Powering up with Tornado Studios
A Tulsa-based company creates video games to attract a different set of players.
The first time Steven Spielberg’s assistant called, Tom Kudirka hung up the phone. It was a joke, a friend’s prank, nothing to get excited about — or so he thought. But when Spielberg called back, Kudirka listened.
It was 2000, and Spielberg had an idea for a video game inspired by Tom Hanks’ most recent mega-blockbuster, 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan.”
Within two years, Kudirka’s 2015 Inc. video game development company would design Spielberg’s video game, ship it to the publisher (Electronic Arts) and witness a sensation. With approximately 3 million units sold worldwide, the game, “Medal of Honor: Allied Assault,” skyrocketed to the fourth-fastest-selling video game at that time, with approximately $100 million in gross sales.
“Most people don’t know the developer of ‘Medal of Honor: Allied Assault’ lives in Tulsa,” Kudirka says.
Following the monumental success, Kudirka decided to retire. But after shifting his interest to other companies and investments, he wanted back in the game, so to speak. It was time to expand his vision.
Kudirka began assembling his talent, a 15-man team of nationally recognized designers, programmers and artists from Orlando, Fla.; Los Angeles; Houston; Austin, Texas; and Tulsa.
“I have some of the best talent in the world, right here in this office,” Kudirka says. “It’s unusual to be in Tulsa, to be one of the most successful video game companies and in one of the smallest cities.”
He entices talent to Tulsa by simply showing potential employees the quality of life here, from owning a nice home to the short morning commute.
“That’s how we’ve brought in the talent we’ve brought in; we’re selling Tulsa,” Kudirka says.
In January 2008, he launched a spinoff of 2015 Inc. called Tornado Studios, an independent video game development company creating mass-market family-based games.
“I’m making games for the fastest-growing platform — Nintendo Wii — and the fastest-growing market, teenagers,” Kudirka says. “Because of the Wii, games are more family-friendly. You can play in front of the TV with your family.”
With few games specifically targeted to girls, Kudirka saw an opportunity. He decided to upgrade the typical video game look, something more couture.
The new concept is “World of Fashion,” a Wii game that takes players behind the scenes, on the catwalk and around the world of fashion — from Tokyo to London to New York and beyond. Gamers design clothes, style hair, apply makeup and walk the runway. Or they can opt to be the photographer or judge or test their artistic eye in a photo shoot.
“There are not a lot of games for girls,” Kudirka says. “‘World of Fashion’ gives teenage girls what they enjoy.”
The game is set to release this fall and is expected to sell well worldwide.
The game was actually released as "Project Runway" for Wii, and incorporates elements and celebrities from the hit TV show. And yes, you can still buy it on Amazon.
The game also could benefit the local economy. Tornado Studios operates under a unique business model through which local investors or banks can invest in particular games and receive a portion of the gross revenue, Kudirka says. This allows money generated to stay in Oklahoma and stimulate the local economy.
As far as future projects, Kudirka just smiles but stays quiet. The next project is hush-hush. But the future is exactly where Kudirka is headed.
“Work is play,” he says. “It’s a great industry to be in.”