I've been asked to do some very strange things in my time, but doing voice-over work for TnT Gaming rates high on the bizarre-o-meter. I'm recording lines for a character in the video game Trinity Wars called Dominus Equestrius, who says things like, "I will not stand idle while all of House Equestrius refuses to give aid to our elven brethren." I journey across the battlefields of a fantastical land inspired by European, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern mythology. It's an Xbox 360 game that blends role-playing narrative with hack and slash combat.
These days, the line between video games and movies is becoming increasingly thin. They both have actors, sound effects, sweeping orchestral music, digital animation, and blockbuster opening weekends. The big difference is you don't need to be on a studio lot to make games. Writer/producer Travon Santerre is based in Mt. Pleasant, and I'm recording my lines with my own microphones at home.
"I get a lot of blank stares from other people that make games when I tell them where I live," he says. "I'm out here all by myself." His team is spread across the country, with the closest living in upstate South Carolina. According to Santerre, there are a lot of developers in North Carolina and Georgia, but to his knowledge he's the only one in South Carolina.
The core of the team is made up of four friends who went to high school in California before going their separate ways. When Santerre heard that Xbox Live was starting a category for indie games, he got the band back together. "We have a way to get our ideas directly in front of people all over the world," he says, noting that 16 million subscribers pay $10 month for Xbox Live. "They're thirsting for a game that's different from the mainstream."
Although Santerre has been making amateur games since his teens, Trinity Wars is his first pro venture. Other game makers with professional experience have joined him to complete the project, passing their contributions back and forth electronically. Deciding to start small, they released Trinity Wars Prologue: Spine of the World in February '09. The game betrayed its low-budget origins, but the animation was slick, the gameplay effective, and the arena rich and complex. Positive feedback focused on the extended period of time it took to play the game — a definite plus — and the entertaining storyline.
"The reviewers said, 'Wow! This has more creativity and innovation than a lot of big budget games," Santerre recalls. It obviously wasn't a million dollar project, but it had potential. This convinced the team that they should go ahead and make a full game, Trinity Wars Episode One. The adventure includes heroes, magic, elves, princesses, and plenty of swordplay.
TnT Gaming shows there are more potential avenues of production here than just making wings for airplanes. A big-name game can earn half a billion dollars in its first week of release. But to get to that point takes faith and a lot of hard work, for little or no pay.
"We're just trying to make back what we put in," says Santerre, who will sell his game for $5 per download. "We're not trying to make a million bucks. We want to expose people to a good game."
Like the other local actors involved, I'm contributing my time to this project for free. I'm doing it mainly to support Santerre's endeavor but also in a vain attempt to impress my nine-year-old, a veteran gamer. My wife is harder to impress, especially since the day she came home to find me "getting into character" using her favorite dish cloth as a barbarian thong. But I can handle her disdain in my quest to see myself digitized, aiding my elven brethren in the name of House Equestrius.