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Apr 23 2012
By: Zookey PlayStation MVP 176 posts
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***4/21 Blog Post Winner - Gaming Against The Odds***

13 replies 260 views Edited Apr 23, 2012

Hello! My name is Josh Hughes, I'm 28 years old and Lead Game Designer of Team KAIZEN (http://www.teamkaizengames.com), an indie start up studio that wants to develop for PlayStation. PlayStation has been a big part of our lives for sometime. See, in Kindergarten, my teacher recommended a NES for my hand-eye coordiniation. By 3rd grade I went up to my mother and told her my future was going to involve game design.

I had just hit 6th grade in 1995. My NES took it's last breath and I was devistated. I went upstairs in a mild depression and turned on the TV, only to be rocked by one of the U R NOT E commercials. I sure as heck wasn't depressed anymore, I wanted a PlayStation! I excitedly explained this to my mom, whom I had to then convince a 'PlayStation' wasn't some sort of PlaySkool product (like those mini kitchen sets for kids). The PlayStation was set launch in early September, and September 30th is my birthday so it seemed to work out great. By September 28th, I knew I was getting one because Mom flat out told me, "Oh, by the way, while you were at school we checked out your birthday present to see what it was, that PlayStation thing is pretty cool!". I still have the black CD titled 'Hear It Now, Play It Later' that features 'Up & Coming Sony Bands Like Korn' and has PlayStation tech demos loaded on it!

Throughout middle and high school my love of PlayStation only deepened. I annoyed a kid in my social studies class sophomore year by reminding him every day for 2 months how many days away from the PlayStation 2 launch we were, and I skipped school (with permission even ;-)) launch day to go grab the PS2 we had reserved and paid off.

I graduated in 2002, and a few months later our lives took a crazy turn. My brother, Trevor, had just entered 7th grade, and his friend pressured him to try out for football. After failing the physical 3 times with extremely high blood pressure, we got an emergency call from doctors: he had to be on high blood pressure meds ASAP and was rushed into surgery. We found out he had a bladder problem where he wasn't emptying all the way. His bladder had ballooned to 9 times the size it should be for a kid his age and backed urine up into his kidneys, which were already almost poisoned to death. Many surgeries were to come (as of Spring 2012, over 50--including having his completely non-functioning kidney removed over Christmas 2011, as well as a surgery that enabled him to urinate out of his belly button--he once had 50 kids at the skate park lined up for a demonstration!), and transplant is the future.

Our relationship with our father was already strained, and this sent it over the edge. In late 2002, he told Trevor to his face he didn't want the bills of a sick child, so Mom made good on a threat she made earlier and divorced him. He took the family van and moved down south. Once he was gone, we found out he had refininaced the house several times behind Mom's back and amassed a $180,000.00 debt--and the debtors were calling. They couldn't get ahold of him, so it fell on our heads. By early 2003 (roughly 6 months after I graduated high school), we had to go bankrupt and lost everything. We lost our house, the car Mom bought to repalce the van our father took and we had to move in with Mom's parents. It's hard to convey how hard this time period was, we weren't sure how to cope!

I worked 2.5 years at a call center (if you ever hear, 'Your Call May Be Monitored For Quality Assurance', I was the dude monitoring and grading it like a test) to try and help make ends meet. Mom had worked in a group home for 18 years, but Trev's pediatrician told Mom that, if she wanted to save Trev, she should quit her job to make sure we could get on Medicaid since, once he was on it, it would carry him all the way through transplant. So, she quit her job, got Trev on Medicaid and worked odds and ends jobs, all the while making sure to never work enough to endanger his Medicaid. Throughout these years, there were countless surgeries. We became known at the hospital because, every surgery, we'd bring up a TV and the PS2 (and, eventually, the PS3) and create an entire entertainment set up so Trev's stay would be better. This tradition started in 2002 on the PS2 with Kingdom Hearts and, most recently, continued over his hospital stay on Christmas 2011, where we spent the entire time working on a LittleBigPlanet 2 level called Starhawk: The Ride (LBP.me link http://lbp.me/v/8rb1h3). Trev is now officially on the transplant list (which means transplant will happen within 2 years) and started dialysis 3 times a week in January to prep for it. During his 4 hour dialysis appointments, he brought his PS3 along until the Vita came out. Now, his Vita keeps him company as he plays games and watches Netflix!

