words: Tonya McCoy
Images: Jeromy Price and courtesy Jacob Siler
In a not-yet-released video game, Sky Bridge: Fallen Stars, a zeppelin floats through the air casting a long shadow on the ground in front of a character named Ant and her steam-powered carriage that’s rolling across a lush green field. She’s leaving home. Her parents and sister were killed by pirates and she’s seeking justice. She’s on a journey to become the first female Skylark, a military group that protects an alliance of countries on her home planet of Stella. Soon Ant hopes to be fighting outlaws like the ones who murdered her family.
Ant is one of two characters Arkansas game-makers hope you’ll fall in love with. Players will choose the character Ant or River, a farm boy also aspiring to join Skylark. The game will be an RPG, or role playing game, meaning as Ant or River, players will complete quests, earning experience on their way to becoming Skylarks.
“In some cases you might be on a quest where you’re an ambassador and you go to another country and sometimes you may even be a spy,” says twenty-two-year-old Jacob Siler from Van Buren, one of the game’s creators.
Co-creator and brother, Zachary Siler, who’s twenty-five, and lives in Hot Springs, says, “There’s action, but there’s also espionage and covert operations.”
It’s a ‘steampunk’ genre game which means your character is surrounded by high-tech, steam-powered machinery such as flying ships, horseless carriages and geared-up motorcycles. To help you better understand the setting, think of the movies Hugo, and Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. Video games such as Final Fantasy and Epic Mickey are also steampunk.
The game’s home planet, Stella, also has a culture similar to the Victorian era. The inspiration came from our own Clayton House, right here in Fort Smith. Allyson Siler, the brothers’ twenty-seven-year-old sister, has also been working to develop the game. She spent years working at Clayton House where their mother was director at the time. The whole family volunteered at the historic building, learning the traditions and fashions which helped bring the characters to life.
“We volunteered there a lot and they had certain events where people would come dressed in Victorian clothes and it just kind of got in our brains, the Victorian era…The idea of using Victorian technology to achieve what we could do today,” says Zachary.
Jacob, Allyson and Zachary have joined their video game ambitions, their love for steampunk, and their initials to create JAZ Games. But their interest in games began way before they learned about steampunk.
“One of my first games was on an old computer with a big three and a half inch floppy disc. It was Donkey Kong and King’s Quest,” says Zachary.
“We spent hours on that game, you know, just trying to get over the barrels and save the princess,” laughs Jacob. He was three when he began playing Donkey Kong in the early nineties.
Video games have come a long way since the poorly pixilated graphics Donkey Kong. And while Fallen Stars is years beyond such games, the siblings have bigger goals. Their plans started at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.
Jacob explains, “In the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) department there is a Bachelor of Science with a major in Animation Technology. So when we came here, we said we want to start an internship program with you. They were really excited. And it’s just been overwhelming because every student wants to do it.”
The internship program began in June, and animation students receive college credit for their work. They’ve also recruited impressive talent off campus.
Audio editor Stephen Muir who’s worked on the recent movie Elysium starring Matt Damon, and the popular video game Red Dead Redemption has agreed to work on the game. Plus, G. Aaron Siler, an uncle of the siblings, is an award winning sound designer, and will work on Fallen Stars. His previous work includes audio editing and engineering for the Dallas Cowboys and for the TV series Barney.
In the future, the siblings hope to develop a Sky Bridge MMO, or a massively multiplayer online game. Think the size of Halo or World of Warcraft games, where millions of people play online.
And if that goal wasn’t big enough, they hope to make their game a virtual reality as well. Jacob explains, “What we want to do is build gaming centers, virtual reality pods. They already exist, they almost look like hamster balls on a track. You just jump in them and run around in an object on a stationary track. It’s like an omnidirectional treadmill almost, and we want to link these centers together so whatever center you go to, you can hop in and play the game networked with every other person that’s in there.”
And if that isn’t enough, they’ve even considered doing a 3D scanning of the player, so your avatar will look just like you. Yes, there are big plans for Sky Bridge: Fallen Stars, and in a world full of cynicism, it takes courage to live your dreams. You never know what the future holds for you. Jacob became all too aware of this truth eight years ago. “I woke up one morning and my arm was numb, and it stayed numb as I went about my routine. I noticed as the day went on that the numbness spread until it covered the right half of my body. It was like I could draw a line where I could feel on one side, and not on the other. A week passed and I had what I thought was my first migraine ever. The headache faded fairly quickly, however the upper right quadrant of my vision had a blurred spot left in it.”
An ophthalmologist referred Jacob to a neurologist who, after a series of tests, diagnosed Jacob with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system in which the immune system attacks the patient’s own nerves. This disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with MS, and only between two and five percent of people diagnosed with MS experience pediatric MS with symptoms occurring before the age of eighteen. Jacob was a sixteen-year-old boy. It may be surprising, but Jacob sees his diagnosis as a positive. “I think it was a call to me, just kind of a knock over my head, like I need to be doing something important with my life. I don’t need to be wasting my time.”
Jacob’s goals are important to him because he hopes to build a game that’s less violent and more accessible to younger ages than today’s main-stream role playing and massive multiplayer games. He also plans to encourage something that’s rare for popular video games: play with moderation.
The aspirations of JAZ Games are neatly summed up by a quote from a YouTube video the brothers made in an attempt to draw support for the game. “When destiny calls, will you listen, will you do what’s necessary to become the person you dream of?”
For information on Animation Technology programs or the video game internship at UAFS call the ‘STEM’ department at 479.788.7129.
Check out the game’s progress on Facebook under JazGaming or www.skybridgesaga.us.