If Austin represents the elder statesman of the concept, then the seven members of Team Ethereal -- Dan Driscoll, Mark Piszczor, Noah Bench, Kent Vasko, Martin Montgomery, and Ross Treyz -- make up its incoming freshman class. Each of them is enrolled as a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center; their project doubles as class credit.
That project is a 32-player medieval combat game with a strong emphasis on realism. "There's nobody throwing fireballs," says Treyz. "Nobody's riding a Pegasus into battle. It's really how people were supposed to fight back then. I don't think that's an angle that really anybody has captured effectively in the market."
Montgomery elaborates: "We're trying to bring out the visceral nature of medieval combat... We want it so that you're actually holding a physics-collidable object that you swing, and when that object actually strikes the guy, it acts appropriately."
The team is hoping that the realistic nature of battles will encourage players to dynamically band together for the betterment of all, like the emergent behavior found in the Counter-Strike series. In other words, "medieval Rambos" won't last long.
Like Cryptic Sea, they're also hoping the Open House connection will increase their game's visibility. "You can make an awesome game all day long," says Montgomery, "but if nobody ever hears about your game..." Getting the word out is particularly crucial to a multiplayer game; without a robust player base, the game fails.
Whether their game succeeds or fails, the future of Team Ethereal beyond this project is up in the air. They're all students, remember. "That's a gaping hole in our business plan, honestly," Piszczor says with a laugh.
Interabang's name has the force of an exclamation, a good reflection of the type of games the team makes. Its first game, the iOS-based Shinobi Ninja Attacks, dropped the rap-rock band Shinobi Ninja into a colorful brawler reminiscent of classic titles like Final Fight.
Now the studio -- currently comprised of Justin Woodward, Colin Callahan, Chris Sauquillo, and Evan Washington -- has come to the project to finish Super Comboman, a physics-based 2D brawler starring a Samoan character named Struggles who sports what Woodward terms a "three-point mullet."
Fittingly, the word "struggle" also defines the day-to-day life of Interabang and other independent developers -- even ones with finished products on their resume. It's a struggle to find investment. It's a struggle to attract media attention. It's even a struggle to simply get people to understand that you actually have a job.
"When you're working at home, people don't take it seriously that you're working," Woodward says. "Maybe there's not a check coming in, but we're doing things."
That perception is compounded by the fact that they all left relatively stable careers to follow their passion.
After college (all four graduated from the Art Institute of San Diego), Woodward got into graphic design, Sauquillo and Washington worked on Sony's MLB series, and Callahan performed printer quality assurance for HP.
They're hoping the scheme will convince naysayers that what they're doing is worthwhile. It already has, in some ways; Woodward says they've been in talks with some investors, and they've finally managed to get their families on board.
Still, they had trouble articulating to people just why joining the program was so important to Interabang.
"People were saying, 'You're not getting paid by IGN!?'" Woodward recalls. "But there are a lot of things worth more than the actual money. It's the networking and being in proximity to all of these people. And having the office space is just awesome." In San Diego, they each worked from home and had to communicate remotely. Now, Woodward says, his coworkers "can just look over the desk at me."