After ZenFri received $250,000 from the Canada Media Fund (CMF) for our Augmented Reality game project, Clandestine: Anomaly, New Media Manitoba, the local new media professional association, decided to do an interview with Chief Executive Artist and Clandestine creator, Corey King.

Source New Media Manitoba.

ZenFri Inc., a start-up creative company in Winnipeg has been selected for a $250,000 investment by the Canadian Media Fund (CMF) to develop their ground-breaking new videogame for smartphones, “Clandestine Anomaly.”

27-year-old Corey King, ZenFri’s “Chief Executive Artist” assembled a Canada-wide team of 40 writers, modellers, artists, programmers, game designers and computer scientists. Some of the team have been working on art 3D models and scripts for the game for more than a year.

New Media Manitoba conducted an interview with Corey to get more information on this interesting project:

What is ZenFri, and what do you do?

ZenFri is above all else a storytelling company. What makes us a little different is that we don’t try to limit ourselves to any particular medium, we find the medium that will best tell the story we want to tell, and then build teams of specialists who can fill in what we don’t know, driving our vision forward.

How long have you been in business, and what kind of people do you employ?

We’ve been around for just under two years, but the name ZenFri has been employed for projects created by my wife Danielle and I since university. Currently, only Danielle and I are employed in ZenFri and most projects to-date have used contractors and volunteers. But this is something we hope to change, and in fact will be changing with our recent funding from the CMF. We will be employing visual artists, animators, writers, programmers, modellers, marketers and video professionals.

Why and when did you choose to start creating mobile games?

When I first held an iPod Touch, say 4 years ago, I was struck with a flood of visual ideas almost like a waking dream, ideas of a whole new way to tell stories where the canvas is literally the earth itself. I didn’t know at the time that this was called Augmented Reality, but I quickly learned and starting hunting down people who were crazy enough to work with me.

I mean even now AR doesn’t do what I envision it doing, but that’s what we’re hoping to change. At first I tried to take the traditional indie route of making a small game, but as the technology began to develop at a breakneck pace, I saw little hints that others were beginning to think about the future along the same lines I was, only they had the advantage of money and experience. So, I dropped the smaller game and began this race to create a truly compelling AR experience, and to try and be the first to nail it.

How long has Clandestine: Anomaly been in development?

Over a year and a half. I mean I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was just a guy with an idea; I had no team initially, and no hope to offer anybody money to work on it, so it took time to really get things moving.

It started with support from Regina’s Talking Dog Studios which allowed me to look a little more legitimate and attract more people to the project. But, everyone basically worked for free up to this point, they bought into the vision, believed in me for some reason, and then we all worked together to get the needed funding.

How many people, including yourself, have been involved with the project and what did they contribute to the game?

Since around January / February of 2012 we’ve had over 30 people, close to 40 working across the country on this project, with maybe 1/3rd of the team here in Winnipeg. These people work in a lot of different capacities; we have people doing concept art and modelling, people creating press material and writing grants.

Some early, very early programming has been done, we have UI design work and I’m very fortunate to have around 4 writers, not including myself, working on this. We like to call it a coalition of Indie developers, you put a lot of little passionate indies together and you get a team the size of a mid-range studio, with all the fire and drive that comes with being the little guy.

What other Manitoba companies or freelancers were involved with the project and how did they contribute to the game?

Here in Manitoba we have Evodant Interactive who is going to guide and manage the three other tech companies/institutions whose skill and cutting edge tech, when combined together will, in theory, make something amazing. Evodant also offers talented Designers and Writers who will work on the project, though the scope of that is still being discussed.

We have Dark Spark Studios offering project management and producer support. Jetpack Media is guiding our marketing and communication strategy along with YerStory TransMedia who is working alongside story and marketing to produce video content.

Beyond that, we have a bunch of solo guys, like Matt Urban, a 3D artist; Barret Ens, a Professor at the University of Manitoba; Matt Klachefsky, grant writer; as well as writers John Titley, William Jordan and in the not-too-distance-future Brenna Masterton.

PO-MO while not formally on the project has offered spiritual support, which I think bears mentioning.

Why did you choose to develop the game in Manitoba?

I wasn’t really thinking of gaming when I moved here. I moved here to live with my then girlfriend and now wife / collaborator / business partner, Danielle King. But, when it comes to gaming I’m glad I ended up here. We have a small, but dynamic industry. If I was in another city I dont think I could manage making movies, games and all the other stuff ZenFri does, because you really need to know an industry — especially the people within it– to gain any kind of traction.

Winnipeg is small enough that you can make your way around multiple industries relatively easily, but is large enough, and has enough talent that we can still compete on the world stage. It’s not easy, but we can do it. I blame the winters, it’s so cold for so long that people have to have something to do indoors, and so we are forced to become programmers and muscians just to keep our sanity… honestly I think that’s what helps this city generate more talent across the entertainment and cultural industries than is really fair given our size.

What advantages does Manitoba offer over other provinces for game developers?

Well of course there is the tax credits, Yes! Winnipeg, and New Media Manitoba, all of these I feel are pretty key. But I also think there is this pent-up desire in this city to become world class, and we simply won’t take no for an answer. People look at me, and at first don’t take me seriously, so many people on my team – especially the pros – have stories of their first impressions of me, but what turns them around, I think, is an attraction to an idea and that if we succeed it will truly be ground breaking. I plan to build a world class studio in this city, and I feel Manitoba wants that and welcomes it with open arms. So long as I feel welcome, I’m game.

How has New Media Manitoba helped you and your company over the years?

With this last run at CMF funding, Louie Ghiz was instrumental in offering advice and connecting me to local talent. Originally the Winnipeg team was very small, I had tried to make a go of it here but it wasn’t working, I couldn’t find the right people, and some good people just kind of scoffed at the idea of putting some of personal risk into me and my idea. So I started looking outward until I talked with Louie. Now I really see Winnipeg as the base of operations for the project, and I’m going to try and bring all my leads here.