As a child, Lester Bloom often could be found hunched over a large roll of paper drawing out new levels for the Mario video game series. He figured by the time he was an adult his levels could appear in Mario 20 or so.
Fast forward to his senior year at Gonzaga Prep, Bloom learned that a career in video games was a real possibility. And 19 years later, Bloom is set to release his first virtual reality game through his company FunnerSoft, generated, programmed and designed himself. PlanTechtor will be available for purchase Feb. 27 on steampowered.com.
The release comes after years of full-time programming work for companies such as Nintendo, Microsoft and ArenaNet while also helping to care for two children with his wife Stephanie, also a Spokane native. At the same time he was starting work on his own game.
It was around his junior year at Gonzaga Prep that he was able to talk with the brother duo Rand Miller and Robyn Miller of the company Cyan Worlds, who earned success for their game Myst developed in Spokane, when they came to give a presentation and workshop at the school.
“I learned there was an actual career,” he said. He began looking into college options for the industry and found DigiPen Institute of Technology in Seattle.
The school still was relatively new at the time, with Bloom being in only the third graduating class. But with a focus on programming and a full course load that kept him busy from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, he said the school did a good job preparing students for the industry.
At the time, Bloom said his dream was to work for Nintendo, which was the next door to neighbor to DigiPen. After months of “pestering” one of the Nintendo employees, he said, Bloom was able to land an internship that would turn into a full time position after graduation.
And so began the 12 hour work days while helping to raise a family and, on Saturdays, working on a side project to create his own game.
“There were times I would be sleeping under my desk trying to get a project done,” he said, adding that is very typical in the industry. As a programmer, Bloom said he spends his days “staring at a computer screen,” with about half of that time reading lines of code and the other half seeing if that coding worked and fixing glitches.
At the same time, Bloom also worked on a side project to one degree or another for at least 10 years, with about eight of those years strictly delegated to only Saturdays, “which proved to be very difficult.”
“It was taking forever to get moving,” he said. It was about two years ago, Bloom said, when he began to feel that he was at a crossroads both professionally and personally.
“I could just stop the side projects, but internally, I couldn’t just abandon this dream,” he said. “I had to finish at least one, but I couldn’t with the way it was going. So I doubled down.”
Rather than just Saturdays for his side project, Bloom began dedicating 24 hours a week on top of his job to the game, along with getting his contracted workers set up for the art and music aspects of the game.
Games are typically developed with a team ranging from 20 to 200 people depending on the size of the game, which includes programmers, designers, artists and a producer. For example, a game such as Halo takes hundreds, while Mario averages around 50, he said.
“They take years and a lot of money,” he said. Bloom though, is trying to find his success on a much smaller budget.
“I operate more like the Blair Witch Project,” he said, compared to big multimillion dollar blockbuster movies. “It’s all about working efficiently. How much fun can I cram into this shoestring budget?”
The game itself Bloom describes as a mix of strategic planning with intense real time action sequences with a rock’n’roll inspiration. He said players find themselves as a time traveler in a fantasy world having to protect their castle from aliens falling from above and spawning smaller ones on the ground around the player.
Players are able to access different powers and weapons over the 50 levels and use strategy level by level to battle the different kinds of aliens.
“It’s all about trying to design these crazy combos and synergies. There’s millions,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about making video games, you get to put all these wacky ideas into something.”
When the game launches Feb. 27 on steampowered.com, it will cost $14.99, although it will be at a discounted 10 percent the first week. Bloom said he needs to sell at least 11,419 copies to fund his next venture.
On a site with 90 million users, 11,419 seems like a small amount but being a virtual reality game, Bloom said the needed equipment to play the game has a big impact on his customer base. So as he prepares for the launch, he has enlisted the help of marketers with Game If You Are and spends about 20 percent of his day self-promoting.
“I spend very little on traditional media advertising and focus on social media. The way I intend to succeed is by keeping costs low,” he said. “It’s not as hard as you think to make a good game on a small budget. It’s all about making something fun.”
Hence, the name of his company – FunnerSoft. The first half inspired by the core of games, fun, and the tools to make it, software. Put together though, it is unique and in a Google search, his company is one of the only pages to pop up, he said.
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