Anyways, during one of these surgeries, Mom and I were in the waiting room (this was roughly 2005). I finally told her that normal wasn't working for us, so we had to try something crazy. Crazy meant taking our love of video games and using it to take our lives back. This meant starting a studio and working to become an investment ready business. Trev and I had already started our company, Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company (pronounced like Attitudes), which we were using to host substance free techno raves and sell T-Shirts with our insane sense of humor on them. We dreamed for a while of starting a game studio, and we felt the time had come to stop dreaming and start doing--Team KAIZEN (Add-A-Tudez's first game studio) was born!

The Great Falls Development Authority (we're based out of Great Falls, MT) found out about us and made contact. They told us, if we were serious and willing to work hard, they'd take us under their wing and train us on how to become investment ready. They taught us how to be business people and network and push ourselves--they were AMAZING!

For brevity sake, I'm cutting out huge chunks of the story. For those of you wondering, whenever you hear about an 'overnight success', people are just saying that because they heard of such and such studio or celebrity this morning. They didn't hear about the 5-6 years of ultra-hard work that went into making it!

Anyways, we got a team together and started working on our dream project. A fighting game called Shattered Soul that brings back the beautiful insanity of 90's PlayStation fighters like Bloody Roar 2 and Battle Arena Toshinden. We had a lot of bumps in the road and learned a lot, and we're currently building a tech demo (pitchable to publishers/investors mini version of your game) of Shattered Soul in Unreal 3 via the UDK program. The tech demo will soon be ready to show off to the world, we're currently entering animation stage right now!

Also, in 2010, Sony and a group called HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory http://www.hastac.org) put a call on the PS Blog asking for people to make LittleBigPlanet levels that could teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I'm a LBP and ride/roller coaster fanatic. I'm always building rides in LBP and, at the time, had a bunch I hadn't posted yet. So, I posted them in a straight line on top of a wooden board with water underneath (water pack had just came out and I wanted the trophy!) and called it Discovery Pier. I put a guy I named Planks and his ride attendants who explained everything from gravity to Kinetic and Potential energy. I thought I bombed, but I didn't care because I had fun! A few weeks went by and I got an email stating I was a finalist, which was cool. 2 weeks later, I got the shock of my life. I was a grand prize winner and Trev and I needed to be in New York City in a few weeks so Aneesh Chopra, the Technology Officer for the Obama Administration, could announce to the world that we were being given a $40,000.00 HASTAC and MacArthur Foundation Grant to take Discovery Pier and turn it into an entire LittleBigPlanet 2 level pack.

We developed the level pack (paid to make 10, delivered 15 level linked in a free flowing way we pitch as LBP's first true Amusement Park) and launched it right before E3 2011. You can queue up the first level at http://lbp.me/v/0s-btf and the rest is linked from there! It was awesome to really work on our idea and make it sing, and it was unbelievable to work with local actor Richard Dunbar to take Planks from the non-moving carricature he was in Discovery Pier and turn him into a animated, voiced character. I remember being so inspired, watching the live stream of GDC that year Phil Harrison revealed LBP. When he said that tomorrow's game designers would get their first taste of game design fame in LBP, I had no idea my crew and I would be some of the first proofs of that concept! It was humbling and an adrenaline rush all at the same time!

As word of our LBP2 pack spread, we got asked to speak to groups like a STEM forum hosted by the Montana OPI (Office of Public Instruction, basically our State's Department of Education) and, this week (March 8th) we're speaking at the University of Montana in Missoula on how games and learning can meet! (This will be live streamed on our site www.teamkaizengames.com). At the STEM Forum, Great Falls Public Schools representatives were present and were excited people were doing game design in our city. We talked with them at length and this turned into several initiatives. First of all, we will be having a booth at the 2012 STEM Expo here in Great Falls where we will walk kids through the basics of game design--plans aren't firm yet but we may also be doing a floor demonstration explaining the basics of motion capture using PlayStation Move and LBP2!

