UCSC grads turn class project into gaming company

Santa Cruz Sentinel

SANTA CRUZ — When three astronomical bodies align, such as the sun, moon and earth, the phenomenon is known as syzygy. That’s pretty much what happened metaphorically when three UC Santa Cruz roommates — a graphic artist, a writer/composer and a computer coder — moved in together and began hatching plans for a new game for the iPad.

They went on to enlist seven classmates in a yearlong UCSC game design course, and after winning top honors in June for best student games in the Baskin School of Engineering 2011 Sammy Awards, the original trio founded a new Santa Cruz-based company, Team Krinoid. They launched the game, “Syz: E.G.,” as their first product less than a month ago.

“It was kind of a risk for us to take our senior project and make it into a business,” said recent graduate, John Peters, 22, who was lead programmer for the student team and is now chief executive officer of Team Krinoid. But, he said, seeing positive reviews online has been pretty great. While in class, the students got to present their project to industry veterans such as Graeme Devine, who used to head up Apple’s iPhone Game Technologies division.

“The biggest surprise is being able to talk with people in the industry and these are people we look up to,” Peters said. “To be able to look up the name on Google and see people talking about it is fun, too.” One person complained online that “Syz: E.G.” wasn’t a long enough game and they wanted to play more. “It’s still surprising to me that people like my stuff.”

“Syz: E.G.,” available for $2.99 per download, follows “the adventures of Capt. Russel Porter and his intrepid crew as they travel the galaxy fighting the agents of the Fringe Republic.”

Players can fight enemies with a laser, shield, hacking, electromagnetic pulse bombs and a repair mechanic. The recent grads describe it as “a galactic adventure” and a serial space opera all wrapped into the first multitouch, tactical space shooter game of its kind. It is a game for the experienced gamer who likes story plots, bold characters and shooting down the bad space guys. They hope to take the same characters and get them in more trouble in a series of games.

The storyline and musical score were created by Peter Hunter, 22, who serves now as the company’s chief financial officer.

Most of the work since June has involved setting up the company and preparing legal contracts so each team member can earn royalties from sales of the game.

Each of the 10 contributing team members will earn equal royalties from the game.

“It’s meant a lot of investment on our part,” Hunter said.

The look of the game, colors and characters were created by Max Weinberg, 22, who is the official secretary of the new company.

Although sales have been slow, the trio says they’re not worried. Without much of a marketing budget for a product that only works on the iPad platform, they say they’re happy to start off slow and let gamers hear about “Syz: E.G.” by word of mouth. “It took “Angry Birds” a top iPhone application four months to get any recognition,” Hunter said.

“They know their stuff,” said Christopher Radt, a UCSC film major who’s been playing with the game since its earliest incarnations. Radt recently posted an 11-minute documentary about the evolution of the game on YouTube. “They’re the kind of people I’d want making a game. They know what makes a fun game.”

Team Krinoid’s next game, Bunny Run, is scheduled for release before the end of the year. A different genre altogether, Bunny Run will available on multiple devices and cost 99 cents per download.

“You’re basically a bunny being chased by a big orange monster,” Hunter said. But, “it’s going to be a lot deeper than what it first appears to be.”

Rather than a game for experienced gamers, they expect it to appeal to a broader audience.

“It’s going to be super cute,” Peters said.

In a difficult economy, the young game developers say they consider themselves lucky to be new entrepreneurs. Just out of school and launching his own company is the biggest surprise for Weinberg, “it is the difference between working at a job and on a long-term goal.”

“It’s definitely something I’ve wanted to do all my life,” Peters said.



WHAT: An independent mobile game development company developing games for the iPhone, iPad, Android and BlackBerry Playbook.
BACKGROUND: Founded in summer of 2011 by UCSC grads who developed it as a class project with classmates.
LEADERSHIP TEAM: John Peters, coder and chief executive officer; Peter Hunter, writer, musical composer and chief financial officer; Max Weinberg, artist and secretary
EMPLOYEES: The three co-founders. Other classmate contributors include game developers Jonathan Fotland (who also worked as code manager), Lindsey Freeman, Lakota Lefler (who also worked as team manager), Kevin Murphy, Alex Portnoy, Hosh Tachmuradov and Lucas Thornsberry
CONTACT INFORMATION: teamkrinoid@gmail.com; http://teamkrinoid.com/
MINI DOCUMENTARY: www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9fAejq8I5M&feature=channel_video_title


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