iPad politics: Grab ‘Balloon of Justice,’ get your guy in office
By Vince Horiuchi
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Aug 23 2012 12:54PM
Think the presidential election between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney has become too bitter and abusive? You ain’t see nothin’ yet.
Now you can participate in a video-game grudge match where you can control one and whack the other with the "Saber of Liberty" or the "Balloon of Justice." Those are just a couple of the wild moves gamers can pull off in a new free-to-play fighting game for the iPhone and iPad made by one of the most successful iOS developers in the country, Salt Lake City-based Chair Entertainment.
"Vote!!! The Game" is now available for download through the iTunes App Store.
The game is much like Chair’s previous iOS hits, "Infinity Blade" and "Infinity Blade II," two fighting games in which the player controls a mythical knight who must kill a series of monsters. "Vote!!!," made by Chair in just a few weeks between other projects, uses the same graphics engine and game-play mechanics as "Infinity Blade," in which you swipe the screen with a finger to slice your opponent.
While "Infinity Blade" is a violent, brutal contest with blades, axes and hammers, "Vote!!!" is played for laughs. The art style is cartoonlike, and the presidential candidates are armed with comical weapons, such as a rubber chicken, ice-cream cone, foam hand, even a rolled-up copy of the U.S. Constitution. You battle it out in arenas like the White House lawn and the Oval Office. Unlike other fighting games, you can’t die in "Vote!!!," and the final blows — "finishing moves" in other fighting games — are called "closing remarks."
"We’re trying to make it funny without it being mean-spirited," said Geremy Mustard, Chair’s technical director. "We stayed away from anything that was a real weapon."
Not that "Vote!!!" won’t have the spirit and customizability of a real fighting game. While there are only two fighters (sorry, the team didn’t have the time or inclination to include Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum), Obama and Romney can be outfitted in different costumes such as a clown nose or eye patch. They also can be given special power-ups for use during a fight, such as "Health Care," "Filibuster" and the "Super PAC."
The game is free, but players can purchase in-game coins to unlock special weapons and costumes faster. Coins can be purchased in chunks, ranging from 99 cents to $19.99. Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Rock the Vote foundation, which helps young people register to vote.
"This is still a Chair production, even though we made it quickly," said Donald Mustard, Chair’s creative director and Geremy’s brother. "It’s fun. It’s challenging. It’s rewarding — everything a game should be."
The game also has a social experiment built in. As players beat an opponent, the candidate they are playing as wins virtual votes after a match. Those votes are sent to Chair’s servers, where they are tabulated in real time. Think of it as an ongoing presidential poll — only it’s based on who is beating whom.
"I can’t wait to see when 1 million, 2 million people cast votes on this system," Donald Mustard said.
The team spent a lot of time keeping the game neutral politically, as well as making sure it remained politically correct. The Mustards won’t reveal their personal party preference.
"Our office is equally balanced," Donald Mustard said. "A third are registered Republicans. A third are registered Democrats. And a third are independents. It’s pretty much across the board. Instead, what we think is important is that people need to register to vote. We want to take the stance that it’s important to be a part of the process without being too mean."
To help spread that message of civic responsibility, the game includes a link to Rock the Vote so players can register, with additional links to Project Vote Smart and the Video Game Voters Network.
Chrissy Faessen, of Rock the Vote, said the organization has been working with Chair and another video-game developer, creators of the upcoming action game "Assassin’s Creed III," to help spread the message about the importance of registering to vote.
In 2012, there are an estimated 510,000 18-to 29-year-olds eligible to vote in Utah, yet only 36.8 percent of state residents in that age group cast a ballot in 2008, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, based at Boston’s Tufts University. Meanwhile, 61 percent of America’s youth are unsure about whether they need to register to vote 30 days before the election.
Voter registration ‘‘is a huge barrier for this generation," Faessen said. "It’s because it’s different in every state. There is no one there to tell you how to go through the process. Who’s really teaching them about this country’s democracy? It’s challenging."
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