by Mark Wilson There was a bit of nervous anticipation. Blazing Lizard's Lead Designer Christopher Stockman was on the line. He had just emailed me the pitch on his unannounced game after assuring me it was just the sort of thing Kotakuites, in particular, would love.
And in the 10 or so seconds of downloading and opening the document, I could feel the tension through the silent phone line. He was waiting for my reaction because it was an Important Moment.
"This is dramatic!" I said. He laughed. Back to silence. And then I saw the logo in big, bright letters: Pirates Vs. Ninjas Dodgeball.
"We own it; we own pirates versus ninjas!" Chris exclaimed. Yes—startup Blazing Lizard has actually filed a trademark for Pirates Vs. Ninjas, and it's all theirs. Blazing Lizard was founded by three former THQ/Volition veterans who were behind games like Red Faction, Freespace and Saints Row. Now expanded to a mighty team of four, they intend on releasing their first (of what they hope to be many) PvN-themed games in January 2008. That is, as soon as they sign a publisher and actually decide on which downloadable platform is right for them (PSN or Xbox LIVE).
PvN Dodgeball is an up to 8-person single or multiplayer game in which ninjas, pirates and three other unannounced groups will go head to head in free form dodgeball. There are no lines, and supporting players will attack one another with cutlasses and katanas, but throwing the ball is still the only way you knock the other team out of the game. The game will also feature spawning boxes (no treasure chests??) containing charges. When a player is charged, they can perform a special move like the "pegleg stomp," firing shockwaves toward enemy players. When they fall to the ground, you can grab the ball and do some real damage—Vince Vaughn and Rip Torn style (on a side note, I'd see Vaughn as the ninja in this metaphor, with Torn being an old but tough pirate).
The gameplay is supposed to be "easy to learn and difficult to master," and the game is built from the ground up on an all new engine being developed by Blazing Lizard that's assured to "have all the bells and whistles of a next-gen engine." Yes my friends, that promise has bloom lighting written all over it. Chris and I talked a bit more about the title. When leaving Volition just four months ago to live off savings while developing a new IP, the Blazing Lizard team had no clue what they'd be working on, other than a console downloadable game.
"When we came up with this, it was like wow, why hasn't anyone come up with this before?" Stockman explained. "When we snagged the trademark it was like, too good. That is just too sweet."
But what about that pirates vs. ninjas IP? Can ideas grow so large as cultural phenomenon that they can't be copyrighted? To own PvN seems analogue to owning the geek national anthem, the word "pwned" or the concept of downloading Britney Spears nip slips. It's something that, as dorks, we gave birth to, painfully, through thousands of drunken conversations, angry fistfights and male-to-male makeup hugs.
"We have no intention of being jerks with this IP," Stockman said. "I certainly don't spend my days searching for all the free flash games that may feature pirates and ninjas. We certainly don't want to damage the underground culture surrounding PvN." As for the future of Blazing Lizard, while they plan on releasing as many PvN titles as people will buy (even a puzzle fighter was discussed), the team forecasts other, non-pirate projects in their future—possibly even a new Freespace game.
"A lot of people were wondering what type of game we were going to announce. We had a lot of people who loved Freespace," Stockman said. "If people keep saying make a kick ass space game, that's something we're going to explore."
But given the price of the Freespace IP, Stockman would rather reinvent the series than continue it.
"A new IP 'from the makers of Freespace' has the same effect. This way, we can start with a new story, new characters...the whole nine yards."
Hmmm...I wonder if they can trademark intergalactic sharks with laser beams next.