Many Philadelphians have a love/hate relationship with the city's skinny-pants-wearing hipsters.
And most harbor a strong opinion about the behavior of local bicyclists. (They're going to kill someone! They are role models for limiting gas consumption!)
But there's one thing most locals will agree upon, especially Web-savvy ones: The two make for a lovable combination in a soon-to-be released iPhone application called Hipster City Cycle, the first Philly-themed app developed by Philadelphians and featuring Philly faces.
Made by University of Pennsylvania grads and, more important, depicting landmarks from what creators Michael Highland and Kevin Jenkins call "our ugly yet beautiful" town, Hipster City Cycle (HCC) is a pixel-art bike race through the city's humble neighborhoods that will be available through the Apple App Store after Thanksgiving.
Its star is "Binky McKee" - a flirt-with-the-gals, traffic-weaving wonder most cabbies would hate. "Grow a mustache, share the road, and never put your foot down," is Binky's motto, plastered on the HCC website that features the ginger-haired Binky driving past Pat's and Geno's (Italian Market), Green Line Coffee and the Supreme Shop n Bag (West Philly), and North Bowl in Northern Liberties.
Highland and Jenkins joined forces 14 months ago to brainstorm and develop prototype code allowing you to tap with your thumbs to make a runner sprint to a finish line.
"Turned out there were a ton of tap-to-run-style games, so we quickly realized we'd have to do something to stand out if we wanted any chance of success," says Highland, 25.
The result: You can only gain momentum by showing off - weaving through traffic, balancing at red lights, and flirting with onlookers.
If you played your cards right - and stopped by one of HCC's photo booths - you might be part of the pixelated action. At the roundups held the last three months on First Fridays in Old City and at West Philly's Clark Park Flea Market, creators photographed willing passersby, posted their photos online, and asked the public to vote for their favorites in HCC's Pixelation Contest.
The most popular people will be transformed into pixels by artist Keith McKnight, and voilà, game characters will be born.
"They did a great job taking real people and transforming them into the old-school, pixel-style graphics," says one of the winners, Matthew Downing, a 29-year-old high school librarian from West Philly. "The '80s video games are making a comeback. I should have tight-rolled my jeans."
But getting picked to appear in the $1.99 app means more than just achieving dot-matrixity for posterity.
It would, according to Highland, make you a proud member of Philadelphia's burgeoning indie game scene.
That's where the race - and the fun - truly starts.
Philadelphia is home to a host of independent gamers: computer design and programming teams like Independents Hall, Burst Online, and Space Whale Studios; tech incubators such as Dream It Ventures; and DIY programmers and crafters such as Alfred Hanssen's Tembo Studio - all touting game development, puzzles, and iPhone apps as part of their portfolios.
And this is but a fledgling community.
"Philly's not as saturated with start-ups and projects as New York or San Fran, but from my perspective, that lack of noise makes it the perfect place to launch the next big idea," says Highland. He already had created a multimedia documentary in 2004 on his addiction to video games (As Real as Your Life), and a prototype for a gambling game that gives half the pot to charity (Win Win) before making HCC his first game app with Jenkins, McKnight, and 8-bit artist Patrick Todd.
"Philly's proven to be the perfect environment for launching a game, small enough that word travels fast within given communities. We've had a number of people come up to us at Pixelation events and say they heard about HCC through a friend of a friend."
But this city is also big enough to launch a global success.
Space Whale Studios is launching Return All Robots!, an action-puzzler featuring a green-haired intern stuck in the ominous lab of Ethical Robotics and Experimentation Inc. It will be released on all formats this month.
"This area has someone making every type of game you can think of," said Jordan Santell, 25, vice president of Space Whale Studios.
Santell attributes the area's achievements to an atmosphere that fosters camaraderie and support among tech-heads. "There's nothing more helpful or fun than grabbing a beer and talking shop with other Philly game devs."
Jake O'Brien, 37, and Parker Whitney, 24, who work together at Independents Hall, were recently approached by a software developer for clinical trials. Carrying with him "two pints of his latest home-brewed beer," he gave the pair valuable feedback on their July iPhone release, Brainarang, in which a brain frantically hurls boomerangs at a relentless onslaught of zombies.
Penn and Drexel, widely viewed as having two of the best video game programs in the country, as well as the the Videogame Growth Initiative - which works to attract industry to the city - contribute to a vibrant indie gaming scene, too, says Whitney.
Soon, he says, it will "explode in Philly."
That's why it's surprising that no locals have capitalized on their fair city in the way Highland and Jenkins have. ("I realize being the first Philly-themed game developed in Philly is a little like saying we're the first people to put pickles and hot sauce on ice cream on a Tuesday morning, but I'm still proud.") But even more unlikely, the app doesn't take potshots at Philadelphia - although it does toy with the names of local businesses. Can you guess what Hasbin Retrofitters is?
"It's a love letter to Philadelphia written on the stationery of retro gaming," says Nicole Kline, 31, a senior editor of Gaming Target and a contributor to the blog Geekadelphia. She was introduced to HCC during one of her monthly meetings with local independent video game developers. "They haven't just made an ordinary game or one that's sarcastic or makes fun of certain groups. They've brought together things that are specific to Philadelphia and placed it over the backdrop of the city in a way that's affectionate."
Logic may say a Philly-centric game would limit a potential audience (for instance, Heavy Rain, a PlayStation 3 game, is set in Philly, but that isn't mentioned in any of its literature). Highland hopes HCC's local flavor is viewed as a plus.
"By making the game an homage to Philly, we're hoping to attract the attention of anyone who's ever lived here and still feels a connection to the city." Highland is also hoping to ride the success of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the FX sitcom that uses the city itself as a character.
So, you've traveled familiar streets filled with angry motorists and hipster pedestrians - and you have survived. What does a player get for reaching the finish line?
"From a Zen standpoint, HCC isn't really about winning," Highland says. "In my mind, it's a piece of art you get to interact and create an experience with. The artwork is so good I hope people take the time to slowly bike through each of the maps."