Richard Hart is dedicated to making non-violent, family-friendly video games. He’s the lead developer at Ethical Entertainment, an interactive-entertainment company based in North Vancouver. Hart, who was born in Kitchener, Ontario, and is 36 years old, founded Ethical in 2004 with Michael Bell, the company’s lead artist.
In January, Ethical released Turtle Match, its first game for the iPhone and iPod Touch. According to Hart, the studio just wrapped up work on Joe Rock and Friends, an “interactive multilingual reading” iPhone app for kids that’s been submitted to Apple’s App Store. Ethical is now developing Barnyard Blues, an iPhone game that Hart said will “give kids an interactive kind of blues experience”.
Hart also teaches the new iPhone Application Development course at the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Burnaby and downtown Vancouver campuses. He previously worked for Synaptics Learning, an e-learning company.
The Georgia Straight reached Hart by phone at his office in North Vancouver.
What constitutes an ethical game?
We started the company about five years ago, and I became a father at that time for the first time. So, for me, having kids fundamentally changed the way I looked at what I did as an entertainer—or in entertainment and development. I started really looking around and kind of really analyzing and looking at what was available and what I would want for my kids, and that played a huge role in kind of coming up with the company name.
For us, Ethical Entertainment, it’s about injecting positive play into what we do. I think, as developers and artists and that, you always have the choice of what you put in and what you leave out. So, what we decide is, when we do our stuff for kids and families, that we’re going to keep the positive stuff and keep out as much of the negative stuff as we can.
What’s wrong with a little violence in video games?
There’s different strokes for different folks. I mean, we’re not here to say what’s right and wrong for everyone. Ethical was a choice we made. So, it’s about following our values and our beliefs, and, you know, it’s fine that other people have different values and beliefs. But we had a choice in how we wanted to shape the company, and that’s the choice that we made.
Why do you believe games can change the world?
I think, because I’m an educator—I’ve been involved in education for over 10 years—I see games as a very powerful way to get information and ideas, and get people to think differently. I think they’re amazing educational tools, if you do it right.
So, I think certain types of games, or if you approach games in the right way, they’re probably almost like the killer app for education. There’s just something about them that gets to people and gets them thinking and interacting and taking part. That’s why I think, in many ways, that games have the power to do that.
What’s Ethical Entertainment working on these days?
I mentioned the Barnyard Blues. So, we’re hopefully going to be finishing that one at the end of October. Then we’ve got a list of about, I think, maybe a half-dozen games that we’d like to get to. It’s just, basically, time and resources—getting the time together to actually sit down and work on them.
What is Joe Rock and Friends?
Joe Rock and Friends is basically an interactive application that’s been ported to the iPhone. Essentially, it’s a number of stories that our client, BoggleNoggin Media, has put together that are very appropriate for kids. It essentially enables them to learn essentially how to read in multiple languages.
So, you’ve got stories, and they interactively flip through the pages on the iPhone. They can have the application actually read each page of the story to them. They can actually interact with a given page by clicking on words, and then they can spontaneously translate it into Spanish and see what those same words would be in Spanish.
They’ve also put some really killer music—kids music—in it. Our client is actually a professional musician as well. So, he’s got just really incredible music for kids that he’s put in to go along with the stories as well. So, we developed a story engine that bundles all that together, that will allow him to kind of distribute his content initially out on the iPhone but eventually on lots of different types of mobile devices.
What are you teaching in your iPhone Application Development course at BCIT?
Primarily, we’re teaching it from the Apple SDK perspective. So, we’re covering primarily application development, so we’re doing basically Foundation and Cocoa Touch. We’re focusing on programming, so we’re trying to go deeper into things like Objective-C and those types of things.
We’re, in that course, focusing on application development. Games are essentially applications as well. But we don’t take a specific focus on games, like the other course does.
What’s your favourite game to play?
I’ve got lots of favourite ones. As a kid growing up, I really got hooked into Carmen Sandiego. That was one of the first video games that really just drew me in and sucked me in and, you know, I was like, “Wow, that’s incredible.”
Right now, because I’ve got the kids and that, my kids actually, we’ve got an iTouch at home, and I have my iPhone. But I try and find games that they can play as well. Right now, the kids and I, we’re playing things like Touch Hockey. It’s almost like air hockey on the iPhone. We’re playing that together.
There’s also this new one out that we’ve been playing called Sheep Launcher—and the sheep doesn’t actually get hurt. But you launch the sheep, and then you keep touching it to keep it moving up in an upward direction. It eventually gets into space and all kinds of stuff. We’ve been playing that one as well.
I think another one that we’re playing is a new one called Geared that’s really neat. Essentially, you have to get one of the gears that’s been placed on the screen, you actually have to put a whole bunch of gears together to drive that one. So, it’s almost like an interactive puzzle game. That’s really kind of neat.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.