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On the eve of some big news for REACTOR Alum, Cascade Game Foundry (CGF), WIN sits down with Managing Director, Kathie Flood to talk about the creation of their game, Infinite Scuba® and her experiences as a new company in the Interactive Media Sector.
“What is Infinite Scuba® and why did you want to create it?”
We grew up watching Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic specials on TV as kids. Those incredible shows inspired us to learn about the ocean, to travel the world, and to study science. When we started Cascade Game Foundry, we wanted to create the modern, interactive equivalent of those specials, to help people learn about and explore the world from home.
We also wanted to show that we could use our game development skills in novel ways, to provide compelling experiences for underserved audiences. Diving is an environmentally-focused, Zen-like experience, and perhaps the closest we will ever get to being astronauts: weightless in an unknown environment with limited air and surrounded by true aliens. It turns out that space is mostly empty and the truly weird stuff is on our planet – underwater! The serenity of diving is a marked contrast to the frequently violent, adrenaline-driven or vacuous gameplay that currently dominates our industry. We respect those games, but we believe the market is big and diverse enough to accommodate more variety and should be leveraged for education. Diving is perfectly suited to expose players to scientific concepts, history, and local culture in a fun way and to demonstrate that a video game can be a force for good in the world. And diving is just the beginning for us. We designed our platform to easily be used for land-based adventures, too – bring on the world’s national parks!
“Why did you want to start your own company?”
I reached a point in my career in which I loved building games, but I wasn’t thrilled about the kind of games being buiIt. There were many, many sequels being produced by the big game publishers, who seemed reluctant to take any chances on expanding the traditional gaming audience. This seemed an odd attitude given the fact that Facebook and mobile games were rapidly increasing in popularity and proving the existence of new audiences. I have always been fascinated by the possibility of using games to teach about the real world, but I was disappointed to not find anyone actually attempting to do so, let alone with high-fidelity game assets. I knew the kind of games I wanted to build and realized that no one was going to pay me or anyone to create those games, so I decided to give it a whirl on my own with a few of my crazy, brave, like-minded friends.
“Did you have any challenges at the beginning?”
Heck, yes. I was actively discouraged by nearly everyone with whom I met in the industry. Big-budget, triple-A games are nearly always violent, first-person shooters. Just using the word ‘educational’ to describe a game was a death knell for a meeting. Simulations were ‘dead’ after Microsoft killed Flight Sim and Train Sim. Casual games can’t use high-end graphics because the business model can never support it, etc. etc. etc. I was even told in a meeting with a major publisher that our concept would never work because “women can’t navigate 3D spaces”. That was certainly a test of my limited poker face skill. There were a zillion reasons *not* to do this, but still… the concept was unusual, but cool, sound, and worthwhile. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try to make it real.
And, because I didn’t see any companies who had games I would have been excited to work on, we started building a prototype, contacting potential partners, building more proof-of-concept gameplay examples, and eventually getting far enough along that we decided to self-publish.
“How did WIN help you along the way?”
WIN helped me clarify the pieces that were missing on our team, namely business development and marketing, and begin to address those shortcomings through numerous classes, events, and connections. WIN also helped me hone my message and presentation skills in on- and off-site events, raising our visibility in the Seattle area, and enabling me to reach out effectively to all types of audiences, including traditionally non-gaming venues, like science museums, aquariums, and schools.
Working in a startup is a challenging, sometimes solitary, sometimes heartbreaking experience. WIN provided a cohort of other people working on startups who all helped each other whenever possible, provided accountability outside our own teams, and offered support and commiseration as challenges arose. Several of us remain in regular communication as we continue our journeys.
One of the things I have learned in this startup adventure is that it generally isn’t a 3- or 6-month thing – the successful ones nearly always work several years before becoming an “overnight” success. You must be dedicated and tenacious.
“Can you share with us some of Infinite Scuba’s® victories and what is on the horizon?”
There have been quite a few lately!
We just released a major update to the game that features Dr. Sylvia Earle (noted oceanographer and environmentalist) as a diver in our game and a new dive site in Belize that she selected.
This fall, we showed the game at SxSW Eco (Austin TX), Mobile Games Forum (Seattle WA), BLUE Ocean Film Festival (St. Petersburg FL), World Parks Congress (Sydney Australia), and DEMA (annual dive industry show). The game was extremely well-received and we have many follow-ups with strong potential for paying work with diverse groups in publishing, media, and environmentalism, as well as numerous national parks, protected areas, & dive industry partners.
The game is part of the Sea Monsters Revealed: Aquatic Bodies exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium. We are also talking to the Seattle Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, and National Aquarium about possible collaborations.
We are one of the first game developers for the HP Sprout.
We spoke at the Pacific Science Center’s Summer Day Camps for kids in a program on animation and video games, and we regularly speak to local schools, scout groups, and social clubs.
We are now a B Corporation whose social goal is environmental education. To support this, we make the game available free to teachers to use in the classroom. We also donate $1 of each game purchase to Mission Blue, Dr. Sylvia Earle’s non-profit, to help support their work to raise awareness of critical ocean issues.
We have over 80K downloads of our game on the Windows 8 Store, since launching there Summer 2014.
We were a Finalist in the prestigious Game Connection America Selected Projects competition, Spring 2014.
We are currently working on a Steam build.
Cascade Game Foundry, Corp. (CGF) is a Seattle-based video-game company composed of entertainment simulation experts from the former Aces Studio at Microsoft, one of the most critically acclaimed and most profitable studios in the history of the video-game industry. The team’s unrivaled expertise and passion for simulations and entertainment software enables them to provide breathtakingly accurate simulations for hardcore audiences, as well as compelling exploration gameplay for casual audiences.
For more information about Cascade Game Foundry, please visit http://www.cascadegamefoundry.com.
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