[quote style=”boxed”]The single biggest thing I want to say is to those audacious enough to think they are worth something and can have an impact: YOU ARE RIGHT! You are right and don’t let others tell you different![/quote]

When Josh Hughes was in kindergarden, his teacher prescribed video games for him to help with his hand-eye coordination. Like those who experiment with illegal substances, Josh was immediately hooked. Only a few short years later (while still in grade school), Josh informed his mother that he knew his life was going to involve game development. In middle school, Josh was crying his eyes out to the infamous “Aerith Death Scene” in Final Fantasy 7; amazed by how a fantasy story could have a real effect on human emotion, Josh knew from that point on that he wanted to be a writer.

While a high school junior, Josh joined the XrucifiX game studio (then named “Two Guys Software”) and helped pen the basic plotline and characters for their first game, “Eternal War Shadows of Light”; that game received much praise in the independent, Christian-video game circles and was even featured in such news outlets as the Wall Street Journal. While helping XrucifiX with their second title, Josh left on friendly terms to start Team KAIZEN along with his brother, Trevor. While still In High School, Josh wrote for the school paper and garnered several State and National accolades for articles ranging from his monthly Game Review column to social issues examining opinions and views.

In his spare time Josh plays video games, writes story-lines and song lyrics, enjoys getting into discussions involving history and religion, and playing hackey-sack.

What are you working on right now?

We are working on several projects. Probably our biggest one is Shattered Soul, an Unreal 3 powered fighting game. Shattered Soul aims to take the best of RPG style story telling and mix it with the over the top playing mechanics and antics of fighting games from the 1990’s (i.e. jumping several stories in the air, fireballs and over the top battles). The final game will have lots of story telling, several arenas and over 20 characters. Right now, however, we are making a tech demo (basically the game industry version of a pitch) that will be 1 arena and 2 fighters. We hope to have it basically playable by Christmas and pitch-ready for publishers and investors by early 2012.

On the mobile side we currently have two projects. First, we have released the early beta (beta means a version that is in need of a lot of fixes and content additions) to our rhythm game Burst! for free on the Android Market (link: https://market.android.com/details?id=air.com.aecmobile.burst). Burst! is meant to enable players to experience the thrill of conducting a pyrotechnic firework show to music, and also has the goal of supporting indie artists who would not normally be featured in a rhythm game. The first two songs are Haya’s Theme by John Secolo (one of our sound guys, he did this song for Shattered Soul) and Bad Battery Door Burst Remix by Great Falls, MT based M-79 (the M-79 guys were kind enough to re-record the entire song for us and add a special breakdown!). We have additional songs on the way from several other indie artists including DJ Bonseye from Nova Scotia, Canada and several North Central Montana acts including Steve Keller Band and Great Falls Symphony. Despite it being in need of many fixes and not having all the planned content yet (future updates will be adding MUCH more), we have already received a lot of good feedback on Burst! People tell us they love the gameplay and concept, they just want to see more. So, to that end, we have begun talking to another person to possibly bring on as a second Flash programmer to help get the content and fixes out faster. It should also be noted that Burst! is ad-supported and, as soon as we start turning a profit from enough people playing it, 1% of the revenue will be donated to the restoration of the historic 10th Street Bridge in Great Falls (you can learn more about the bridge at www.montanas-archbridge.org).

The second mobile project is for children’s book author John Honeycutt. His stories involve characters and situations that young readers can relate to but subtly teach the reader basics of Earth Science. John secured a small amount of funding so we could make a proof of concept on turning his book Stubborn Thirsty Jim into a Flash powered Android game. Stubborn Thirsty Jim details the story of a kid named Jim who’s pitcher of water is knocked over. Players would follow Jim as he uses a wide array of vehicles (including a helicopter and snowmobile) to chase the water through the cycle of evaporation, condensation and precipitation. The proof of concept is nearing completion and we were able to show an early build to a group of educators at a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math meetup in Helena (Montana’s capitol) last week and had a good response to it!

