Okay, so Vintrock is coming back to life. But how did we get here in the first place? Here is the first part of a brief history of Vintrock before The Change.
In The Beginning…
Vintrock Studios Ltd. was formally founded by me, Geoff Kratz, and Jonathan Kohl on February 16, 2017. Before it got a name, it was us laying the foundations in the fall of 2016. All this got started because of a sequence of serendipitous events. But to understand how we said “hey, let’s do this”, it’s useful to understand some history before that point.
Jonathan and I had worked together off-and-on for over a decade on a number of projects. We first met when I was working at BIDS Trading (a Wall Street venture co-founded by Mark Beddis, Jim Bird, Paul Hanson, me, Jim Lee, and Sik Ngai in 2005). We we working on a user interface for those firms that didn’t want to connect their order management or order execution system to the BIDS environment, or wanted a direct interface in addition to an OMS/EMS connection. The original design was based on guidance from Brad Paley (a genius at building systems that actual humans can use). While it had a few iterations on the name, it eventually was named BIDS Trader. But we still needed to be able to test it.
Jonathan was a senior tester and QA specialist, with some focus on testing user interfaces. Our head of QA, Chantal Schultz added Jonathan to the team as a contractor. Unsurprisingly, Jonathan and I butted heads a few times, so it was in some ways an inauspicious start. But as we worked more together, we both got to understand each other’s talents in the technology world. We also got to know each other as people, not just as technologists.
After the first release of BIDS Trader was ready, Jonathan moved on to other projects, and I continued my work inside BIDS. At the end of 2009, my employment contract with BIDS was up, and I wanted to do something different. I fiddled around with a number of different things (like predictive trading and learning how to build mobile apps for iOS). One of my BIDS partners, Paul Hanson, had also moved on, and he had a crazy (but a very cool) idea for a wireless padlock. We did some experiments, and eventually we thought there might be something, and thus bbotx Inc. was born in 2012.
A Detour Into The Internet of Things
While Paul and I have a number of talents, we knew we had some gaps. Deltatee Enterprises was brought on to help with the hardware. Brian Singh was providing us guidance on marketing and brand building, in concert with Arleigh Vasconcellos and her team at The Agency. But we still needed someone to herd the cats. We had a few people we had considered, but Jonathan came to mind because of his experience, interest, and availability.
Jonathan had, in the previous few years moved on from QA and into user interface and user experience design. But he was someone who could hold the threads and keep track of what needed to get done. Jonathan was added to the team in 2013, and while there were some rocky patches with Jonathan and Paul, Jonathan was a key part of the team that helped us get a couple of different prototypes out, and to raise some money in 2014.
The bbotx years saw several changes in direction while we tried to take our idea somewhere. It transformed from a hardware venture into a software service, but it ultimately didn’t work out, and while bbotx existed until 2018, it was effectively done by the summer of 2016. It was unfortunatel, but these things happen. Welcome to the world of startups, where about 70% of all startups are gone within their first 2 years. But it was the demise of bbotx that indirectly lead to the next steps.
Here it is, late summer of 2016. My time in bbotx is done, and it wasn’t a satisfying end. I’m looking for something to do. Jonathan is looking for something interesting and fun, and with a long-term focus. The man is generally pretty busy, between writing books and consulting for a number of ventures, but it always seemed to me he was on the outside looking in on other people’s ideas and opportunities. Having been a consultant myself, I understand how your work is more as “outsider”, even if you are nominally part of the team.
During one of our usual get-togethers, I mentioned to Jonathan that I thought making a mobile game could be fun. I’d never built a game before, so it was a chance to learn something new. Jonathan’s face lit up, because he was also thinking that making a game could be a neat thing to try. I outlined my original idea: I thought it might be fun to take a concept from a vintage video game and bring it into the 21st century. Specifically, I was thinking about Asteroids, an early video arcade game released in 1979. Given our mutual interest in elements of vintage culture, it seemed like a fit.
Asteroids was a 2-dimensional space game that used black-and-white vector graphics (as opposed to bitmap graphics). It was an arcade game, so it used a large stand-up console, mechanical controls, and required a quarter ($0.25) to play. The player flew a space ship and blasted apart asteroids, gaining points each time one is either broken up or destroyed entirely. From time to time, a little alien ship would come in and shoot at you. If you hit that ship, you got points. If your ship is hit by the alien or you bumped into an asteroid, your ship was destroyed. When all your ships were destroyed, you fed another quarter into the machine to play again. I enjoyed the game, even though I wasn’t particularly good at it.
The idea appealed to both of us. It was a simple game, with simple mechanics. Done right, could be a nice blend of vintage and modern. Me being me, I had a bigger vision. The TV show The Expanse was popular, and my thought was that we might be able to tie the game to the show in some way. I also thought we could build a narrative behind the game, like “save the Earth”, or something like that, taking the game from more than just blowing up rocks. Jonathan was excited about that prospect, that this could be something bigger than just a game.
Seeing that we both had a shared interest and a shared vision, the roots of what would be Vintrock Studios was born. From here, we would have to create the actual company, the game, and lay the foundation for what we hoped might be bigger than just the one game.
To be continued…