Loris Malek is an explorer of unfamiliar territory. In the 1990’s, he decided to pursue a career in video games at a time when the industry was ill defined. In the 2000’s he passed on school in order to learn hands-on from the best designers in the world. And today, Malek and his outfit Moon Spider Studio, is building a one-of-a-kind computer game—not in San Francisco or Seattle—but in Key Biscayne.
Malek’s first exposure to video games, like many of us, came with playing Super Mario as a kid. “When I played Mario, I was completely traumatized,” says Malek, “It was the biggest shock of my entire life. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do, this is what I want to play.’”
In France (his home country), Malek found no university that could teach him about his passion. Yes, he could pick up coding skills here and there, but he wanted to be a creator not just a translator of content. Luckily, a friend connected Malek to some designers building their own company. They had worked on some games that for Malek were the best of the best. But they couldn’t pay him. So he said, “’You know what? Let’s make a deal. You can’t pay me, I understand. I want to go to school. So if you teach me, and every question I ask, you answer me, I will work for you for free.’” They agreed to the deal. And eventually, when the company grew, he was the first person paid.
During his experience at the small company, Malek received a first-hand look at the challenges that confront game designers, the most formidable being competition: “It’s very very hard. If 10 different companies make 10 different demos, only one of them will actually be released in stores.” And even if your game is released, there is no guarantee that it will sell.
When later working at Atari, Malek saw hope among the bleak prospects. He designed Touch Mechanic for Nintendo DS, and it got some attention. “These people like this idea? I thought, ‘I have better ones in my head.’ And so I left Atari, and decided to make games myself.”
In France, it was difficult for Malek to build a company. The expenses of starting a business were too steep. So, on the advice of his father, Malek headed to the U.S. to find a better option. His instinct was to go to the San Francisco Bay Area, home of American video game design. But San Francisco proved more expensive than France. It was his dad who told him: “’Why don’t you open the company in Miami?’” Malek responded…
“’I don’t want to open a club. I want to open a video game company. Why would I come to Miami, I won’t find anybody!’”
He was dead wrong. With one post on an industry website, Malek was overwhelmed with responses from talented, capable designers who could join his team at Moon Spider Studio. “I was very surprised. I was like, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do it here.’” Malek and his team are now in the midst of building an extraordinary game. It’s called Harold.
Harold is a single player, side scrolling “platformer” animated with hand-drawn styles in the vein of classic 2D Disney films. You play as Gabe, a guardian angel responsible for guiding Harold through obstacles like treacherous leaps, moving platforms, and spiky bridges.
As opposed to most side scrolling games, the player controls the environment, rather than the character. This makes for an imaginative and immersive playing experience you won’t find in most games you pick off Game Stop shelves. (Click here for a game play example).
Another reason Harold is a special game, is because of its artwork. “I wanted to make the first game that looks like an old Walt Disney movie. Like The Jungle Book, Pinocchio, The Lion King. It’s something that I always loved.” To realize his objective, Malek attracted animators from Orlando with experience in developing those very Disney movies. The result is a beautiful style that makes you feel as if you are playing a movie.
Malek has encountered plenty of challenges in starting his own indie game studio. One of the biggest has been finding distribution partnerships. In Malek’s experience, large gaming companies look to buy out boutique studios instead of forming partnerships. This has made Malek’s journey all the more difficult. But he would rather weather the competition than succumb to industry pressures.
It’s Malek’s passion for video games that allows him to remain steadfast in his determination. “Video games for me was the only way to not feel like I was working.” And Malek is confident that Miami can be a new frontier for his own personal growth, and the growth of video games in general.
“Why don’t people come here? They’re afraid like I was. If there is already two or three or five big studios here, it will change everything.” Malek is ready to explore the uncharted territory. Who is with him?
- Miami has the developing talent for game designers to set up shop here.
- Video games should stake its place in Miami’s cultural fabric.
- Independent designers are gaining confidence in their ability to penetrate the market, despite formidable industry pressures.
Harold is expected for release on PC later this year. For more information on Moon Spider Studio, visit: moonspiderstudio.com
Words & tesxt: Ilana Berman