Students, alumni form video game development company After Hours Lab LLC

Article originally written by Joshua Jackson published by The Daily Reveille on September 9, 2015.

Students often pick up summer projects such as visiting a new country or learning to play an instrument, but LSU physics and computer science senior Craig Jones had another idea: starting a video game company.

Jones and his team of LSU students and alumni came together to form After Hours Lab LLC, an independent video game development company stationed in the Louisiana Technology Park, a local nonprofit business incubator.

Jones said he enjoyed the experience of developing a video game as a class assignment and wanted to see what it would be like to create a full-length game with multiple levels, music and marketing. He approached his now lead designer, Michael Morgan, with a plan, and Morgan developed the idea for their first game, a mobile platformer called “Space Shrimp.”

Platformers are a style of game in which a player must control a character through an obstacle course of enemies, holes in the ground and other obstructions, similar to what is seen in the “Mario” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” franchises.

The team grew as Jones approached classmates he had worked with before, including digital art senior Cameron Bragg. Bragg then brought on his friend and fellow digital art senior Tylar Spencer, and both now serve as designers for After Hours Lab.

“Because we’re into the semester, we have to move a little more deliberately than we did over the summer when we just did a few things here and there,” Jones said. “We’re going to use this semester to build the mechanics and the engine of the game. By the end of the year, we should have five to 10 levels showing how the game will work.”

After Hours Lab has a tentative plan to release “Space Shrimp” at the end of spring 2016. Jones said he hopes to sell the game on mobile devices for $3, giving team members a percentage of the profit, though money is not the only motivator.

“We want to use industry standard tools to learn how we can do professional developments,” Jones said. “So when we’re looking for jobs, we can say we’ve done this before.”

The group decided to create a mobile game instead of a console or computer-based platformer because it is more cost effective. Jones said it costs about $6,000 for the console gaming development kit alone.

Jones said his application of physics goes hand-in-hand with the work he does at After Hours Lab. He said physics is about solving problems with given information, and developing a game is just another problem to solve.

After “Space Shrimp” is released, Jones will have one year left in his undergraduate studies. He said in that time, he plans to develop and release a few expansion packs to add new levels and updates to the game, but he still hopes the team will return to create more games.

Spencer said working as a designer for After Hours Lab allows her to showcase the skills she learns in classes and understand methods to design 2-D and 3-D models.

“For me, it’s been working with the pipeline,” Bragg said. “This has been a way to learn how the industry works by working with a team, and that’s how it’ll always be. It’s been hard work, but I’ve learned so much working with an indie startup.”

The team’s members have long-term goals of working in the video game industry.

Jones said he would like to continue After Hours Lab or program for other video game companies.

Bragg said he hopes to work for Bethesda Softworks, the company which produced “Fallout” and “The Elder Scrolls” series.

“Even if this game flops, we did what we meant to do,” Jones said. “We met our goal of creating something that looks impressive on a résumé. If things go great, then we have plenty of ideas for future projects.”

No matter where the future takes the company, Jones said its members have already grown as developers, designers and managers.

“The reason it’s called After Hours Lab is because we all have other jobs, so we work on this after hours, and the lab part comes from it being an educational experience,” Jones said. “This has been an incredible time for us, and now most of us feel more prepared for the real world that’s waiting for us.”