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October 2014 Print Issue

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The challenges and successes of an independent video
game business

KRUNCH ThumbnailThe story of how local independent game developers Michael Lohaus and Vieko Franetovic met is not a typical story.

Franetovic used to be Lohaus' boss at an advertising agency, but after a few months of working together, Franetovic made a decision.

"I fired Mike," Franetovic said.

"I fired Mike three or six months after he started working with us. His mind wasn't in the game. We had this really condescending meeting and he got canned, and then I rehired him shortly after."

Shared love of video games

After a few years of working in advertising together, Franetovic and Lohaus found krunchLocal video game developers Michael Lohaus and Vieko Franetavic are releasing their first game KRUNCH Wednesday Dec. 12.

Image courtesy of LeGrudge & Rugged
they shared a common interest in video games. It was through this common interest that both men decided to start up their own independent game developing studio, called LeGrudge & Rugged, which is based in Calgary.

"We saved up some money and then decided to go full on the game stuff," Franetovic said. "We were living off of our savings, not making any money."

Lohaus said that an occupation involving video games was something he had always wanted to do.

"I've always wanted to get in the gaming business, but I never quite knew how to get into it," Lohaus said.

"Because I didn't necessarily want to go in as an animator or just another cog in the wheel, and you can't obviously just step in to a game development job right out of school. It was kind of a cool way to just jump in and be independent because you can make your own rules at that point."

Both men have fine art degrees, but Lohaus said he and Franetovic are also self-taught in terms of video game development and design, and that they are always learning new things along the way.

First game they finished

With Franetovic in charge of design/programming and Lohaus in control of graphics/music, they were able to complete work on their first independent game called KRUNCH.

CalgaryEclectic copyThe game, which will be released on Dec. 12, is inspired by the concept of claustrophobia. Lohaus said it will be similar to older Nintendo games that were difficult and challenging, like Mega Man.

The game has been something they have been working on since it was a prototype in 2010. Lohaus said the game has likely cost them more than $250,000 to make, solely based off their time spent on the project.

Challenges of a game developer

Franetovic said there were challenges that coincided with trying to complete the game.

"Life does get in the way," Franetovic said. "I became a father and my priorities changed, so we had KRUNCH in a frozen state for a bit. But when I got back, I forgot how much fun this was, actually playing through it and hearing the music and how it changes from level to level. I didn't feel like I had enough."

Lohaus said he agreed there were certain challenges that made finishing the game harder.

"There are unique challenges with game development where if you're really focused on a project, sometimes the best thing to do is to step back and look at it from another light, which we had to do with KRUNCH numerous times," Lohaus said.

"But it was one of those things where it was hard to walk away for a week or two and come back, (it didn't) feel quite natural. You don't have a paycheque coming in otherwise, so you can't slack off. It's a bit of a balancing act, but overall it works in everyone's advantage."

Customer thoughts

Russell Phillips, a Calgary resident, has preordered KRUNCH and said via email that he is a fan of what independent game development companies, like LeGrudge & Rugged, can do that bigger developers cannot.

"I mostly have been getting into indie games because it seems to be the place for creativity and new ideas in gaming these days," Phillips said.

"Larger publishers for the most part simply don't, or can't make big risks in terms of game design that these smaller developers can.

I still find KRUNCH enjoyable to play, so I'm very happy about that and I'm just so proud of the game in general. It's a great first release for what we wanted to do.

- Michael Lohaus

Their smaller production budgets and development cycles also allow them to make more niche titles that don't require the huge sales figures to be profitable as in the traditional industry."

Phillips also said that KRUNCH caught his eye because it is targeted at indie game customers, as well as having a retro feel to it.

Proud of finally finishing

Lohaus said he feels a big sense of accomplishment for finishing the game, which he also said differs from some game developers out there.

"We've talked to a lot of game developers and I get this sense that there are some guys that just don't like to let go, and it's hard for them to even release a game, especially when they've been playing it for so long, so they
can't even stand it anymore," Lohaus said.

"I still find KRUNCH enjoyable to play, so I'm very happy about that and I'm just so proud of the game in general. It's a great first release for what we wanted to do."

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