Lifelong gamers jump into mobile gaming industry

Jonathan McVerry
September 26, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rick Braun and Nick Williamson have been battling each other all their lives. From the early days of 8-bit Nintendo to today’s mobile app craze, they’ve shared a competitive love for video games. Lately, however, they’ve been working together on a new kind of video game: their own.

In 2014, the two friends founded Whiplash Digital, an independent company specializing in mobile gaming. Based on conversations and ideas that had been incubating since grade school, the two lifelong friends wanted to give game-making a try. 

“Years of being players, we had the ideas … and we knew what would make a good game,” said Braun, who earned his film-video degree from Penn State in 2001. “We knew we had it in us, and proving it to ourselves would be huge.”

In November 2015, the duo released their first game, "The Attuned." The mobile game features five characters sitting around a table taking part in a séance. The scene is eerie, but cartoonish and the game-play is simple, but addicting.

“It’s our first game so we decided to keep it simple,” Braun said. “Video games are moving away from the controllers with a million buttons toward games where you can just tap or swipe to play.”

"The Attuned" is a fast-paced reflex game. To maintain the séance and continue communication with the ghosts, players need to trace glyphs that appear on the screen. The game gets more difficult as characters leave the table.

Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and "The Attuned" was ranked No. 1 among 20,000 other games on Slide DB, an online community of game developers. On the site, game creators share their mobile creations during the development process. 

According to Williamson, when the two are brainstorming together, Braun’s thinking is more “out there.”

“I am more technically minded,” Williamson said. “We meet in the middle. We make jokes until we come up with a good idea.”

"The Attuned’s" sophisticated gothic animation harkens back to some of Braun and Williamson’s favorite movies like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Labyrinth.” The fusion of 1980s horror movie and classic video game in "The Attuned" builds a unique experience that Braun calls “horror light” and is suitable for all ages. This may not be the case for future Whiplash games.

Driven by an immense interest from their newly minted fans, Braun and Williamson are already wrapping up their next game. Called "Courage," it delves into darker themes, stories and characters. The origin of the game is based on a true story.

“Basically, I happened to be staring down my basement steps thinking, ‘I don’t want to go down there,’” Braun said. “So, 'Courage' takes place on the staircase to hell.”

The main character, Tracey, must traverse an unending staircase to save his mother, who has been kidnapped. "Courage," which is more intricate than "The Attuned," features large monsters crawling, flying and attacking little Tracey. 

“It’s not over the top or anything,” Williamson said. “But it’s definitely creepier and has a grittier look.”

He added that, like "The Attuned," they tried to keep "Courage" easy to play. And thanks to feedback through Facebook, Twitter and comments on the Slide DB forum, the friends have been able to bounce game-play and design ideas off of the people who already love their work. 

More of a community than a fan base, their “e-peers” offer support, ideas and excitement as Braun and Williamson build their dream video games. 

“Every positive comment, every download and every five-star rating,” Braun said. “It makes me feel so good.”

While still a side project for the two friends who have full-time jobs, neither would mind taking Whiplash Digital to the next level.

“We want to scale up,” Braun said. “We want to make more ambitious games. We want to work with the big boys.” 

Last Updated September 26, 2016