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Smile or Die

There is something absurdly relatable about Smile Inc. If it isn’t the ceaseless coffee overconsumption, the avoidance of humdrum office parties, or the subliminal “be happy” messages decorating the virtual workplace, it is the overarching narrative of the game—to climb the corporate ladder or die a horrific death. Sounds about right. The indie gaming company [...]
Danny Hamen

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There is something absurdly relatable about Smile Inc.

If it isn’t the ceaseless coffee overconsumption, the avoidance of humdrum office parties, or the subliminal “be happy” messages decorating the virtual workplace, it is the overarching narrative of the game—to climb the corporate ladder or die a horrific death.

Sounds about right.

The indie gaming company Super Lame Games’ Smile Inc. exceeded 3 million downloads during their launch in late October, astonishingly surpassing a release by gaming colossus, EA Games, clinching the spot for the number one app worldwide.

Even though Smile Inc. is enjoyed from Toledo to Tokyo, it was developed in an unassuming office space in the Short North, right next to Condado Tacos.

The gameplay is fairly simple—your character runs through a booby-trapped office, floor by floor, evading obstacles like gigantic scissors, pencil barricades, and robotic sharks, all to the beat of a tacky elevator ditty. There are countless achievements and un-lockable accessories, a rewarding leveling system, and randomly generated floors, keeping the game satisfyingly fresh for an app that costs nothing.

But what gives the game its edge—at least from a marketing standpoint—is that the protagonist is none other than Columbus’s own YouTube prankster, Roman Atwood—and, if you get far enough, his girlfriend and two sons.

Super Lame Games began as partnership between Carl Zealer of Canal Winchester-based toy company Nowstalgic Toys, and Rainer Ziehm of Super77, a design boutique on North High Street. Ziehm and his team have been hard at work in Columbus for the past decade—from creating motion graphic animations for Honda and Nike to working on music videos for Red Hot Chili Peppers and RJD2, and a lot of things in between.

Eventually, Ziehm decided to create an offshoot of his company, dubbed Super88, to strictly create apps that serve as companion products with Zealer’s toys.

“When we started Super88 and Super Lame Games, it was always the toy first and app second, meaning that the app supported the toy,” Ziehm said. “Well, now we flipped it. Smile Inc. is our first venture into pure self-standing app that has toys to support it.”

The office of Super77 is wacky and exactly what you might expect out of hip design boutique—first pressing vinyl from 1977 decorate the walls alongside vintage game boxes and controllers; a Skee-Ball game sits in the break room alongside a foosball table, and a retro console collection prominently sits in the front lounge, complete with a leather couch and a large stone chair shaped as a hand.

Ziehm wanted to create a product that he and his team could call their own—a tangible product that isn’t sold away to branding executives and rock bands. That is when he decided to team up with Zealer and start developing games for mobile devices.

“The genesis of Smile Inc. started a few years back as a fun project where one of the Super77 designers, Andrew Mark, used dynamics and physics to manipulate characters in 3D, called ragdoll physics,” said Nate Reese, creative director. “He created a series of hilarious GIFS of people just being brutalized, ran over by cars, things of that nature. You can imagine there were specific clients that were bombarded with lots of things.”

Flash forward a few years, and the team got the green light to make a game—so they decided to use the physics engine created by Mark. “It was so funny to watch these stupid dummies beat up by these different objects,” Reese laughed. “Well, we thought, ‘what if we could take a traditional endless runner, and dial it up to an 11?’”

Well, much to their delight, their recent partnership with Zealer gave them access to Atwood, whose stomping grounds were adjacent to Zealer’s Canal Winchester toy factory. Atwood grew up admiring Zealer’s “fetishized car collection,” including a throwback DeLorean and a fully functioning Batmobile, making them fast friends.

“It has been refreshing to see how much Roman understood video games, and even mobile games, but also how in to contributing ideas he was. And they weren’t shitty ideas either,” Reese laughed.

In total transparency, I can’t stop playing the game. Sure, I can justify this time spent as research, but in actuality, this game is just addicting as hell. With every try, I get further and further, dodging saw blades and mousetraps, accumulating points and self-satisfaction along the way with every floor I complete.

Mobile games don’t have to be shitty. Yeah, they don’t have the depth of, say, the Baldur’s Gate trilogy, but they hold inherent value in their own way, serving as an accessible, on-the-go distraction from the monotony of everyday life, like a boring day of work.

