August 17, 2017

Webster alumni and students collaborate for brand-new sci-fi racing game

One company is giving people the chance to smuggle contraband. To be successful, the following is needed: a television, a controller and a gaming system.

Happy Badger Studio, an independent game developing studio based in Maplewood, Mo., is in its final stage of releasing its first console game, SmuggleCraft in late spring, for PlayStation 4 and Steam (PC, Mac and Linux.). Game developers feature two Webster University alumni and two current students, including senior game design major Richard Nava, community manager of Happy Badger Studio.

“It’s almost like reading a book,” Nava said. “You can use it to escape but you can use it to learn something and take something away from it.”

SmuggleCraft

Webster University senior game design major Richard Nava serves as Happy Badger Studio’s community manager. ANDREW MCMUNN / The Journal

Webster University senior game design major Richard Nava serves as Happy Badger Studio’s community manager.
ANDREW MCMUNN / The Journal

SmuggleCraft generates tracks randomly for every different mission, and gamers need to adapt the hovercraft they use for various situations encountered in racing.

Besides the adaptation aspect, SmuggleCraft also tries to bestow a sense of purpose to the gamers.

The game takes place in a politically divided world with heavy regulation on travel, trade and technology. In this game, there are three main factions with conflicting interests: the rich and powerful, the governing authority and the poor working laborers, which is a satire of the current political environment, but to an extreme.

Gamers are “smugglers” and are asked to deliver goods, but they will have to choose which side to ally with and whether or not to betray the alliance at a certain point.

Decision making

Nava said the game is meant to challenge gamers with constant dilemmas, and the choices they make would affect the character and would eventually lead to alternative endings. Nevertheless, Nava also said there is no right or wrong answers to the dilemmas encountered.

“This is no such thing as full evil or full good, because those are just viewpoints,” Nava said. “There is a little bit of what you call good and bad in every faction. It’s really about the personal choices you make and what you see as good or bad.”

Nava said the main takeaways from SmuggleCraft include tough decision making and having awareness about the consequences and rewards.

“Without the judgement from people [in real life], what you want to do in that [game] situation?” Nava said. “Making choices like that, hopefully, can echo and bring to the outside world and in real life.”

The love of the game

According to Nava, the “badgers” (workers) in the studio are all different people, but came together because of their common passion for gaming. Nava said gaming is “where [his] heart is.”

After falling in love with the interactivity of gaming, Nava made a huge switch and changed his major from acting to game design.

“I got similar experience on the stage acting as when I was playing a game with a strong narrative where I have to make choices for myself, and I want to give that exact experience to my audience rather than just watching stories happen,” Nava said. “You are not a passive observer. You are a key component in that story.”

Besides interactivity, Nava said video games are tailored to individuals and that “[personal experience] can be totally different from anyone else playing the exact same game.”

Gorloks in the studio

A unique experience is exactly what Happy Badger Studio wants to provide its audience with. That has been their mission since the studio was founded by Gorloks four years ago.

Alumnus Ben Hill Triola is the game director and producer of Happy Badger Studio. With both a creative role and organizational role all under his belt, Triola is like the “lead singer and manager of the Happy Badger rock band,” in Nava’s words. Triola graduated from Webster in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in interactive media.

Webster University alumnus Ben Triola describes himself as the “lead singer and manager of the Happy Badger rock band.” ANDREW MCMUNN / The Journal

Webster University alumnus Ben Triola describes himself as the “lead singer and manager of the Happy Badger rock band.”
ANDREW MCMUNN / The Journal

“We always hire based on passion, personality and culture fit,” Triola said. “Skills can always be taught, but you can’t teach passion.”

For Triola, his passion is in creation.

“I love creating something, a game or anything else, that other people will get to experience,” Triola said. “I love seeing our team come together to create an awesome experience.”

Happy Badger Studio is featured in season two of video production company Forever an Astronaut’s Dev Diary. The Dev Diary will tell behind-the-scenes stories about the studio from the beginning of their fundraising campaign for SmuggleCraft, all the way to its release.

“They will be following all of our laughs and tears and struggles,” Nava said. “It will be fun.”

Dev Diary is a game developer spotlight documentary series. For season one, the series focused on the Coster Brothers, one of the fastest game developers in St. Louis, and their release of Butterscotch Shenanigans’s Crashlands, which was featured in Time Magazine’s Top 10 Games and Top 50 Apps of 2016.

Happy Badger Studio is making all the efforts to develop gaming artistry, but the stereotype of gaming being nothing but a time waster has a certain negative influence on them. However, Nava said he believes people are starting to recognize gaming as an art form, “slowly but surely.”

“There are movie buffs. There are music buffs. There totally can be game buffs, especially with this generation, who is born into gaming,” Nava said. “Not everyone sees it, but it’s getting there.”

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