The Glam Doll game makers

Martin Grider (l) and Zachary Johnson play the Donutron. Photo by Michelle Bruch
Martin Grider (l) and Zachary Johnson play the Donutron. Photo by Michelle Bruch

Near the back of Glam Doll Donuts, people in formal attire sit across a table and gobble food as fast as they possibly can. When they’re finished, they race to pick up their plates and hurl them at each other. It’s a video game called “Polite Dinner Extreme,” and it’s one of many local games on the free Donutron arcade cabinet.

Zachary Johnson and Victor Thompson created the arcade cabinet, and it’s gotten a fair amount of play in the past year — Thompson already repaired the joystick once in December.

“Kids come and whale on this thing,” Johnson said. “That’s the magic of arcade buttons. They really take a beating.”

Kids might not realize that creators of those games are also eating donuts just a few tables away. Local video game developers meet up at Glam Doll every Friday afternoon. A handful of them recently started renting a house in Whittier as a co-working space.

“Minneapolis has a big, vibrant indie video game scene,” said Johnson, a resident of the Wedge neighborhood.

On a recent Friday at Glam Doll, Thompson, a Lyndale neighborhood resident, was programming the engine for a new 3D version of the game Kingdom of Loathing, a job he’s doing remotely for the San Francisco-based creators.

Minneapolitan Martin Grider was fixing a bug in a virtual reality game he’s developing with Lynnhurst resident Patrick Swinnea for the National Institutes of Health. The game is built for an exercise bike with seniors in mind, and it’s designed around research that shows cognition improves with exercise. Players sort library books and memorize shopping lists as they bike down a virtual street.

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Grider and Swinnea were also working on a virtual reality experience that will debut on the Green Line during the all-night party Northern Spark on June 10. The project is a collaboration with poet Todd Boss and Pixel Farm. Train riders who drop their phones into Google Cardboard viewers will watch the train crumble apart, or feel as though they’re inside an airplane on fire.

Grider recently threw together a game designed for the Donutron with the working title “Donut On Donut.”

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“You are a donut rolling on another donut in space, collecting mini donuts,” he said. “I’ve got to think about how the levels work.”

The other developers suggested he simply add a timer, call it good and load it onto the arcade cabinet.

Ian Fitzpatrick, who develops games like the Donutron’s Frog Bike on the side, said he appreciates that local game developers are supportive, unlike a gaming culture that can be ultracompetitive.

“It’s so easy to kill an idea,” he said. “It’s a cool group of folks for sure, and I hope it grows.”

The Twin Cities doesn’t have many big name game companies, but it does have a vibrant community of smaller game developers and hobbyists, said Andy Korth, whose past projects have included a Phineas and Ferb game for Disney. “We have more variety of people doing different things. It’s really exploded over the last five to eight years.”

He and wife/designer/producer Beth Korth and artist Lizzy Siemers are currently finishing the life simulation game Verdant Skies.

Korth credits the growth to groups like the Twin Cities Chapter of the International Game Developers Association and digital game promoter GLITCH, which is throwing the GLITCHCON game festival May 5-7.

Connections at GLITCH brought Charles McGregor’s game anti|piracy to the Donutron, which he describes as an “intense action dodge ‘em up with a minimalist design.”

“One of my favorite things about game development is the fact that it is the culmination of what I am passionate about, Programming, Art, and Music,” he said in an email. “I love melding those mediums together into a game that others can experience. I find that it is extremely natural for me to express myself through video games whether that be making or playing them.”

Johnson said the game development process is similar to designing a film with art and music — but then making it playable.

“Making a game is the hardest thing,” he said.

His game Joggernauts releases in the spring of 2018. Johnson and co-creators Tommy Sunders and Robert Frost III wanted to create something different from the prevailing violent death match experience in games.

“I was really excited to make something that wasn’t violent, and instead of competitive, cooperative,” Johnson said.

Joggernauts is another of the local games loaded on the Donutron.

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“This is the kind of thing I wish existed when I was a kid,” Johnson said. “For a while, there were no arcades anymore and arcades kind of died.”

“It’s great to come in and see kids playing,” Thompson said. Although it can be hard to read the teenagers’ expressions, he said.

“Maybe they’re enjoying it, maybe they’re not. It’s hard to tell. But they play for an hour,” he said.

To connect with local game developers, visit Ice Cold Games.

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