Just like a real day at the office—except in their case there is a lot more pixelated blood.

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3 ways to fill Game of Thrones gap until next week

Mitch Hooper

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In the world where Netflix has made series available in its entirety for maximum binge-watching, waiting a week for the next episode of Game Of Throne feels something like an eternity. It seems like there’s not enough fan theories to dig through, reviews to confirm your beliefs (or send you into spiraling rage), and the famous three words “Winter Is Here” is practically tattooed on your forehead.

Last night’s first episode of the final season has taken the world by storm, and here’s a few ways to get your fill of GoT until the next episode aires.

Game Of Thrones Pub Quiz at Fado Irish Pub | 4022 Townsfair Way
Monday, April 15, 7:00 PM

So you think you’re the smartest fan in the city? Put your money where your mouth is then! Hit up Fado for their quiz night on all things GoT and finally prove all those hours on the fandom wikipedia page were worth it. If you’re victorious, you’ll win a the King’s Feast which is dinner for eight. And $10 specials on buckets of beer is always a win in our books.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY

Game Of Thrones Night at Ruby Tuesday | 1978 Summit St.
Monday, April 15, 8:00 PM

Let’s face it, anyone who doesn’t watch the show (AKA most of your co-workers who don’t pay for HBO) aren’t really looking forward to your Monday morning ramblings recapping the latest episodes. Instead of being avoided at the office, stop by Ruby Tuesday to discuss in-depth all the rumblings and developments in each episode with all your other fellow fans. Your co-workers are already relieved, and Ruby Tuesday will have pizza and beer.

Game Of Thrones Dinner at 101 Beer Kitchen | 7509 Sawmill Rd.
Tuesday, April 16, 6:30 PM

It’s a feast fit for royalty at 101 Beer Kitchen as they’ll be hosting a large dinner akin to the Purple Wedding—hopefully your name isn’t Joffrey Baratheon—for $75 a ticket. Your food and cocktail menu will include specialty GoT-themed entrées and drinks, and it’s encouraged to wear a costume so you can have a chance to win prizes!

Looking for more ways to show off your fandom? Check back periodically for an updated look on what Game Of Thrones events and parties are going on in the city.

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Dare to Scare

Editor’s note: Since it came to our attention there was a documentary made about local haunted attraction performers, we wanted to do our own documentary work to accompany it. Rather than unmask the performers entirely, Brian Kaiser wanted to place them in their everyday lives, yet still in their night-job uniform. Unsettling? Unique? Yeah, probably [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Editor’s note: Since it came to our attention there was a documentary made about local haunted attraction performers, we wanted to

do our own documentary work to accompany it. Rather than unmask the performers entirely, Brian Kaiser wanted to place them in their everyday lives, yet still in their night-job uniform. Unsettling? Unique? Yeah, probably a bit of both.

No one plans months in advance what to wear to a Christmas party. That’s why Halloween has quickly become the favorite holiday for those tired of turkey and averse to eggnog. The trend is more than seasonal—it’s cultural.

Horror movies are hotter than ever, and Netflix and Amazon are clamoring to greenlight projects that once would have withered. Originally an outlier, AMC’s The Walking Dead routinely draws more viewers than all NFL games combined. Even Jo-Ann starts stocking shelves in July with spiders and skulls long before the last of the fireworks fade.

Despite your costume cred, stitch witchery, and amateur pumpkin craft, haunted house operators are way ahead of you. For a few weeks a year, their long lines and theatrical thrills pack them in. But what goes on behind the scenes has largely remained an industry mystery—until now.

The indie documentary SCARE rips the mask off “haunted attractions,” the technical term for live performance venues that defy your sense of reality, and occasionally

control of your bladder. Columbus filmmaker Don Patterson “shot and chopped” the project over more than a decade, culminating with the final season of a local landmark of terror,
the ScareAtorium.

“There’s so much more to this than just building a haunted house. You’ve got actor training, and make-up artists, and scene decorators,” explained Kelly Collins. He and his wife Neena founded the Midwest Haunters Convention, the country’s largest gathering for operators and enthusiasts, bringing standards and insight to the industry. “There’s more to a haunted house than handing someone a mask and saying, ‘Here, go scream at people.’”

