On Friday, November 15, 2013, the student game development group, Spartasoft, and Media Sandbox collaborated to host a Studio Talk featuring Stephen Hoogendyk from the Michigan-based game development studio, Geeta Games. Geeta Games focuses on creating story-driven entertainment enjoyable for all ages. Stephen and his team recently released their first fan-funded game, "Lilly Looking Through", a point-and-click puzzle adventure game where Lilly seeks to rewrite the past, change the present, and unlock the ultimate mystery. "Lilly Looking Through" received 2013 Best Adventure Game and Best Art Design awards at Pax - the largest game convention in North America where tens of thousands of people meet annually at their Boston and Seattle locations to review the latest in gaming and game culture. It's not hard to believe the game's success considering how stunning the hand-painted art for the environments look in the game. Stephen's talk highlighted his successes and discussed how failures turned into opportunities that eventually led to the development of "Lilly Looking Through."
Stephen began with the question "Why do we make games?" In the beginning, Stephen wanted to pursue film and animation after being inspired by the movies Star Wars and Indiana Jones. At the time, he also played the point-and-click adventure game "MYST" with his family. After graduating college with a degree in design, Stephen sent out demo VHS tapes to companies looking for a job in animation; however, no one replied. He then took matters into his own hands and founded Storm Entertainment with his brother and two years later used all his self-taught experience in game development as an artist and programmer to get a job at Presto Studios. Later, the same motivation and self-starting attitude drove Stephen to convince the game development company, Cyan, to make him a production designer after showing them his ideas for the environment design and texturing he made on his own accord. His efforts led him to work on Myst 3: ExileTM, RealMystTM, and UruTM:Ages Beyond Myst. He eventually fulfilled his desire of working on character animation in film, and leveraged his experience as a game artist and designer to work on movies Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, and The Chronicles of Narnia, as well as the animated features Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Walt Disney's Bolt.
With experience from working on both films and games, and long-time inspiration from MYST, Stephen co-founded Geeta Games with his wife and lead animator Jessica, and they released "Lilly Looking Through". Stephen explained the development process, and how Geeta Games used KickStarter to make "Lilly Looking Through" a reality. What came through most of all in Stephen's talk was the joy he receives when families share how "Lilly Looking Through" has created meaningful experiences and memories for parents and children who play his game together. Nothing feels better than knowing your vision and hard work over the years, along with the choices and sacrifices made to accomplish them, is bringing people together in a truly powerful way.
Our biggest heartfelt thanks go out to Stephen and his team at Geeta Games for generously sharing his time and experiences with Michigan State University students. Media Sandbox believes that cross-curriculum learning and enrichment experiences benefit our students and their future aspirations. Stay tuned for more upcoming game development events and studio talks in spring 2014.