Also, Sunnyside Elementary here in Great Falls had a very ambitious plan! They asked us if we'd be willing to work with them to create a test group for a new club they're calling LittleBigPlanet Club. See, with LBP Club, kids learn normal STEM and History topics most of the week. 2 days a week, a few hours are set aside where they learn game design in LBP and learn how to take what they're learning in school and repurpose the knowledge for gaming. We're currently working with a test group of 8 kids (4 boys, 4 girls from grades 4-6 and split into 2 teams) and each team is building 1 level to educate their peers. The entire game design process is implemented as kids have to do research, testing, programming, art design, game design and will also (probably next month) start bringing in peers who have never seen the levels for mini focus group tests to refine their skills. The levels will be published online next month and officially unveiled by the kids at the STEM Expo. You can see a news piece on LBP Club at http://www.krtv.com/news/great-falls-game-company-helps-with-stem-education/ (by KRTV, from December when we were just starting) and http://www.kfbb.com/news/local/Gaming-to-Learn-Little-Big-Club-Planet-Showcases-Big-Talent-139074504... (From KFBB, last month when the kids were actually building their own levels).

The kids have been amazing. Trev and I are only helping with stuff that'd take 2-3 years of experience or more (for instance, one team wanted a fully working roller coaster--which is a huge undertaking in LBP--so I built the basic pieces and they're doing the art and context on top of it)--but still these kids are building like they've had atleast 1 year experience in LBP as opposed to starting in December. They (of their own accord WITHOUT teacher prodding) asked the school if they could use school computers to build a shared knowledge database to make their levels more STEM and Historically accurate--the teachers nearly hit the floor! Other groups (like VisionNet, a group that does high definition video chatting for classrooms) have gotten involved with the goal of seeking grants to grow LBP Club to a state wide initiative and, hopefully, even national beyond that. I am going to do a separate entry for LBP Club and talk more about it there!

Since we got involved in STEM so much, we realized that there should be a new classification of game. See, most games are made today in a false paradigm of 'If you're educational, you're in the classroom only'. We think there can be games that naturally implement STEM without alienating normal gamers or coming off as corny. So, we're (on top of EVERYTHING else we're doing!) trying to push this new approach of what we call 'educational lite' games that have STEM influences but are built for the normal game industry market. (we're not against educational in-the-classroom games, we just feel there needs to be more than that). On that front, we've worked with VisionNet and PolyCom (the provider of their cameras) to seek Department of Education grants to fund a game along these lines.

Another 'educational lite' game we're working on (and actually running a Kickstarter on--check it out! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gfgames/burst-the-indie-rhythm-game-for-indie-unsigned-mus) is called Burst!. Burst! has 2 goals: to be the indie rhythm game for indie musicians and also show how STEM can be naturally mixed into a game.

On the indie musician side, Burst! already feautres some indie talent (including North Central Montana rockers M-79, who re-recorded their song Bad Battery Door Burst! Remix for us--you can download the Burst! remix of the song at http://www.teamkaizengames.com/m-79). We aim to, in the final version, have a web tool where indie musicians can upload their music and add the beats players need to respond to (basically making their own DLC). We've reached out to indie acts and venues in the area and they all seem excited about it and want to work with us to make Burst! happen one way or the other!

On the STEM side, Burst! is all about having players detonate fireworks to the beat of the music. As they progress, they unlock elements off of the Periodic Table to increase their color palate (this is how real fireworks get their colors). This way, STEM is naturally included in the gameplay in a way that engages and educates gamers, but doesn't beat them over the head with it! We also allow people to design their own Special Shell that detonates in the sky when they're rocking it. To design it, they actually go to a work bench with a shell cut in half and place the stars (in this context, 'stars' doesn't mean the shape but rather balls of black powder and Periodic Table elements) in the firework to create their design--actively experimenting with chemistry and pyrotechnics in a way that won't blow the house apart!

