parody is a great opportunity to bring in humour into projects and break the ice amongst all the other serious stuff you here about. Having stumbled onto the topic over a nostalgic game on the Super Nintendo, we couldn't help but see how the story of Scientology could be mistaken for a game. If someone hadn’t already done it- we didn’t want to miss the opportunity for a bit of fun!
AusGamers: Although the inspiration is obvious, and mentioned frequently when promoting the project elsewhere, the name Scientology is notably absent from the Indiegogo project page. Is that intentional, and are there intellectual property concerns to navigate when tailoring a narrative around The Church’s doctrine?
Elevator Entertainment: Well it is one thing to make a parody of something. We are pretty well protected by the laws but we know we have to be a little careful as scientology is trademarked. We think we can create a game will all of the information that is in the public space that will make for one crazy experience for the gamers.
We are also acutely aware of scientology’s legal history of simply bullying opponents out of court by using their mammoth financial and human resources to wear any attackers down.
One of the most well-known quotes from the founder of Scientology says it best: "The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly." - L. Ron Hubbard, A MANUAL ON THE DISSEMINATION OF MATERIAL, 1955
AusGamers: The team has mentioned that the New Yorker’s lengthy account of Paul Haggis' experience with The Church of Scientology served as the game’s primary source of inspiration and research. What other research avenues will you be exploring?
Elevator Entertainment: This was certainly the impetus for the script. Kylee was reading the article and a book on gaming at the same time and was blown away by the similarities in levelling up, awards, pay-as-you-go model. From there we did a bunch of research and also had some help from people who knew a little more.
There is a wealth of valuable information on the internet through websites like 'Xenu.net'. There is simply so much stuff out there that is suitable to make a game that we are virtually tripping over ideas. The Paul Haggis' article alone has enough content for a whole bunch of games. We really just want to create a fun game the context of scientology just adds to the experience by knowing people actually believe or have these experiences in real life.
AusGamers: How closely will you be sticking to verifiable facts of the church and its doctrine, versus embellishing aspects for the sake of humour of gameplay? Is accuracy and a measure of respect important to the approach?
Elevator Entertainment: We do have a healthy amount of respect for people’s beliefs. The public aim of Scientology (as we show in the video) is to create a world without sickness, war, poverty, etc. That would seem like a noble goal to the uninitiated and there are certainly people around the world involved with Scientology who are focused on that goal rather than the shadier aspects that we want people to be aware of. We know that it is very difficult for members to leave the church, regardless of whether their beliefs have changed or not.
That said, we are obviously taking the piss out of Scientology's history and beliefs. Strangely enough, a lot of the seemingly exaggerated aspects evident in our video (such as the history of Xenu and the Cereal Box enemies) are actually fairly accurate. We barely need to make fun of a lot of the elements of Scientology because they are already so cartoonish! But perhaps it is no more than other religions? I guess that's what happens when your religion was made up by a sci-fi novelist...
AusGamers: Will the game’s commentary tread near any of the more malevolent allegations levelled at the church, or just focus on the generally peculiar beliefs? We note that not even the frequent line-crossing South Park went there in it’s commentary of the church.
Elevator Entertainment: Given the sheer volume of information about the church itself, I think we will have plenty of fodder just from the internal documentation. Whilst we may find ways to reference particular events and news items, it will not be a focus. They are generally very serious events and we are not serious people. We want to make a game about aliens and talking to animals and heading to the 'Bridge of Enlightenment', so the basic beliefs of Scientology are more than enough inspiration for us!
AusGamers: What benefits does being based in Australia offer the team when tackling this subject? Have you visited local branches of the church?
Elevator Entertainment: The main benefit is that Scientology is not as prominent in Australia as it is in America and other countries. As I mentioned in an earlier question, there is a history of Scientology simply throwing resources at problems to make them go away. They do not have the same hold on society in this country so we are not under the same pressure here as we may be somewhere else. It's certainly nice to live on an island sometimes. We haven't really been to local churches, as we already have all the info we need and we are pretty sure that you aren't going to find many true facts at a Church of Scientology! We are also a little less brave than our character Hannah.
AusGamers: Indiegogo has fewer protections in place for project backers than other crowdfunding options, particularly for pledges made if the total is not reached. What made it your platform of choice, and will Elevator Entertainment be able to complete development of the game/first episode if the $45,000 goal is not met?
Elevator Entertainment: We chose Indiegogo over Kickstarter because it is easier to use from Australia. Kickstarter is fantastic but designed for people who live in America, use American bank accounts, etc. Indiegogo is a lot more flexible in that regard.
The second part of that question is a lot tougher to answer as it comes down to how much we actually end up with. We like to think that we are fairly resourceful people and will find a way to make the financing work if we don't quite hit our goal. We really are relying on the funds from the campaign though, because due to the sensitive nature of the game's content we cannot source funds from our usual places!
AusGamers: The project’s first blog update explains that significant capital is required for the development of the game engine. Do you intend to build the game from the ground up without licensing an existing engine or middleware solutions?
Elevator Entertainment: Like the previous question, this is a bit of a 'chicken or the egg' scenario. Given the time and money, we would love to develop our own engine from the ground up as that would give us the most flexibility. However there are many existing engines that would give us a leg up if we find ourselves without the finances we are hoping for, so they are currently our backup plan in case we don't hit our target on Indiegogo. This sort of dilemma is a pretty common problem for developers who use crowd sourcing sites as you never know exactly how much money you will have to spread around (unless you are Double Fine!).
AusGamers: Is the promotional trailer intended to be a mockup of what players can expect in terms of art-style and basic gameplay components, or just more of a conceptual overview?
Elevator Entertainment: In terms of the aesthetics, its on the right track to achieving the effect we’re looking for. Gameplay elements are a little tougher to determine at this stage and its something we’d really love to discover further through development. The advantage of making a platform game is that there are so many classics in the genre to take inspiration from when it comes to basic gameplay elements.
Our challenge is integrating interesting quirks and power-ups that are related to Scientology and fittig it within the framework of our game. We don't want these elements in there just for the sake of being in there, they will be a key component of our game. It is amazing how well-suited some of the Scientology 'powers' are for a game!
AusGamers: The project brief claims unnamed developers from some of the world’s most recognized games are on the team. Are you able to name some of those games, or at least the studios they were developed by in a way that won’t compromise the individual’s identities?
Elevator Entertainment: Sadly I can't really answer any of this question. I know that sounds like a bit of a cop-out but everyone involved has asked to be anonymous and we have a responsibility to protect them. It's doubly frustrating for me personally because I would love to tell you! These individuals are hugely talented and I wish I could tell you their names and backgrounds so you could be as excited as I am. I am working on them to come forward….they are based in California is as much as I will say and I think that makes them a little more paranoid than we are…
AusGamers: Thanks for your time.
Elevator Entertainment: Not a problem! Thanks for helping us get the word out.
The Indiegogo campaign to fund development of The Source ends on January 12th 2013, head over to indiegogo.com/thesourcegame to pledge your support, evaluate their engrams, or curse them with the wrath of Xenu.