Say this for Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: When the show's creators decided to take on video gaming as a subject, and needed to create an expo floor full of them, they went out and got real ones, made by real developers.
For Remi Crespo and Henry Yamada of Orlando, Fla.-based Heroic Stand, it means a star turn for their recently released Temple Tap, (iOS and Android) which struggled to stand out among numerous mobile games latching onto the popularity of Temple Run. "We're in a promo booth in a scene in the show," Crespo said, "like something at PAX. If we had more money, of course."
In February, NBC's police/lawyer procedural drama Law & Order: SVU will air "Intimidation Game." In its classic ripped-from-the-headlines Law & Order style, it takes on the subject of online harassment, particularly as it bubbled up to mainstream consciousness in late summer and the fall with the GamerGate campaign.
In the show, a woman game developer about to launch her first game is targeted by "a stream of online insults, intimidation and death threats from the male-dominated gaming community," according to one write up. She "refuses to delay the launch, and the cops must 'level up' to protect her," says the show's official description.
'Is Ice-T going to make a bad one-liner about your game?'
The smirk-inducing, out-of-it tone of that writeup notwithstanding, Law & Order's producers evidently did want to stage a gaming convention that looked authentic. Hollywood depictions of video gaming have often relied on public domain sounds (most infamously the Pac-Man or Donkey Kong ports on the Atari 2600) and closeups of actors making distorted faces and gestures with a controller in hand, with the screen unseen. Crespo says he supplied producers with gameplay footage so that, if necessary, the show can depict the game being played. It's one of half-a-dozen or so real games guest-starring at a fictitious expo featuring the victim and her work.
"We've had people joking with us, saying ‘Is Ice-T going to make a bad one-liner about your game?'" he said. "Our original fear was that this would be a game the murderer plays obsessively." That won't be a concern; the central character's game is fictitious, Crespo said.
Temple Tap and all the other real games on the set all had exhibitor posters and tables mocked up from real games. Temple Tap got in the show because, Crespo said, he responded to a blind item on a developer's forum back in the late summer.
"They were asking for games that were complete or nearly complete for a television show that was upcoming," Crespo said. "It was posted under a completely generic username, I figured it was something for Telemundo, or in a third world country or something. I answered but didn't think twice about it because our game had only been out for a couple of weeks.
"Turns out the people I emailed were with NBC and Law & Order," he said.
Funny enough, the decision to use the name Temple Tap, which Crespo admits marooned the Simon-style memory puzzle game in a sea of Temple Run imitators, may have helped it get the producers' attention. In Temple Tap, players have to match a series of key presses to complete a level. It's obviously not Temple Run, but the name has enough of a connection to that mobile gaming phenomenon to make it a TV-presentable surrogate while still being an authentic, playable game.
Temple Tap is 99 cents on iOS and Android, available right now.
Crespo and Yamada have, like many games developers, bounced around contract jobs with other studios while working on their own game. Temple Tap goes back to 2011 said Yamada, the game's art director. This year they found a programmer to stick with the project and finally pushed the game out.
Crespo and Yamada aren't sure if Temple Tap will be shown or played by actors in the final cut of the episode. A short run of B-roll footage shows the expo and, indeed, Temple Tap's booth looks rather swag. Two flat-screen monitors are framed by scaffolding propping up large cutouts of the game's logo and characters. Track lighting sweeps the show floor. Having been to many real-world expos, nothing looks off or out of place.
Heroic Stand said they received a modest (like, three-figure) payment for the use of their game on the show, after signing a contract about as thick as a phone book. Mostly, they're looking to the publicity to give them a leg up on future work, which Crespo said will be a follow up to Temple Tap, starring Pat Templeton, the adventuring protagonist.
"Our family and friends are excited that our game made it, in a sense," Crespo said. "We didn't have the best traction when we launched. We didn't have hundreds of thousands of dollars for marketing, no one would give us the time of day."