Local startup releasing first major video game

  • Mike Rutledge
  • Staff Writer
10:26 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016 Hamilton

Jay Kidd, 26, is living the dream he’s had since age 9.

Kidd owns Wraith Games, a 12-employee independent video-game-design studio based in the Hamilton Mill business incubator, which is located in Hamilton’s former municipal building.

Wraith is an 11-year-old startup that is releasing its first major game, Collapsus, in time for Christmas, with two others in the first quarter of 2017. This year, Wraith has attended 13 gaming conventions, where thousands have played the game.

Wraith Games “started when I was in high school,” Kidd said. “We were just a group of friends who decided to make some video games. We had absolutely no clue what we were doing.”

Kidd started at Fairfield High School and graduated in 2008 from the Butler Tech School for the Arts in Hamilton . Bygraduation, Wraith had about 30 “small-game prototypes that we’d worked on, that we ended up releasing online for free,” he said. “… It was a learning process.”

Kidd has lived in various Butler County communities: He lived in Oxford until age 9; then Eaton for a couple of years before moving to Fairfield, Hamilton, Liberty Twp., back to Fairfield, then Hamilton. Fortunately, he was able to live anywhere in the county while attending Butler Tech , he said. He now lives in downtown Hamilton.

“When I was still at Fairfield, I told my counselor, ‘Just put me in every single class that has the word ‘computers’ in it,’” he said. “I ended up taking some weird classes.”

Wraith started working on a game in 2008 called called Physix. It is a first-person puzzle game, which was picked up several years ago by GamePro Labs, the publishing arm of GamePro magazine. Physix was one of 10 games that GamePro would publish from among thousands of entries from independent developers. But GamePro went bankrupt after publishing only two of the 10 games. Physix was not among the two.

An earlier version of Collapsus also has won praise. Among them, it was nominated for Slide DB’s App of the Year award in the Upcoming Games category, and finished in the Top 50 overall, out of thousands that were considered. This summer, Wraith also presented Collapsus, which was a featured game, in Columbus at the Game Masters: The Exhibition.

Collapsus is a game where players win points by destroying blocks to connect four of the same kind in a row. Unlike most games of the kind, when the player turns the phone or Fire Tablet 90 degrees in either direction, or 180 degrees, the gravity of the game changes 90 degrees, or 180. Also unique: Eight players can compete simultaneously.

Ellie Punn, a U.S. journalist who writes for Northern Ireland-based Orange Bison, which writes about independent games and small game-developing studios like Wraith, said she believes Collapsus’ “‘gravity switch’ will bring some intensity to the gameplay.”

“Personally,” Punn said, “I think the 8-person-versus mode will be really interesting to try out. Most puzzle games only have a 2 person versus mode I’m looking forward to seeing how that will play out.”

Collapsus will be available not only for iOS, Android, Fire Tablet, Windows phone, Mac, Linux, PC and the Web, but also on Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS platforms, selling for about 99 cents on each.

Wraith passed the exacting process to be a licensed Nintendo developer, which Kidd calls “kind-of the single biggest moment of my career, because when I was 9, I was just sitting there playing Nintendo games. I was playing on the Super Nintendo, playing Mario World, and I’m like, ‘This is what I want to do for a living,’ not knowing anything that would entail. I just knew that video games were Nintendo, and I wanted to be on Nintendo.”

Other projects Wraith is working on include:

Physix, which is being recreated as a fully virtual-reality experience, which recently was demonstrated at Pandoracon in Cincinnati;

A “very zany” eight-player fighting game called Burst Lancer, featuring knight with drill lances, with rockets attached to them;

Another game called Jet Pack Hero;

A game called Meelo’s Big Adventure;

“Aaaah! A Giant Frekin’ Caveworm … Run,” in which a giant worm chases players through tunnels; and

An untitled horror project for virtual reality.

“The prototype I made of Collapsus was for my mom,” Kidd said. “I had made this, I was like 16, I had made this little puzzle game for my mom, because she was really into puzzle games, and she hated it — she absolutely hated it.”

Kidd shelved it, occasionally tweaking it through the years. He later showed it to his then-girlfriend (who now is his fiance and Wraith’s lead programmer), Kristy Iwema, who saw its promise. The rest of the team eventually took it back to the drawing board.

Wraith also made improvements to Collapsus through the years after watching gamers playing it at conventions, where thousands of people played it.

“By watching how they played, we’d be like, ‘OK, we’re going to change this,’” Kidd said. “(Players) didn’t have to tell us, because we saw how they worked it. And even though they thought they loved what they were playing, we knew we could take that feedback and make it better.”

“By the time these three past events came about, we’ve really honed Collapsus into being the best Collapsus it could be,” Kidd said.

“Recently, I actually had my mom play it again, and she loves it,” he said.

Ultimately, Kidd hopes to grow Wraith to 25 employees — no more than that — and keep it in Hamilton. After all, he says, Miami University, Shawnee State University (in Portsmouth) and Eastern Kentucky University all have schools nationally rated for game design, and rents here are much lower than the country’s major gaming hot spots.

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