“Guilty Party” Creators Call Chicago Home

While most of the big video game companies create their zombies and program their digital mayhem on the left coast, Wideload Games is happy to be making family-friendly games in Chicago's West Loop.

"It’s much more stable," said studio head Thomas Kang.  "We have almost no turnover here.  We are proud of that."

Wideload’s latest effort is Disney’s Guilty Party, a mystery title for the Nintendo Wii,  which hit store shelves Tuesday.  

For the past two and a half years, the designers, programmers and writers in this Chicago shop have been getting creative with the all-ages game, giving it what game director Patrick Curry calls a "Pixar" vibe.

"There’s jokes for the parents, but slapstick for the kids," he said.

While there is an overall story to Guilty Party that lets players solve various mysteries to learn the identity of the notorious Mr. Valentine, there is also a party mode that creates new mysteries on-the-fly. The idea is to add value and repeat playability to the game.

"We are very proud of our story generator," Kang said.  "It surprises us hundreds of times.  We never know who committed the crime."

Guilty Party marks a major change of course for Wideload, which was acquired by Disney Interactive Studios last year. The creators of Stubbs the Zombie and Hail to the Chimp are creating more family-oriented games.

According to Kang, that is the fastest growing segment of the video game industry.

"My father plays Wii," he said.  "People who don’t have a lot of time to play want games that are engaging and easy to play."

Guilty Party is already getting great reviews. It was named "Best Family Game" at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.

Working in Chicago gives Wideload access to area actors for voice talent in its games.  But lead writer and voice actor wrangler Matt Soell said that doesn’t always mean the work is done in the city. During the making of Guilty Party, he says one actress was on tour with a production of August: Osage County. Sometimes he would have to check her schedule against cities that had recording studios so that she could record changes in game dialog.

"Sometimes I would direct her over the phone," Soell said.

Life for Wideload hasn’t changed much under the mouse ears. The staff still works out of a second floor loft reachable by an old-fashioned freight elevator hidden behind a scary steel door.

Kang says Disney offered to move Wideload into new, modern office space when it took over, but the staff preferred to stay in its current quarters, where the only clue to who works there is a giant hippo on the front door.

The smiling amphibian is the company’s mascot.

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