Grant D. Williams wasn’t even a teenager yet when he designed his first computer game.
He was about 12, and he made a role-playing adventure.
It was entirely text-based, with no graphics.
“It was words on a screen,” the Richland native recalled. “You’re in a room, what do you do?”
Impressive stuff for a middle schooler.
But Williams has graduated to a different level — a different stratosphere — in the years since.
Now 31, he’s CEO of Red Level Games. And the company’s signature effort, the innovative Dragon: The Game, is gaining popularity and momentum in the gaming world.
A working prototype available through the Steam online platform already has sold about 13,000 copies.
At one point, Williams logged on to find 600 people at once were playing the game he designed. That was “so fulfilling,” he told the Herald.
A Kickstarter campaign is under way to help Williams and Red Level Games continue expanding and enhancing Dragon.
It’s already reached its minimum $30,000 goal, but contributions still are being accepted. The deadline is noon Feb. 14.
Rewards range from a personal thank you email to the chance to work with the company to develop a dragon character.
Bob Ludwikoski of Manna Advancement, who helped Williams launch the Kickstarter, said he’s pleased with the response.
Dragon is special, and it’s good for the Tri-Cities to have entrepreneurs like Williams setting up shop, he said.
It’s a cool thing that he’s doing. It’s a cool thing for a community to have.
Bob Ludwikoski, Manna Advancement
“It’s a cool thing that he’s doing. It’s a cool thing for a community to have. Like a nice restaurant — people love the food, but also that there’s a nice restaurant. (With Dragon), the product is great. And it’s great that he’s introducing a company that can create that kind of product into this community,” Ludwikoski said.
Red Level Games formed in May 2014 after winning Tri-Cities Startup Weekend at Washington State University Tri-Cities that spring with Dragon.
Along with Williams, it includes four other employees, plus several contractors around the world.
Headquarters are at Fuse, the co-working space on George Washington Way in Richland.
With Dragon, Red Level Games has a unique concept that taps into the current zeitgeist.
From The Hobbit to Game of Thrones, dragons are wildly popular. Yet, “there are no games that let you be the dragon,” Williams said. “It’s always, you’re fighting the dragon, or you’re riding the dragon, or you know a dragon, or you’re running away from the dragon.”
In Dragon, players become the mythical creatures. “As you hunt, eat and age, your dragon develops. You improve and customize its wings, tail, claws and breath weapon. Over the centuries, you develop your inner draconic magic and other latent abilities, claim territory and impact the course of history,” the company says.
As you hunt, eat and age, your dragon develops. You improve and customize its wings, tail, claws and breath weapon. Over the centuries, you develop your inner draconic magic and other latent abilities, claim territory and impact the course of history.
Red Level Games on
Dragon is an open world sandbox game, which means players can move about the medieval landscape freely.
The dragons can wreak havoc or do good, gobble up people or protect them. It’s up to the player.
Rhea Whitney, who works as Dragon’s storyteller — creating the game’s context, stories and quests — said it’s been rewarding to work on and she’s excited about the game’s future.
“One thing we’re really hoping to do is have a world that changes over time. As you act, as time in the game advances, the world’s state will change in response to that,” she said. “Depending on how you complete quests, characters may become more powerful or die. Or the environment might change.”
One thing we’re really hoping to do is have a world that changes over time. ... Depending on how you complete quests, characters may become more powerful or die. Or the environment might change.
Williams hopes to have a full version of the game ready for release by this December or next. But “Dragon, to us, is going to be a franchise,” he said. “We’re going to continue to reinvest all of our proceeds from sales right back into development of the game. ... It won’t ever be done, per se.”
Dragon is available now for PC, Mac and Linux, and eventually should be on XBox and/or PlayStation.
People who buy the game in its early-release state will get the full version at no extra charge.
Williams is a 2002 graduate of Hanford High School in Richland. He earned an economics degree from WSU and went on to work as a researcher at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for several years before leaving to head up Red Level Games full-time.
He wanted to base his gaming company here. He loves the Tri-Cities and believes in its potential as a creative force, he said.
Williams seems to be having fun with Dragon and Red Level.
Making games has been a passion since he was a kid. He finds meaning in it — in fostering connections through something he created.
I like to create meaningful play. I love to see people share that.
Grant D. Williams, CEO Red Level Games
“I like to create meaningful play” — where the player is totally involved, engrossed, he said. “I love to see people share that.”
A game, “is just a bunch of pieces of paper and counters and electrons,” he said. “But what it actually is, is this shared experience.”
Dragon: The Game is available for $17.99 through Steam and $15 through Kickstarter.
The Kickstarter is at bit.ly/DragonGame.