VentureBeat has a great profile on Homeless, an Xbox Live indie game that puts you into the well-worn shoes of a homeless person. The basic premise of the game is that you are a homeless guy who must beg for quarters from passers by, trying to get enough money together to get through another day. The gameplay is simple enough and there doesn't seem to be an end goal beyond begging for change, but it's an interesting topic to cover - particularly during the holiday season.
The game was developed by Silver Dollar Games’ Jon Flook, who live in Toronto, a city with a large contingent of homeless people. But Flook's inspiration is more personal than that. He tells VentureBeat that he lives next to a bridge that is a popular haunt of a homeless couple in the summer. Watching them work, he says that he finds it amazing how many people won't give them the time of day - let alone some money.
"How many times have I passed a homeless person and said 'sorry' when they ask me for money?," Flook asked. "Sorry? What does that even mean to them? Does it mean, I’m sorry I’m too cheap to spare a dollar? Does it mean, I’m sorry that you’re too lazy to get a job? Of course not, but when everyone ignores the problem it comes off that way."
Flook's initial plans were much grander than what he created in Homeless, but budgets being tight as an indie game developer, he had to limit what the game could contain: "we had to cut out the seasons, weather effects, multiple locations, just about anything that would bring the costs up," he said. He had also planned on using a real homeless person and their surroundings in the story, but had to abandon that lofty goal too. "It’s just not practical when you can barely make rent yourself." Instead the script and voice work were put together by Flook and a friend.
Homeless still cost over $1000 to make, and selling the game at 80 MS Points ($1) a pop on XBLIG, Flook knows he'll never make a profit - let alone break even. “In spite of the fact that we lose money on most of our projects we’ll continue to make games like this. They will probably be few and far between because we simply can’t afford to do it more often.”
At the end of the day, Homeless is about art and making a statement, rather than making money.
"..maybe games don’t have to be all about unlocking, progressing, attacking or defending. Maybe video games can be all that and also a medium for telling a story or showing art. There have been many articles on whether video games can be considered art. Well our games, Fatal Seduction, Game 35: The Experiment, Sins of the Flesh and Office Affairs are our way of experimenting with video games as an art form. Whether a game gets noticed or not, I think XBLIG is a great place to try new ideas."
You can learn more about the game on Xbox Live Marketplace. A trial is also available.
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