For those who still tremble from memories of Terror Park at the old Cooper Stadium, Frightmore Manor in Dublin, and The Northland Asylum and RIP’s 3D Funhouse—now better known collectively as the ScareAtorium—you can thank Kelly and Neena, whose fitting 13-year run is practically unprecedented.

“When Kelly and I first got together, I had no idea there was such a thing as the haunted attraction industry,” she confessed. “Don has footage in the documentary going all the way back to Terror Park. He’s been capturing it since the very beginning.”

Ask any performer whether screen or stage acting is more challenging and rewarding, and most would agree on latter. And there’s definitely evidence of that in the ranks of haunted attractions. From the high school goths who maybe never fit in to theater folk looking for a novel outlet for select skills, there’s a tribe here that starts to resemble more of a family from one year to the next.

“I got my start as the general manager of a campground, and every Saturday at noon I’d get on the tractor, take everyone up into the woods, circle this big tree and come back,” he recalled. “One day a bunch of kids hid behind the tree and jumped out and scared everyone.”

“There’s more to a haunted house than handing someone a mask and saying, ‘Here, go scream at people.’”

Instead of scolding them, Kelly recruited them—keeping the standard hayride by day, but creating a spooky hayride at night that proved wildly popular. That’s when he was approached by the local Jaycees to turn it into something more. They’d recently lost the lease on their haunted house and partnered with Kelly to create a haunted hayride. He was hooked.

“The Jaycees are credited with creating the haunted house industry,” he explained. “Many of the oldest haunts in the country were started or still operated by the Jaycees.”

Short for “Junior Chamber,” the Jaycees, like many long-standing service organizations, have struggled in recent years to attract younger members. But for decades, they operated haunted houses as both a fundraiser and a recruiting effort. Even I didn’t know the Jaycees created the concept of the haunted house, and I used to volunteer throughout high school at one they operated in my hometown in the storage barn of a creepy old train depot.

Ohio actually leads the nation in the number of haunted attractions. Lower lease and land costs are part of it, but so is the Midwestern work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. But it’s still a business.

“Even though we’re only open in October, Neena ran the business year-round. A lot of people who make the jump from home haunt to a professional haunt don’t last long,” he revealed. “Whether they decorated the backyard, garage, or basement, you can’t go to a bank to borrow that kind of money for a seasonal business that’s only open 20 days a year.”

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, aka Smiley Virus prepares dinner for her son and a friend. She’s been performing for eight years. By Brian Kaiser

That was the impetus for the Midwest Haunters Convention. Unlike private trade shows that mostly showcase cheap eeks and pricey props, the couple started a public convention to bridge the transition from passion project to profitability, offering classes on the business and art of haunted attractions.

“People sometimes get into it thinking they’re going to make money, but it typically takes three years to break even. They often fail for lack of knowledge, like not understanding fire codes,” Kelly noted, sharing the story of a haunt in an old school building that had to put $150,000 upfront into a sprinkler system before they could even open.

“Code standards are higher for haunted houses than they are for schools,” chided Neena. “People often ask us what it takes to run a million-dollar haunt and I tell them about $3 million.”

Neighbors can also be a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re doing. Germain Amphitheater closed for lots of reasons. Competition, controversy, and crowd control killed it long before an invasion of Scandinavian furniture. But noise and traffic complaints from nearby homeowners were probably the final nail in the coffin.

“Having a haunted house in a former funeral home sounds great, until you consider the parking problem. There just aren’t enough spaces,” he explained. “We had three great locations, but with 10,000 people coming through a year, even we had to keep moving.”

Upping the adrenaline also requires keeping things fresh, which for the Collins required replacing roughly a third of the attraction each year, with construction on new rooms starting as early as March.

Fortunately, their rate of staff return provided the continuity many haunts lack and envy. They fostered talent with an audition process and informal mentoring from actors and artisans who quickly became more than just part-time employees.

“When we’d break for meals, I’d make everyone put their phones away. I was a dad like that to everyone,” Kelly confessed. “Of the 150 or so staff, we had about 85 percent return year after year. It really became more of a family. We cherished it,” Neena noted.

The Collinses recently sold their creepy creation to Thirteenth Floor, the nation’s premiere haunted house operator. Though the two are technically retired, and their haunt lives on under new management and through the documentary, it may not be the last we see of them.

“Kelly will still be consulting with the Midwest Haunters Convention and he may be doing some work with Shadowbox Live in Columbus,” Neena revealed. “Even in retirement, he’s busier than ever.”

