Dan Maas, my best friend and partner. We ever co-work in Digimax on Quantum Quest. He is a RenderMan expert with excellent animation experience and knowledge. Last year, just after he graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business, he was planning his next business. It turns out in this year, 2012, that he succefully co-founded another company, SpinPunch.
The following is my casual interview with Dan, about his idea behind, the new company, the ‘Starcraft in million browsers’ and his vision for future gaming. Enjoy it :)
Q. Please introduce yourself and the company, SpinPunch.
I’m Dan Maas, best known as an Emmy Award-winning 3D animator and computer graphics artist from projects like Disney’s “Roving Mars” IMAX film and Digimax’s “Quantum Quest”. After over ten years in computer animation, I am now entering the video game industry as co-founder of SpinPunch, along with my co-founder Ian Tien, who is an ex-Microsoft program manager.
We started SpinPunch to take web-browser-based gaming to a new level. We saw an opportunity to deliver very high-end game experiences (like StarCraft and World of Warcraft) within ordinary web browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 9, without using any plugins or downloaded software. This brings high-quality, engaging games to new audiences who can access them with a single mouse click on any platform.
Q. Let’s talk about your 1st product, Mars Frontier. I like to know more about this game, the idea, story and design behind. Please show us with this great game :)
Check it out at http://www.marsfrontier.com/ :)
We wanted to design a free-to-play game using all the latest web browser and Facebook platform technology, but also to deliver a complex, strategic gameplay experience. When gamers click in to play Mars Frontier, they will discover a serious console/desktop quality game, very different from the “casual” games that are currently popular on Facebook.
The idea came from our enjoyment of older RTS games like Command and Conquer and StarCraft, and my own background working on animations of Mars for NASA space missions.
The concept of Mars Frontier is about surviving in a hostile environment. You begin with a damaged base and few units. Over time you must collect resources to improve your bases, while defending against attacks by robotic and human players. The game offers both PvE content, like sequences of difficult AI bases to conquer, and PvP content, like leaderboards with weekly champions. We are developing and adding new content to the game on a regular basis.
Q. Can you share us the current statistics of players’ info in Mars Frontier, and what’s your vision (next step) for that?
We have over 100,000 players, some of whom spend more than 500 hours in game! It’s very exciting to deploy new code and immediately watch thousands of players interact with it. We also have seen users form their own “alliances” to cooperate with each other, with military rank structures and everything!
Our next steps are to continue improving Mars Frontier with more features (especially over the next few weeks!) and starting work on our second game title…
Q. One last question for this interview. Please proudly introduce us your team, the talents behind the scenes. I think we are also interested to know your experience from film industry into game industry. What you got benefits you a lot in this new startup?
Joining me in this startup is my co-founder Ian Tien. We met as students at Stanford’s business school. Ian’s background is in consumer web services and enterprise software; he was a successful product manager at Microsoft and an on-line video startup before co-founding SpinPunch with me. Ian manages our strategy, finances, fundraising, marketing, and HR, and works with me on game design. I concentrate on coding, including everything from the storage back-end to the client combat and graphics engines, plus our analytics tools. We also have a team of contractors, including 3D modelers, voice actors, level designers, and data analysts who help build our games.
A LOT of knowledge carries over from film animation to gaming. We built our 3D art pipeline based on code I wrote to produce IMAX animation. With one automated script we animate, light, and render 3D models from Maya to RenderMan, applying many different conditions to generate the thousands of sprite images that are used in Mars Frontier. Aside from the pipeline, we also use a 3D particle system in the browser code to render lasers and explosions. I’m sure we will be adding even more sophisticated graphics techniques in the future!
Dan on the left with Buzz Lightyear while I’m on the right with Woody.