The fighting-game scene is in the midst of a renaissance, and one of the most crucial parts of many a serious player's arsenal is a custom-made fight stick. The folks over at Project GiantSword build some of the best around, so I interviewed them about their craft.
Jason Frye and Tayla Veneroso are the team (and couple) behind Project GiantSword, and they met online, while playing Final Fantasy 11. “We knew each other for about two years before we actually met in real life," says Frye. "Once our relationship became serious yet still long distance I moved to New York to be closer to her. Since then we've been living together for four years and are now engaged.”
Frye is a 28-year-old ceramic artist, woodworker, and jack-of-all-trades from Illinois. Veneroso is a 23-year-old new media designer and makeup artist from New York. She currently works for MAC Cosmetics as an artist, but began doing freelance work — anything from high fashion to editorial shoots — when she was 18. Tayla is currently studying for her bachelor's degree in New Media Design and Imaging and made her first commissioned website at the age of seven.
I was fortunate enough to have a few words with them and gain some insight on what makes Project GiantSword so good.
How long have you guys been a part of the fighting-game scene?
GiantSword: We've been a part of the fighting-game scene for about two years now. What got us started was when we went to visit [Marvel vs Capcom 2 tournament player] Clockw0rk in L.A. a while back. Just having the opportunity to experience the fighting-game community there and witnessing all the triumphs and excitement in the arcades was all it took to inspire us.
How did you get into designing arcade sticks? Was it just a hobby that blossomed into something more?
Frye: I've always loved playing in the arcades — fighting games in particular — so the idea of bringing that feel of the arcade cabinet into your home for your own use was a big factor. I started by making a large, two-player, American-style arcade stick, and then as I became more competitive in fighting games I realized that the Japanese-style arcade sticks were more fitting to most players' style, including my own. My design has evolved from there until what it is now: a properly proportioned, compact and highly transportable, high performance and comfortable arcade stick.
Have you been creating fight sticks for a long time?
Frye: We've been making arcade sticks since 2009, but I feel like my skill set from my ceramics background has been preparing me for this my whole life. My parents are ceramic artists and have been making a living with their hands since 1980. Almost every step in my process is something I had learned from experience in my childhood, and what is left I gained in college [while] earning my BFA in Ceramics.
Can you elaborate on how the design process goes?
GiantSword: The first step in the design process is function and performance. We understand the basic structure that has to be maintained in order for the joystick to function at full potential. Once we established those guidelines we formed our design around an appropriate form that played off all the visuals of the components themselves.
After all, every joystick has to have hardware to function, so why not make the case that houses the components appropriate and work visually in tandem with them? We feel our design is sharp and unique, very simple but with enough character to stand out among a crowd. In our design process, we use a 3D-modelling program to achieve proper visual proportions before a prototype is actually built. This allows us to save time and materials and see how the case looks from all sides with actual measurements to guide us on the initial build.
Customization is very important to arcade sticks. Is this why you have three separate models for sale?
GiantSword: Yes, there are a lot of players out there that are DIY enthusiasts on all levels. Some of them want to put all the components together starting with buttons and joystick while others want to just insert their own artwork. Aside from the very hands-on packages like the FIGHTER and ROGUE, we recognize that a lot of people would rather just leave it up to the artists. In this case we offer the LEGEND package, fully complete and ready to play. We want to give our customers the choice, so offering different price packages is our way of simplifying things.
Have you ever considered selling your products to major retailers for distribution?
GiantSword: As of now all of our sticks are made to order and each one is made by hand. Selling our products to major retailers would most likely mean mass producing them to keep up with the supply and demand. I feel we are a very niche market that is steadily growing, but we would like to keep our products very specialty and exclusive without outsourcing our production. If it’s possible to sell to certain specialty retailers while still maintaining a very high-quality, hand-made product then we would be all for it.
What are some of your favorite fighting games?
Frye: As a child I had always loved the Street Fighter series. At my arcade there wasn't really a fighting game scene. I just loved to pump quarters into Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat 2, and Killer Instinct, trying to beat the computer to see the ending for each character. Lately I've really got into Marvel vs Capcom 3. I love how fast-paced it is. Tayla always played Mortal Kombat when she was little, but these days leans more towards first-person shooters, real-time strategy, and role-playing games. Even though she's not the best, Tayla is really enjoying the new Marvel vs Capcom 3, too.
Do you consider your arcade sticks to be some of the best around?
GiantSword: To answer this question as modestly as possible, yes. When we first began our venture into the stick-building world, we did everything in our power to design our stick to its fullest potential. Our modular Project GiantSword case design was about six months in the making before we came to a solid conclusion. During those months we went through countless prototypes, meetings with specialists within the graphic and industrial design fields, and testing with players locally.
Since then we have continued to grow and make improvements. When I designed our most recent arcade stick I took into consideration everything that's been built up until now and did my best to improve on it. Proportions and size I feel are a big factor when comparing two joysticks. One can be too bulky while the other feels cheap and brittle. I feel our current design is a great size for tabletop, floor, or lap players.
We see that you’ve made a custom design for Clockw0rk. Have any other pros requested work from you guys?
Frye: While I am not sure [of] the popularity or skill level of all our other customers, Clockw0rk is the most reputable player that has requested a stick from us. Another reputable request we have gotten is from the lead graphic designer of G4TV; there may be some interesting stuff to come down that path!
What’s the most extravagant arcade stick you guys have made?
GiantSword: While we feel our current design is our most extravagant, we have a few concepts in the works to give more visual flair to the sticks for customers who want their stick to stand out even more. We should be revealing those changes in the next few months.
Will you continue to only specialize in arcade sticks or will Project GiantSword eventually move onto controllers and other forms of control such as keyboards?
GiantSword: Arcade sticks are what we specialize in for now. In the future we would like to develop a hybrid of some sort that allows pad players to enjoy our design while still being able to utilize their favorite directional pad on the controller of their choice.
Last but not least, How much do each of your products cost?
GiantSword: Our ROGUE package is $178, our FIGHTER package is $248, and our full LEGEND package is $368. Tayla also does custom artwork for $30, and makes screen-printed tees by hand for $20.
Visit Project GiantSword at ProjectGiantSword.com.