Orbiting Game Culture
Brandon Boyer launches Venus Patrol
To understand what makes Venus Patrol a significant website is to understand, at least in part, what makes its founder Brandon Boyer tick. He's a tastemaker of the highest caliber. If there's a pulse, his finger's on it. If there's a distant rumble, his ear is on the ground. He's the Malcolm McLaren to an artistic medium currently in a state of flux similar to that of rock music in the late Seventies. That's no stretch of the imagination: Today's independent video game developers are the punk rockers subverting the increasingly staid world of interactive entertainment starring anvil-jawed marines and keg-breasted damsels.
With a few exceptions, the usually quick-to-adapt Web still focuses largely on AAA (aka, big budget) titles. The average video game blog devotes coverage to PR about AAA releases (e.g., "New Trailer!", "New Characters Announced!") and posts with inflammatory titles followed by tepid content (as in, asking "Are Role Playing Games Dead?", only to answer that question in the negative). Almost half a decade ago, Boyer offered a different voice with his Boing Boing affiliated blog Offworld that was a catch-all for the burgeoning indie scene and the culture that it informs and informs it. In other words, a site of really cool stuff. That stuff included movies, music, and other visual arts, all of which coalesce to make the average video game. When Offworld ended its run, Boyer was already plotting to do something similar – this time on his own terms.
Those plans were delayed by his appointment as chair of the Independent Games Festival back in May of 2010. (Boyer, busy man, also serves as a curator for Fantastic Fest's gaming arm, Fantastic Arcade, in addition to co-founding Juegos Rancheros; see "Game Changer," Nov. 18, 2011 for more about the influential Austin indie game collective.) Boyer writes via email that his friends were impressively prescient about his plan for rebranding and reopening a game culture blog: "Joel Johnson (who'd originally hired me to run Offworld for Boing Boing) and Andy Baio (of Waxy.org, who, at the time, was still at Kickstarter) had convinced me very early on that Kickstarter was going to be the best way to get it off the ground." They couldn't have been more right. The Kickstarter campaign for the site now dubbed Venus Patrol reached its goal of $50,000 in 24 hours and ended, in October of last year, with more than double that. At the time, it was the most money raised by a Kickstarter campaign based in Austin and enough to make the rest of the gaming world take note.
The task of mailing out the copious pledge prizes (giclée prints, music EPs, a Venus Patrol patch, and more) to the battalion of backers (1,785 strong) was no mean feat, but when the packages were all sent and the content was looking good, phase one of the site (www.venuspatrol.com) was launched. This was two weeks ago, and visitors were rewarded with Boyer's usual barrage of rad stuff from around the art and entertainment universe, along with the back catalog of Offworld posts. So what makes something right for Venus Patrol pages? In Boyer's words, "It's anything that's trying to do something or tell a story that's unique, and that's trying to make a connection with the player – that has that sort of palpable, rewarding sense of 'call & response' that's unique to games." Venus Patrol subscribers are rewarded with original games from top indies, select music, and the ability to comment on individual blogs. That last reward should keep the usual petty bickering culminating with references to genitalia to a minimum. Should.
Phase two and three of the website are already teased on the site. When questioned about what these transformations will entail, Boyer only vaguely references sites that influence him, including McSweeney's, Koyama Press, Criterion, and others. Go ahead and conjecture about that.
Lest he burn through his Kickstarter capital, the site is largely a one-man show for the immediate future. No one seems to be complaining, though. "The extent of my horn-tooting," Boyer explains, "would be to say finding beautiful, relatable, human, often-overlooked things and cataloging/championing them has been an obsession for the past 20 years."