Video Game Developer Draws On Local Talent
WayForward has been quietly designing some of the world's
hottest video games titles from their SCV offices for nearly two decades.
In a converted warehouse office building standing quietly in
the shadow of Valencia High
School, a local company is leading the charge in
one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
WiiWare, Shantae, and Lit. While those may be strangely
unfamiliar words to some of us, they are the pillars in which WayForward , a
Valencia-based video game developer is building the future of gaming.
The story began in 1990, when Voldi
Way, an enthusiastic video game programmer started
the company in Orange County.
Back then, designing a video game was generally a one person job, although as
the technologies and abilities evolved, the process was quickly becoming more demanding.
So Voldi turned to CalArts, where he hired Matt Bozon,
and Rob Buchanan to bring their artistic capabilities to the new generation of
games. Since his two new employees didn't have cars, Voldi moved the
small WayForward operations up to Santa Clarita. After the 1994 earthquake, a
commute from Orange County
became impossible, and Voldi found himself sleeping on a couch in the apartment
his two employees shared.
"That's when I fell in love with Santa Clarita and shortly
afterwards moved out here permanently," he said. "And since then we've
continued to hire a lot of CalArts animators. Most of our artists today are
What followed was years of working with video game
publishers to design games for consoles like Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo,
Gameboy, Nintendo DS and many others. Throughout the growth of the company,
Voldi focused on creating quality games, rather than quickly producing
lackluster titles that would hit the shelves with a bang and expectations with
a thud. WayForward's titles included a
host of movie titles and children's games.
"We've done five or six Sponge Bob games, a number of
Nicktoons, about five Barbie games, and then the movie tie-ins like Scorpion
King, X-Men, and Shrek 3," said Voldi.
Last year, WayForward was also selected to be the first U.S.
developer to work on the Contra series.
When the old video game generation grew up, the industry
changed once again. New technologies ushered in a whole new ability to create
hyper-realistic games, but with that also came the ability to bring smaller,
more casual games to the Nintendo Wii console, internet and portable devices
like mobile phones.
With a huge following of WayForward's Shantae
bolstering them, the company is getting set to release Lit , a new action horror
puzzler game which will be available in two weeks. Voldi said that while they
have done a lot of children's titles, this game will bring something different
to the table.
"Lit is much more dark and gritty," he said.
Lit will be the company's first title made available on
WiiWare is an online retail store for games, linked through
the Nintendo Wii console. This allows WayForward to make its games available
directly to the consumer, whereas previously they would have to work with a
publisher to place the games in stores.
This new ability to bring the games to the consumer is
encouraging, according to CEO John Beck.
"We've seen that start and we hope that it continues," Beck
said. "We feel that our games will be evaluated more on our merits if we're
going direct to our end users."
Since their focus is, and always has been about the quality
of the games, then they should benefit from the new placement on the
interactive online stores because in many instances users can sort the lists of
games based on user reviews and ratings. So theoretically, the better the game
is, the more prominently is will be displayed in the online store.
So as WayForward continues to grow and expand, they will
once again attempt to use their products to launch into yet another new pocket
of an increasingly dominant industry. As that happens, they will continue to
draw from the talented pool of CalArts students and local employees.