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Watching TV together: The seasoned business strategy of Frost Wars


Austin Hice and Carlo Eugster began their professional careers in the film industry, working on television shows and on-camera, live entertainment in Los Angeles. When they decided to quit those jobs and start an independent game development studio in 2011, it wasn't simply to get away from the repetitive hierarchy of Hollywood – it was to fulfill a lifelong passion for gaming and engaging storytelling.

"Video games seemed like the natural tansition. We've both been avid gamers since we were very, very small," Hice tells Joystiq. "We saw an opportunity to take the experience we got in film and television and establish something new. That's how Lantern got its start."

Lantern now has a dozen core staff and is working on its first game, Frost Wars: The Rise of Fatty Sparkles, which will debut at PAX on August 31 in the form of a booth with a four-player demo.

Frost Wars is a turn-based strategy, comedy and adventure game planned to launch for iOS, Droid, PC, Mac and eventually Linux. It's set in the Arctic, where Toxi Co., a foreign corporation, interrupts the peaceful life of the Eskimos by drilling the ice and accidentally tapping into an ancient goo that, once released, mutates the native animals. The Eskimos and Toxi Co. employees are then thrown into a vicious war. Fatty Sparkles, for those wondering, isn't on either side; he's the arms-dealing polar bear pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Gallery: Frost Wars: The Rise of Fatty Sparkles | 11 Photos

Frost Wars is in pre-alpha now and will enter closed alpha during its premiere at PAX, expected to hit beta four to six months after that. The alpha and beta stages are extremely important to Hice and Eugster, since much of the game's direction is led by player input. Every week Lantern looks through the Frost Wars forums and culls out the best player suggestions for new modes or tweaks, and prioritizes those ideas for implementation in the final game.

Speed Play, one of the two main game modes in Frost Wars, was conceived entirely by alpha players in the Lantern forums. It's a synchronous battle mode that can be completed in 10 - 20 minutes, and it spawned from players wanting to simply sit down and begin playing, rather than waiting for others to take their turns in the standard Extended Play mode. Extended Play features asynchronous multiplayer for up to four people, and it enables players to participate in as many battles as they want at any one time, similar to Words with Friends.

"People are very, very excited to be able to make an impact on the course of the game," Eugster says.

Hice and Eugster add their own ideas to the public forums as well, leaving them up to the same scrutiny as players' suggestions.

"There's so much collaboration with players and they get so excited to see their ideas implemented over the weeks. It's really fun – not just for them, but for us," Hice says. "So a few months ago we said, 'We should make this permanent. This is how the game should be.'"

Seeing the success of this process, Lantern will continue this philosophy of intense player collaboration throughout Frost Wars and all of its following titles.

Speed play will debut at PAX, but Lantern will be able to add hundreds of game modes to Frost Wars, along with weapon packs, gear and other content suggested by its audience and development team alike. The game will most likely follow the Minecraft model of distribution, not setting a firm release date but continually updating the beta version until it resembles a "complete" game, and continuing to update from there.

Lantern began with Hice and Eugster in an unfinished basement, playing with dice and Lego pieces to prototype Frost Wars and recruiting employees from major gaming and film studios with funds from private investors.

"Most of our artists and staff actually come from TV and motion pictures, Jim Henson and Dreamworks and Disney," Hice says. "And then we combine that with development and engineering backgrounds from Treyarch and Bethesda and other video game studios. From day one everybody's goal was to create something that felt different from anything else out there."

The basement experience was "an incredible bonding experience for the team," Hice says. "It was like going into war."

Now Lantern has temporary office space and is negotiating a more permanent place. Hice and Eugster aren't forgetting their television roots or how their experience can translate to the gaming world.

"Television is very much about the potential for action and the potential for story, rather than any one specific storyline," Hice says. "That's why when you watch a great TV show, you can watch season after season of it, because of the character dynamics. So we approached the initial creative path exactly like we would with television."

This probably means that after its premiere at PAX, we can expect to see much, much more of Frost Wars, its players and Lantern.

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