Alum and Professor Take Game-playing to a New Level

Originally posted: April 24, 2012

TACOMA, Wash. – Professor Jeff Matthews and Ryan Payton ’02 were an ocean apart, with their careers pointed in very different directions, when fate—or maybe a video game muse named Hope—stepped in.

A phone call informing Payton that his mother was ill brought the 30-year-old video game creator back from Japan to Seattle, where he settled into a new job at Microsoft. Payton soon reached out to his old professor, Jeff Matthews, a former banker with management consultancy experience, for a talk about leadership. Something clicked.

Then, last year, disillusioned with corporate bureaucracy, Payton decided to risk all on his personal dream of starting his own video games firm. He laid out a plan and, needing some hands-on expertise, called Matthews, who directs University of Puget Sound’s Business Leadership Program.

In fall 2011 the new video games company Camouflaj was launched, with Payton and fellow designer Ezra Hanson-White as the game producers, and Matthews as a business partner and investor.

Payton was not dreaming idly. He had already made a name for himself as creative director of the popular “Halo 4” game and as a producer on “Metal Gear Solid 4.” But he also did not want to create just another video game.

“My personal goal is to create something that people remember decades from now,” Payton told the blog GameInformer. “I don’t know if we’ll pull it off, but it seems like a good ambition to have.”

Camouflaj’s first game under development is “République.It is unusual because it is being built specifically for Apple mobile devices, such as the iPhone and iPad. This moves radically away from the well-trod path of targeting the personal computer game players with their large screens and controllers. “République” will be played with touch, swipe, and pinch, and offer high-end visuals and audio beyond what is generally seen on mobile devices today.

“We’re putting all the power of the device into the faces, so it becomes highly personal and real.” Matthews said. Los Angeles-based Logan, which works on many of Apple’s most iconic commercials, is in charge of the visual direction.

“République” is also atypical in that the game is a story-based adventure that does not revolve around killing. The main character, Hope, is an intelligent and nonsexualized woman. The plot involves non-violent action, and the hero is you—the player. In the game the player has to help Hope escape a futuristic “Big Brother” society and has the advantage of an eagle’s-eye view of the totalitarian state where she is held prisoner. Payton says the game comments on our increasingly surveillance-oriented society, and deals with censorship, intrigue, and stealth.

Camouflaj, which is partially financing its venture through the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter, expects to complete its first game over the next year. The plan is to then take the game, with the appropriate high-quality technology, to PC and Mac desktops.

Meantime Camouflaj is cautiously heading down the higher-risk mobile route—a route that Payton and Matthews think will look smart in a year or two’s time.  According to a recent article in The New York Times, it is now de rigueur for startups to take advantage of the plethora of smartphones and go straight to mobile. Payton, in any case, is not so concerned. Talking to a blogger for games company Gamasutra, he commented:

“My whole philosophy is, as long as we make a really kick-ass game; really high quality, with a really good story, good visuals, good gameplay, then I think everything is going to fall into place.”

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