brothers justin and terry raimey go retro to give a glimpse of what diversity in video games could look like
May 5, 2021
Mediums like video games, anime, and manga have kept black creators on the outside looking in despite the love and money they receive in the black community. Recently, individuals like LeSean Thomas, Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah, and Issa Rae and others have made inroads to change this narrative. Looking to join these names are brothers Justin and Terry Raimey, founders of multimedia studio Blackstreak Entertainment. The studio creates comics, manga and anime that reflect a more diverse audience and addresses a lack of characters of color. Recently they caught the attention of Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote campaign and partnered with them on their Eliminate Systemic Racism—VOTE! Initiative. We caught up with the brothers to chat about their new endeavor, crowd-funding a retro arcade shooter called Alien Up, and their goal to not only create a video game but tap into the creatives of Atlanta to make it happen.
Tell us about Alien Up?
Justin: Alien Up is a fun pixel arcade-style shooter game that I’ve been developing from the ground up. Everything that you see in the demo was developed by me; the character designs, artwork, the programming, level design, etc.
Terry: It’s a fast-paced survival shooter where you take control of space mechanic Chelsea Crisp and fight off hordes of alien enemies by ducking, jumping, dodging, shooting, and reloading with perfect timing and precision. You can also call in Chelsea’s crew members to help you in battle, each functioning as assist characters who provide her with power-ups, protective energy shields, extra firepower, and more.
What got you into video game development?
Justin: I really enjoy playing video games. Although I love the heck out of them, there are a lot, and I mean a lot of games that feature little to no main characters that have the same skin tone like myself. I understand that mostly White and Asian people develop games and it’s normal to have their tonal representation in their own games. Can’t blame them for that. So, instead of waiting or complaining I decided to do it myself, my way. I want to make a game that is fun and for everyone that just happens to have a cast of dark-skinned people as the heroes.
What can we expect from the demo?
Terry: Expect a fast-paced introduction that doesn’t waste any time throwing you into the action. The goal of the pre-alpha demo is to introduce players to the basic gameplay mechanics. Alien Up isn’t a game where you can just mindlessly point and shoot and make it through the levels. This game requires strategy; dodging incoming attacks, returning fire while keeping an eye on your ammo levels and ensuring that you reload, while at the same time utilizing the abilities of your assist characters and being mindful of their cool-down periods. Knowing how to utilize your assist characters in boss battles is especially important. The demo is a concept for a larger game that is evolving day by day.
What has been the most challenging part of creating the game?
Justin: Time! As we all know, time is money. I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with game development. Because of that, I have very little time to work on the game as much as I would like. Doing the art and getting the game to work is not a problem, but it does take up an abundance of time to get it right. You know how games take years to develop with a team that works full-time on them? Imagine doing that solo with little free time.
How did you start Black Streak? Were games always a part of the vision?
Terry: Justin and I have always been fans of comics, games, and animation. It’s what we grew up on. As kids growing up in the 90’s we would create our own fan comics of different characters we were into, like TMNT, Mega Man, and Kirby. Eventually, that evolved into us creating our own characters and worlds. We formed Black Streak Entertainment in 2011 out of a desire to see more characters and storylines in comics and animation that reflect our African American experiences. We tell stories of our Black experiences through our characters who are visually inspired by the anime art style.
For me, games were never a part of the vision for Black Streak. My mind was fixed on pushing out comics and adapting them into animated and/or live-action format. But, once I saw Alien Up and how it progressed from a side project Justin was working on into this playable, expanding game, I just knew that we needed to include it in our lineup and spotlight it.
The game is coming to Xbox, Switch, Steam, and the PS4. Could you tell me a bit about the process since it was your first time putting a game on those platforms?
Justin: The plan is to have Alien Up ported to more than just the PC. It’s possible to have Alien Up ported to all of those consoles but that depends on the funding we receive for the game development. With the proper funding, we can hire a programmer who knows how to conduct all of the format conversions.
Being a developer of color how has that process been? Have you been reaching out to the community? Have they been helpful?
Terry: The pandemic has made it more difficult to reach out and connect with audiences, for numerous reasons. Conventions and festivals that we exhibit at were canceled last year, and with the bigger companies hogging ad space, the costs of reaching American audiences through social media promotions have gone way up. We’re two dudes working on a shoestring budget so we’re doing what we can to get the attention of the gaming community, especially with Black gamers. Everything we create at Black Streak Entertainment is for our people, so reaching Black folks who love game and anime culture and making them our core fanbase is our #1 priority. We want them to play this demo and give us feedback that we can use to make Alien Up the best it can possibly be.
The game has a very retro feel vibe, what made you choose that when many games are going over the top with visuals, futuristic, etc?
Justin: Retro-style games are great! Probably the best there is. What they lack in graphics, they make up for in actual fun. At the end of the day, having fun is all that matters when it comes to video games. Creating Alien Up in this style helps with the development time and budget. This will be my first major video game and I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.
Terry: I once heard a dude say, “If cats are all out here doing the same thing, you do something completely different and stand out.” Developing a retro-style game with Black and brown anime characters in space is definitely different!
And you’re trying to raise money to finish the game? what is the fundraiser going to be for? If it doesn’t happen will the game not happen?
Terry: That’s right. We are launching our Kickstarter campaign on April 26th. Up to this point, Justin has held things down with game development like a champ, but in order for Alien Up to reach its full potential, we are gonna need a team.
Justin: Our team will consist of Black students studying game development and art. We will recruit talent from Atlanta area colleges and universities as we are in the process of relocating there. We want to put the talents of Black artists and developers on display because we are underrepresented in this industry.
Terry: We’re also including anime cutscenes to further enhance the experience of the story. For this, we will collab with one of the top anime studios in Japan, D’art Shtajio, which is also Black-owned. Regardless of whether the Kickstarter is successful or not, Alien Up is still being developed. Our people are masters of building our own table out of nothing, and Justin and I certainly carry the enduring spirit of our ancestors. My brother and I have had numerous setbacks and challenges through the years, but we’re still here, doing our thing.
The Kickstarter campaign is launching on April 26th at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/blackstreakent/alien-up-a-pixel-arcade-style-shooter
What are the plans for the game?
Terry: As game development continues, we’re releasing updated versions of the pre-alpha demo on Windows PC. We want Alien Up fans to go on this development journey with us and be a part of it by essentially testing it out as it progresses and giving their valued input. We want to get the playable pre-alpha in front of as many gamers as possible; at festivals and conventions (COVID permitting), and through influential media outlets, like AFROPUNK! Once the final demo is ready, we will release it for PC and consoles.
What are the plans for the future of the game?
Terry: Our Kickstarter backers will be the first to play the full game with early access on Steam in the month of June 2022. Alien Up will go on sale in July of 2022 on Steam. The console versions will go on sale on a date that’s still to be determined. This timeline, of course, is assuming that our Kickstarter campaign is a success. Folks on social media have expressed interest in a mobile version of Alien Up, so that’s something that we are considering as well.
Thank you for this opportunity!
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