"One of the reasons for picking game design to teach at OUS was that we wanted these guys who had high-tech skills to be able to do a job and not have to leave the area to be employed," Eid said. "And with game design, it's something you can do at home."
For the employees of Tickstorm, home was Ironton, and it was a home they were willing to defend.
A miracle gone awry
The plot of Defend Ironton! begins like the answer to the city's prayers. A large manufacturing plant moves into town and employs all those that are struggling to find work. But the locals soon learn that the bosses of this new corporation (psst, they're actually aliens) have something far more sinister on their minds: abduction.
"They all start work, the doors close, and no one sees them again," Eid said. "They've put up this impenetrable field around the city, so the Army can't come in; no one can. You're on your own, and it's up to the residents of Ironton to defend the city."
The agenda, besides the benefit of working with an area they're extremely familiar with, is to give Ironton the boost it so desperately needs; just a little bit of extra attention to help bring a real (hopefully non-extraterrestrial) economic savior to the town.
"The students love this area, they were born here, they want to stay here," Eid said. "Hopefully, we can put Ironton on the map."
The team - now comprised of 44-year-old Eid and about eight of his students - didn't want to just slap the city's name on the box. They wanted authenticity, with all the town's buildings perfectly modeled, but reality soon intervened. After working for weeks to model The Depot, a now-defunct Ironton restaurant, the team realized that recreating the entire city with as little experience as they had might have just been more than they could handle.
The group had limitless energy and passion but didn't have, as Eid said, a setting with no limitations, where they could "step out of reality a bit."
"One of the guys said, 'What if we put the game in an insane asylum? Think of the stuff you could do,'" Eid said. "We started brainstorming, spent an entire day doing nothing but storyboarding and came up with so much fun for this game."
Tickstorm's maiden voyage would be Insanity, an off-kilter, first-person shooter set in a mental institution. They don't have the money for top-notch rendering and lighting, so they're putting their faith in work ethics and their own creativity.
"The gameplay and humor in this are going to be a blast," Eid said. "Things like you come around a corner and herd of squirrels start attacking you, clowns walk by and wave and then walk into a wall. Every time you look into a mirror, you see a different reflection. It's total insanity!"
Although it may not be particularly rib-tickling on the digitally printed page, Eid has enthusiasm to spare, and he manages to sell it. Besides, he's quick to add, Insanity (which they hope to release in 2007) is just a dry run for the big show, though it's a dry run that has to finance said show.
"We're learning quite a bit by doing Insanity," Eid said. "Whatever money we make from that, the group's already said they want to roll a good portion, if not all of it, back into the company so we can afford better computers for every one of them and better software. For instance, I have an Alienware laptop, too, that fried on me. I mean literally, smoke was rolling out of the keyboard."