The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Alumnus Creates Video Game Inspired by 1984

UMass Amherst alumnus Patrick Ascolese, who graduated from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in 2002, is currently working on République, an upcoming game for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, PC, and Mac. It is the first full-length project for Camouflaj, the new video game company he joined in 2011. In Republique players control a network of cameras, computers, and everything else electronic to keep a woman named Hope safe from pursuers. The idea for the game came from the increased surveillance people face on a daily basis, according to Ascolese. He said it is a “what if” look if legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act ever leads to an Orwellian state.

Books like 1984 and Brave New World have served as key sources of inspiration not only for the narrative of République, but also the core gameplay. In République, players become the protectors of the game’s protagonist, Hope, as they gain control over the same surveillance equipment and computer networks used to oppress her and other citizens. With the tap of a finger, players can direct Hope to run and hide or take her chances attempting to take down an unwitting guard, potentially resulting in her capture. Alternatively, players can take a stealth approach by hacking networked devices to create distractions, providing Hope a chance to sneak past would-be pursuers. 

Ascolese added that Hope is a realistic AI controlled character who responds believably to the user’s screen-touches as well as to the situation around her. Camouflaj wants players to believe that Hope is alive. By employing an advanced artificial intelligence system that Ascolese led development on, Hope uses her senses and the information provided to her by the player to independently make decisions about how to achieve her most pressing objectives. For example, if Hope becomes aware of an approaching guard, she will independently take cover and stay out of sight, and may even use some of her limited arsenal of non-lethal weapons to protect herself from patrolling guards.

After graduation, Ascolese worked for Microsoft for nine years on products including the Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360, other Xbox 360 products, and numerous PC games.

Camouflaj completed a successful Kickstarter Campaign for République on May 11, 2012, by raising $555,662 from 11,611 backers. Since then Camouflaj has grown to 19 employees, and République's development is well on its way with the iPhone/iPad version scheduled for release in summer of 2013.

Here, in its entirety, is a Collegian article about République from April 27, 2012:

University of Massachusetts graduate Patrick Ascolese wants to be that app’s creator. He is currently working on, “Republique,” a new game for iPhone and iPad.

The game, scheduled for completion in the spring of next year, begins with the player receiving a distressed phone call from a young woman asking to help her navigate and escape a totalitarian state. The player, using the touch screen of the iOS devices, can hack, bug and manipulate the electronics in the authoritative government to help the protagonist escape.

With corner-of-the-room security camera point-of-views resembling the original Resident Evil, and the sneaky, stealth feel of the Metal Gear Solid series, the trailer for the not-yet-completed game gives the Big Brother, “stealth survival” atmosphere that they want for the game, said Ascolese.

The idea for the game came from the increased surveillance people face on a daily basis, according to Ascolese. He said it is a “what if” look if the Stop Online Piracy Act leads to an Orwellian state.

He added that the game’s player will be interacting with the game’s protagonist. Rather than becoming them and using them as a “puppet,” she will respond to the user’s screen-touches and commands.

“Republique” will be the first full-length project attempted by the young video game company Camouflaj that Ascolese joined in late 2011.

Ascolese, 33, graduated from UMass in 2002 with a degree in computer engineering. After graduation, he worked for Microsoft for nine years developing the Kinect peripheral for the Xbox 360 and other Xbox 360 products.

In 2011, Ascolese decided that he was done with Microsoft. He promptly found a new gaming outlet when a mutual friend connected him with Ryan Payton, the founder of Camouflaj LLC.

When Ascolese began working at Camouflaj the company consisted of just him and Payton, who had worked at Kojima Productions, the company behind the Metal Gear series, and was the creative director of Halo 4 for Microsoft before resigning in 2011.

Camouflaj now has six employees and has partnered with Logan, the company famous for creating the 2000s silhouetted iPod commercials.

Ascolese said that his UMass education had a big impact on his work for Camouflaj and on “Republique.”

“UMass is a big driver [for me], it has prepared me for the workplace,” he said in a telephone interview from Camouflaj offices in Bellevue, Wash., just outside Seattle.

Not only has UMass helped Ascolese with finding work, he said it determines what kind of work he does. He said that UMass instills individuality in its students because of the large campus and free-thinking community.

“UMass is a place that prides itself on self-reliance and not taking orders,” he said. “It is about independence.”

In keeping with Ascolese’s independent mindset, “Republique” is not backed by a large studio or gaming company. Instead, “Republique” will try to raise money in small investments through Kickstarter, a website that is like Craigslist for investors, where a project can set up a page and ask for investments.

Camouflaj will use the small investments from Kickstarter to show interest in the game and prove that there is a market, hopefully drumming up support from larger investors. Ascolese said the company’s goal is to raise $500,000 from both Kickstarter and outside investors to total the $1 million needed to finish the game and release it for iOS consumption. (January 2013)