I went to check for more and found that I was far from the first person intrigued by Elca Gaming’s work. Last May, the creator had used his YouTube channel to upload a montage of his first 80 hours of work. As of right now, that video has 3.3 million views. Across Elca Gaming’s videos of the project as a whole, you’re look at well over 8 million views in total. The early playable version I stumbled across is among the most thumbed-up work-in-progress projects inside Dreams right now. There’s a case to be made that this is one of the most-anticipated games being developed inside Dreams – and yet, amazingly, the man making it has no prior experience in game development.
Colin Gluth used to work in online marketing in Germany, using his evenings to post Let’s Play videos on his YouTube channel. When the Dreams beta first arrived he jumped in, intrigued by the idea, but didn’t spend enough time to get truly familiar. When it hit full early access a year later, however, he chose to dive in headfirst: he spent hours learning the tools and then searched for a long-term project to sink his teeth into.
“There were several reasons why I chose Avatar,” he tells me over email. “I replayed several PS2 Avatar games in the beginning of last year and noticed a lack of mechanics that would have fit perfectly in the world of Avatar; also I never really felt like [I was] reliving the show or revisiting the iconic places shown in the series. Once Early Access for Dreams dropped, I just started rewatching the show. Another thing that pushed me to do it was […] the huge potential a game like this could have, considering there is a very hungry Avatar fanbase still out there, just like me, crying for a new Avatar game.”
He wasn’t wrong. After quietly working on his game, uploading videos of his latest creations as he went, the YouTube algorithm suddenly clicked into place and began recommending his montage video to millions of people’s sidebars across the world. His sudden success on YouTube (and subsequently Twitch, where he livestreams development of new features) has allowed given him the flexibility to go “pretty much full-time” on the project.
“Honestly, I can’t really comprehend these numbers,” he tells me when I ask about how it feels to suddenly have this many eyes on his work, “I just keep my head down, work on the game while reading comments and feedback I get and continue to make videos. I usually try to answer every comment, but with so much interest it is not possible anymore. I do read everything, though.”
One benefit of Dreams is that Gluth’s work can speak for itself – those intrigued by what they’ve seen on YouTube can load up the regularly updated pre-alpha build he’s made public and try out what he’s been showing off. Comments inside Dreams regularly talk about which videos have sent them to his creator profile, offer constructive feedback on what he could make next and, most of all, express an excitement for the eventual full release that feels more familiar to the comments sections under AAA gaming trailers than homemade fan projects.
The truly ludicrous thing is that Gluth has no background in games development whatsoever. “I can’t draw, code, animate, model, or anything else related to that,” he explains. “The only thing that could influence my development skills in any form are my general interest in art and design. Dreams’ tools, however, make everything very accessible. If you can imagine it, you can create it.”
It sounds like a marketing pitch, but his work bears that out. Someone with no prior experience is making the Avatar game of Avatar fans’ dreams, and it’s been made possible because of, well, Dreams.
Aang Project: 18 Screenshots of Avatar: The Last Airbender Fan Game
The Avatar’s Journey
Gluth’s put around 700 hours into Dreams as he speaks to me, with the majority of that going into his game (as well as the background systems he’s creating for it, which he uploads for others to use in their own creations). He has a lot more dev time ahead of him:
“I don’t have a specific release window for the game because I want it to be as good as possible. The good thing is that I don’t have any pressure from anybody to finish it in a specific time frame. The most important thing for me is that I am happy with the full release and it has as little bugs as I can manage. It is also good that I always have a fairly stable version online in Dreams that people can play and report bugs, so I can fix them as soon as they pop up. I very loosely aim for next year, but again, no pressure on that.”
Perhaps the biggest question right now is what form this game will actually take when it is done. We know it will be a 3rd-person action game at its heart, but the pre-alpha build understandably doesn’t offer much of a sense of its structure. Right now, Gluth is working on its moment-to-moment elements – how Aang controls, what abilities he has, and how the world interacts with him – but the more wide-scale ideas are very much in his mind.
“The game will mainly follow the story of all three books from the Last Airbender series,” he tells me. “You will play as Aang and Momo (with Momo used for Puzzles and opening areas for Aang) in all major locations that were shown in the series. You will begin in the Southern Water Tribe, which will be used as a Tutorial Area to teach you all the essentials. After that, you will continue to the Southern Air Temple, and so on.”
The idea right now is for the game to span 20 major locations from the show, culminating (as the show did) in Aang’s battle with Fire Lord Ozai, leader of the Fire Nation. It’s a game built from a love for the source material, offering the ability to relive it as authentically as possible, rather than an attempt to write fan-fiction around it.
“As a huge fan of the series, I want to create an Avatar game that has the vibes of the show,” he explains. “You will be able to visit locations and explore them, relive moments from the show, and just feel like Aang. This includes some glider levels, Avatar State, major landmarks like the Fire Nation ship that Katara and Aang explore, an original soundtrack in the style of the one used in the show, and many other little references and nods to moments seen in The Last Airbender. I’m putting all my passion for Avatar into this project and hope that will show in the final release.”
I’d argue that that’s showing through already.
Aang For Your Buck
Gluth has one concern about his project: “I am also a little bit worried about the copyright side of things, as many would expect, but I really hope that the creators acknowledge such a passion project that literally millions of fans are enjoying. I am also not able to sell it in any kind or form since it’s made inside Dreams.”
While the inability to make money directly should mean that Gluth’s free from official reproach, Media Molecule has made clear previously that it won’t manually feature creations in Dreams that could be seen to violate copyright. Yet even without that manual support, the sheer weight of user interest has pushed Aang Project to the upper reaches of several automated sections in Dreams’ search tools, meaning it’s a very visible project and becoming more visible by the day.
Gluth’s clearly hoping that that visibility leads to a positive interaction with those behind Avatar, rather than a more difficult one with their lawyers: “I did try to contact [Avatar co-creator] Mike DiMartino to let him know about the game, but didn’t get a reply yet. If any officials [want to] contact me to get me on an official Avatar game I would absolutely love to help out with game design.”
Like the millions watching his videos, and like me, Gluth just wants an Avatar game worthy of the show he loves so much. Unlike me, however, he happens to have the commitment and talent to potentially make that a reality. It’s a game made by someone who clearly feels they know exactly what an Avatar game should do, and how it should feel, born out of respect for the creators – a fan project in the purest sense.
I can even feel that coming through in our interview: after an email chain full of long, well-reasoned responses, Gluth adds a single final line, written to the show’s creators, seemingly added as a hasty afterthought. It says almost everything about the loving fan mentality behind his work:
“If they happen to read this: I would love to meet you guys!”
Joe Skrebels is IGN’s Executive Editor of News, and he is frightened of the emotional potential of a Tales From Ba Sing Se bit of this game. Follow him on Twitter.