Leonard Menchiari has been attacked by riot police forces, sprayed by water cannons, and hit with gas rounds—not a typical life experience for a video game developer. Given that he’s the director, writer, and artist for the upcoming simulator, Riot – Civil Unrest, it does give new meaning to the saying, work with what you know.
When Menchiari and his team started development for Riot – Civil Unrest, they were influenced by the conflict in the Italian Susa Valley and other similar events around the world. Yet, as time passed, perhaps development fell victim to the very thing that gave them inspiration. The team soon disbanded, with his compatriots leaving the country.
Then it was me for several months working on a whole new project by myself with no money, no house, just a broken laptop.
To anyone looking at this from the outside, it couldn’t be anything but rock bottom. And for many, the next logical thing would be to seek something new. However, Menchiari had resolve to continue. He just needed help with the means. “That’s when I launched the Indiegogo campaign.”
Riot was introduced on Indiegogo in 2013 and only took a few weeks to achieve its initial goal of $15K. People wanted a game that reflected our current world condition; and from the original trailer, he was doing it right. By the end, the campaign had blew past its goal by 241%.
With a budding core following, Menchiari was well on his way. The funding would fuel travel to other areas of civil instability (think Egypt and Greece) in addition to rebuilding the team and acquiring better equipment to complete the game.
Then, in September of last year, the following post appeared on the Riot blog:
The last several months have been very slow, full of confusion, stress, miscomunication [sic] and lots of exhaustion. The whole design and programming side will have to be redone from scratch … obviously after the last changes it’s going to take a bit longer …
Months of silence followed. Backers and fans of the game were clamoring for more updates. “The project was reaching a moment of stall,” Menchiari told zoomdune.com. “The only decision we could [make] was to throw all the code out and rebuild it from scratch,” this in addition to replacing the team once again. A monumental decision simply termed Reset 3.0 in that September ’14 blog post.
Again, for anyone on the outside, it can be flabbergasting that Menchiari would continue. But for him, this was another necessary destruction from which a better game would emerge, much like a city rebuilding from the ashes of a drawn out, internal war.
“People have been fighting really hard, many have died, the least I can do is to finish something that will communicate these events to as many people that I can share them with.” If ever there was a mantra to keep pushing forward, this was a good one, a mantra that drives Menchiari daily to finish this game.
So, after the major reset, the director reached out to one of the first companies to contact him during the Indiegogo campaign, IV Productions, for a much needed injection of support with the code. Then, he struck a deal with Merge Games for publishing and distribution. With the addition of several quality programmers, the game was back on track.
This was a chain reaction of positivity, the complete opposite of what Menchiari faced in those dark, latter months of 2014. It was also an affirmation of what can happen with an unbreakable will and an unshakeable belief in what he was doing.
That will and belief proved invaluable when he came face to face with the real physical dangers of riots at home and abroad.
Clash After Clash
When we say Riot – Civil Unrest will be modeled after real life riots, this means the actual source material came from smoke filled streets, oppressed peoples clashing with brutal authorities, and many, on both sides, fearing for their lives if not sacrificing them outright for their beliefs. It goes without saying, Menchiari has put a lot on the line to make this game and he’s treating the subject matter extremely seriously.
I saw young and very old people being brutally bashed, ladies being pushed around and abused, kids lost in the middle of a panicked crowd, police forces shooting CS rounds on the people who surrendered, and people with broken bones that couldn’t go to the hospital or they would’ve been arrested.
He has witnessed riots in his home country of Italy with the NoTAV protests in the Susa Valley. He has also put the Indiegogo funding to use visiting Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt and the Indignados movement in Madrid, Spain leaving his own blood in these places. “I did get hit and crushed many times by the police forces, I got attacked pretty hard, sprayed by water cannons and shot with CS rounds [gas rounds].”
And when he couldn’t reach certain conflicts, he would tap into a network of journalists, including Leonardo Bianchi, Editor of Vice Italia, who was instrumental with a ground’s eye view in Keratea, Greece. To him, this wasn’t just a means to ‘get things right’ for the game. A part of him felt compelled to stand next to those in need, a natural extension of his humanity.
What struck me the most though, was the power and the will that people had, and how many would put their life in risk just to protect and save whoever was in danger … Being there meant caring about the future of your neighbor way more than your own life. That to me is a very strong and powerful way to change the future.
Finding Home In The Smoke
Now, Riot – Civil Unrest is in the home stretch, its final months of development. The issues that plagued the game early on seem like they happened a lifetime ago. And perhaps they have.
One cannot go through something as extreme as bloody riots without becoming changed by the experience. The change can be as apparent as post traumatic stress disorder, or as subtle as a different point of view on society. In the least, Menchiari has a unique understanding of the struggle that many in the US and abroad are facing today.
One of the things that all these clashes have in common, according to Menchiari, is that the struggle is as much an internal one as it is external. “[E]ach person is fighting a rough battle also inside themselves … any of their actions are only consequences of the situation they ended up in.”
Ultimately, with this game, he wants to impart some of that first hand understanding on his audience, without the filter of the often manipulated media. When asked what three things he wants gamers to walk away with after experiencing Riot – Civil Unrest, it struck this writer that each of his points were highlighted, both literally and figuratively, with one shining word—Hope.
- I hope that through this game we’ll learn more about what kind of revolutions are happening around the world, and what we can personally do to help out
- I hope that through this game we can teach and learn more about different ways of solving social conflicts
- The #1 thing that I really hope, is that we’ll be able get out of this game something that we still can’t predict yet. Maybe a bit pretentious, but considering all the variety of possibilities that each battle will contain, I can expect pretty much anything from this game at this point.
Riot – Civil Unrest will be released this Summer on Steam. It is also slated for Android, iOS, Playstation 4 and Xbox One on a later, undisclosed time frame.