What gamer doesn’t want to create their own game? As cool as it is to interact with our little virtual realities, how much cooler would it to be to create one? It’s a hard thing to do and a much harder thing to do successfully. For every Counter-Strike, there are a few thousand unplayable train wrecks out there. To succeed you need talent, great ideas and the willingness and ability to look at your own creations and judge them objectively.

Michael Chavers and Pietro Nifosi are Arkana Studios, a tiny “indie” development house that’s creating the unSpoken – Glyphs of the Ancient Souls, a PC role-playing game. The game is their original concept, a fantasy world based around the major arcana of the tarot.

“Our aim is to make it unique not only as a background story but also with unique gameplay,” explained Nifosi, project administrator and lead developer. Utilizing the Conitec A6 game engine, the two have created the game is less than a year and hope to have it available commercially in the immediate future.

In a suitably indie move, Chavers decided to try something revolutionary. Instead of relying on an established publisher or marketing the game as shareware, he put it on Ebay, offering some entrepreneur the opportunity to break into games publishing with, as he described it in the listing, “a first working title that if sold would probably hit the market as the best ‘indie development’ of the year 2004/2005.”

The idea might have been clever, but the execution was questionable. Despite the self-congratulatory tones Chavers used to describe his project, he didn’t receive a single bid. Perhaps the minimum bid of $100,000 scared people off. Perhaps the abundance of spelling errors and the somewhat confusing statement “we are not licensing any merchandising rights but are negotiable” raised concerns among even the most freewheeling venture capitalists out there?

The game itself, currently in a beta version, is impressive as an example of what two dedicated people can develop with off-the-shelf tools in less than a year. It would make a great resume demo, just the thing that might get you an interview with a big league developer. But as a game, even an indie game, that is supposedly nearing release it must be judged on a much stricter standard. Regardless of who made it or how long it took, the only real questions to ask are “Is this something I want to play? Will I have a comparable amount of fun with this game as I would with any other game?”

The answer, unfortunately is a resounding no.

The problems are legion. Start with a load time that makes you wonder every single time you try to start the game whether the computer has locked up. When the game finally starts the player finds a murky mess of an environment. The controls are floaty and unresponsive. When enemies finally appear they are uninspiring wireframes illuminated by sickly pink lighting effects. The combat is inscrutable and simply not fun. The graphics are at least five years out of date. Multiply all of this by bugs like the camera issues that stopped the game cold on several occasions and it isn’t long before the player starts asking the question “Am I having fun?”
There are some positive elements. As mentioned, it’s impressive that two people could create a playable game, no matter how flawed, in less than a year. Some of the user interface elements look nice, even if it isn’t exactly clear what they are supposed to represent. The underlying ideas and background, based on the cycle of life as represented by the tarot, is interesting and holds considerable promise. Give them a few more people and another year or two and this could be something truly impressive. At the moment unSpoken is just an ugly, unpolished demo, representing some good ideas and a lot of hubris.