Alumni Founders of Video Game Company Aren't Just Playing Around
As adolescents, Tim Ambrogi '04 and his brother Mike used to dream of the wonderful video games they'd create when they grew up. Now the Ambrogi brothers, along with Tim's Haverford classmate Halsted“Hal” Larsson '03, are turning that dream into reality as founders of Final Form Games, a game development studio based in Center City Philadelphia.
Tim Ambrogi and Hal Larsson met and became friends and gaming partners at Haverford, where Ambrogi majored in computer science and Larsson in religious studies. After graduating, Ambrogi moved to California to join his brother at a game company called America's Army, and later went on to work for another company called Planet Moon Studios. Larsson entered a hospital chaplaincy programâ€”â€œa traditional inroad to video games,” he jokes. He soon realized this path was not for him, and enrolled in a graduate program at Stanford University focusing on education, technology and design.
Larsson was later hired by the children's educational company Leapfrog, and discovered that his office was just two blocks from the Ambrogis' workplaces. During a catch-up lunch, the three recalled their longstanding desire to create their own games, and began working on projects in their spare time. They all agreed to base their hopeful business in Philadelphia, for personal (family and girlfriend connections) and professional reasons.“We were excited by the prospect of being among the first people creating games in Philadelphia,” says Tim Ambrogi.“There's something to that trailblazer idea. We wanted to establish a community for the industry here.
“Plus,” he adds,“Philadelphia has the best sandwiches.”
The three used their personal savings to establish Final Form Games; the name, says Larsson, refers to“the very last enemy you fight in many games.” The company was founded on three core values. First, all game designs will be based on empirical dataâ€”testers' own experiences of playing the game. Second, the founders' intention is to create socially responsible games:“Things you can tell your grandmother about and not be ashamed,” says Ambrogi. Third, Final Form intends to avoid making games that are, says Larsson,“violent for the sake of violence.”
The group's first game, now in the prototype phase, is called Jamestown. It's an alternate history of English colonization, imagining that during the 1600s the British discovered space travel and built a colony on Mars, only to discover that the planet is already inhabited (naturally, by Martians). Larsson and the Ambrogis are trying to re-create actual New World conflicts in this fantastic setting. Currently, they're looking for enthusiasts to test-drive the game (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if interested).
Eventually, Final Form hopes to distribute the game through an online portal site, which brings together information from diverse sources and would also serve as a means of advertising. The group will also advertise via Twitter, Facebook, and their mailing lists.
Larsson's and Ambrogi's Haverford education has strongly influenced Final Form's management style.“The company is run by consensus,” says Ambrogi.“That's how we've solve disagreements like deciding what games to make, what art direction to take, or how long tasks should last. We work through our issues with clear communication, and come to a unified understanding.”
The three co-founders work full time at Final Form and continue to live off of their savings, doing some contract and web work on the side. Ambrogi anticipates a future for Final Form filled with new ideas:“Experimentation is at the heart of what we're doing,” he says.