Playing God(s)

Videogame developer Ryan Lesser 93 IL describes the inspiration for his new “boutique” board game High Heavens as “one-third video games, one-third comic books and one-third mythology.” The game pits ancient Norse and Greek deities and demigods against one another in a tactical grid-based battle. 

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Lesser’s obsession with mythology took hold when he was a boy and his parents bought him D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. “As art director for [Cambridge, MA-based] Harmonix, I Iive and breath games every day of my life,” he adds. “But I wanted to make something that was just me.”

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Lesser did almost all of the research, writing and painting for High Heavens himself and has taken advantage of his RISD and Harmonix connections to toss ideas around and play-test the game. “Jennifer [Hrabota-Lesser 94 IL, his wife] has helped a lot,” he says, “as has Matt Moore 03 IL, a RISD grad I hired at Harmonix six or seven years ago. He has been a huge help fleshing out rules, etc.” RISD Senior Critic and faculty member Cyrus Highsmith 97 GD designed a new font for the game as well.

Most of the project’s funding is coming through a 45-day Kickstarter campaign. “Kickstarter is an amazing way for indie developers to get their ideas and games out there,” Lesser says. “It’s half PR and half funding.” He plans to produce 3,000 copies of the first edition, which he’ll sell directly and then via a distributor, if all goes well. 

Lesser credits much of his success in gaming (he was involved in developing Guitar Hero, among many other smash successes for Harmonix) and in life to his years at RISD, first as a student and then as an adjunct professor, teaching just about every kind of digital media and animation class there is.

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“My degree is in IL,” he explains, “but my degree project was in animation. I did sculpture, painting, photography, metalsmithing…. When I talk to manufacturers, I speak the language, which is really helpful.”

And more importantly, says Lesser, “RISD teaches you to be an innovator and an individual. That fuels me every day.”

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