Settling World Affairs Like Actual Gentlemen
People’s Chess was perhaps the craziest thing I saw while exploring Paris Games Week 2017’s bustling show floor. A small booth sandwiched between two other independent games, People’s Chess caught my eye almost immediately. In a French exposition hall filled with foreign sights and sounds, I had no trouble discerning what lay in front of me: a goofy caricature of American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
As I approached the two world leaders, I made out the tagline hovering above their heads: “Make their game smart again.” Upon closer inspection, I looked up, noticed the title of the game, and realized that French developers had done the impossible: they’d turned two tyrannical babies into gentlemen who pass their time playing chess.
I was greeted at the booth by two developers responsible for making virtual history. Their company: Bubble Studios, focused mainly on developing augmented and virtual reality software. After exchanging amicable pleasantries in French, the developers shortly realized that I (surprise!) was not from France. When I explained that I was an American journalist spending time abroad, they practically flipped a lid in giddy excitement.
What do you think of our Trump impersonation? one of the two asked me in French, a smile stretched from ear to ear. I walked up to the iPad on display to give a fair judgement.
People’s Chess is an augmented reality game for iOS devices. By holding an iPad or iPhone up above a flat table, a chessboard is projected onto the surface via the device’s external camera. From the crowded hall at Paris Games Week, I watched as the tiny booth gave way to tiny, miniature figurines modeled after the American and North Korean military.
In terms of pure gameplay, the game is chess; there isn’t a whole lot to talk about for anyone with a cursory knowledge of the centuries-old sport. That said, the draw of People’s Chess comes less from innovation as it does from the novelty of its humorous aesthetic.
As America in People’s Chess, players move pieces that represent the land of the free. Trump is the king, while the Statue of Liberty is the queen. Throw in some Joint Chiefs of Staff on either side as bishops, a couple of fighter jets as knights, tanks as rooks, and infantry soldiers as pawns, and you have a pretty accurate depiction of the disheveled chain of command plaguing the current U.S. government in 2017.
From North Korea’s perspective, replace the Chiefs with army generals and the Statue of Liberty with a giant, phallic rocket, and you have a good approximation of the opposite-yet-equally-dysfunctional side of the family.
As I played a match of this outlandish chess, I controlled the Americans. A quick press-and-hold of one of my pieces yielded a short sound clip and animation; for Trump, that happened to be a rather grungy-sounding order accompanied by a comical flailing of the arms and legs (rest assured, Kim Jong-un’s are equally absurd). As I made my moves against an AI opponent, the chessboard soon became a battlefield of cries, shouts, and pouts between two emasculated school boys and their shiny toys.
The overall experience on iPad was a little buggy—pieces wouldn’t always move where intended, and some refused to budge at all. The fighter jets were particularly broken, requiring overcompensation (fitting for a game with two trigger-happy toddlers as main characters) when dragging them across the board to get them to move. The developers are aware of these gameplay issues, and are in the process of patching various kinks and bugs for future updates.
Several moves later, after getting mercilessly checkmated by a combination of the enemy AI and my own ineptitude, my mind was filled with questions for the developers. I turned to one of them and immediately asked how they managed to code and release a game so quickly in response to the escalating Trump-Korea conflict. The answer, as it turns out, was simpler than I’d imagined: the developers had been crunching on the game since late-summer, barely sleeping in order to crush bugs and get both the American and North Korean pieces modeled and recorded. I was just impressed they hadn’t lost their minds coding shaders for Trump’s toupee.
When asked about future content, the developers stated that they’re looking to add two more pairs of leaders down the line. The first would be French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while the subsequent would be Russian President Vladamir Putin and Queen Elizabeth II of England.
While people will undoubtedly debate the morality, intelligence, and ability of this cast of world leaders, none can deny their influence over the world and its politics. Having the opportunity to play chess as them should prove to be quite the entertaining affair.
People’s Chess is available now on iOS for $1.99.
As always, stay tuned to The Punished Backlog for more exciting articles!