Well, the time has come for me to blog here again! It's coming up on a year since Team KAIZEN was awarded a HASTAC // MacArthur Foundation Grant and this year has been interesting to say the least!
Team KAIZEN was started in 2006 (officially, before that Trevor and I had dreamed of owning a game studio for much longer) as part of our company, Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company (AEC). AEC was started because of events in our lives (Trevor's kidney toubles--he'll eventually need a transplant--, our father leaving due to 'not wanting the bills of a sick child', us going bankrupt and losing everything--all the year I graduated High School) seemingly taking away our futures. Following those events, we tried the normal way of doing things. Trev kept going to school (he was in 6th grade at the time) and I got a full time dead end job at a call center, eventually rising to mid-management (if you ever hear, "This Call May Be Monitored For Quality Assurance," I was the guy monitoring the call and grading it like a test. The reality though was we felt like we were on a slippery hill and sliding down. Normal wasn't working, and since normal wasn't going to cut it crazy was the only option left.
Crazy started in 2005 when I quit my job and Trevor and I started selling T-Shirts with our own demented humor on them (as well as holding substance-free techno raves for the people of the Great Falls, Montana area). Our goal was to have a game studio, but we weren't sure how to achieve that.
Enter the Great Falls Development Authority (www.gfdevelopment.org). They found out about us and took us under their wing. With thier help, we learned how to walk the walk and talk the talk of an investment ready business and began looking for staffers to build a game studio, Team KAIZEN was born! (for those of you wondering, KAIZEN is a Japanese word that means 'Never Stop Improving').
We have been working away on our tech demo to our martial arts fighting game, Shattered Soul, in Epic's Unreal Dev Kit www.udk.com. Early in 2010, I heard about the Digital Media Learning Competition through the PlayStation Blog www.blog.us.playstation.com. The DMLC was putting the call out for fans of Sony's LittleBigPlanet to create levels that can embrace S.T.E.M. learning while being entertaining first and foremost. As a huge fan of LittleBigPlanet as well as a self-admitted roller coaster/ride junkie, the answer was simple: build a level that embraced my love of rides and taught about such things as G-Forces and Kinetic/Potential Energy.
I got the shock of my life a short while later, being notified I was a grand prize winner and needed to be in New York City in 2 weeks. At some point on the flight, shock settled in again as I realized, "HOLY CRAP! I am going to NYC because of LittleBigPlanet!!" Upon landing, we went to the Chelsea Hotel and dropped off our luggage---the Coney Island Cyclone was nearby and there was no way on God's green earth we were going to miss that! The whole trip was amazing--I had been working for years to break into the game industry. I have friends in several studios and publishers--can tell you a lot about a lot of industry dignitaries--I thought I knew all I needed to know to make it. In New York, I found out about an entirely new industry--educational video games had become their own sub-industry with their own lingo and inter-workings, I felt like I was learning the game industry all over again!
As time moved on through 2010, word of our award spread. We got covered in the news, a call from US Senator Jon Tester, a member of Insomniac Games (one of the top independent video game studios in the world) used our LittleBigPlanet levels as an example in a speech in Sweeden and another big shock: a call from the US Federal Department of Education. Ed Metz at the department contacted us and said he had perused the winners of the 2010 DMLC and picked those he thinks would be able to deliver a winning pitch. He asked us to apply for a 1.05 Million Dollar Government Grant to possibly develop a new educational video game with a user-created-content sland. Like I said earlier, normal doesn't work for us so we decided to try crazy: we are preparing 2 different pitches that are due in mid-January: one for a new IP and one for a new group of LittleBigPlanet 2 levels that would be accompanied with lesson plans and instructional videos.
In order to prepare these pitches I had to wade through a 71 page application--I officially now have the upmost respect for anyone who ever receieved a federal grant! HASTAC also was awesome enough to put the call to arms out so they could hook us up with an educational researcher who has had published works. We ended up aligning with Daniel Hickey of Indiana University, and he has been a big help in acting as a interpreter of sorts, enabling us to quickly become competent in pitching an idea in this industry that seems deceptively similar to the game industry but has some important differences.
We also have received letters of recommendation from all sorts of individuals, ranging from HASTAC to Doctors, from fans to even the Engine Director of Insomniac Games! We also had a meeting with Great Falls Public Schools that went amazing, with them pledging to help us any way they can so we can raise the bar of quality in education and entertainment.
For us, this was all initially weird. We have it on our hearts in a die hard way to make it in the non-educational game industry, and we are still actively working towards that goal. We don't want Add-A-Tudez to be an educational-only or majorly educational company in the traditional sense. However, our goal with Add-A-Tudez was to always dominate and it quickly became apparent: this is a new horizon for our company to dominate in. We can be one of the first companies, start up or not, that focuses on both entertainment video games and educational ones, using the lessons we learn from every kind of title we develop to better future endeavors.
Our educational games will benefit from what we learn from making non-educational games, and our non-educational titles will benefit as we learn how to incorporate learning in our educational products in a way that is natural, not forced. This will help give Add-A-Tudez's Game Studios an edge that we feel will help differentiate us in the game industry, in today's world so many mediums are blurring the lines between each other and we are excited at the prospect of being one of the first companies to blur the line between educational and non-educational video games. We have an amazing amount of support on both sides, including the people who have been rooting us on for the non-educational games and our newer allies like Great Falls Public Schools and HASTAC on the educational side--and the reality is that is how you make it in today's world: every success is a group effort and we can't be grateful enough to everyone who is helping us!
I sent out a Tweet earlier this year, saying that 2010 was the preview of coming attractions that 2011 will be for Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company and Team KAIZEN. We are certainly crazy here (our company slogan is even 'Inspired Insanity') and we have no doubt: by December 31st, 2011 you will agree: Crazy is working!