This talented animation studio has caught the eye of Telltale Games

Start-Up Spotlight: Straandlooper

Straandlooper is an animation studio that is turning its hand to game development.

Based in Northern Ireland, the studio was founded in January 2008 by Richard Morss, Alastair McIlwain and Tim Bryans.

Straandlooper made its name working on children’s TV series Lifeboat Luke. Recently, their original adventure game Hector for iOS caught the attention of Telltale Games, who have agreed to assist with the next two instalments and bring them to more platforms.

Richard Morss, managing director of Straandlooper takes us through the animation studio’s case file and its move into games.

How did you start your company?
The company was started with some private investment and a slate development loan from Northern Ireland Screen, the idea was to use the talent assembled on the production of Lifeboat Luke to create new IP in digital animation to take advantage of the multiple distribution platforms available for product.

How many people work at your company?
Initially we worked as a conventional studio with staff, but the vagaries of the production cycle have meant that we have moved to a virtual studio model, so all Straandlooper founders work on contract and we recruit freelancers and consultants as and when necessary. Currently we have about 10 people working on projects in various capacities.

What’s your company culture like?
The challenge of having a ‘culture’ in this situation is fairly hefty, it is probably defined by shared sensibilities, the desire for independence and a willingness to sometimes lead, sometimes be led, on the part of all of us.

Tell us a little-known fact or anecdote about your company.
I don’t have any tales of antics on company outings, etc. We’re very proud of our co-founder Tim Bryans who abseiled down the side of a tall building for charity and performed other daring physical stunts, the most dangerous of which was probably getting married in a kilt, thus demonstrating a testicular fortitude not often found amongst the deskbound digital crowd.

What could you, and/or your team members, not do without on a daily basis?
Broadband, coffee, Skype, tea and taking a break to get outdoors.

Why did you decide to enter the casual gaming market?
We try to think of everything we do in the round, and gaming had always been part of what we wanted to achieve with a couple of the projects we had developed. We had created a bunch of apps for kids called ‘Spotisodes’ based on episodes of Lifeboat Luke, and were looking for ways to move the Hector property forward, when Dean, Hector’s creator, and Kevin Beimers separately came up with game ideas, the result eventually, and thanks to a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Department of Culture and Leisure, was the first release of Hector: Badge of Carnage on the App Store.

What games/tools/services have you made since forming, and how have they been received?
Badge of Carnage is our first game, and we are currently working on the two follow-up games in the trilogy. Under the auspices of Telltale Games. Hector proved a great property for the iPhone market because of the number of switched on gamers following review sites, blogs, etc, that could be tapped relatively easily when the game was launched. Interestingly, we have found promoting the kids work much more difficult because there is not that niche audience looking for a particular kind of product, and there are so many known properties for kids it is always difficult breaking through with something new.

What are you working on right now, and what stage is the project at?
We’re in the thick of production on the next two Hector games, which should be released in late summer/autumn this year. We’re already considering the next step for Hector. We’d love to bring the character to the big screen eventually, and also to develop a strong game franchise across platforms with him. We’re also looking to give our great kids property Lifeboat Luke a shot in the arm with a new format for TV and an enhanced online presence. We’re putting together the finance to bring our Small Tragedies collection of shorts, that has been extremely well received thus far, to a critical mass so we can properly promote it.

What are your aspirations for the company?
I think we have established a small reputation for being original, different and maybe even daring in our approach to the market. We don’t ever want to be ‘big’ in the sense of having a huge infrastructure, because the whole thing then exists to feed a machine, rather than being driven by ideas.

I believe there are a lot of great things still to come from all the individuals working for us, and we would hope to bring more original and striking projects forward. We’d like Straandlooper to be one of the first places people look for great content in many genres.

Who do you admire in the games industry and/or beyond?
I admire so many people. I am constantly amazed by the wit, the rich storytelling the technical and creative exuberance on display in games. I love the idea of creating a world for people to explore and also carry out quests, solve problems, shoot the crap out of each other or whatever.

My personal frustration is that I’ve enjoyed games vicariously through my kids – now grown up – and never caught the habit or had the time to play myself. But it all feeds into a love of storytelling, a humorous outlook on the world, and the attempt to realise a project from page to whatever sort of screen. The people I admire are the ones that achieve that.

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