Bryan Crim explores the jungle with Buzzy and finds a snake hiding in a tree.
Photo by Karen Diefendorf/Woodinville Weekly.
by Karen Diefendorf
The world is taking note of Humongous Entertainment of Woodinville. USA Today has referred to them as one of "six firms worth watching in '96." Fortune included them in a list of "25 cool companies." Its interactive CD "Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds" was named Consumer Product of the Year by the Washington Software Association.
However, besides all the predictions for a rosy future and the astounding animation techniques utilized by Humongous, what most strikes a visitor to their offices is the obvious love for and commitment to their product, which alone is enough to set them apart from many of their competitors.
Begun in 1992 by Shelley Day and Ron Gilbert in small homey offices in north Woodinville, the company now has 90 employees and has moved into larger accommodations. Gilbert describes the operation as "one of the largest animation studios in Washington."
The market for company's games and stories has gone worldwide. Japanese, Hebrew, Dutch, and Arabic language CD-ROMs are available with German and French language titles in production.
Humongous' first interactive CD-ROM star was Putt-Putt, a happy little purple car, who was the result of bedtime stories Day had once told her son, Travis. Her tales of Spider-Man's fight scenes never quite came up to the 3-year-old's expectations, so she invented the little car whose non-violent adventures thrilled the boy, now a 9-year-old student at Sunrise Elementary. In all, the well-mannered, happy-go-lucky Putt-Putt starred in four interactive productions.
The junior adventure series followed, offering entertaining, non-violent adventures which are open-ended and designed for exploration by kids at their own speed.
"Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds" is an award-winning interactive mystery that was one of the first in the industry to feature traditional hand-drawn animation and high resolution graphics.
The junior field trip series features interactive trips to a farm, an airport, and a jungle, all led by Buzzy the Knowledge Bug.
A sequel to Freddi Fish is due out in September. "The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse" will feature a bold and adventurous hero whose name remains a company secret.
Shelley Day, president and C.E.O. of Humongous, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the company. She believes the beginnings of Humongous actually stem from her love of board games as a child, a love that continued into adulthood. When she couldn't find friends to play games with her, she would resort to computer games.
Day points out that in the past, children were, for the most part, getting the low end of production, but Humongous is "using complex, high-end software to produce quality children's productions."
Problem solving is one of the valuable facets of the games and stories. "There are no wrong answers, and this helps a child's self-esteem," Day said.
Her background, following graduation from San Francisco State University with degrees in psychology and radio and TV production, has centered on project management and production.
"The company was not based on calculation or research," she said. "It's fun and something I enjoy doing."
Of the Humongous productions, she is proud that they have "crafted really well-told interactive stories for children that they enjoy playing."
The other half of the successful Humongous team is Ron Gilbert. Gilbert, who began using computer programs and games in 1975, majored in computer science at Eastern Oregon St. College in LaGrande. Before most people had access to personal computers, he was using the computers in the lab where his father was a physicist.
His aim when the two founded Humongous was "to create a company that did fun stuff. Work should be something you love. I wanted a company whose focus wasn't to make as much money as possible, but to make games that were as much fun as possible," Gilbert explained. "I'm still playing games. It's great not to have to grow up."
It is important to Gilbert, however, that not only the kids enjoy the company's games and stories, but that they appeal to parents as well. "Characters like Disney's, that live forever, are those that parents like as well as the kids," he said.
Gilbert would be happy to know that his games and characters do indeed appeal to adults. Four 22-year-olds, who wish to remain anonymous, spent an entire evening last week having great fun playing "Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo."
Seven-year-old Jessie Leib, usually a shy first-grader, was so excited by "Let's Explore the Jungle with Buzzy" that she agreed to be interviewed.
All the adults in the office enjoyed watching almost-4-year-old Bryan Crim's excitement as he played the same game as Jessie. He was entranced by each of the animals he discovered hiding in the jungle.