We're aiming to build the final version of Burst! in Unreal 3 and are REALLY hoping we can find a way to do it on Vita! For now though, we made a Flash based proof of concept you can check out at http://teamkaizengames.com/games/burst-web-edition-full/ --please let us know what you think!

So yeah, it's been a long road (and, like I said, for brevity sake I cut out huge chunks of the story!)---our lives have been very crazy! One constant that's been by our side the whole time is our love of gaming, game design and PlayStation. Whether it was opening my imagination in middle school, helping Trev soldier through a barrage of hospital stays and dialysis or going into our present where we're now working with kids in LittleBigPlanet 2; we've seen the real power of gaming and it has been nothing short of awesome to experience it so many times on the PlayStation brand! Consider us fans for life!

Josh Hughes, Trevor Hughes and the Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company // Team KAIZEN Crew!

Check out my independent game studio, Team KAIZEN @ www.teamkaizengames.com

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Mar 6, 2012

Shout out to a fellow Montanan!!! Keep up the good work sir.

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Mar 6, 2012

Keep up the good work sir!

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PlayStation MVP
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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Mar 6, 2012

Thank you!

@Packers hello from a fellow Montanan ;-)

Check out my independent game studio, Team KAIZEN @ www.teamkaizengames.com

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Mar 7, 2012

Nice post! but iwayyy too long! =) Although I did up the character limit to 5,000 this one clocks in at about 12,000 characters.

I like the story, but I need your help in slimming it down. Ask yourself what's really crucial for the audience to know. What's realy the key element of the story you want to tell and hone in on that. The blog audience will thank you for it =)

- morgan haro, SCEA PlayStation Community Management Team
@morganharo


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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Mar 9, 2012

LOL cool cool! Here's a re-write that clocks in at 4,999 characters--let me know if this is good!

Hi. My name is Josh Hughes and I’m 28 years old and hail from Great Falls, Montana. I have been fascinated by video games since Kindergarten, when my teacher prescribed a NES for my hand eye coordination. By 3rd grade, I had told my mom my future would involve game design.

By Middle School, my NES took it’s last breath. Ironically, this was the same week that I saw the U R NOT E commercials, the PlayStation was just about to launch stateside mere weeks before my birthday so I begged my parents for one.

I got a launch unit for my birthday and became even more fanatical for games. Through PlayStation I got to play a wide range of titles and experience games from all sorts of angles! My brother (Trevor, 6 years younger) got into it as well--sneaking friends into my room to play Crash when I wasn’t looking!

I even was allowed by our mother to take the day off of school my sophomore year when the PlayStation 2 launched so I could pick up the PS2 we had paid off months before! The more we played, the more Trev and I didn’t just enjoy games more--the more we fell in love with it as an art form and a way to connect with people.

In 2002, I had just graduated High School (Trev was entering 7th grade) and our lives got turned upside down. Trev’s friend pressured him to try out for football and, after failing 3 physicals, Trev was rushed into emergency surgery. It was found out he had genetic bladder and kidney problems, his kidneys were nearly poisoned to death already! Many surgeries were to come (as of Spring 2012, he’s over 50--including one early on enabling him to urinate out of his belly button and, over Christmas 2011, he was in the hospital to have his non-working kidney removed) and transplant was in the future. (Spring 2012 he’s officially on the list, so within 2 years he’ll have a new kidney).

Our father didn’t like this at all. He told Trev he didn’t want the bills of a sick child so he took the family van and moved down south. Once he was gone, we found out he refinanced the house several times behind Mom’s back and amassed a $180,000.00 debt. We had to go bankrupt and lost everything--our house, the car Mom bought to replace the van and our credit ratings--and had to move in with Mom’s parents. This was all within 6-7 months of me graduating high school.

