Indie Games Showcase: Team KAIZEN

Another week, another independent studio to receive the spotlight in our ongoing Indie Games Showcase. This time round, we’re ushering Team KAIZEN into the limelight, a Montana-based company that is striving to render experiences that are as educational as they are entertaining. 

As the driving force behind the low-key developer, Josh Hughes recounts Team KAIZEN’s humble origins, from its founding alongside his brother Trevor in 2006 to becoming Montana’s very first PlayStation certified game studio.

What’s in a Name?

But before getting up and running, the Hughes brothers had to settle on a company name. During his formative years in High School, Josh reveals that, much like the rest of us, it was a teacher that helped spark his imagination, and how the moniker stems from a Japanese mantra for success. 

My senior year I needed to fill a few period slots, so I took a psychology class taught by Mr. Greenwell. He had a childhood friend, Bill Kovack, who wrote a book called Thermodynamics of Success and Mr. Greenwell had us read it. In it, Kovack covers how the US helped Japan rebuild post WWII and, during this reconstruction, people in Japan coined the term ‘Kaizen’ to embody never-ending improvement. I remembered loving the account of that and thinking to myself, ‘If I ever start a company or group, I’d want Kaizen to be in the name somehow’, so when my brother and I started a game studio I told him I wanted to call it Team KAIZEN.

Cool part is we do educational initiatives now and are invited yearly to our school district’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) expo to show kids how game careers and STEAM cross paths. 2 years ago, I ran into Mr. Greenwell at STEAM Expo and told him how our studio name came from his class. Unbeknownst to me, he ran home and grabbed his personal copy of the book and brought it back–pretty much floored me when he gave it to me!

Burst Jan 20 2

Meet the Team

All in all, Team KAIZEN consists of around 35 staff members, encompassing full-time staffers and freelance contributors. But at its center, the studio revolves around the following familial core.

  • Josh Hughes — President
  • Trevor Hughes — Vice President
  • Cyndi Hughes — Secretary and “Company Mom”
  • Colin Martin — LA Coordinator
  • James Scharmack — Art Director
  • Caleb Gray — Code Lead

Fun Facts About Team KAIZEN

“We give talks to schools, community groups and libraries across the country on topics ranging from Game Design to Game Entrepreneurship and Jobs in the Industry as a provider for the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC”

“On our site there is 4 Kanji (Chinese/Japanese characters) below ‘team’. They were picked for us by Tokyo native Saori Kameue and, in the Japanese version, are pronounced as ‘To-Zai-Yu-Gou’ and mean ‘A fusion of East and West’, which is our game design philosophy :-). We have a friend who is native Chinese and she confirmed that, while the pronunciation is different in Chinese, it still translates that way to English.”

“We were one of the winners of the My Road to Greatness Contest, which brought the PlayStation Truck to Great Falls, Montana (our home turf). Crazy part is our community manager (Ryder Enright) and I drove down to Vegas for PlayStation Experience in December. Before the final keynote of the show, they played that video on the big community stage screen. I was walking to Ryder and our friend Sam when I saw Mom on the big screen and about had a heart attack on the floor! Not to mention several people saw it both in person and on-stream and were hitting us up on FaceBook. It was very humbling and awesome!!”

Other In-Development Projects

Upcoming Games Highlight

Starting life as a flash-based tech demo back in 2011, Burst! mixes chemistry and music in a wholly unique way, with players tasked with detonating firepowers in tune with the music — a rhythm-based explosive simulator, if you will. Slated for a release on PlayStation Vita, the title represents a labor of love for the studio, with a portion of proceeds helping to fund restoration of Montana’s archbridge, the very same bridge you’ll light up with your well-timed gunpowder within the game itself.

We wanted to start a conversation about a potential game genre we call ‘educational lite’. Educational lite games mean that it’s a game targeted at ‘normal’ consumers but has elements of STEAM naturally mixed into the gameplay in ways that enhance the player experience. The goal isn’t to get them to memorize something to regurgitate on a test, but rather to show how STEAM learning can actually benefit gameplay in natural ways. In Burst!’s case, players unlock elements off the Periodic Table to increase their firework color palate, and these are the same elements that give their colors to real life fireworks. Through this, the elements on the Periodic Table stop being esoteric cards and start being an active part of the gameplay dynamic. We think Burst! is just the beginning of what could be done with this dynamic, and the end result is people having fun while realizing STEAM concepts aren’t as hard to grasp as they once thought!

We have been working on Burst! via sweat equity and hope to soon go for crowdfunding to get the last bit we need to finish/publish it. We already have several musicians aboard with an eclectic range including a retro-rock style Americana band, a heavy metal band from the UK and a Japanese band that produced (they’re no longer together but gave us permission to use their song) a style of rock they dubbed ‘Samurai Rock’ that was heavily influenced by things like traditional Japanese theater performance.

We are aiming to have a new trailer up for Burst! soon as well! Currently, it’s only playable on PC (we’re developing it in Unity) –however we’re only targeting a Vita release at this time.

A huge thanks to Josh Hughes of Team KAIZEN for providing us with the information found in this feature. To keep up with the studio and development on Burst!, you can follow him on Twitter @ZookeyTK and find much more information about the company itself via its site