3 Pittsburgh Companies That Are Changing the World of Gaming

Thanks to the geniuses at these firms, our city is witnessing the birth of a diverse, innovative video-game industry.




Photo courtesy of Schell Games
 

 

It’s the hallmark of 21st-century Pittsburgh: Industries once unheard of in the Steel City now are beginning to take root as the city’s tech scene continues to grow. Two decades ago, the only people making money from video games locally were selling them at a mall; today, a budding group of gamers and enthusiasts is forging a community of design and development, with high-profile clients and considerable buzz.

Shawn Patton, a senior game designer with Schell Games and the vice chair of the Pittsburgh chapter of the International Game Developers Association, points out that current and future game companies can take advantage of “the easy access to new talent coming out of the undergraduate and graduate programs here.” He’s quick to add, though, that “Pittsburgh is a really nice place to live . . . it has a lot of the features that initially drew developers to Seattle and Austin.”

We recently visited with three very different local groups working in the video-game industry.

 

Schell Games

Jesse Schell was working as a Disney Imagineer until the late Randy Pausch recruited him in 2002 for Carnegie Mellon University’s groundbreaking Entertainment Technology Center. Disney wasn’t eager to part with Schell, however, and kept asking him to work on games; he established Schell Games that year as those assignments kept arriving. Over time, the studio began to specialize in what it calls “transformational games” — those that illuminate and educate as well as entertain.

“We define it as games that change people for the better,” says Jill Sciulli, Schell Games’ director of marketing. The studio, which is relocating from the South Side to Station Square, now employs nearly 100 people. It has created games for clients including Disney, Yale University, Microsoft and the Fred Rogers Co. (for whom the group made a series of “Daniel Tiger” games). Schell also recently released a project of its own, “Enemy Mind” (above), for the PC gaming platform Steam.

 

Classic Game Room

In the early days of streaming Internet video, Pittsburgh native Mark Bussler hosted a short video-game review show, “The Game Room.” When he revived that series (under the title “Classic Game Room”) on YouTube in 2008, fans returned for Bussler’s dry humor and thorough knowledge of games new and old. Today, viewers from around the world send favorite games and newly discovered gems and equipment for Bussler and his collaborators to review; the series recently surpassed 500 million total views, and users now can post their own video reviews of games both beloved and obscure.

At its O’Hara Township game warehouse and offices, Classic Game Room is also designing its own decidedly throwback-style games; “I personally grew up on the Atari 2600 . . . [which] forced you to use your imagination,” Bussler says. “We’re taking a look at what kind of games were cool back then.” The company’s first game, an arcade-style cosmic battle called “Space Gar” (pictured), is online now, with more to come later this year; the games are meant to add value (and competition) for Classic Game Room’s loyal viewers. “It’s our fans [who] keep the business running,” Bussler says.

 

pillow castle

In January, five graduate students from CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center were en route to a tour of tech industry business in California. On a whim, they posted a quick demo of a work-in-progress to Reddit’s gaming community. The clip was a sample of “The Museum of Simulation Technology”, an unusual puzzle game that asks players to escape rooms by using forced perspective, the optical illusion that allows distant objects to appear small and nearby objects to appear large. By the time their plane landed, the video had been watched more than 30,000 times; to date, it has surpassed 1.2 million views.

“YouTube views are a currency now,” says Allen Tingley, producer and writer for the group, which works under the name pillow castle. While the team is developing “Museum” as part of the its coursework, CMU “lets us own all of our intellectual property,” Tingley says. This means that after the members of the group — comprised of Tingley, Albert Shih (who conceived of the mechanic behind “Museum”), Yuxi Zhang, Xiao Li and Zhengyi Wang — graduate this year, the group can sell the game and use proceeds to establish a working studio in Pittsburgh.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

3 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Where Homes Are Selling Fast

3 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Where Homes Are Selling Fast

These neighborhoods saw the biggest increase in home sale prices in 2016.
Sunday in the Strip: 17 Photos That Capture the Neighborhood Perfectly

Sunday in the Strip: 17 Photos That Capture the Neighborhood Perfectly

A visit to Pittsburgh's Strip District is almost like going back in time, but in the best way possible. When you’re there you don’t feel the modern day rush, it’s just relaxed.
Mike Feinberg Company Says Goodbye to Pittsburgh

Mike Feinberg Company Says Goodbye to Pittsburgh

After 60 years of supplying Pittsburgh oddities and party favors, the staff of Feinberg’s in the Strip District says they’ll miss the love the city has shown them.
Friday Night Sleep Out to Raise Money for Homeless

Friday Night Sleep Out to Raise Money for Homeless

If you’re on the hunt for Friday night plans with a purpose, consider sleeping outside to benefit those in Pittsburgh who have to spend every night on the streets.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

In a year when youth-hockey participation is expected to increase, Pittsburgh Penguins players weigh in on the role of the hockey parent.
Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

There’s a magical, snowy landscape right in your backyard.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


3 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Where Homes Are Selling Fast

3 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Where Homes Are Selling Fast

These neighborhoods saw the biggest increase in home sale prices in 2016.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
CSA Day Reminds Pittsburghers (and Beyond) To Support Local Farms

CSA Day Reminds Pittsburghers (and Beyond) To Support Local Farms

It's the third year running for the concept, which was created by Simon Huntley of Pittsburgh's Small Farm Central.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Adventure Bingo Returns at the Ace Hotel

Adventure Bingo Returns at the Ace Hotel

The one-of-a-kind night of bingo, trivia and madcap monologues returns in a new spot.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot

Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot

The Hanson Brothers and other stars of the classic hockey film will return to Johnstown this weekend for a 40th anniversary celebration.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Chalk It Up

Chalk It Up

Doodle while you dine, or let your imagination run wild, with chalkboard placemats from Pittsburgh-based Chalk Lots.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Our Full 2017 Oscar Predictions (Wherein La La Land Wins Everything)

Our Full 2017 Oscar Predictions (Wherein La La Land Wins Everything)

Breaking down what we know and only think we know about the 2017 Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

This couple’s centerpiece from our Real Pittsburgh Weddings shines brighter than the traditional table bouquet.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get Your Craft — And Drink — On With New Hobby Prodigy

Get Your Craft — And Drink — On With New Hobby Prodigy

The BYOB- and family-friendly concept, where you make your own craft with help from experts, is now open at The Mall at Robinson.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Math Blast 2017 ‘Blasts’ Off at Grove City College

Math Blast 2017 ‘Blasts’ Off at Grove City College

Students studying education will provide fun and innovative math lessons to children.

Comments