Riot in the streets, at a desk, in your hand: An indie documentary game

Riot thing

"Riots are powerful. They are moments in which lots of different people blend into a unique and cohesive mass to fight for their freedom. It is something that you cannot pursue for yourself, but only for a greater good. How can that not be incredibly emotive?"

Designer Mattia Traverso approaches rioting as an intense, human experience, from both sides of the kevlar: Rioters take to the streets for freedom and glory, while the authorities fight back in an equally fervid attempt to retain order. Riots are masses of thousands of stories about people, and Riot is a game about humanity.

Traverso, creator Leonard Menchiari and programmer Ugur Ister's Riot has raised almost triple its $10,000 funding goal on Indiegogo, and it still has 10 days to pull in more money. Money that the Italian trio will use to travel the globe, seeking out and documenting riots in Italy, Greece, Egypt, Russia and other countries, interviewing rioters and law enforcement officers, gathering videos, photos and eyewitness accounts – then throwing all of that into the game.

"Phisically visiting these places and joining the live riots is fundamental," Traverso tells me. "One cannot describe something he does not know, and that is something that the 'serious' movie industry knows very well: You need research. How could we even claim to describe such an important topic without having lived it multiple times or having talked with the rioters or the police?"

Riot will be a "playable documentary," allowing players to choose a side and act out a live riot as either the authorities or protesters.

"We want people to 'feel' a riot, and the interactivity of a game is the best way to let the player immerse in this peculiar situation," Traverso says.

In 2012, Riot creator Leonard Menchiari – previously an editor and cinematographer at Valve – was entrenched in Italy's No TAV protest. The No TAV movement started two decades ago with an Alpine town's opposition to construction of a high-speed railway, and it transformed into a nationwide, populist uprising. Menchiari's involvement in No TAV and the following photograph sparked his creativity, and six months ago he began work on Riot.

Riot thing

Traverso and programmer Ugur Ister joined on when the Indiegogo campaign started, Traverso fine-tuning the gameplay mechanics and Ister porting the game to Unity 4. Riot is in development for PC, Mac, iOS, Android and Ouya, each platform featuring a unique control scheme. There should be a demo for Riot within the next few months.

The goal of the game is to tell those stories, no bias involved, and to let people slip into the role of the police or the rioters, and possibly understand the motivations and the emotions behind them.Mattia Traverso, Riot

First, Traverso, Menchiari and Ister need to pack their bags and hit the pavement – they're still finalizing travel plans, but they want to hit up "hot zones" in Russia for a riot on May 6, and they're gathering information about Mohammed Morsi and active protests in Egypt.

They're not taking sides. The developers want to observe, listen and capture the essence of a riot, regardless of its catalyst.

"Riot does not bring any message, at least not explicitly or directly," Traverso says. "The goal of the game is to tell those stories, no bias involved, and to let people slip into the role of the police or the rioters, and possibly understand the motivations and the emotions behind them. But the player will be able to formulate her own judgement about the stories that will be told.

"I personally only experienced riots indirectly, but Leonard, who is taking care of the 'narrative' (that is not a narrative) and the 'meaning' (that is not a meaning) of the game, has joined riots and protests already."

With the extra cash raised on Indiegogo, Traverso says his team will "be able to research even more and have a safe roof over our heads for a longer time." Also, the sound design will benefit. Traverso approaches Riot as a movie-style game and the surplus funds can help polish its soundtrack and effects.

Riot is obviously inspired by Sword & Sworcery, Traverso admits, but mostly, its inspiration stems from the people rioting worldwide for their right to live, die and protest freely:

"What we want to evoke with Riot will obviously depend on the side that the player will choose to play with. For the rioters we want to show a struggle for freedom, oppression, anger, excitement, etc. The police side will be completely different. The idea is that the player will understand and feel what joining a riot means by playing the game."