Our studio also does some work with LittleBigPlanet 2 (www.littlebigplanet.com). LittleBigPlanet (LBP) is a game by Media Molecule on Sony’s PlayStation 3 system and is built on the pillars of Play, Create and Share. As players play LBP2, they are given all the tools the developers used to make the game and are then able to create their own objects and levels to share with the world. As of Spring this year there is over 5 million user made levels that are free to play online. Our crew was one of the 2010 winners of the Digital Media Learning Competition GameChangers Category, which meant HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory www.hastac.org) and The MacArthur Foundation gave us a $40,000.00 grant to develop 10 levels in LBP2 that taught Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (S.T.E.A.M.) through the use of rides and roller coasters. We instead delivered a 15 level pack that uses LBP2’s level-linking set up to make those 15 levels feel like 1 cohesive experience. A YouTube trailer for our pack (which features voice acting by Great Falls thespian Richard Dunbar) is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HpOCF-mPDg and there is a site called LBP.me where every level of LittleBigPlanet 2 has a link–the link for our opening level is http://lbp.me/v/0s-btf (all players have to do is go there, sign in with the PlayStation Network ID and click Queue–next time they play LBP2 a reminder will pop up on screen prompting them to play).

Because of our work with LBP2, we have also been asked by several groups to work with them in regards to LBP2. This includes groups like GameDesk, a California based group who asked us to make a proof of concept of how LBP2 could be theoretically used to teach 6th grade Earth Science. We used their level in our presentation in Helena as well and got a lot of interest off of that! We also have several schools and groups in Montana talking to us about possibly helping them incorporate LBP2 into their programs.

Beyond everything I mentioned we are also working on redoing our site so it has greater community features. Also, we are applying for a government grant from the Department of Education to produce educational games and are working on sharing the art of video games–including being the community representatives for a high school senior who has made it her project to produce a video game tech demo and business pitch.

Where did the idea for Add-A-Tudes Entertainment Company come from?

Back in 2002, I had just graduated high school and Trevor (my brother and the other Co-Founder of Add-A-Tudez) was entering 7th grade. A friend pressured him to try out for football and he failed the physical three times. Then, we were told he needed to be put on high blood pressure meds and he was in emergency surgery by the end of the week. They found out he had kinked ureters (the lines that connect your kidneys to your bladder) and that his bladder was something like 9 times bigger than it should be and was backing urine up into his kidneys, which were nearly poisoned to death. He had a surgery where his appendix was removed and used to make a tube to connect his bladder to his belly button to help drain and lighten the load, and that was one of the first of what has been now 50+ surgeries with doctors saying transplant is a likely future (we just got back from Spokane for a few days of testing). During this upheaval, our father told Trevor to his face he didn’t want the bills of a sick child, so Mom divorced and our father took the family van and went down south. After he was gone, we found out he refinanced the house several times behind our mother’s back and amassed a $180,000.00 debt. We had to go bankrupt and lost everything–the car Mom bought to replace the family van and our house included. We moved in with her parents and I worked a dead end job for 2.5 years while we tried to deal with all the insanity. Then, one time when Trev was in surgery, I approached Mom. I told her normal wasn’t working for us: we had to try crazy. Crazy meant starting our own company and taking our lives back. We started by doing substance free techno raves in the area and selling T-Shirts. The Great Falls Development Authority (our local SBDC) found out about us and our secret dream: to develop video games. Long story short they reached out to us and told us that, if we were willing to work hard, they were willing to take us under their wing and train us to be business people. Now, 5 years later, we are starting to get paid contracts and are well on our way to not only taking our own lives back but reaching the bigger goal of transforming Great Falls and the North Central Montana region into the Park City of the Video Game Industry.

What does your typical day look like?

All over the place hehe! As President I work on one level or another on all our projects so one moment I am working with staffers on Shattered Soul, the next I am answering online feedback for Burst! then the next speaking with educators about LittleBigPlanet work and Stubborn Thirsty Jim. I also write the business plans and help prepare the presentations–so it’s crazy but I always say I’d rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed so I am thankful for all the opportunities that come with the craziness!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Teamwork. It takes a lot of effort to make a video game a reality, Programmers, 3D Artists, 2D Artists, Writers and many more artists have to work together and, since we are a start up, many of our staffers wear multiple hats and do roughly 90% or more of their current work on sweat equity and the promise of a future payout. I can’t put into words how grateful we are for that–it really takes a team of people who believe in the vision to make it a reality and that is one of the great things about video game development–it’s definitely a group art project!

