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Business

For Techtonic Games of Santa Barbara, Video-Game Development Is Serious Fun

Uncle-nephew duo recruit a 'dream team' with plans to release the startup's first game in September

Leif Dahl always had a plan in mind, but his uncle transformed the plan into Dahl’s dream with Techtonic Games.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Dahl, producer and art director for Techtonic Games. “I always wanted to be in this exact position I’m in now.”

Techtonic Games is a new video game developer founded by Peter Dahl and his nephew, Leif, about three months ago that creates games for the major gaming platforms and mobile devices.

Peter Dahl is an entrepreneur who built a manufacturing business for the defense industry in the Bay Area called dB Control that was purchased by Heico Corp. After selling the company, he began brainstorming with his nephew, who graduated from California State University at Chico with a degree in video game development.

“I was talking with him at a big trade show in San Francisco where he was working, we got to chatting and talked about the outstanding group of distilled people who he graduated with five years ago,” Peter Dahl said.

The Chico State program allows students to focus on all fields of game development, from 3D modeling to lighting and animation.

“Everyone is forced to dabble in all those fields, which prepares them well, but the best part is learning to work on a team, which is huge when you’re working on a game,” Leif Dahl said.

That’s where he picked the cream of the crop to join his team of 10 to develop video games. It’s a goal the 20-something had been shooting for his entire life; he just didn’t think he would get there so quickly.

“I thought I would have to spend 15 years building up the money and contacts, but Peter lifted us to this spot,” Leif Dahl said.

“This is a dream come true for them,” Peter Dahl said, “and a tough market, even though the game industry is robust and big.”

He added that it’s bigger than the movie industry, raking in about $70 billion a year because it appeals to all age groups and skill levels, but there aren’t many independent video game developers in Santa Barbara.

Techtonic Games employee Laura Jolly creates a 3D model for a video game.
Techtonic Games employee Laura Jolly creates a 3D model for a video game. (Nick St.Oegger / Noozhawk photo)

“It seems to me there should’ve been more (gaming companies) started here,” Peter Dahl said. “There are big groups like Electronic Arts, and a lot of the smaller companies that had some success and were gobbled up by bigger companies as a means of control.”

Techtonic Games will create games for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo platforms as well as mobile devices — from scratch. It will sell the first game it is working on digitally, through marketplaces such as Steam.

“With our man hours, the scope of the game can’t be massive like World of Warcraft,” said Leif Dahl, who plans to launch the first game in September. “Our content has to be smaller. Gamers have short attention spans, so we will crank out small games.”

Before developing, the team had to map out the blueprint in pre-production, deciding how the game would look and operate and who they would want to sell it to and on what platform.

When development starts, an art team analyzes and creates the aesthetics of each level and character to ensure everything is seamless and pleases the eye. Then there are modelers who create the characters and animation, and level designers who put the pieces of each level together. Finally, there are the programmers who make sure everything works in regards to the code.

“We put together a dream team. It’s amazing how fast and quick we can work together when we’re not held back by students who are learning,” Leif Dahl said. “The days go by really quick because everyone loves what they are doing, everyone is passionate and that’s what will keep us afloat.”

He said the key to most games is repeat play. Each user needs accomplishments that will progress the game to maintain his or her interest.

“It has to have a fun mechanic that has high replay ability that gives a lot of feedback to the player,” Leif Dahl said.

The video game development field is expanding. Leif Dahl graduated with hundreds of peers in a concentration that’s available at UCSB.

“A lot the gaming world growth has to do with the growing technology and advancement of computers,” he said. “With a little extra time we can put together a game to compete with big companies with a staff of 200 people.”

The team’s home is a third-floor penthouse office at 3760 State St. It features a large open area with glass walls, expansive views and a wrap-around deck that used to house Automotive Lease Guide about a year ago.

“Wide open space is becoming more attractive to those type of companies,” said Liam Murphy of Hayes Commercial Group, pointing to Kevin O’Connor and FindTheBest.com as a good example of a company with a wide-open floor plan. “They value collaboration and communication more than this private, executive-style hideaways. Their teams try to be really open and energizing and try to get that out in their products.”

Startups that once would do business from a garage or living room are starting to build their confidence and invest in buildings, according to Murphy.

“This bodes well for businesses and property owners and is an indication that things are starting to pick up,” he said. “Commercial real estate generally lags the rest of the economy, but now people are starting to make big commitments.”

“We’ve all played games our entire life. We are paying attention to what’s fun and what people want,” Leif Dahl said. “We will try to appeal to any player, and our passion for games will come through.”

Noozhawk business writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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