Abbey Goers UW-Stout
Whether developing a hunter-gatherer civilization to a medieval empire in Age of Empires or fighting one-on-one in Dynasty Warriors, Steve Datz was influenced by video games from an early age.
Since the age of 11, he wanted to create a certain type of video game – one that combined a grand global strategy campaign with real-time battles, where players could connect with characters in an immersive environment.
Now a senior in the computer science program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, Datz founded Flying General Games, an independent game development studio based in Menomonie, which focuses on developing original and unique stories in the kind of strategy.
The growing company currently has a team of 19 working remotely, looking to ship its debut title, Notoris: The Goblin War, which is slated for release in July 2022.
“This is the first title of an IP that I’ve always wanted to work on,” Datz said.
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With a concentration in game design and a minor in mathematics, he is also a designer, programmer and producer of FGG.
A video game studio in MenomonieDatz, from Grafton, has been trying to get into the gaming industry on and off since 2010. He founded Flying General Games in February 2021 to “give ambitious students, alumni and freelancers the opportunity to work together on something business that can stand out,” he said, adding that some of the team members come from the UK, Germany and Spain.
“As a resident of Wisconsin, I feel the pain that most businesses are on the west coast or in Europe,” he said. “I’ve often wished there was an easier way out and envision this area as a great place for a long-term studio. If I can provide that for others like me, I’ll give it a try.
Notoris is the team’s passion project, as Datz called it. It is a turn-based fantasy war game, where players command soldiers in strategic battles, perform epic feats on the battlefield, and unravel the mysteries of a goblin invasion.
Loosely inspired by Romance of the Three Kingdoms, players balance and manage their army. The story revolves around three main characters – players can choose to be the young and fearless Havie, the strong and daring Colmac or the wise and adept Mika.
For updates on Notoris, players can view a demo hosted on itch.io and a Notoris wishlist on Steam, a cloud-based game library.
Datz spoke with Professor of Entrepreneurship and International Business Mary Spaeth, Acting Associate Provost for Partner and Student Engagement Dave Beck, and faculty at the Andrew Williams School of Art and Design and Jesse Woodward on possible studio locations, improving the game development scene in the area, and connecting with other entrepreneurs.
“The games industry trumps all other media in terms of gross revenue and can be a real boost to the local economy,” Datz said. “The Menomonie area would be a great place to settle, to take advantage of the new talent in Stout’s program. And we’re not too far from Madison and the Twin Cities, which have their fair share of developers.
As Datz searches for a permanent studio, Flying General Games creates social media accounts to create a community interested in the project. Players can get involved and send questions via Discord.
Datz is seeking funding to help start the business, to provide support for the possibility of building a multi-million dollar business in the area, he said. Internship or donation requests can be sent to [email protected]
Game developmentDatz’s college experience started off a bit off track. He earned his associate’s degree in visual communications from ITT Tech in Greenfield in 2011. However, the school was closed in 2016 after a federal investigation into allegations of fraud.
“It left me with a bad taste for education,” he said.
For six years, Datz held various jobs, including a video editor and a cook, before starting at UW-Milwaukee in information science technology in 2017. He then moved into computer science. But the focus of the program left no entry point into the games after graduation, he said.
So, in 2019, he transferred to UW-Stout and the Computer Game Design concentration. The transfer office, along with program director Diane Christie, helped him receive credit for his previous work to quickly transition him from general education requirements and game design courses.
“We never want to waste a transfer student’s time or money retaking classes or skimming through topics where they already have a clear grasp,” said Associate Professor Seth Berrier, an adviser to Datz.
Berrier believes in Datz’s natural entrepreneurial spirit and leadership qualities. “I hope our project-based game design program gave him the opportunity to hone those management and production skills in a way that a more conventional classroom experience wouldn’t,” he said. -he declares. “Hands-on learning is a key part of the computer science curriculum, and Steve has embraced it in the classroom and in his own freelance work. His attitude and persistence are a perfect match for Stout’s career-focused curriculum.
Since transferring to UW-Stout, Datz has learned a lot about game development, not just in his classes, but from like-minded students, he said. “My favorite part of Stout is the focus on group projects, which is a highly transferable skill for any job.”
Datz has created 10 other games, as personal, student or commercial projects, including Buzz Digital, a video game he co-creates for his employer, UW-Stout’s Manufacturing Outreach Center. Buzz Digital is a multiplayer tablet-based experience that teaches companies the principles of lean manufacturing.
As for Flying General Games, it might be a while before they’re ready to release a second game, but it would be set in the same universe with the same characters and plot points.
“My goal is to build our strengths with each game, so the next one will focus more on the outside world campaign, as battles are the main driver of the first title,” Datz said.
Datz will graduate in May. His post-graduation projects are on hold, he said, but he is applying to other game studios as he continues to develop the intellectual property of Flying General Games.
UW-Stout’s game design and development program was ranked #25 in 2021 among public universities nationwide by Princeton Review.