3 trends that excite you?

+) PlayStation Vita–Sony’s up and coming handheld. I waited for 2.5 hours to play with one at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3, the industry-only trade show, we are the first Montana company to be counted as a member of the industry and allowed to go). I got to play it for 20 minutes and it was worth every minute. To me, taking traditionally ‘core’ gamer ideas (such as two thumb sticks and the use of buttons), ‘casual’ game ideas (motion sensing, dual-touch screen and front and back cameras) and new and exciting tech (GPS (rare in game systems), back touch panel and social networking (again, rare on a game system) all in one device with a gorgeous screen is a compelling argument. When I played with Vita, the gamer in me was sold but the game designer was hyperventilating–there is so much potential because of the convergence of all this tech, I really think in the right hands compelling (yet easy to play and approachable) games will be produced that could hopefully even take people who only play casual titles (like on FaceBook) and show them why us core gamers love these kinds of game so much. I can’t wait to see it in more developer’s hands and in the hands of the public at large!

+) The increased coverage and conversation surrounding educational games–As a studio, we are mainly focused on creating normal non-educational games. However, we have been approached by people in Academia asking for involvement in creating educational games, and I have seen how educational game venues like the Games for Change conference got coverage in Kotaku and other game outlets this year. What this signals to me is that more and more you’ll see parings of Academia and members of the normal game industry like us, which will combine their passion for teaching with our passion for games for an unstoppable one-two punch. This is awesome because games allow us to create worlds and experiences where important information (such as Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) is required to interact with the world and solve it’s problems. This means games could be created where gamers aren’t learning so they can regurgitate info for a test but rather actually consider their newfound knowledge and how it relates to their in-game predicament. I believe this kind of instruction will be a powerful tool. On an anecdotal side note: I still know what mitochondria are (power units of our cells) because, as I was learning about them in school, I was playing Parasite Eve, a video game where mitochondria played a major part in the story. If, just making a passing connection between games and learning in middle school enabled me to remember what mitochondria are almost 15 years later, imagine what could happen if we applied this in a more directed approach!

+) Diversity in the game industry–Throughout much of the 1990’s, stereotypes developed about video game players (prepubescent males living in parent’s basements). Now, not only is that being disproven, but more and more people are getting into video games and helping increase the spectrum of people who both enjoy and develop the art form. According the Entertainment Software Association (www.theesa.com, the leading lobby group for the game industry):
-75% of American Households play video games.
-Roughly half of America plays video games (something like 145 Million out of 300+ Million Americans).
-Of all gamers in America, 60% are over the age of 18.
-25% of all gamers are over 50
-43% of all gamers are women (adult female gamers outnumber prepubescent male gamers 2-1)
Video games are becoming more in depth, more artistic and are crossing cultural, gender and economic boundaries–it is really becoming a unifying art form and I love this because it means I have more people to talk my passion with, more customers for my studio to develop for and more developers for me to see their art. It’s a win-win-win!

What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

When we first lost everything, I worked a dead end job at a call center. When you call a place and hear, “This call may be monitored for quality assurance,” I was the dude monitoring it and grading it like a test. I learned how to conduct meetings with clients, which was very nice. I also learned how to balance client wishes with employee capabilities and needs. I also learned a lot about what business can and should do to support their employees and what responsibilities both the employee and employer need to have and live up to.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There was a group called Fortitude Entertainment Group (now disbanded) that promised us 3 million to help develop Shattered Soul. We didn’t really do anything or seek relationships with other companies because we were afraid of violating our relationship with Fortitude (despite the fact that, after asking a dozen times, we never even got a countersigned version of our contract from them). 3 years later, I found out they disbanded through a Google search. So, I wish I would have been more proactive for my company first and started seeking other solutions earlier. Now we are getting on the right track, but some times I do feel the pang of frustration wondering where we would have been had we not lost 3 years waiting on them (which we should count ourselves lucky, some people more involved lost a LOT more than we did!).

