A while ago, when I was researching black video-game developers, I happened upon Zapling Studios. I filled out the contact information, but I also signed up for the beta test of the game they’re currently working on, Justice Royale. About three weeks ago, they sent an official beta code, linked to Apple’s test flight app. Yes, you are inferring correctly. Justice Royale is completely mobile. In an era of mobile gaming where the platform gone from GameBoy to iPhone, Justice Royale is refreshing. It is a completely mobile experience developed with real console controls. And that’s only the beginning for Zapling Studios and it’s co-founder, Quintin Rodriguez-Harrison.
Having experienced the game for myself, it’s easy to see where Rodriguez-Harrison would gather his influence from. Starting from Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros on NES, and evolving to games like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon, their imprint can be felt in the development of Justice Royale.
Those games have solid controls and game-play that allowed you to play how you wanted. In a beat ‘em up, where you are constantly fighting enemies over and over, you have to make sure the game loop is always fresh. I remember my sister and I would play Double Dragon on Genesis and we’d say, ‘Ok, this game we can only use the back elbow.’ or ‘This game only flying kicks.’, we were free to play that way and be able to win even if it was much harder. I really wanted to bring that mindset to Justice Royale, allowing you the freedom to play however way you want, there should not be a ‘correct’ way to play.
Justice Royale embodies this principle in full regalia. Colorful, stylish, and sleek, the rough-and-rowdy moniker “beat-em-up” has gotten a fresh makeover via the game’s Hero and Heroine and their nearly endless combination of equippable talents and boosters. Customization doesn’t stop with your character’s skill-sets, but extends to clothing, skin, and hair, making each way you play your own. Each level is crafted to be both challenging and beatable, rendering stale game-play a moot point. The novelty of the game lies in the fact that it is completely mobile. Console gaming is one thing, but when you’re ready to game away from home, where do most people do it? Mobile phones or tablets. Completely hand-held, with controls on screen, Justice Royale takes mobile gaming to the next level.
Rodriguez-Harrison, amazingly, is an developer turned advertiser turned developer again. His love affair with designing games started in high school, but unfortunately, he was unable to create the worlds that he could see in his mind. In fact, he’s been developing characters for an RPG ever since. He didn’t let go of his ideas or his dreams, but he diverted his attention to learning game engines like Objective-C and Cocos2d. His drive and determination to turn the aforementioned ideas into games led to the founding of Zapling Studios alongside friend and co-worker, Davis Quan in 2014.
For me making games is about telling a story and letting someone experience that story. Stories can take us away from the stress of reality, teach us lessons and have us look at things with a whole new perspective. Of course they can also entertain, which is my biggest hope to accomplish. To be able to make someone smile and enjoy playing a game that you created, that is just an amazing feeling. I have had a taste of it already while showing Justice Royale at conventions, I cannot wait to continue to make games that people enjoy.
Rodriguez-Harrison is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, and has seen and gone through his fair share of hardships and trials related to being a minority, yet he doesn’t see it as a burden. Rather, he finds those hardships have strengthened him and his determination. If anything, the only thing he finds to put limits on himself is the intangible threatening us all, time. That hardened resolve keeps him working hard with his friends at Zapling. Right now, he’s finding the stress of releasing Justice Royale, his first game, the most prevalent worry. Once the initial release is done and the game is received (which, if you ask me, will do well based on what I’ve played), he hopes to reach and inspire others as a minority in the gaming industry. However, Rodriguez-Harrison also realizes just being a familiar face to other black and brown children is not the end-game.
I would like to be able to reach out to kids in high school and have some sessions talking about game design and how to pursue your dreams. I always want to give back from where I came from, and helping a young mind is something I would love to do. When people talk to me and bring up, ‘I’m happy to see someone like us making games!’, it is a good feeling because I do want to represent my roots well. However, someday I would love for us to look past race/gender/sexual preference when it comes down to game creation (or any work) and just recognize that an amazing team of humans made something. Until that ideal is met, I will just do my best to lead by example, work hard and hopefully create relatable fun worlds that people can experience and be inspired by.
He’s watched two industries grow and diversify, and he feels the gaming industry itself is headed in the right direction when it comes to representation and development. He draws an significant parallel between advertising and gaming, one that was at the forefront of the discussion the led to the inception of #OperationCodeBlack itself.
…Advertising and gaming are similar in the fact that you are trying to sell a product to a target audience. It becomes hard to do that effectively if the creators of that content cannot relate to the target group they are going for. You have to have a larger representation internally before you can create content that your target audiences will want to experience.
Those statements become increasingly valid when you look at the makeup of Zapling Studios team itself. It is an incredibly diverse team, making games together that embody the changes Rodriguez-Harrison wants to see in the industry he loves and wants to cultivate growth in. Here’s to hoping Justice Royale serves as the knock-out punch that the industry needs, and the lift-off for Zapling Studios.