Triangle Ripe for Gaming

Dec 23, 2011

MUSE Agent Sid Tripp in new Lab Rats Video Game
Credit Lab Rats Studio

Video Games of all kinds are top sellers this time of year – and North Carolina is quickly becoming a major player in the industry. The Triangle has become a new mecca for gaming software and design.

Leoneda Inge: "So, you’re going to play the game for me?"

Shadie El-Hadad: "Yeah, I’m going to play the game for you. So this is MUSE the first episode, we are doing episodic content."

Leoneda Inge: "Shadie El-Hadad is one of the founders of Lab Rats Studio. They’ve been working for more than a year and a half on a video game for I-Phones called MUSE. It’s a shoot-em up game where the player does battle with a creepy looking villain named Psychosis!"

Shadie El-Hadad: "The main highlight – the driving force of the entire game pretty much is our ‘combo scoring system.’  It allows players to score as they destroy environment objects and kill enemies."
And there’s an “adrenalin mode” that helps you pile up even more points. The Lab Rats met at Wake Tech Community College in the Gaming Simulation Development Program.  El-Hadad says they’ve been running on adrenalin ever since.

Shadie El-Hadad: "We’re all working second jobs. We had been for a year and a half, seven days a week to get this done."

Lab Rats submitted MUSE to Apple earlier this month.  El-Hadad says they’re hoping this will be a big week for them at the App Store after all those I-Phones and I-Pods get unwrapped on Christmas morning. Cindy Foster is rooting for them too. The Lab Rats got their start in Foster’s Simulation and Game Development Department at Wake Tech.

Cindy Foster: "We’re so excited for them we can’t we can’t hardly stand ourselves we’re so excited."

Foster says with the help of a big grant from the National Science Foundation, Wake Tech developed a program to help feed a growing gaming industry. Foster says there were four students in their first graduating class in 2008. Today there are 500 students taking classes in the program.

Cindy Foster: "We have students that are straight out of high school. We have students that already have a Bachelors Degree. We have students that are coming back and re-tooling. They’re tired of doing what they’re doing and they might be in their 30s."

When the Lab Rats left Wake Tech – they came to the American Underground in downtown Durham to work alongside a half dozen other video game teams at Joy-Stick Labs.  John Austin is the Managing Director.

John Austin: "Just having everybody kind of in this space working elbow to elbow, and side by side, even though they are different studios, is kind of a little bit of a friendly competition that kind of goes on.  Everybody is being creative and asking questions of each other so it makes for a good environment to get some game development done."

The Triangle is now considered one of the top 10 spots for game development in the country. And Austin says he’s optimistic, even more growth is on the horizon. That’s why he helped found the Triangle Gaming Initiative with Alexander Macris. He’s C-E-O of Themis Media which runs the video gaming website – The Escapist. Right now, Macris says the gaming industry is like the Wild West – steadily evolving – like Cary-based Epic Games with its mighty “Gears of War” series.

Alexander Macris: “Epic has right now one of the best-selling I-Phone games in history and one of the best-selling X-Box Live Arcade games in history and one of the best selling X-Box Games in history.  So in a sense, they have become a multi-platform company even while staying true to their core roots. That’s really exciting to have such a leader here in the Triangle."

There’s also Insomniac Studio, based in Durham.
That’s the “Ratchet and Clank – All 4 One” game. Chad Dezern is the studio director at Insomniac. His crew moved here from Burbank, California in 2009.

Chad Dezern: "So we started out with just 4 of us sitting in a tiny little room, trying to get everything up and running. We’re at 35 now in the office, looking to add some more."

Dezern’s company is one of about 30 game development companies in the Triangle. They’re all hoping to develop the next big hit that shows up on every kid’s Christmas wish list.