What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?

Talk to our local SBDC, The Great Falls Development Authority (who, in turn, had us read Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start). SBDCs are an invaluable resource and can help bring clarity to your goals. It WILL take a lot of blood, sweat, tears and work–so why not meet with people who can put you on the right path?!?!?!

Tell us a secret…

The reason my favorite color is green is because I liked the green ranger from Power Rangers back in the day and just never got around to picking a new favorite color…

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Idea for how to run/start a business or an actual business idea? Not sure what this means so here’s both:

Business hint:

Don’t be afraid to delegate stuff to people. Of course, if you’re the lead, keep tabs on everything but the whole idea of building a team is to get peeps aboard who are better than you at certain things–so trust them in what they’re good at!

Business idea:

Always wanted to have a store in Helena called Helena Handbasket–the marketing writes itself! We’re going to Helena Handbasket!!!

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

Guy Kawasaki’s The Art of the Start. The Great Falls Development Authority recommended it to me and it really helped me build my style in presenting and writing business plans. Guy has a great way of bringing into focus the work you need to do but making you feel empowered in the knowledge you can do it.

If you weren’t working on Add-A-Tudez, what would you be doing?

Maybe working for a video game based internet blog? When I was in high school I was a journalism nut on the school paper and loved it, but I eventually arrived at the conclusion of why cover the news when I could be making the news hehe!

Three people we should follow on Twitter, and why?

@PlayStation –they’re a great community oriented brand, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting face to face with Jeff Rubenstein (the Social Media Specialist for PlayStation) and his crew (Rey Gutierrez and Sid Shuman) several times over the past few years and it’s downright inspiring how they, and the company as a whole, has taken this whole idea that there is no such thing as non-important people. They treat all their fans as royalty and this is evident at E3–every year we go there everyone from the bottom of the totem poll people to top of the hill execs are excited to talk about their product and excited to share the information with you regardless of who you are. As far as I am concerned, they are the brand to beat.

@FakeAPStyleBook –They MAY have some NSFW content once in a while (haven’t seen any NSFW content from them yet personally though) but this is one of the funniest Twitter feeds I follow. Especially after being on a school paper and basically using the AP Styleguide as a work bible this feed is all sorts of awesome for me!

@GuyKawasaki –The guru himself! Guy posts a lot of interesting info, his feed is less about business and more about unique happenings he finds and is usually a great combo of entertaining and informative.

Of course you all will be following us on www.twitter.com/ZookeyTK right? *knowing nod and wink*

When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it.

I saw this video where this guy (allegedly) blew a fan at his dog with a helium tank running behind it. The dog was going nuts barking at the fan rapidly as his voice rose in pitch!

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

Hmm….in general more game designers but I love reading interviews/insights from people at studios like Insomniac, NaughtyDog, LightBox, Sucker Punch, Irrational Games, Media Molecule and many more (yes I’m PlayStation oriented 😛 ).

What is the single most important thing start up’s need to know in the game industry?

It isn’t important to only be able to develop a good business plan or develop a good tech demo or a good pitch. You need all three. If you can’t deliver them on your own, form a team you can. You can’t just sell your vision, you have to sell your ability to deliver it both in playable form and in presentations. I would love to see more training for people out there on this even beyond the game industry–the ability to show both vision and ability to accomplish vision is so important whether you are starting a business or seeking a promotion and many people lack the necessary skills to clear this hurdle even though they are unaware they can work on it.

What’s been the most gratifying thing about my 28 years in life so far?

That my brother and I, after losing everything, can prove that it doesn’t matter where you come from (either location or life circumstances) you can make it. The single biggest thing I want to say is to those audacious enough to think they are worth something and can have an impact: YOU ARE RIGHT! You are right and don’t let others tell you different!


www.teamkaizengames.com (Team KAIZEN, our first game studio)
www.addatudez.com (our main site for Add-A-Tudez, still under a reconstruction)
www.facebook.com/ZookeyTK (my personal FaceBook)
www.twitter.com/ZookeyTK (me on Twitter!