They play a video game every day, and they take it extremely seriously.
But they’re not the guys living in mom’s basement. They’re the creative team at Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment. In less than a year, the science-fiction universe they’re building in an office park in east Mesa will come to life for an eager worldwide audience in Stargate Worlds.
Until then, the team at the Valley’s only video-game studio will continue creating new worlds for a franchise that has existed in its fans’ minds and on screens big and small for the past 14 years.
Stargate SG-1 was the longest-running science-fiction show in the history of North American TV before it shut down production last year, but the franchise already had extended itself with Stargate Atlantis.
Cheyenne Mountain’s chairman, Gary Whiting, was so thrilled to have the chance to get in on the franchise that he put down a couple of million dollars out of his own pocket when the opportunity arose a few years ago. The company is now funded through “angel investors” and is fully funded, spokesman Kevin Ballentine said.
But the fourth quarter of this year will mark the first time fans can control those characters who travel distant planets and fight alien foes at every turn through a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
All that familiarity and the expectations that come with the franchise put the game’s designers at Cheyenne Mountain in an unusual position and not just because the 100 employees are on something of a professional island in Arizona.
“One of the neat opportunities is to take what exists in the canon already and build on that within the gaming environment,” said Howard Lyon, Cheyenne’s art director.
That includes a contest, running through March, which allows fans the chance to have their own character integrated in the game in addition to breathing life into the stale exterior shots seen on TV.
“We were encouraged by MGM to do things with the game that they couldn’t do on TV within the constraints of the TV budget,” said Chris Klug, Cheyenne’s creative director. “We want to bring new people to the franchise, to bring new players to the game who aren’t devotees of the show.”
While keeping the Stargate franchise’s existing fans engaged is a priority, the Cheyenne team also has to appeal to fans of science fiction and video games in general.
The company has a three-pronged marketing campaign that started with a sneak peek at the game that began airing on Stargate Atlantis earlier this year, continues with promotional spots on sites such as GameSpot and will culminate with a pitch to sci-fi fans at the Comic-Con convention.
Before the principals at Cheyenne Mountain could start, they had to find people who could build a video game, and since few in Arizona had that kind of experience, the startup company’s administrators have spent the past two years bringing those people in.
For Demetrius Comes, the firm’s technical director, working with Klug and studio head Dan Elggren made the decision to move from Chicago to Mesa an easy one.
“I used to work with these guys at (Electronic Arts),” Comes said of the video-game giant.
Several former members of Electronic Arts, known as EA, have come on board at Cheyenne, making the company among the most experienced in the business.
Whether all that experience and talent will translate into a hit with Stargate devotees is still up for discussion – lots of discussion in blogs and other video-game networks.
Doug Lundberg runs one at www.keenandgrave.com and said that Stargate fans are buzzing about the game, but other gamers are hedging their bets on the game’s success.
“For Stargate, I think it’s going to be a niche market, but there is a market out there for sci-fi games,” Lundberg said. “Right now, most of the market is for fantasy games, like World of Warcraft or Warhammer, so people are desperate to go and play a sci-fi game. So Stargate definitely has potential.”