“We’re never going to make video games.” Apparently, that’s what Jan Hameeuw, creative producer at The Fridge, once said in a conversation with Bruno Urbain of Fishing Cactus, one of the biggest game developer studios in Wallonia. Fast forward a few years and Stacka, a division within The Fridge focused on new technology, becomes one of the latest additions to the ever-growing FLEGA family.
While he might’ve been convinced of that idea a couple of years ago, it made a lot of sense for The Fridge, a Brussels based technology firm specialised in VFX and 2D/3D animation, to explore the possibilities of VR and video games. There’s both a creative and technological motivation behind this. Hameeuw: “Film creatives, like director Hans Van Nuffel, who wanted to work on something more interactive but didn’t have any connections in video games usually turned to us. So the first projects we worked on, originated from their ideas.”
Then there’s the technological overlaps. Building on a pipeline, developed for the live action movie Labyrinthus (to give the director more freedom than traditional 3D would allow for) The Fridge developed a technology to transport 3D environments directly into the Unity engine. Hameeuw admits the tech wasn’t optimised for the creation of video games and a lot of people told him this was never going to work. But it showed that the worlds of animation and video games were starting to converge, so in the long run it made sense for The Fridge to further explore these new media.
“To compete on an international level, it’s crucial to open up the Belgian tax shelter to video games”Jan Hameeuw
“We also do it because we think it’s really cool.”, Hameeuw adds. “This may be an old man’s idea of fun, but I still think it’s pretty awesome to watch a movie and afterwards be able to peek into that universe or wander around the world yourself. The idea of these converging worlds is what’s really appealing to us.”
Stacka may be a new name in the video games sector, but they bring a tremendous understanding of international coproduction and tax shelter knowledge to the table. Having worked on numerous animation projects, The Fridge has built a name for itself as a trustworthy partner that knows how to handle a project of a certain size or budget.
However, Hameeuw notes there’s a big difference between the funding of animation and video game projects. “It’s great that we’re able to get support from public funds like VAF and Wallimage, but compared to other countries, we’re playing in a lower league. In order to be able to compete on an international level, it’s crucial to open up the Belgian tax shelter to video games.”
That search for alternative financing is what’s currently putting Replaceable, a narrative driven experience directed by Hans Van Nuffel, on hold. The vertical slice that helped score the project VAF funding is being pitched to publishers. In the game you help an ageing inventor in his quest to bring down the rogue AI he created, meeting robotic friends and foes in the process. Another game based on a German animation IP is currently in early pre-production. On top of that, Stacka is currently building two VR experiences, it wants to launch early next year.
From a company that was never going to make video games, to a company that has four interactive projects in the pipeline. “Sometimes, technology has a way of catching up with reality”, Hameeuw muses.