Independent Developer Creates Video Game Using Son’s Artwork

By Ethan J. Snyder

In the world of video game development there is a genre known as indie games. One developer of this genre is getting a hand from an organization close to Youngstown State University.

According to independent game designer Ron Gilbert, an independent “indie” video game is fully created by individuals or smaller development teams, known as indie developers, without the financial and technical support of a large game publisher.

Thomas Kildren of Cleveland is an independent video game developer who’s creating a virtual reality game based on the art of his son.

“When we first discovered our son was on the autism spectrum, we were amazed at his ability to draw,” Kildren said. “It was almost as if there was a different way that he was trying to communicate with the world.”

Kildren has been developing his game “Booper, Get Home!” for three years. He said he initially had difficulties finding time to develop it.

“I’m a stay-at-home dad who was only able to work on it if I got up at 5:30 a.m. and squeezed in a little [development] time before the whole house got up,” Kildren said. “I’m a chef, tech support, teacher and housekeeper all at once.”

Kildren’s project is a virtual reality platforming exploration game about a lost child on an adventure to find his way home. The amount of virtual reality games on the market is growing, and Kildren said he wanted to take advantage of that.

Independent video game developer Thomas Kildren incorporates the art his son, who is on the Autism spectrum, created into the video game they’re developing, called “Booper, Get Home.” Photo courtesy of Thomas Kildren

“Kids see this new tech and they certainly want to try it, but other than a few various titles, there’s very few kid-friendly offerings. I wanted to make something centered more around exploration and problem solving, as well as helping others,” Kildren said.

Hoping to secure extra funding, Kildren entered his company, Fletcher Studios, in the Youngstown Business Incubator’s Virtual Pitch Competition.

The YBI Virtual Pitch Competition is an annual event where entrepreneurs can film themselves giving a virtual pitch of their startup ideas, which are then voted on by the public. Whichever startup secures the most votes wins a cash prize of $5,000.

According to Corey Patrick, director of Entrepreneurial Services Program at the YBI, the 2019 competition saw 43 startups apply, 350 attendees and more than $1 million invested in various startups. In 2015, UBI Global in Stockholm recognized YBI as the No. 1 high-impact incubation program in North America.

Kildren said he hopes to use his game as an opportunity to grow from a solo indie developer into a micro studio. Instead of developing games by himself, he hopes to hire locally and work with some of the raw talent in the northeastern Ohio area.

“I’d also like to have part of the proceeds to go to Autism Awareness and Acceptance,” Kildren said. “Hopefully, I can show that kids on the spectrum can contribute in different ways.”