Innovation Center Spotlight: Bradley Shepherd and Boreal Games

 

Bradley Shepherd poses for a photo at the Innovation Center.

Bradley Shepherd has been around computers for a long time.

“I was always interested in video games and computer science as a kid” Bradley said. So when he came to the University of Maine, he decided to take his study of computers and how they work to the next level, majoring in computer science as an undergraduate. The program of study at UMaine first introduced Bradley to game design, and Bradley hasn’t looked back since, founding his own company, Boreal Games, and creating his own game, Crystal Companies.

His business ideas have been a few years in the making though, and he’s worked hard to get where he is, both academically and entrepreneurially. Bradley took his first video game course – the first of three – his sophomore year of college. This course introduced him to the Unity game engine, the gaming engine that is the foundation for his current game, Crystal Companies.

In this course, Bradley wanted to know how to set up multiplayer games using the Unity engine, spending almost 100 hours watching tutorials and troubleshooting how best to create his own game. “I quit my job at a bank, and dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about gaming,” he said. “That was the entire summer after my sophomore year of college.”

Things really began to pick up for Bradley his junior year of college, when he took his second video game course: COS 498, topics in computer science. It was in this class where he was able to work more on the foundational parts of his game, which is a computer card game that uses a battlefield like a gameboard. The cards themselves are animated, and move around on a field, mixing tactical strategy and card placement with competition.

At the end of his junior year, he had a simple version of the game, but his own video game, nonetheless. “It had all of the components of logging in, but no real rules [yet]” Bradley said. “It was really only a demonstration of what we could do.”

Bradley ended up spending another whole summer, after his junior year, adding in a lot of the components that he had wished for during the regular school year, eventually turning the game into his senior capstone so he could continue working on it while earning his degree. The basic architecture of the game was there – and he passed his senior capstone with the game – but after he graduated, he wanted to keep going, potentially even to begin marketing Crystal Companies.

The summer after he graduated, June 2016, his company, Boreal Games, became a reality: consisting of Bradley as the CEO and coder, Bradley’s brother Devin as the copy-editor, and Bradley’s friend Will, who had a background in New Media. It was also during this time that Bradley reached out to the Innovation Center to receive some help writing up an application for a Libra Future Fund grant, to help him kick start his business, and bring Crystal Companies to market.

“The Innovation Center helped a lot with editing [the grant application] and overall advice as to where to go for funds,” Bradley said. “I didn’t know what I was doing writing the grant or starting the business, but Renee Kelly [the Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development] and Angela McCue (the Innovation Outreach Manager] helped a ton.”

Bradley and Boreal Games would go on to be awarded the Libra Future Fund grant, become a tenant at the Foster Center for Student Innovation, and in the fall of 2016, also be awarded a Maine Technology Institute (MTI) Techstart grant to begin setting up focus groups to test their game, Crystal Companies, and to work on drafting up surveys for players of the game.

For now, that’s the focus: getting people in front of the game. “We’re going to get people playing the game, and then talk about everyone’s experience playing the game,” Bradley said. “That way we can better inform our decisions with quantitative and qualitative evidence and data.”

Even with these small victories, Bradley is staying busy. In addition to running a business and continuing to improve his game by simplifying the code, Bradley is also earning his Master’s degree in Information Systems here at UMaine. At the end of the year, after he earns his Master’s degree, his goal for Crystal Companies and his business is to get the game onto Steam, an online gaming platform where people can play new games.

While there’s still a lot of work to do, Bradley is excited about the future of his company and the interest surrounding his video game. “Things are starting to move fast,” Bradley said. “You want people to enjoy their experience. That’s always going to be a challenge.”

With the kind of work Bradley and his team have been putting in – and the kind of successes they’ve been experiencing – the challenge of perfecting their video game is one Boreal Games is ready to take on.