The historically themed video game “Blackhaven” from Digital Media & Design assistant professor James Coltrain has grabbed international praise and industry-wide attention for its narrative structure that centers on the efforts of a fictional plantation-turned-museum that attempts to cover up its past.
Three months after its July release, “Blackhaven” was one of only 47 official selections and garnered two nominations at the prestigious IndieCade Festival for best Narrative and best Impact Game, going home with an unexpected juried award for best Innovation in Experience Design.
IndieCade – described by Time magazine as the “Sundance of Indie Games” – works year-round to support independent video game developers and their pursuits, culminating with its two-day awards festival.
In giving “Blackhaven” one of their top awards, judges commended the game for allowing players to unveil “layers of personal and national history that help make pointed realizations about modern life and its roots in the past.” They also noted that “the game creates a surprising new experience by delicately balancing its detailed aesthetics and unobtrusive mechanics around this simple narrative that ties each element together into a surprising and exciting new experience.”
Coltrain was excited to see the game be received so positively noting, “Blackhaven is a slower, quieter game drawing from real historical documents, and so it’s really exciting to see it get this kind of attention.”
“Blackhaven” is the first release from Coltrain’s Historiated Games. He collaborated with students and faculty at Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically Black institution. A student script team under the direction of Shearon Roberts, an Xavier associate professor of mass communications, helped craft the game’s protagonist, Kendra Turner, a student from a historically Black institution.
In the game, Kendra, voiced by TikTok personality Darby Farr, works at the Blackhaven Hall Historical Society and discovers how it has whitewashed its slave-owning past.
Beyond IndieCade, “Blackhaven” in January received another notable recognition, an honorable mention for Excellence in Narrative at the Independent Games Festival, part of the larger industry-leading Game Developers Conference (GDC) to be held in March. Coltrain also will speak at GDC on his experience developing “Blackhaven.”
Since its release, the game has had 30,000 downloads. It is available to play on PC for free on Steam.
“We are thrilled that James joined our growing game design program,” says DMD Department Head Heather Elliott-Famularo. “IndieCade and GDC are the top venues in the world, and IndieCade is arguably the most prestigious festival for independent games globally.”
She adds, “In a year when over 10,000 games were released for PC alone, winning the award is a remarkable achievement, particularly considering that his game studio, Historiated Games, is essentially a one-man show, and the release of ‘Blackhaven’ happened amidst a global pandemic, which brought great challenges to the production.”
“Blackhaven” is only the beginning for Coltrain and Historiated, as the game began as an offshoot of a larger project called “Cassius,” which will take players back to Blackhaven Hall during the 18th century. That game is slated for 2023, but first Coltrain will release “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” a historically accurate account for all ages inspired by painter Grant Wood’s work by the same name. It will be Historiated’s first game in virtual reality.