Besides getting an in depth look at Band of Bugs, I also got to know more about Wahoo Studios and NinjaBee from an insider’s perspective. My thoughts and reflections on that perspective will be found here over the coming weeks in this multi-part series. Read on and return for more. (And I promise I haven’t forgotten about the rest of the Band of Bugs Preview!)
A few weekends ago (seems like ages already) I got to hang out with many of the people responsible for creating some of my favorite Xbox Live Arcade titles. The curtains were peeled back and I got to know the men and women behind said curtain there at Wahoo Studios in Orem, Utah.
You might not recognize the Wahoo name at first because they use the name NinjaBee for all of their independently funded projects (e.g. Outpost Kaloki X, Cloning Clyde, and soon Band of Bugs). Naming conventions aside, these are the men and women responsible for sucking up way too many hours of my life over the past year and a half. And there I was, sitting in their offices, watching the unglamorous but somehow magical process of games being created. And I couldn’t have been happier.
A little bit of background: Wahoo Studios was born, in many ways, out of the struggles of Saffire Corporation (another Utah-based video game developer). When Saffire was struggling around 2001 many employees left Saffire to find more stable work or to blaze their own paths. Among those choosing the latter was Steve Taylor, and from that decision Wahoo emerged. Of course, that decision was not without peril or struggle. But slowly and surely Wahoo (and NinjaBee) grew into what they are today.
Many other Wahoo employees have Saffire on their resume and found their way to Wahoo as an eventual result of happenstance, luck, misfortune, and/or previous working relationships. In total, Wahoo/NinjaBee employs a few dozen people in their offices in Orem.
I had never been to Utah before this trip but apparently I was missing out on the “video game capital of America“. Little did I know that there is a strong technology sector in and around Salt Lake City. And amongst all these tech companies are various video game developers, such as Wahoo.
On my first day there I was given the quick tour of their office. The space is simple and generally bare, save for the massive amounts of cabling for power and networking (go figure). The building has two floors and two large rooms in addition to the string of smaller rooms and offices along the front of the building.
In the large open room on the top floor Steve Taylor (founder and President) and Brent Fox (Art Director/Project Manager) sit at desks near each other. Their desks are right out in the open which, I think, is indicative of their desire to be extremely plugged in to the work at hand. They are not insulated from their employees; they fight the good fight alongside them.
Steve and Brent form the two-headed dragon that drives their projects forward: Steve primarily on the programming side and Brent on the art side. And it’s a formula that seems to bear fruit. But one cannot (and should not) exclude Lane Kiriyama from this image. Lane serves as the CFO for Wahoo which allows Brent and Steve to stay focused on making fun games (and he’s also a super nice guy!). So, it is more like a three-headed dragon, a game-making hydra, if you will. And this Hydra has a full plate.
This is only the tip of the iceberg, so stay tuned for much, much more about Wahoo/NinjaBee’s inner workings, upcoming titles, the good, the bad, and the Zingers (Curse you guys for getting me hooked! They’ve got an SSI rating of 10).