Rarely does anything productive come from an obsession with a television series. But for Sarasota-based motion designer and developer Joe Russ, his love for crime-procedural dramas is what planted the seed for his most ambitious project to-date: "Jenny LeClue,"a hand-animated, choose-your-own-adventure video game that follows its eponymous protagonist on her quest to clear her mother's name of a murder accusation.
Russ' love for shows like "CSI" and "Law and Order" spawned the idea for a short animated web series that would be a satirical homage to the genre. Without time to pursue the project, however, Russ was forced to put the idea on hold. Over the years, it continued to evolved into something more elaborate.
"There's a huge market for really interactive content," he says. "So I decided to turn the story into something bigger and more involved than just a web series. I've created other games in the past, without this level of interaction — definitely nothing of this scope."
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Set in the fictional college town of Arthurton, the whimsically animated story follows a young detective, named Jenny LeClue, as she sets out to uncover the truth behind her mother's murder accusation. Uncovering clues along the way, LeClue's adventure offers users a highly interactive experience in and of itself, but according to Russ, what makes the choose-your-own-adventure game truly innovative is its user's influence on the game on a larger scale.
"Jenny LeClue" is set to be released in three chapters, at the end of which, players are posed with a multiple-choice decision that will guide LeClue's investigation. All players' votes are tallied, and the next chapter of the game is created according to the most popular choice.
"As far as I can tell, there's never been a game quite like this before," says Russ.
Russ and his company, Mografi, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the game, which at the time of publication, is within $5,000 of its $65,000 goal. If funded, the money will fund Russ and his team's expenses as they produce the first chapter of the game, which he estimates will be available in late 2015. A former motion-design professor at Ringling College of Art + Design, Russ has several illustration and animation students from the college on his team as interns and freelancers, and he says he's happy to help provide the area's talented students an outlet for hands-on application of their skills.
After years of developing the idea, Russ says he's excited to be so close to seeing his game brought to life.
"It's kind of overwhelming to see the level of support," he says. "I'm a big gamer, and a great game captures my imagination just like a good book would. It takes you on a journey, and it's awesome to be able to create a world like that of my own that I can share with other people."