Edits: updated some brotherly confusion.
Mike Ambrogi along with his brother Tim and Hal Larsson don’t leave anything to chance. When all three plotted their move to Philly from the West Coast a few years back, the trio used spreadsheets to help time out the cross country operations.
I did a look for one of ’em recently but didn’t turn it up, says Larsson.
The three are the founders of Final Form games, a video game studio based in what the guys like to call the “mathematical center” of Center City: 15th and Market.
“There isn’t a huge game industry here. But we know what we are doing, and we can become a part of that and help grow what’s here,” says Tim Ambrogi. It’s exciting being here when it just starts. ”
Currently, Final Form is working on its first title: a SNES-style top-down shooter tentatively titled “Jamestown” – about the colonization of Mars by the 17th century British explorers. The group plans to release the game to the PC in the first half of next year and then, if all goes well, to the Xbox Live Arcade.
But the road to Philly was a bumpy one. Just a few years ago, all three were in California but it took a detailed plan to finally set up shop in the city, a plan they say was largely motivated by “ladies and the sandwiches.”
Brothers Tim and Mike had known as early as middle school that they wanted to build a game studio together.
When Mike graduated Haverford College with a computer science degree Savannah College of Art and Design with a degree in animation, he moved to California to work on developing games. Soon as his bother Tim graduated, he quit, and the two tried to unsuccessfully to start a studio in Northern California.
We didn’t finish a product but we learned a lot, says Mike Tim who, like his brother, returned to making games for another company when their startup went under.
Larsson, a former classmate with Mike Tim at Haverford College also had been making a living developing games in California and the three began talking about starting a new studio (see the college’s profile of the company here). They began modestly at first, meeting every other week and developing their game on the side, all the while saving money from their day jobs.
“It takes forever to get the stars to align, to get everyone to make the plunge, says Mike. “Without hyperbole it takes years.”
The ever alluring combination of family and friends led the trio back here one-by-one in a plan that was so well thought out that they charted it out on paper.
“It was one of the most complicated problems I’ve ever dealt with”, says Mike. “It’s a miracle we are all sitting in the same room right now.”
But now that all three are in the same town with a dedicated space to work on their dream they have no interest in growing to be the next triple-A gaming studio. From limiting themselves to 16-bit graphics to stubbornly sticking with a three-man team, the studio is all about streamlining game creation so that their gameplay ideas get accurately represented in the code without being muddled through a hierarchical management structure.
“Having worked at giant companies where you have to get approval for every decision, it’s great to have just two guys that I need approval from,” says Larsson.
The guys say they see Philadelphia’s video game scene growing slowly but surely. Just days before they spoke to Technically Philly, they said that even passed a fellow game developer on the street, a chance encounter.
“That has to be some sort of milestone,” says Mike.