Business

Playing To Win

A Kansas City game designer scores big with his first creation

By Katy Schamberger

Choose your apex dinosaur, hunt prey, evolve your genetics, grow stronger, fight bosses and dominate your friends.

Welcome to the world of Apex Theropod, a deck-building game in which players participate as one of nine apex predators competing for a territory. The game, however, doesn’t make it easy—and not only do you have to conquer a number of potentially life-ending threats, you also must dominate the competition.

Think the game sounds exciting? You’re not alone. The game’s creator, Kansas City resident Herschel Hoffmeyer, launched a Kickstarter project in March to raise the $4,000 needed to bring the game to fruition. Word of mouth soon spread like wildfire among popular gaming sites, pushing the fundraising amount well past the initial goal. And when a perfectly timed Forbes article was published the last week of the campaign, eager prospective players quickly pushed the fundraising amount from $38,000 to the final total: $51,364 from 847 backers.

 Now that he has ample funding with which to bring Apex Theropod to the general public, Hoffmeyer is busy completing some remaining testing and finishing the game’s artwork, all of which he created himself. A second-year Art Institutes International student, Hoffmeyer opted to change the artistic elements from the original designs that were digitally drawn. Apex Theropod now features 3-D art that’s rendered as a 2-D image, an option that Hoffmeyer is now pursuing because 3-D art, a newer style, has recently evolved to “look realistic on a 2-D medium,” Hoffmeyer says.

Drawing a Dream

Spend some time talking to Hoffmeyer and it’s clear that his creative drive emerged early in life. He started drawing before he was 5; it’s “the first thing I remember doing in my life,” he says. Dinosaurs, dragons and other creatures were his subject of choice—so much so, in fact, that Hoffmeyer remembers his mom taking him to the library so he could check out more dinosaur books then spend hours carefully recreating the images.

His interests later expanded to include games, during which time he didn’t just enjoy the entertainment factor of games like Twisted Metal and Halo. He also learned to appreciate the mechanics and skill involved in creating each game, which later inspired him to pursue a game design degree through the Art Institute.

Hoffmeyer took an eight-year hiatus from art when he served with the Army Infantry. And although he enjoyed serving with the military, he realized he was meant to follow another path. “I knew there was something more for me out there,” he says. “I didn’t draw much while I was in the Army, but when I came home, I started drawing again. It felt like something I was born with and you can’t escape your fate.”

 

Designing a Victory

Once Hoffmeyer decided to turn his creative pursuits into a profession, he knew he wanted to create and design games. “My initial plan before I even got to school was to make my own games, be my own crew leader and eventually have someone working for me,” he says. “I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight.”

The St. Louis area native enrolled in the Art Institutes International and moved to Kansas City to study the school’s game design curriculum. In one of his classes, the instructor asked students to create weekly game prototypes. After learning about deck-building games, Hoffmeyer became captivated by the mechanics of that particular gaming style.

He opted to combine a deck-building game with his long-time passion—dinosaurs—and his classmates’ response prompted Hoffmeyer to consider options beyond the classroom. “I just created something fun, and people really started to like it,” he says. “I thought it would be easy to make this game real.”

Hoffmeyer began designing Apex Theropod in December 2013 and launched his 30-day Kickstarter campaign in March. The game is scheduled to be available this fall, and a distributor is currently shopping Apex Theropod to prospective retailers.

Juggling the demands of the game and coursework makes for a hectic schedule. Yet Hoffmeyer, a father of two, is no stranger to staying busy. “I’m pretty much home all the time, so it’s easy to work on this and be a dad,” he says.

Creating and launching Apex Theropod has proved to be an invaluable learning experience for Hoffmeyer, especially as he considers his next move. “I wanted to see where my potential was, so I created this game to see if my initial dream is still possible,” he says.

The verdict?

“I’m very excited with where it’s going right now,” Hoffmeyer says. “I plan on finishing school and taking things one step at a time, but I’m moving in the right direction.”

And although Hoffmeyer is currently immersed in the captivating world of Apex Theropod, he’s also planning what’s next. “I already have another game in my head that I’m anxious to get started on,” he says. “This one was more of an experience to get my feet wet. Now that I have a fan base, I can show them where my imagination can go.”

Ready to play? If you want to test your skills in Apex Theropod, visit Herschel Hoffmeyer’s website, Die-Hard Games LLC (www.diehardgamesllc.com) to pre-order the game ahead of its fall 2014 release date.