Kalani Streicher has fond small-kid memories of growing up in Wailuku, Maui. So much so that he's incorporated a portion of the island culture into his work as a video game developer.
His Kalani Games company, located in Austin, Texas, came out this summer with "Tiki Gods: Ancient Times," a colorful 3-D puzzle-action game for Apple iOS devices. Named after three of the major Hawaiian gods, the lil' tikis Kane, Ku and Lono zap gems on a playing board, moving up to increasingly difficult puzzle levels on land and sea, beaches and volcanoes.
There are three versions of the game available on iTunes: a free version subtitled "Kumulipo," an "Akua" version with three arcade games which is 99 cents, and the full-blown game for $3.99 which has 72 story levels as well as the arcade games.
"It did cross my mind that some Native Hawaiians may be offended by the use of tikis in my video game, but my intention is to expose to a wider audience the Polynesian and Hawaiian heritage and their myths and legends," Streicher said. "I think this should be shared with the rest of the world."
The game designer, his wife and two boys regularly return to Hawaii to visit his mother, aunts and uncles on the Valley Isle. Streicher's German father worked as a chef on Maui, opening the Prime Rib House in Kihei and later cooking at restaurants in the Kapalua resort. When his parents divorced, Kalani, then age 9, moved to Germany with his brother Keoni to join their father.
"We basically grew up there, going through school and college," Streicher said by phone from his Austin office. "When I was in my early 20s, I wanted to go back to America. So I got my degree in computer science and electrical engineering in Germany, moved to the Bay Area and later applied to work at George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic. Even though I didn't get the job I wanted, they did find out that I did some translating for Microsoft, and the LucasArts Entertainment Co. gaming division was looking for someone who knew German. So I was hired on to do translation for that company's story games into not only German, but Italian, French and Japanese."
Streicher didn't lose sight of his goal of ultimately designing and producing games, and he was able to move up the corporate ladder to work in console development, "being in charge in building out our 'Star Wars' and 'Indiana Jones' titles for the PC and other consoles from the late 1980s to mid-'90s," he said.
"I still consider the seven years I worked for Lucas as the company's golden years. Any product we did, it could do no wrong."
With confidence in hand, Streicher struck out on his own, heading his company, Ronin Entertainment, for nine years, working with companies such as LAEC and Activision in developing titles for gaming platforms including Xbox and PlayStation 2.
He eventuallyclosed Ronin and moved to Austin to be closer to his Texas-born wife's family. He then started up Kalani Games.
"'Tiki Gods' is our first outright game. We're still a small little group and depend on outside work," he said. "The game's 3-D capability is something that I think tries to push the boundaries. All puzzle games are very much 2-D, so we're anticipating something a little more immersive using 3-D and with a casual game that has the potential to reach a big market.
"I've wanted to do something related to Hawaiian mythology and legends even back with my time with Lucas, so I thought I could do a Polynesian-related game for mobile and social devices," he said.
A PC version of the game is now available online through origin.com and wildtangent.com, and Streicher said an Android mobile version should be out by the end of the month.