13th Floor Haunted House, still Columbus’s largest haunted attraction, is located at 2605 Northland Plaza. For open dates, tickets, and group rates, visit 13thfloorcolumbus.com. To view a trailer for SCARE, visit youtu.be/teo0UHkCldY.

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Back to the Board

My husband has marooned me, penniless, on an island in the middle of the Caribbean. I use the only tools I have—cannons and pure cunning—to maneuver my way onto a boat and, eventually, to wrestle back my treasure. And this is just the beginning of our evening. No, we’re not actually on an island, or [...]
Linda Lee Baird

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My husband has marooned me, penniless, on an island in the middle of the Caribbean. I use the only tools I have—cannons and pure cunning—to maneuver my way onto a boat and, eventually, to wrestle back my treasure.

And this is just the beginning of our evening.

No, we’re not actually on an island, or on an experimental couples retreat; we’re playing Tortuga 1667, a board game produced by Columbus-based company Facade Games. I have to say, it feels good to be a wheeling-and-dealing lady pirate on the high seas—especially when you win.

Travis and Holly Hancock, a husband-and-wife team, founded Facade in 2015 while still in college at Brigham Young University. The idea for their first game came from an assignment in one of Travis’s classes. “We launched our first game, which was Salem, as kind of just a fun little side project, just hoping to make a few thousand dollars to make a couple hundred copies for our friends and family,” he said. The project took off on Kickstarter and raised over $100,000. With that, the Hancocks began thinking about making games full-time.

Travis grew up in Beavercreek, Ohio, playing games with his eight siblings. He described himself as a lifelong game “tweaker,” willing to change the rules of household standbys like Mafia, Werewolf, and Bang to make them more interesting. “Anything where you can bring your personality into the game so it’s less of a pure strategy and more of like who’s playing and what are they saying … like reading people,” he said. These lessons informed his work as a game developer. 

Facade followed Salem (which was re-released in a second edition as Salem 1692) with Tortuga 1667 in 2017, drawing on their Kickstarter network to raise over $400,000. Holly joined Travis in quitting her day job, and the two started working full-time on Deadwood 1876, which will come out in October. This time, they raised over $600,000 on Kickstarter, exceeding their goal by over 2000 percent. Collectively, these games make up the first three volumes of “The Dark Cities” series—games that are named for a city and year, and are “focused on a dark element of history,” Travis said.

So how does Facade stand out in this competitive industry? Travis explained that it starts with the packaging.

“Growing up, my mom would always say, ‘as soon as a game’s box is broken, then you won’t ever play the game again.’ It’s kinda true because boxes get squished inside game cupboards, the pieces get lost, you just don’t want to play it anymore. The packaging has always been important to me… We wanted it to stand out.” They decided to make their packaging look like classic hardcover books, which, in addition to being sturdy, look great on your shelf.

The addadge to “never judge a book by its cover” applies here as well, and as attractive as the games look, it’s what’s inside that counts. “All of our [games] have the social deduction aspect to them, some form of lying or tricking people or backstabbing or teamwork. I just think those are the most fun games to play,” Travis said. They also have high player count, with every Dark Cities game able to accommodate up to nine players at once.

You can even learn something new while playing. “All the characters are real people. We have actually put biographies and a brief history of the city in each rulebook,” Travis said. Researching the city and characters is an important part of Facade’s game development process. They typically go through about a hundred versions of a game before it’s released, with an eye to building a game for the “casual” player who enjoys games, but doesn’t want to spend all night mastering arcane rules.

Once they’re confident in the content, Holly takes over for the design. “I grab inspiration from researching the time period and then we work with our illustrator… who somehow always captures the feel we’re going for… My job is to highlight her illustrations and Travis’s game idea, and build a game that’s functional.” Holly said.

Deadwood 1876 brings all of the elements Facade is known for together and ups the ante a bit. “It’s maybe my favorite,” Travis said. In it, players move between teams, working together to capture safes containing gold. They are also individually collecting guns that can be used to eliminate their teammates in the final showdown. “You’re sort of working with each other but you’re also preparing to beat each other, so it creates a really interesting dynamic.”

Until Deadwood launches, I have a feeling Tortuga will keep my family occupied. While I may have come back last time, my husband is preparing to revisit the island. And this time, he assures me, he’s bringing a crew. 

Dark Cities Series games are available for purchase and pre-order at

facadegames.com.

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