These guys, right?
As freshman year suitemates, Ian VanNest, Walter Barber, and Andrew Zimmerman spent hours examining and analyzing comic books, graphic novels, cartoons, and video games. They shared a love for depictions of fictional worlds. Not unlike other freshman living in the dorms, the three envisioned creating something bigger–something that rivaled the card games, video games, books, and cartoons that they admired. Though, for many freshman, dreams like that are intangible; you move on, lose touch with those freshman year friends, and the hopes of creating together evaporate into the impending stress of real world responsibility.
But Ian, Walter, and Andy never lost touch or forgot their plans. They’ve lived together since freshman year and haven’t stopped creating. They’ve developed a world called Hara and its corresponding game, “Champions of Hara.” And they’ve created a platform to hold that world, Leaf Pile Media, a “transmedia start-up.”
On the weight of Leaf Pile, and their fictional world, they won Skidmore’s fourth annual Kenneth A Freirich Business Competition. With $20,000 freshly in the pocket they hope to create a conglomerate of media ranging from graphic novels (in order to tell the full story), board games (to get people involved with the characters), animated shorts, mobile games, etc. etc. etc. There are no boundaries for what they can do with Leaf Pile, if there were, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.
We caught up with Walter and Ian to talk about the development of their game and media company, the business competition, and plans for the future.
So when you guys lived together freshman year, were you coming up with this game?
Walter: No, we weren’t making the game yet but in a lot of ways the inception process was starting. We used to [indulge] and sit around and just cram over comic books and read stories and look at the graphics and just be like “Ohhh!” and flip the page and be like “Ohhh!” Just getting so hyped about these stories. Or craming around the TV playing video games at night and just being so into it and so analytical of it. And so this world that we’re putting out right now didn’t start until junior year, but the creative team was coming together.
When you were coming up with this game did you ever think you would enter the business competition?
Ian: It wasn’t the first goal, no, but then we talked to someone who has become sort of a mentor, Devin Low, who used to be one of the head developers for Magic The Gathering.
How did you meet him?
Walter: He’s actually my brother’s old friend from elementary school into high school and we were like lets get this meeting. And he actually just made Marvel’s most recent game. He works for PopCap Games now, they did “Plants vs. Zombies.”
Ian: So he looked at our game and was like, “You guys have something cool here, but you could do way more with this little story if you develop it.”
Walter: He was basically like if you actually want to do this, well a game will get you nowhere. You need to think about the story, the brand, the franchise, the characters—you need to make that real. And from there, that was like the start. And then we started talking to Sam Schultz, who is the kid who won last year, about how to make money.
Ian: We started to realize we don’t just have a game, we have a business.
Walter: Well, still hoping.
Ian: Yeah, still hoping. I mean, a couple millionaires told us that we have a good idea so that’s a good place to start.
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