North Texas Daily

Local Game Developers to change name but keep attitude

Local Game Developers to change name but keep attitude

February 27
00:43 2014

Caitlyn Jones // Staff Writer

Inside the dimly lit basement of the Bank Building on the corner of Hickory and Locust Street, the cogs of a creative machine known as Jovian Minds turn wildly. Ideas, laughs and occasional jabs fly across the room as the six employees and friends work on their new video game, Dwarf Squad.

The room is split into three sections. The desks of Joey Bryant, 41, and Kyle Rives, 37, lie in the art department. CEO Mike Christian, 50, Stephen Hess, 38, and John Day, 30, make up the programming side. Finally, alone in the back corner sits Zane Sadler, 38, who takes care of design for the company.

At the start of the new year, the name of this local game development company changed. Jovian Minds is making a transition to “From the Future,” and has begun experimenting with wearable equipment, while collaborating with Apple TV and Google Glass.

“We’re always looking for the newest technology to gain that competitive edge,” Christian said. “We’re working on logos and stuff like that right now.”

Starting out

All of the employees had an interest in art and design growing up, but for Christian, he knew he wanted to design games at age 14.

“That was when arcades and all that were coming out and it just kind of blew my mind,” he said. “It’s one of the greatest forms of creativity to realize something out of your head and into real life.”

Others like Hess and Rives worked on different jobs, such as military flight simulators, before realizing the calling of game design.

“It was very corporate,” Rives said. “I used to put my face on the ‘litter bear’ in the simulator and the pilots would laugh. We got to have a little fun but it was very structured.”

The employees met while working for Paradigm Entertainment, a gaming company previously owned by Atari and THQ—two major game companies.

While there, they worked on games like Stuntman, Mission Impossible: Operation Surma and Duck Dodgers.

“When we were at Paradigm, we were kind of lost in the sea of hundreds of employees,” Bryant said. “We were a small piece of the puzzle. Now, we take on many roles.”

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Making waves in little D

After leaving Paradigm, the men set up shop in Denton in 2008.

“We loved the creative aspects here with the music scene and the art,” Christian said. “It seems to fit well with what our primary business is.”

The company also moved to Denton because of the resources from both universities and the Denton gaming industry as a whole. UNT’s gaming community has grown rapidly over the past few years, said Louis Hamilton, computer science senior and vice president of the Game Developers of UNT.

“It’s noticeable by the amount of people who show up to play games at the media library every night as opposed to when I came here a couple of years ago when no one even knew there was a library full of games,” he said.

Even though they have corporate clients and have developed a positive relationship with the city, Jovian Minds has felt the financial strain of being a small business.

“One of the problems is that we don’t have a business developer so most of our business is by word of mouth,” Christian said. “We have peaks and valleys financially but our biggest problem is just cash flow.”

However, they feel that they may have a hit on their hands with Dwarf Squad and have plans to sell it on the App Store.

“I think we’ll want a publishing partner for that,” Christian said. “Even if we don’t make huge money off of it ourselves, we at least want a game that’s a hit and the money will come later.”

Past and present productions

During their 10-hour days, the game designers work on games and applications for corporate clients like the Southwest Airlines Pilot’s Association, their own company and even the city of Denton.

Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention and Visitor’s Bureau (CVB), worked with the company to develop an app called Big Little D that would promote entertainment on Hickory Street. The app uses information from Four Square and will include a game where Little D, a Chihuahua with a red Mohawk, digs for treasure around Hickory Street. The feisty animal also gets into fights with a red chicken.

Phillips said the men from Jovian Minds were great to work with.

“They’re really fun, joyous guys,” she said. “It’s obvious they have a gift and when they collaborate together they come up with fantastic ideas.”

The Big Little D app is not the only project the creators are working on. They’re developing a multi-level game called Dwarf Squad in which dwarves save children and fight off goblins.

The CVB is hosting a party for the company to debut its newest game, Bulls and Bears, a stock-trading game where players yell and shake their phones at each other to make trades with other players. About 40 people are expected to attend the launch party.

“It’s played with a massive amount of people and the goal is to get all the commodities,” Christian said. “It’s meant to feel like an actual trading pit.”

Another project they’re working on is a memory game called Satan Says. The object of the game is to pick pictures in the same order that a cartoon devil shouts out. Games like this shed light on the fun side of the developing world.

“The game industry is this weird mix of laid-back people having fun and huge pressures and heavy deadlines,” Hess said. “We’re used to that and we always have an element of that.”

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Life in and out of the basement

When they are not in the office working on games or scaring kids looking through the windows with a clown head replicating Stephen King’s “IT,” the men like to spend time with their wives and children, plus work on hobbies.

Christian likes to spend his time reading while Day plays other video games. Hess watches TV shows like House of Cards and The Walking Dead. Rives restores arcade game consoles, Bryant rebuilds motorcycles and Sadler plays guitar.

Because of the long hours spent in such a confined space, the men experience occasional arguments, but they are easily diffused.

“I don’t think we’ve ever yelled at each other,” Christian said. “Sometimes we have disagreements or I’ll make Stephen cry but we try to keep it light.”

The room erupted in laughter, solidifying the fact that the group truly enjoys working at Jovian Minds, with exterior issues being the most irritating problem.

“The worst part is the traffic on I-35,” Bryant said.

Jovian Minds continues to thrive in the community and the unit hopes that the change in name will bring about a growth in both business and creativity.

“When you see someone go into a wood shop, there’s a tangible thing that they produce,” Hess said. “Most people don’t realize that it’s the same with computers. You have this idea and you physically create something that hopefully people will enjoy.”

Top photo: The Jovian Mind team down in “the vault” of The Bank Building at 100 N. Locust St. From left to right: co-founder/artistic lead Kyle Rives, co-founder/chief technical officer Stephen Hess, co-founder/CEO Mike Christian, front, co-founder/director of art Joey Bryant, back, designer Zane Sadler and programmer Jon Day. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

Center photo: Co-founder and director of art Joey Bryant works diligently while his many action figures stand watch. The desks inside the Jovian Minds office are adorned with various action figures, trophies and video game memorabilia. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

Feature photo: Co-founder and CEO of Jovian Minds Mike Christian. The 5-and-a-half year old company makes apps and computer games. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

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