Now a senior in the computer science program at UW-Stout, Datz has founded Flying General Games, an indie game development studio based in Menomonie, which focuses on developing original and unique stories within the strategy genre.
The growing business currently has a team of 19 people working remotely, looking to ship its first title, Notoris: The Goblin War, due for release in July 2022.
“This is the first title in an intellectual property I've always wanted to work towards,” Datz said.
A video game studio in Menomonie
Datz, of Grafton, has been trying to get into the games industry on and off since 2010. He founded Flying General Games in February 2021 to “give ambitious students, alumni and freelancers an opportunity to work together on something commercial that can stand out,” he said, adding that some of the team members are from the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain.
“As a Wisconsin resident, I feel the pain with most companies being on the West Coast or in Europe,” he said. “I have often wished there was an easier path forward and envision this area as a great place for a long-term studio. If I can provide that for others like me, I am going to try.”
Notoris is the team’s passion project, as Datz called it. It is a turn-based, fantasy war game, where players command soldiers in strategic battles, perform epic feats on the battlefield and unravel the mysteries behind a Goblin invasion.
As Datz looks for a permanent studio space, Flying General Games is setting up social media accounts to build a community interested in the project. Players can get involved and send questions through Discord.
Datz is seeking funding to help get the business off the ground, to provide support at the chance to create a multimillion-dollar business in the area, he said. Internship or donation inquiries may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting back to game development
Datz’s college experience began a little off track. He received his associate degree in visual communications from ITT Tech in Greenfield in 2011. However, the school was shut down in 2016 after a federal investigation into fraud allegations.
“This left a bad taste in my mouth for education,” he said.
For six years, Datz worked in various jobs, including video editor and cook, before starting at UW-Milwaukee in information science technology in 2017. He then switched to computer science. But the focus of the program left no entry point into games after graduation, he said.
So, in 2019, he transferred to UW-Stout and the computer science game design concentration. The transfer office, along with Program Director Diane Christie, helped him receive credit for prior work to fast track him out of general education requirements and into game design courses.
“We never want to waste a transfer student’s time or money retaking courses or moving through topics where they are already clearly proficient,” said Associate Professor Seth Berrier, Datz’s adviser.
Berrier believes in Datz’s natural entrepreneurial spirit and leadership qualities. “I hope that our project-driven game design curriculum has given him opportunities to hone those management and production skills in ways that a more conventional classroom experience would not,” he said. “Hands-on learning is a key part of the computer science program, and Steve has embraced this in the classroom and in his own independent work. His attitude and perseverance are a perfect match for Stout’s career-focused curriculum.”
Since transferring to UW-Stout, Datz has learned an immense amount more about game development, not just in his courses, but from like-minded students, he said. “My favorite part about Stout is the emphasis on group projects, which is a highly transferable skill for any job.”
Datz has made 10 other games, either as personal, student or commercial projects, including Buzz Digital, a video game he’s co-creating for his employer, UW-Stout’s Manufacturing Outreach Center. Buzz Digital is a multiplayer tablet experience that teaches businesses the lean manufacturing principles.
As for Flying General Games, it may be awhile before it is ready to release a second game, but it would be in the same universe with the same characters and plot points.
“My goal is to expand on our assets each game, so the next one will have more of a focus on the overworld campaign, as battles are the main driver in the first title,” Datz said.
Datz will graduate in May. His post-graduation plans are up in the air, he said, but he is applying to other game studios as he continues to develop Flying General Games’ intellectual property.
UW-Stout’s game design and development program was ranked No. 25 in 2021 among public universities in the nation by Princeton Review.