Video game getting $190,000 in Honolulu rail money

Always Investigating

It will likely be some time next year when people can first ride the rail in Honolulu, but meanwhile you can play a video game you helped pay for.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation tells Always Investigating that making a video game is well within their obligation for youth outreach. After playing the game, many are left scratching their heads about its purpose.

Something unusual caught KHON2’s attention when browsing through recent uploads on the rail authority’s document filing website: a “running game” in a new folder called “video game.”

It leads to a website where you can play “Outrun Da Train.” Up pop the main characters with looks on their faces as if to wonder, what in the world?

Playing involves picking a station along the route. You read a rundown about native and invasive species, then hit the road in bare feet with slippers on your hands. You use arrow keys to dodge invasive species and try to bump into the native things to win speed boosts. All of this happens next to what appears to be the rail line. A train only makes occasional cameos.

Always Investigating asked HART, why did they make this?

A spokesman told KHON2: “The game is part of HART’s commitment and obligations under stipulation VII of the programmatic agreement.”

That’s rail-speak for dedicating time and money to make up for adverse impacts on historic or cultural resources. Stipulation VII covers outreach to children and youth.

“I don’t think anybody, whether it’s somebody who likes video games or doesn’t, I can’t imagine anybody sitting there and playing this,” said Randy Roth, a concerned citizen and rail critic. “It’s silly, it’s condescending. It will be interesting to see how much they’ve spent on the equivalent of a coloring book.”

When HART made a coloring book back in 2012, it caused an uproar, and that was only a few thousand dollars.

HART tells KHON2 they’re paying $190,000 to develop the game prototype, and that they consider that price cost-effective compared to mainland developer costs. HART says on-island talent is doing the work, and that the female character in the running game was developed by a student at one of the contracted game-design organizations.

The Federal Transit Administration, which is still sitting on hundreds of millions in rail grant money, has not yet responded to KHON2’s questions about the video game project.

“I think it’s symptomatic of bigger problems involving bigger dollars, but to spend what it costs on this video game strikes me as very telling,” Roth said.

 “To think that valuable time and resources were spent on something so frivolous and unnecessary is very frustrating. Critical components of this project remain incomplete like the awarding of the P3, which is supposed to salvage this train wreck,” said Honolulu City Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi. “The financial outlook gets bleaker everyday with the impacts of COVID-19 and new information of cost overruns with no assurance of the release of federal funds leaves myself and many others very concerned. The residents of the City and County of Honolulu and our state definitely deserve better than this. This is not a game.”

According to HART documents, the video game has been in the works for a couple of years by two local nonprofits described as subcontractors: Purple Mai’a and the Hawaii Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development. Neither organization responded yet to requests for comment.

“The decision by HART to allocate time and resources for the development of this video game is yet another example of its failure to focus on the priorities of fiscal responsibility and proper management of this project. It is incomprehensible and a slap in the face to taxpayers and future generations of taxpayers,” Tsuneyoshi said.

KHON2 asked for a comment from Mayor Kirk Caldwell. His office responded: “The City was not consulted about the creation of this game. We’ll defer further comment to HART.”

“There are a lot of people who enjoy video games,” Roth said, “but this one has absolutely nothing to do with the rail project, nothing to do with building the infrastructure, nothing to do with the equipment, nothing to do with the operation, nothing to do with getting people from one place to another.”

HART says “Outrun Da Rail” is the working title for the game and they’re planning to hold a naming contest for the final name. They say there will be more community engagement to develop the finished product.

If you want to play, click here to go to the link.

MORE INFORMATION PROVIDED BY HART:

HART Running Game Overview

  • Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires HART to mitigate the adverse impacts to historic properties along the rail corridor.
  • Mitigation was negotiated with Federal, State, and local agencies as well as community stakeholders, and led to the development of the contractually-binding Programmatic Agreement. 
  • Stipulation VII is the comprehensive educational and interpretive program that requires the project to develop materials to inform riders and the community of the rich cultural history along the alignment. (See slides below)
  • Stipulation VII-C requires the City shall prepare materials for children, such as a child-friendly game, that will educate children about relevant local history.  Stipulation VII-C also states that the City shall solicit student input to propose and develop the content for the materials.
  • Guiding principles for the Stipulation VII effort:
    • Utilize local talent, local artists, and local firms.
    • Robust community engagement to aim/inspire encourage Kuleana and stewardship to highlight the important stories along the alignment.
    • This allows HART to leverage its efforts and form partnerships to get the community involved
    • HART is being inclusive in the process
  • The game is in a prototype (draft) form.  HART is in the early stages of a broader community engagement process in order to develop this game into a finished product.
  • HART has contracted about $190,000 for the development of the running game prototype
  • HART is using on-island talent and local staff to develop the game.  This amount is very cost-effective compared to mainland game developers and provides cost savings to the project.
  • One of the strengths of Purple Maia is its history of working with underprivileged students.  Stipulation VII obligates us to develop these materials with students and schools.
  • The female character in the running game was actually developed by one of the students at Purple Maia.
  • “Outrun da Rail” is the working title for the game, and HART is planning to hold a naming contest to develop the final game title.

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