Developers show they aren’t playing games

Nick Fisk
Staff Writer

IMG_5519COURTESY OF VELAN STUDIOS

Creators of the game development studio Vicarious Visions stopped by Hudson Valley last Wednesday to talk about their new game studio, Velan Studios.

The founders, brothers Guha and Karthik Bala, discussed their successful venture and future plans for Velan Studios during their presentation, “Velan Studios: Building Games at the Tip of the Spear.”
Guha began by discussing their connections with Hudson Valley.

“Hudson Valley has been a great resource for us,” he said. “We’re grateful to come back.”
Karthik agreed, sharing a few of his memories from the area.

“When we started, I was 15 and my brother was 14,” he said. “We just had an idea to make a video game, but we really didn’t want to make money at the time.”

After Karthik discussed their roots, Guha continued and focused on their accomplishments.
“Over time, we’ve created maybe 135 different types of games,” Guha said.

Karthik recollected their humble beginnings in 1991 when they first set up a blue screen in their basement and borrowed a camera set from their local school.

He revealed that he and his brother originally planned to only create games for themselves, but eventually it became clear that their project could be lucrative.

“We decided that we were going to keep giving this a try,” he said. “The following year, we were able to get some investors.”

Vicarious Visions is known for creating titles in franchises, including “Guitar Hero,” “Crash Bandicoot” and “Skylanders.”

One of their most memorable games, “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2,” was their first to reach $1 million in sales.

After making their initial plans for the game, it became clear that they couldn’t accomplish full 3D gameplay with their current hardware.

Guha recounted how they overcame this obstacle.
“We were able to figure out how to use parametric equations to emulate 3D on the hardware,” he said.
Although they created games for several companies and platforms, many of their first large games were developed for Nintendo. The brothers began to think that perhaps they could use this to their advantage in order to further their success.

“The relationship that we had with Nintendo [helped us] to get access to early prototypes,” Guha said. “We became one of the most well-known developers for the GameBoy Color.”

Unfortunately, the brothers experienced a “Y2K disaster,” when a company they worked for went bankrupt, causing them to lose 80 percent of their profits.

“We needed to cut our costs, but not with cutting payroll,” Guha said. But, of course, in true Bala form, they were able to get the company up and running again.

Their next pursuit is to create a new video game development studio.

“We left Vicarious Visions last year. It was the 25th anniversary, which was hard,” Karthik said. “There’s really no point in doing Vicarious Visions 2.0 again. We wanted to reinvent ourselves. We wanted to try some new things and get out of our comfort zones a bit.”

“We can actually take more risks as a startup,” Guha said.

“It’s a really interesting paradox,” Karthik elaborated. “As a startup, you have little to lose, so you can try so much.”

The presentation ended as Karthik expressed his gratitude.

“It’s great giving back to the community, being back at Hudson Valley and helping the next generation,” he said. “When you create products that people really care about, that’s when you break out the champagne.”

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