Shop Talk: The DIY game-makers of Port127 - Technical.ly Philly

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Apr. 14, 2010 1:00 pm

Shop Talk: The DIY game-makers of Port127

Much has been written about the mass exodus of the city’s video game talent from Drexel and Penn as most students studying the digital arts usually lament the lack of job options and leave town. The guys at Port127 decided they’d at least put up a fight. The company is led by its one full-time […]

A screenshot from "Hipster City Cycle" Port127's iPhone game based in Philly.

Much has been written about the mass exodus of the city’s video game talent from Drexel and Penn as most students studying the digital arts usually lament the lack of job options and leave town.

The guys at Port127 decided they’d at least put up a fight.

The company is led by its one full-time employee: Ignite Philly presenter, Penn Digital Design-grad and video game film maker Michael Highland. The company’s other “employees” are made up of freelancers, most with ties to the University of Pennsylvania.

Highland says his ultimate goal is highlight video games as more than an entertainment device. But first, he must put the company’s trust in an 8-bit hipster riding his bike through Philadelphia.

Port127’s first title, set to be released on the iPhone this fall is “Hipster City Cycle” a game that will use multitouch and the device’s accelerometer to navigate the main character though the streets of Philadelphia.

“[Artist Keith McKnight] is a really a hipster-y dude, so he just became a character in the game,” says Highland. “The art originally used was an animated .GIF of him on a bike.”

The team also includes programmer Kevin Jenkins and writer Alex Alsup. All of the guys expressed a desire to stay in the cuty, even if most of their peers went elsewhere. So they decided to band together and, as part of learning project, try to make a living making video games.

As Technically Philly has reported previously, other small studios such as Final Form Games and efforts like Video Game Initiative are working to make the city video game development hub.

Though Hipster City Cycle is his current project, Highland’s ultimate goal is to explore video games for developmental purposes. In 2004 he made the short documentary “As Real As Your Life,” a film about the impact video games have had on his life and growth and the movie has become his “calling card” as he explores other ways to use the medium.

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“For me I look at them as a tool,” he says,”for people to come to the same conclusion [as me] they often have to back up for a while and then they come back to me.”

If sales are high enough, they plan on making the leap to producing games full time. Highland says he can see Hipster City Cycle talking on other cities as well.

Port127 hopes to have the game out in the Fall, where it will have a contest for fans to be included in the game as an 8-bit character.

“We want it to feel more like a collaborative art piece and not something we are just delivering,” says Highland.

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Sean Blanda is an adviser to Technical.ly, the local technology news network, having cofounded its flagship Technically Philly in February 2009. He is a media consultant, engagement editor for Behance and lives in Brooklyn, NYC.

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