Eclectic Animation Team of gamers hope to solidify place in the valley

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Eclectic Animation’s Zach Strand, from left, Todd Strand and Gibby Hart sit in an office in Somers on Wednesday. (Aaric Bryan/Daily Inter Lake)

The creators of Eclectic Animation, a small start-up company, began their venture with a goal of reviving their local economy by introducing a new and unexpected industry.

The four-man team is determined to bring the booming business of video game creation to the Flathead Valley in hopes of igniting a gaming flame.

They released their latest venture, a simple cellphone/PC game called “The Disposables,” on Oct. 6.

The game is the second the new company has produced and depicts a main character named Joe Everyman, a man employed by a monstrous company with a mission to explore and find new planets to colonize.

The game, according to its creators, is a mix of science fiction and satire but without an extensive and complex story line, allowing gamers to focus solely on the art and the experience of playing.

Much like a combination of Angry Birds and Super Mario, players must guide Joe Everyman over, under and through various obstacles to reach check points at the end of each level, with each level becoming more and more challenging. Though the game currently ends at level 10, Gibby Hart, the game’s programmer and co-designer said the levels provide more than enough of a challenge for the average “Joe.”

Inspired by his son’s artistic skills and love of gaming, Todd Strand, the company’s CEO and business manager, began the company around four years ago.

Zach, Strand’s son, graduated from college in 2012, the same year jobs in the gaming industry took a dive, and despite his best efforts, he was unable to find a job in the competitive field.

After three years of fruitless job searching, Zach hatched a plan to produce his own video game that would double as his portfolio, something he could present to potential employers to showcase his skills and experience.

His father, however, saw more potential in his plan and proposed a new strategy. They would start their own gaming company, focusing on developing small games and working their way up. The southern California residents made the move to Montana to start their venture, and named their new company Eclectic Animation.

“How the company works is a little eclectic,” Zach said. “We feel it’s a little different from everything else that’s out there.”

Father and son set out with a learn-on-the-job mentality, working to develop a working model that they could improve upon as they expanded their knowledge of game creation.

Soon after jumping in, however, the two-man team hit a wall in filling the holes in their master plan. They needed a few skilled and experienced programmers who knew the business to get the ball rolling.

The brother and son team set out on a two-year long search, determined to find the best of the best in their local community. A chance encounter at Sliters in Somers brought them to Hart.

Not quite the professional programmer they were searching for, Hart was a college student with basic programming knowledge, a heart for gaming and a will to learn.

They agreed he was the perfect match for their own inexperience and enthusiasm and decided to make him an offer.

When approached with the business venture, Hart said he saw an opportunity to learn his trade at a faster rate and to contribute to something he considered valuable.

With a wife and child at home and another on the way, Hart dropped out of school to help make the game while working full time on the side.

Hart brought with him Conner Seyfert, the CEO of 1Up Marketing Solutions, a local start-up marketing company that could promote and expose Eclectic Animation.

Seyfert said he saw much of himself in the Strands and joined the team as a kind of campaign manager.

“They have the same dream, and I’m all on board with helping people get started and just growing their communities, getting out there and getting their voices heard,” Seyfert said. “My goal is to help small businesses like these guys grow that community.”

Todd said he shares Seyfert’s goal and wants to use the unexplored local industry of gaming to bring money back into the Flathead Valley.

“The gaming industry makes more than the movie and music industries combined,” Hart said.

Hart said in addition to bringing a rapidly growing industry to his community, he plans to source everything from computers to hardware to talent directly from the valley.

Todd confirmed that the talent is here.

“You can’t throw a rock without hitting an artist,” he said. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to employ more locals.”

Through the release of their newest game, the Eclectic Animation team hopes to attract the talent they need to reach their goal of one day producing games that the entire world will talk about.

Flathead Valley Community College plans to introduce a Programming and Game Development major into their curriculum in January, which, according to Todd, will create a field of students to draw from. Todd plans to talk to students about his company in hopes of bringing a few interns on to the team.

“We need people who are willing to learn because that’s what we’re doing,” Todd said. “I am not some kind of corporate giant. We’re all winging it.”

First, however, Eclectic Animation has to put out content that is capable of attracting that kind of attention, Zach said.

He believes “The Disposables” is the perfect first step. It’s a game, he said, that provides a simple yet enjoyable experience for those looking for a way to pass the time during a bus ride home or in the 10 minutes before a meeting.

“I like to compare this game to potato chips,” Zach said. “It’s something that you can enjoy, and no one will judge you for it but we’re comparing that to a five-course meal at a five-star restaurant.”

“This game was meant to be a way to practice our skills,” Hart added. “The intended market is anyone who is willing to try.”

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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