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Why I Created a Non-Violent Shmup Video Game

Growing up, I loved shoot-em-up video games. As an adult, I decided to transform that beloved game mechanic into something more positive.

As a kid, my favorite games always involved bullets. I appreciated the Super Mario Bros and Pac Man, but I just seemed to prefer (and be better at) Galaga, 1942, Mega Man, and Contra. And if I wasn’t shooting bullets, I was tearing up the Foot with katanas, or wailing on the Mad Gear Gang with my bare knuckles. And if I wasn’t playing on my home consoles, I was at the arcade blowing away Terminators alongside my crack shot mom. Quite appropriately, she wouldn’t let me fire a real gun, but man did I want to.

Fast forward a decade, and I might as a well be a door-to-door salesman for Nintendo. I’m a hardcore Miyamoto acolyte and dream of one day beating Billy Mitchell’s, I mean Steve Wiebe's, I mean Hank Chien’s Donkey Kong high score. I’ve developed a deep love for platformers, blue shells, King Dedede and anything that doesn’t glorify the horrors of war, past, present, or future. I’m in college, studying to become a Religion Studies major, and while I do make an exception for Master Swords and Arwings, I slowly lose touch with my favorite genre: shmups (shoot-em-ups for the uninitiated). I’ve still never fired a gun, and at this point I don’t want to.

Fast forward another decade and half, and I’ve moved past Nintendo – I’ll always love them, but a string of professional disappointments led me down a different path. I still haven’t fired a gun, but I’m old enough to understand why people want to and no longer scoff at those who relish scoring headshots in games. I’m not really one of them, but I get it. Now that I’m armed with an MFA in Writing and a desire to be a narrative designer, I decide, since no one else will hire me, I’ll hire myself and make my own game. And what do I want to make? A shmup, naturally. Still not a gunshot to my name, but now my trigger finger is once again itching.

There is something inexplicably satisfying about lining up a shot and scoring a bullseye. Before my Nintendo days, whenever my craptastic PC could barely handle a LucasArts game, I would blast Tie Fighters and take down the whole Empire myself (I still hold the rank of Supreme Allied Commander in Rogue Leader...my one delicious indulgence during my Gamecube years). The cold hard reality is that ranged ballistics are inherently satisfying and there’s a reason why it makes for a fantastic game mechanic.

But those years of being a Nintendo Ambassador (and apologist) and playing family-friendly games ultimately shaped the man I’ve become today – a devoted husband who’s still seeking to be a (human) dad for the first time through the complicated process of IVF. I look at the majority of the shmups (and games) around me and think, I don’t want to take a life; I want to make one.

In Air Hares, you primarily shoot the dirt instead of the enemy - but if those falcon goons get to close, Captain Rabbo defends herself.

Enter Captain Rabbo and the Air Hares. The game my courageous wife, Megan, and I are producing is a shmup at heart, but instead of scoring head shots and killing enemies, the player must plant seeds and water them, all while dodging attacks from enemy birds of prey. Can you shoot your seeds and water at the birds? Of course, and, at times, you will need to in order to save your life. But, you must do so at the expense of carrots you can grow and harvest to feed your family.

Captain Rabbo can also parry and smack the birds, preserving her precious seed ammo.

Fast forward two weeks and we’ll see if our Kickstarter succeeds and if one of the embryos we’re nurturing will grow up to be a crack shot like my mom. We’re 60% funded, but we still have a lot of bullseyes to score before we hit our ultimate mark. I still haven’t fired a gun, but I shoot carrot seeds and water bombs every day. And it feels just as good as downing a Tie Fighter. Maybe even a bit better.

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