Editor’s note: Ryan Smith is a longtime gamer and freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, NC. A graduate of East Carolina University with a degree in business and marketing, he has written in the past for WRAL Tech Wire and GameArgus.com. He currently plays Xbox 360 and PC as well as Nintendo DS. For story ideas, tips and feedback, he can be reached via e-mail (ryannicksmith@gmail.com)

DURHAM, N.C. – I had a chance yesterday to visit Durham-based game accelerator program Joystick Labs in order check out a few of the games that are in development at the American Tobacco complex American Underground.

First impression: Very Impressive.

Joystick Labs provides office space, funding, mentoring and support for local video game startups that seek to bring the next video game success story – Epic Games 2? -to the Triangle. The talent on display here at Joystick, under the tutelage of veteran video game industry executive John Austin is very impressive indeed, and I was very pleased to be able to get an inside looks at some of their great work.

The first game in development I got to see was Lab Rats Studio’s M.U.S.E., an upcoming iOS third person shooter for Apple devices.

M.U.S.E. is an exciting prospect for me, as I prefer a more “hardcore” gaming experience as opposed to that of the casual or typical iOS/mobile game, which is more simplistic and accessible. M.U.S.E. is a third person shooter, with a focus on destructible environments in addition to combat.

Most of the shooters available on iOS that I’ve seen have been knock offs of console shooters such as Halo or Call of Duty, but M.U.S.E. is much more original. It runs super smoothly, and its high definition graphics make you forget you are even looking at a mobile device rather than a TV with an Xbox hooked up to it.

M.U.S.E. features single player content as part of a campaign mode, with competitive scoring and leaderboards that you can climb by racking up huge combos of kills and environmental destruction. Once you rack up enough points in-game, you can enter “adrenaline mode” a power-up that gives you a heightened state of awareness of your surroundings, highlighting enemies in red and slowing down the action to give you even more combos for your high-scores.

You can check out some gameplay footage here. Look for M.U.S.E. on the App store for iOS devices this holiday season.

Sushi Boy, a sequel, and more

The next game I got to see was an upcoming social game by Sushi Boy developer WeFiends.

Recently WeFiends took home first prize at the first ever Raleigh Game On event, as the most popular game at the event with Sushi Boy Thunder, a game that utilizes tilt controls to fly through the sky collecting sushi and deploying power-ups. I had a chance to try out Sushi Boy Thunder at the event and it was a blast, the production quality and art style was stunning for a mobile game.

WeFiends recently relocated from California to join Joystick’s accelerator program to take on their next project: We Make Movies. We Make Movies is a social game, with the amazing art style and creativity we have come to expect from games like Sushi Boy, that allows you to do just what the title says: make movies!

A social game similar to games like Farmville, We Make Movies allows you to first pick a genre and then you sort through a list of custom characters to pick the right cast and crew, each with different specialties and salary costs(that you must balance according to your movie budget), to begin production of your movie. To actually shoot the film you have to go through a time management simulation to make sure the actors stay fed, get to the set on time and sort out the myriad of difficulties Hollywood is faced with on a daily basis as they try and make movies. Once it is completed you can link the movie poster to your friends which allows them to click on it and see your high score, so they can try and make a better movie than you.

Personally, casual games aren’t usually something I play, but We Make Movies looks awesome, with the original art, music and overall production taking place in Joystick Labs at a very high level, I think We Make Movies could be a big hit, not to mention tons of fun.

Buckle Up’s Flipped

The third game, “Flipped,” is an upcoming iOS puzzle and accelerometer game by Joystick’s newest team: Buckle Up Game Studios.  Originally conceived as a Wake Tech class project, Flipped is a puzzle game fresh into production, where the general idea is to use accelerometer technology to “flip” your iPad or iPhone and get your block through an obstacle course which will include a wide variety of elements. Spikes, explosions and who knows what else, Flipped already sounds to me like a fun casual game for mobile devices.

Currently planned as a “freemium” (free to play, but with additional content at a cost) title, Flipped should be releasing the free part of the game this holiday season, with some premium content packs to follow after that.

The bottom line: all three teams on hand were a lot of fun and very nice, not to mention the fact they are all producing top quality mobile game titles that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

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