Autobiographic raising a kid with cancer simulator, That Dragon, Cancer, will launch first on Ouya in the second half of 2014.
Ouya is supporting the two-person studio's development costs so the pair can make a game based on Ryan Green's real-life story of raising his son Joel - now five - who has cancer.
How did this happen, you ask?
It's simple, really. Green and his programmer partner Josh Larson got in touch with Ouya's developers' best friend (that's her actual title), Kellee Santiago, best known as one of the founders of Journey and Flower's studio, thatgamecompany. Larson and Santiago met in a quiet little carpeted hallway off the beaten path of the Moscone Center during GDC earlier this year where she was instantly taken by the game.
"I played it, then I took a moment and I knew that I wanted to see this game exist. And it had to exist. And Ryan's story needed to be told," she told me in a recent phone interview. "Over the next couple of months we talked more and they iterated on the idea, and as their vision for the final game became more solidified it became apparent to me that Ouya would be a really great platform for the game and we were in a position to help them make this game a reality."
As a result, Ouya will be paying for all the developer's expenses, from a liveable salary, to hiring an additional artist and composer, to travel expenses and marketing costs. "Josh and Ryan had been working on the game a bit, but we are now fully funding the development of the project, which allows them to make the game without the added stress of worrying about their financial situation. And also hiring some team members to help flesh out the content and make it a professional title," Santiago said.
Covering all of a game's funding costs isn't common with Ouya, but the fledgling console manufacturer is making an effort to invest in more products. "I think part of it is timing," said Santiago. "Developers have only had since December, and my job was created in March. We've been helping developers finish their projects on Ouya, but only now have we started with projects like this. With the Free the Games Fund our goal is to fund a game from beginning to end for Ouya," she added, referring to the company's new initiative to match Kickstarter support for Ouya-exclusive projects.
Green and Larson seem pleased as punch with this new arrangement that allows them to be at the vanguard of the world's first indie game focused console. "What I like about the Ouya is we're kind of creating an indie ecosystem," Green told me over Skype. "It seems to me like Ouya, over some of the big guys, really mean it. Like wanting to see an indie ecosystem throughout. I think in part because they're a startup. They don't need to have the big breakout blockbusters that PlayStation and Xbox have to have... so they have the ability to take some risks."
Larson was particularly taken with how Ouya, as a company, was to work with, probably because his main liaison, Santiago, used to be in his shoes. "It's been really great working with Kellee," Larson said. "She definitely understands the development process. Especially a more experimental process, [for] a game that's trying to do something different. A lot of it has to do with the fact that she's been there. That's been really nice. So it seems like they understand what we're doing."
"It's great to see them trying to build a platform that focuses on indie games," he continued. "It's definitely easy to complain about existing platforms and their drawbacks and stuff, but here's a new one and it's a chance for us to contribute to this direction."
"It's one of those things where it is what you make of it," Green added. "There's been some people that have complained that maybe at launch the Ouya sales aren't what they need to be or they've had some different issues with the launch at retail and the Kickstarter, but one thing that's fairly known is they're a startup and this is their first piece of hardware. And so they way I see it is Ouya delivered a product and a platform and they're working out the kinks because they're indie, just like we're indie."
Green believes if things are ever going to change someone has to take a chance with Ouya's relatively quiet launch. "We have to show up, you know? Like it's a chicken or the egg thing: they provide the platform, we have to provide the games."
He added that Ouya is "interested in enabling indies do what they do best. Enabling them, and then getting out of the way".
Part of the new funds will go towards hiring a full-time artist, Nat Iwata, as well as composer Jon Hilllman. "Outside investment allows us to do is bring in people to the areas where we're weaker," Green explained. "Josh and I are both artists/coders, but I'd say that we're primarily coders, so having somebody who does art all the time for their full-time job certainly helps us increase the production value of the game from an artistic standpoint."
The That Dragon, Cancer demo features an exasperated Green who sullenly ponders why the hospital walls are coloured the way they are as he finds himself unable to ease young Joel's pain. It's a clever subversion of the point-and-click template where, usually, interacting with the right objects results in a satisfying solution. But nope. Not here. It won't all be doom-and-gloom, though, as we'll also experience a lot of the joy in seeing Joel play, learn to walk, and learn to love life in spite of his condition.