He’s Got Game

When Tom Kudirka relaunches his video game development company, he expects to venture far beyond the first-person shooters that made his fame in the gaming universe.
And he will again unleash his secret weapon that he is certain will give him a significant edge in the industry – the quality of life in Tulsa.
Kudirka is poised to reform the magic that surrounded his first game development company, 2015 Inc. This time he has selected a name appropriate for a company headquartered in Oklahoma – Tornado Studios.
Founded in 1997, Tulsa-based 2015’s products generated more than $100 million in gross revenues.
Its PC game Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, created by Steven Spielberg, sold 3 million units and was named 2002 PC Action Game of the Year. The company’s last release, Men of Valor, was a Vietnam War-based FPS.
With new products in the development stage, Tornado Studios plans to take on an even broader section of the gaming industry by releasing its products on additional platforms, including Nintendo Wii and DS, Sony Play Station 3 and PSP and Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC-based games, said Kudirka, president.
It was the transition from the previous generation of gaming hardware that prompted the company to temporarily go dormant, he said.
At its peak, 2015 employed 44 employees in a 13,000-SF office at 8282 S. Memorial Drive.
A Nebraska transplant, Kudirka bucked the industry, which is primarily based on the West Coast, and opened his studio in Tulsa.
Kudirka, who “always had the bug to do my own thing,” worked for AT&T and Lucent Technologies for 15 years and had met the staff at ID Software, developers of the Doom, Wolfenstein and Quake games.
“They were based in Dallas, which is very strange because most video game development companies are based on the West Coast,” he said. “They were doing very well, and I thought, well, maybe I will take a shot at making video games.”
An entrepreneur at heart, Kudirka started the company with no people and no money.
“I decided I was just going to Visa and MasterCard this thing out,” he said.
Using his contacts, Kudirka assembled a team of developers from around the world. They put together a demo and presented it to publisher Activision.
“It was right when the movie “Starship Troopers” came out. We had a really cool-looking warrior bug and weapons, and Activision said ‘sure we’ll give you an opportunity to work on some small projects,’” he said. “We moved everybody to Tulsa, back when we were seven guys, and basically rented a house. The living room had PCs set up and cables running around the floor.”
2015 developed an add-on pack called “Sin: Wages of Sin” that expanded on the Activision game “Sin.”
“Word on the street was that our game was better than the original,” Kudirka said.
When entertainment mogul Steven Spielberg’s company DreamWorks Interactive called, Kudirka thought it was a prank and hung up. The first time.
DreamWorks was working on a Playstation game franchise based on the movie “Saving Private Ryan” and was looking for a team to produce a PC port.
“They had gone to the PC gaming people wanting to know who the hot kids on the block were, and they found out it was a company in Tulsa,” Kudirka said.
As 2015 started turning in work, DreamWorks was so impressed that they asked the team to produce: Allied Assault instead of a PC port.
“You can do a stand-alone game, with your own character and your own story line,” Kudirka said.
At the time, DreamWorks was selling itself to Electronic Arts, Kudirka said, which meant the game could not duplicate the movie, but the team was able to use “Private Ryan” as a reference.
“We worked very, very hard on the game,” he said. “We knew we had something that was pretty hot, we just had no idea it was going to be the success it was.”
On completion of Allied Assault, Kudirka decided to produce a game based on the Vietnam War called Men of Valor that would be his own intellectual property.
As 2015 was developing titles, Kudirka said publishers kept asking him how he was able to attract talent to Tulsa.
He said his secret was to play up the positives of being in Tulsa.
“I would have to compete with these huge, 100 to 300-men development studios with lots of backing,” he said. “I would take the positives of Tulsa and maximize them.”
He said his target wasn’t young entries into the industry, but seasoned developers who were looking for a better lifestyle.
“The 22-year-old kid doesn’t want to work in Tulsa,” Kudirka said. “We were forced to find people who had been in the industry 8-10 years. They were very, very good, but they may be married, may have had a baby on the way. They were tired of driving an hour into work.”
“The word on the street was, if you want a fantastic way of life and build the best games made, go to Tulsa.”
After the release of Men of Valor in late 2004, the gaming industry started moving into the transition to the next generation of gaming hardware.
“When you do that, it is a major disturbance in the force,” Kudirka said. “It is very difficult for independent third-party developers to get their product out, because, with Nintendo’s coming out or Xbox coming out, they want to come out with their properties.”
He said publishers would still show interest in game concepts but would ask if they could wait nine months.
“Do you know what the burn rate is for 44 guys for nine months?” he asked. “To keep the company alive, I decided to basically put it on the back burner. I had to lay off 44 people. That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”
Kudirka believes the time is right to reverse the flow.
“The video gaming industry is projected at $47 billion per year in 2009 with 15 percent annual growth,” he said.
Kudirka has been working with one of his team members who took a job in Poland on a project for the Nintendo DS.
“Well the guys found out that I was still doing something,” he said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Tom can we put this back together? Enough time has gone by, what do you say?’”
Kudirka has restructured the company to take advantage of another transition in the industry away from publisher funding of development with small royalties to developer funding of projects and significantly larger potential royalties.
“That’s what I am trying to do on this round is actually to bring in investment funds to pay for half or all of the development to get more of the royalties,” he said.
“We have a team of guys standing by, we have several investors interested,” he said.
He also said the company is expanding it scope of game genre.
“We are going to be coming out with games that are very diverse, very different from what we have done in the past,” he said. ?



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