JOURNALIST • EDITOR • DIGITAL STORYTELLING
Santa Cruz Sentinel
APTOS — Appealing to angst-ridden teens — and, perhaps, the inner teenager within all of us — a new virtual company with local roots has launched SplatSplat, a game for hand-held devices that lets players lob virtual rotten fruit and pizza at selected images and feel a satisfying splatter vibration on their device.
“It’s angst reduction at its very core,” said Craig Vachon, “leader” of Haptify Inc., which consists of four co-founders who are using the notification vibrations existing in all hand-held devices to provide users with a more sensory feel to games.
The free game, posted Tuesday on the Android Market, was downloaded more than 500 times in the first 24 hours. This week’s “soft launch” will help the company iron out the final kinks in the program, Vachon said. The iPhone version is set to be launched in a few weeks with the help of sports celebrities.
Haptify was launched in the spring as an independent subsidiary of publicly owned Immersion Corp.
Immersion provides technology called “haptic” which allows people to use touch more fully when operating digital devices. The company reported $6.7 million in second quarter revenue earlier this month.
In Haptify products, players can feel the twang of a plucked guitar string or the flip of a pinball as it is shot into a game and flung across the board.
SplatSplat users can choose among items — tomatoes, eggs, pizza or watermelon — and pull back on a slingshot to launch it at the image of their choice, possibly a detested politician, homework assignment or sports team. The device actually vibrates so it feels like the pull and release of a slingshot. The user can feel the impact of the object against the image. Then they can post the tomato-splattered image on Facebook or email it to their friends.
“We’re the forefathers,” Vachon said. “We’re bringing the sense of touch to hand-held gaming. We’re trying as best as can to mimic the actual feel of a guitar string being plucked.”
Although wary of focusing on any negativity that could arise out of SplatSplat, Vachon said the game’s irreverence was clearly aimed at attracting the largest gaming demographic out there.
“It’s got a certain snarkiness,” Vachon said. “Most of the people who enjoy snarkiness are males in the 12-29 age group.” It is, he said, kind of a “Dislike” button akin to the “Like” button on Facebook. “I don’t want to lie to you and say it can’t be used for negativity but it can also be used to shoot down HATE’ or Anthony Wiener. He’s probably the largest splattee’ that we have. A hammer can be used for destructive purposes or to build a home.”
Popular themes include teenage girls angry at their fathers; politicians such as Wiener, Nancy Pelosi and Rick Perry have drawn rotten fruit; as have and teen pop idol stars like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. A few images of words such as “homework,” “mortgage” and “foreclosure” have attracted rotten fruit attacks as well.
The creative part of the business is performed by the team of four and the back-end work is done by an international group of programmers is Pakistan, India and China. Vachon said Haptify would release about five more sensory-enhanced games by the end of the year.
People looking for a more positive iteration of the game won’t have long to wait, he said. “We are striving for a little bit of balance.” To launch a company with a game of hearts and kisses, well, “most teenage boys would have ignored it completely.”
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: An independent subsidiary formed from Immersion Corp. (Nasdaq: IMMR), a developer and licensor of touch feedback technology. Haptify designs and sells games that have a sensory component like the life-like twang of a guitar string or the thump of the bumpers in a pinball game. The company also ‘haptifies’ other products in the market and helps gaming companies sell into foreign markets.
BACKGROUND: Founded in June.
LEADERSHIP: Co-founders include Craig Vachon, leader; Chris Ullrich, technical leader; Duane Carrol, venture, distribution and designer; and Frances Ravago, marketing leader.
EMPLOYEES: In addition to the four founders, developers are hired in Pakistan, China and India.
INFORMATION: 408-350-8855; www.haptify.com
: The self-funded company broke even three weeks after the launch of its first game, Enzo’s Pinball, which lets users feel the game ball spring into the field and bounce against the flippers.