Video game designers generally don't look to their grandparents for inspiration when they're putting together a game, but for Cara Ely, there really wasn't a better choice.
As creative director at I-Play games and the overseer of the "Dream Day Wedding"
series, Ely had long loved the story of how her grandparents met, had a whirlwind courtship and married - though she wasn't sure if the larger gaming world would. But when she told the story to her development team, they loved it. The result was "Dream Day: True Love".
In 1939, Ely's grandfather Bill was an engineer in the army, stationed at Midway Island. On leave, he ended up staying with the family of a woman he had previously dated while at West Point. The woman, Charlotte, decided to throw a party to introduce Bill to her friends and give him a little social interaction. That's when he saw Helen - and sparks flew.
He invited her to play cards a day or two later -- and she came with a date. But when he drove the pair to their homes, Helen announced she wasn't tired and accompanied Bill to the Bay, after dropping off the third wheel. Less than two weeks later, they were engaged.
It was six to eight months before they saw each other again, though, as he had to return to Midway - but when he returned, they got married - and 71 years later they're still together.
For a game about weddings, you can't have a more perfect story. But convincing them of that took some explaining.
"They were pretty baffled," acknowledges Ely. "They're still very sharp. They play bridge, gin rummy and golf - and my grandmother and I email a lot - but they don't play computer games. ... They said 'How much do we have to do?' thinking they'd have to do all the work."
It turns out, they had unintentionally been gathering string for the game for quite a while. Bill had written a memoir of his life for his family 20 years ago that told the story from his perspective - and Helen shared plenty of details in her emails with Ely. They also had kept plenty of mementos from their courtship - including all the letters Bill had sent from Midway (and later his two-year tour of duty in World War 2).
"They're thrilled now," says Ely. "They haven't gotten to play through it, but I've sent them video of it and I'm going to fly out [to Florida] and walk them through the game."
The game's players are just as happy. "Dream Day" games, as you might guess, generally appeal to women gamers - specifically those between the ages of 35-60. And "True Love" has resonated with the group. Ely says she has received several notes from players saying the game has reminded them of how they met their husbands.
This is the first time the "Dream Day" franchise has used a real couple as its focus. Previous installments have all centered on fictional protagonists. They've done quite well nonetheless. The games have been downloaded more than 60 million times.
Now that they've dipped their toes into the waters of reality, though, is there any going back to fictional characters?
"I'm definitely thinking more about using real stories in games," says Ely. "For me, one of the most important things is to find a story (real or fictional) that resonates with me personally. When I have a strong feeling about the storyline, it makes the game easier to design, partially because I get so excited about presenting that experience to