After a friend of mine visited New Orleans, he didn't come back with much hope for the city. His stories were full of desolate spaces submerged in three feet of water, the poor being marginalized and tourists clogging the inhabitable areas like cholesterol in an artery. What's worse, much of what plagued New Orleans before Katrina stayed put. The legal system is still run by the good ol' boys. Police officers accosted young coeds in broad daylight and sat drunk in outdoor cafes in the French Quarter. And since much of the police force was concentrating on things other than fighting crime, the areas more damaged by hurricane Katrina have become third-world refugee camps.
He also said the food was amazing, and he can't wait to go back.
There's a certain breed drawn to the city, despite the graft, despite the crime, despite the fact it's under water. They're what's left of the cowboys, suffering nigh-equatorial weather and corruption for the sake of reviving a fallen city's culture. And they build. Not just collapsed houses, but businesses and industries.
I spoke to one such builder, Ben Lewis, recent LSU graduate and marketing guy at Yatec Games. He's got big ideas, both for Louisiana and for gaming.
The Escapist: What is Yatec? What does the company hope to accomplish?
Ben Lewis: Our main goal is to help build the entertainment industry in Louisiana. We're trying to build a film and game industry. For the company, we wanted to start off in casual games to kind of build up. We're looking into some boutique MMOGs and some bigger projects later on, in a few years.
TE: You're based in Baton Rouge, and you formed up post Katrina. Were you guys planning on making a game company before the hurricane?
BL: I think it was a combination of things. Dean Majoue - he's the President of the company - he was looking to branch out a little bit. Then, after Katrina happened, he really wanted to get involved in bringing permanent jobs back into Louisiana. And the digital media tax incentives we have here in Louisiana will give developers 20 percent tax credits on every dollar they spend - same thing for film.
TE: Are you involved in the community at all?
BL: Yeah, a bunch of us are members of the IGDA, and we're working with other companies like Turbo Squid and GameCamp, trying to set up a kids' camp in Austin and Louisiana. Trying to partner up with some new people and get the community thing going again. There's a couple more conferences coming up in Louisiana, the Red Stick Animation Festival and another one in Lafayette, and we'll have a presence there, just trying to get the message out.
TE: How is that going so far? A lot of people must have scattered after the hurricane.
BL: It's kinda tough, since there really is no industry here, there's a lot of people enthusiastic about getting into the industry. But there was really no studio here before for people to go to, so a lot of people would just go out of state. There is enthusiasm there, [though].
The IGDA chapter shut down a couple years ago. Now that there's a couple companies here building it up, hopefully it should be going pretty well by the end of the year.