The Tiny Baton Rouge Company Making Waves in the Mobile Gaming World
The creation of a video game often is a gradual and labor-intensive process that unfolds over months or years. But in less than two years, self-taught and solo game developer Daniel Norman has carved out a corner in the mobile gaming world, creating and releasing a series of titles that he has designed and developed largely on his own.
Norman is a co-founder and creative director of Baton Rouge-based mobile app company Red Kraken. Now working out of the Level Up Lab at the Louisiana Technology Park, he has created and released several video games while establishing partnerships to expand his reach in the hyper-competitive mobile gaming marketplace.
Following a Self-Guided Path
An LSU graduate, Norman’s background is in graphic design, but he taught himself how to code while working for a consulting company over the course of several years.
“They gave me the biggest, nastiest programming projects they could find and I had to go head-first in,” he says. “It was the sink-or-swim method of programming, but I’ve always had a knack for the logical foundation behind programming languages.”
In 2016 he connected with two technology investors, with whom he would go on to found Red Kraken (Norman manages the day-to-day operations of the company). Together they set out to create a news aggregator app, which they released later that year just as major tech companies were releasing similar products. When the news app failed to catch fire, the company decided to pivot to gaming.
“We went into mobile games just to see what we could do with it,” he says.
Connecting with New Sources of Inspiration
Norman’s first mobile game was Catasaurus Rex and the Infinite Papercut, an infinite runner featuring several paper-doll-inspired characters. Each character (conceived by Norman’s then-7-year-old daughter) moves through a unique level with different enemies to dodge or blow up.
The company released the title in 2017 to limited commercial attention, but the game earned Norman an invite to Indie Prize’s Casual Connect competition in California in early 2018. During that trip Norman connected with an executive with web-comic company Tapas and forged a partnership to create a game based of one of its comic properties. That game, Dungeon Construction Co., was released in August 2018 and continues to gain popularity.
Red Kraken has also released a game called Turkey Dash, which Norman created in two weeks, as well as a simple app for kids called Santa Meter 4000. A thread of comedy runs through Norman’s creations, which he attributes to his other job: being a dad. “I have three kids, so we joke around a lot,” he says.
Finding a Creative Outlet
In addition to his formal training in graphic design, Norman has a background in sculpture, painting and ceramics — all skills he leans on when creating games. “Just to apply that medium to games where you get a constant enjoyment out of it is really fun,” he says. “Plus, the programming side is enjoyable too.
“To be able to do that on a daily basis and get paid for it is great,” he adds. “I just have this need to create, and I don’t really care what medium. To be able to create games and have the potential for them to either create revenue or open up new doors to prosper is great.”
Norman says he connected with the Louisiana Technology Park in June and started working in the Level Up Lab on games while performing other client work. He has fully embraced the challenges and rewards that come with being a one-person development shop.
“It’s quite interesting, especially doing the design, programming and marketing,” he says. “You put on a lot of different hats. But it’s refreshing because when you get to a point where you’re almost exhausted doing something, you switch hats and it’s fresh and new and you jump back in.”