Through out this entire time, Trev had many surgeries. To make it easier, we’d always bring his PS2 (and, eventually, PS3) to the hospital and make an entertainment center around him. No matter the apocalypse going on in our lives, we could turn to our beloved art form for comfort and escape! Trev’s now in roughly 2 years of dialysis leading up to the transplant, and always brings his Vita to pass the time!

After 2.5 years of working a dead end job to help make ends meet, I had a conversation with Mom in the waiting room during one of Trev’s surgeries. I told her normal wasn’t working for us--we had to try crazy. Crazy meant taking our passion of game design and using it to take our lives back and dominate. Trev and I had already started Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company and were using our company to do T-Shirts and substance free raves--now was the time to open up a video game studio. Team KAIZEN www.teamkaizengames.com was born!

The Great Falls Development Authority found out about us and took us under their wing, teaching us how to present and be an investment ready business.

We started development on Shattered Soul, a 3D fighting game meant to bring back the insanity of 90’s fighters like Bloody Roar and Toshinden. We’ve had some bumps in the road, but now are working on a tech demo in Unreal 3 with plans to show it very soon!

Also, Team KAIZEN was awarded a grant from HASTAC and The MacArthur Foundation to develop a LittleBigPlanet 2 level pack that teaches STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through rides and coasters. This was our first paid gig and anybody can queue up the first level at http://lbp.me/v/0s-btf.

Thanks to our work on LBP, other groups wanted to work with us to mix games and education.

We now are also working with Great Falls Public Schools on LittleBigPlanet Clubs. Currently in a test phase, LBP Clubs are where kids learn their normal curriculum most of the week. However, on 2 days, they’re pulled out to learn game design from Trev and I and they are working to build LBP levels to educate their peers on STEM and History. The levels will be debuted at April’s STEM Expo here in Great Falls!

We’re also working on a game called Burst!. Burst! is meant to be the indie rhythm game for indie musicians. We built a tech demo of it in Flash (which you can play on our site) and are running a Kickstarter to get funding for an Unreal 3 version (http://kck.st/zgtHhu). Our hope is to make Burst! for PlayStation!

Whether it’s comforting my family during chaos, keeping Trev company during dialysis or educating kids in LBP Club, we’ve seen the power of gaming! It’s been a lifelong pleasure to see it on PlayStation, consider us lifelong fans!

Check out my independent game studio, Team KAIZEN @ www.teamkaizengames.com

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Mar 20, 2012

Just adding another reply to post that we've made a video about what it's like being an indie start up studio and dealing with the day to day of Trev's doctor stuff:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tma4iZYdiJA

Let us know what you think everyone!

Check out my independent game studio, Team KAIZEN @ www.teamkaizengames.com

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Apr 7, 2012

Hey Morgan! Just wanted to add an update to our story in case it gets selected.

The Kickstarter for Burst! is no longer live, however we've teamed up with a local performance venue for independent musicians called the 406 Club to bootstrap the development of Burst!. We hope to have it showable to the public by April 21st and aim to have it installed on our phones at E3 so we can show it to whoever is interested!

Josh

Check out my independent game studio, Team KAIZEN @ www.teamkaizengames.com

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Apr 9, 2012

Amazing Story Josh! This is what true inspiration is born from It sadend me almost to the point of tears at work to read the beginning of your story but I found so much joy in your outlook and expression of what you and your brother have been able to achieve. I will be booting up LBP tonight with my 4 year old son to enjoy what you have created and I will definatly be looking into what you guys are working on. Keep us posted on what comes out of your development efforts I'd love to see one of your games on PSN some day!

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Re: Gaming Against The Odds

Apr 9, 2012

Wow thank you very much for the kind words! Please let me know what you think of our LBP pack! On top of Discovery Inc (by TK-Crew, our crew name) we also did a Starhawk tribute level at  http://lbp.me/v/8rb1h3 (if you watch our In the Game video part of it is a 'making of' feature of the level).

Thanks again and I'll keep everyone posted! We'd love to have one of our games hit PSN!

Check out my independent game studio, Team KAIZEN @ www.teamkaizengames.com

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