By Tye Van Horn
Staff Writer

The world of gaming is an expensive one, not only for the consumer but also for the producer. What has to be kept in mind when you frown at the $60 fee for most new games is that the average video game production budget in 2000 was over five million dollars. If that doesn’t convince you that there is a huge investment in every game you play, flash forward ten years and you’ll find that the average budget for a 2010 multi-platform game is over 20 million dollars. Needless to say game developers are often city-based corporations with multiple games and famous developers under their belt. Against such opposition a small time developer based in a place like Chestertown would seem unthinkable, yet reality has a way of defying probability: meet Gary Dahl of Sugar Pill Studios; Chestertown’s video game development company.

Sugar Pill Studios has stated that its mission is “to help reduce the number of great unmade games in the world.” Dahl established the company as a creative outlet in Minnesota in 2004, but didn’t start focusing on the company as a lone career option until he moved to Chestertown in early 2012. While game development is a gargantuan task for any one, it is hard to find a man more qualified for the job. Dahl has a masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota, a place where the game development scene is “pretty dry,” despite being the home of “Game Informer” Magazine. He then taught game design at the college level for eight years while taking jobs from Canopy Games to develop racing titles.
While Sugar Pill doesn’t have the notoriety or manpower to spawn AAA budget games, the company has had varying degrees of success with some of its titles. Xbox live Arcade has picked up two of Dahl’s games, including 2012, a Mayan themed puzzle platformer that is still in development, and “Spell Find,” a game that combines word searches and fantasy combat. Other titles he’s completed includes “Get Away to Nowhere,” a combination of a racing game and “Simon, and Madris,” a clever combination of “Tetris” and the “Sims.” Even the card and dice game scene isn’t immune to Dahl’s influence, as he has submitted games he created to indie development contests. These titles include “Golum Depot”, a steampunk-themed dice game, and one tentatively called Pop Politics and Corruption, a game about the influence of money in congress. Dahl has even worked on more serious applications of game design with the Naval Research Laboratories,the Science Museum of Minnesota, Altec Energy, and other smaller start ups.

Gary grew up on the Atari playing games like Defender and the like, but hadn’t considered programming as a serious career choice until high school. He had always dabbled around in fascination on his Apple II, but the click occurred with the rise of gaming excitement in his tenth grade. Dahl says “I don’t know; I just experienced a click. I suddenly realized I could keep doing this.” And so he did, as he keeps himself present at the International Game Developers Association, and can be seen today writing JavaScript at the Kent County Public Library whenever a storm interferes with his internet.

The work that goes into developing games on your own is difficult to describe in words, so suffice it to say that game development is a life style. It is a choice that one makes that can span years of thankless coding and empty refrigerators.

So, if you have free time and want to dabble around on Facebook or YouTube, why not try popping Sugar Pill Studios a Google search? If you like the free demos the site features, I encourage you to hop on to Xbox live and support a Chestertown developer by spending a dollar to get the full version. Dahl is living proof that you don’t need a $20 million budget and a 100 person development team to make great games; all you need is inspiration, perspiration, and perhaps a sugar pill to keep you from going crazy.

The Elm

One thought on “Chestertown’s game industry: Sweetens up with Sugar Pill Studios

  1. Hey, anything could happen! Look at where Minecraft is. It’s not the most graphically pleasing game ever created, but it captures the imagination of the people who play it. And that is the most important thing.

    So, while big budget games definitely do have an advantage, low-budget developers who pour their heart and soul into their games can often leave a huge impression on the gaming community.

    I wish Mr. Dahl and Sugar Pill Studios all the best of luck! Excellent article!

    Brent
    Elite Gaming Computers

    By Brent @ EliteGamingComputers.com Oct 01,2012 @ 3:17 pm

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