Five years ago, Kedar Shashidhar ’15 had no clue what he would be doing after graduation. Since then, he has founded his own indie game studio and become an entrepreneur.
Why only focus on sound, when video games are all the rage?
“That’s never really been done before.” said Shashidhar, who is in the KEY program after graduating last spring. “I want to create a pure compelling experience that can be even deeper without any visual assistance.”
Since pure audio games are rare in the game industry, Shashidhar thinks it is worth trying out. The audio and music engineering major and his team of 12 named their studio Blackout Games, and aim to get a wide demographic involved—visually impaired, mid-core gamers and more. All the ambient sound and effects are based on the narrative story, and gamers will be actively involved in this immersive environment.
The idea of making an audio game was inspired by his senior design project. With experience interning in the audio industry after his junior year, he was confident that he was well-prepared for the senior design. Back to school, he bumped into David Porter, who is also Audio and Music Engineering major, planning on his senior project.
“You want to make something?” Porter asked.
They put their heads together and shared a lot of information about the audio game industry. Not seeing so many well-designed audio games in the current market, they were determined to make one themselves and committed to their one-year senior design based on that.
As the first class of students in AME majors, Professor Mark Bocko from the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, was incredibly supportive and provided all relevant resources to help the students with their senior design projects. He suggested that they attend game developer conferences in order to understand what’s going on about audio game industry. With the help of Professor Bocko, they kept improving their senior project and started to think it might be possible to turn it into a startup business.
“Alright,,” they asked each other. “Are we going to continue to do this for another year? Is it gonna be a thing?”
Since graduation was drawing near, Shashidhar had a serious talk with his team. If they really wanted to turn it into a startup business instead of finishing it up as a senior project, they had a lot more to learn.
Porter was the first to say “yes”. With support from his teammates, Shashidhar started to draft the business plan and applied for the KEY program. Obviously, transferring a creative idea into a serious business not only requires a clear vision but also trivial work from attention to detail. They went through a very formal recruiting process and got their writers on board.
By the end of May 2015, they finally finished assembling the team and refined their concept of the audio game. On top of that, they also won third place in the Charles and Janet Forbes Competition, a technical business idea contest for undergraduates. This gave them the initial funding of $500 to start the business. They spent the entire summer doing pre-production like game design, prototyping and other initial work.
They went back to school with solid technical skills and knowledge, working hard on the production with high efficiency. Currently, they have a programming team, a writing team, a sound team, an individual graphic designer, an individual composer and a QA tester—a total of 12 students.
One of the difficulties they met is the lack of resources of audio game information at school.
“We have sound design, recording and other relevant courses in audio and music, but not much details were covered in its application in the game industry,” Shashidhar said.
Luckily, as KEY program members, Shashidhar had two entrepreneur advisors. Professor Bocko connected them to people working in the professional game industry. One of the advisors working for Telltale Games and Pixar has a lot of experience in writing and helped them through the creative process.
Since none of the entrepreneur advisors live in Rochester, communication was challenging.
“We kind of live on Google Hangouts.” Shashidhar said with a laugh. “We are all over the place. Our creative advisors live on the West Coast. Our composer lives in Connecticut, and our graphic designer lives in Richmond.”
Though distance communication made things a bit difficult, they still kept up good work in multiple aspects. They analyzed the 3D geometry in the computer to figure out how the sound physically acts in the space.
“A wood material with this kind of shape may have this kind of sound reflection.” Shashidhar explained.
They are trying to get the sound physically accurate so that the audio experience sounds real and vivid for the gamers.
As for the cost, Shashidhar says it is really lucky that it doesn’t cost much to make a software.
“You can technically build the game for free,” he said. “The only cost we have is the licensing fee of tools that we use to make the game when it comes out. This is set up by the game industry.”
The future plan for Blackout Games is clear. They plan to do a testing in an open house soon, and release the game in late spring.
“The game is sure to be on Steam, and will be later available in the App store because we need to design the mobile portal as well,” Shashidhar said.
As for the sustainable development for the company, Shashidhar is quite positive as well.
“If we can sustain ourselves off this game, then we will just continue to make more games,” he said. “We will also provide audio services for other indie game companies who make virtual reality.”
Even if the project does not turn out well, he still regards it as a great learning experience.
“There’s always room for us to grow individually,” Shashidhar said.