Gaming Company Born, Raised and Thriving in the Village

As a video game designer, East Village-native David Gilbert creates brand new worlds, full of weird and interesting characters.

He prefers to keep them on his doorstep.

The founder of Wadjet Eye Games, Gilbert and his wife Janet, earn a living making games based on their neighborhood.

“You write what you know,” David said.

The company’s first game, “The Shivah,” designed by David in 2005, mostly in coffee houses all over the East Village and Tribeca, follows a grieving Rabbi around the lower East Side in an effort to save his struggling Synagogue. Along the way, he gets involved in a sinister plot and must travel all over the city to find the truth. Wadjet Eyes’ magnum opus, “The Blackwell Saga,” continues the trend, as it follows a psychic detective and her spirit guide all over the East Village solving mysteries.

“The character lives on Jane Street,” David, 35, said. “In the first game, you go to Washington Square Park, the Brittany House Dorm, the Highline and Alphabet City. A lot of it takes place in this area.”

David spent a bulk of his childhood playing games, but not the ones that feature fuzzy hedgehogs or overweight Italian plumbers with Rollie Fingers mustaches. He played point and click adventures that rely on a heavy narrative and interesting characters, rather than jumping on enemies and collecting coins or rings.

After a year teaching English in Korea, he moved in with his retired parents. Without an apartment or job, he spent his time in coffee houses on his laptop and started designing games for fun.

“There’s nothing worse than having to move back home with your parents,” David said. “It’s even worse when they’re retired.”

After a month, he decided to make a career of creating the video games he played as a kid.

An admitted workaholic, David didn’t have much time for love at this point in his life, especially after “The Shivah,” got several good reviews and his later creation, “The Blackwell Saga” did just as well. But at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in 2007, love found him. Without a place to sit for a panel, Janet, an England-native, sat next to him. They kept in touch and eventually met up again before marrying in 2009.

Janet’s arrival in his life ended up doing more than completing him emotionally.

“I never envisioned making these types of games, with a wife or a partner and having a life together,” David said. “Janet was totally down for this. Before her, no one ever ‘got’ this. It was awesome.”

With her experience as a programmer for several different video game companies and technical knowhow, she’s the perfect accent to David’s creativity.

“I was so interested in what he was doing. It was what I wanted to do too,” Janet, 34 said. “It started out with me wanting to make games. It wasn’t about eternal love. After a convention, you keep in touch with people via email, but it always stops after a while. We never did. We continued to speak on MSN, Skype and then real life.”

In addition to coding all of the company’s games, Janet also finds the technical bugs in David’s creations before they’re shipped out to customers.

“Dave’s last game didn’t have many,” she said.

Everything, even the voice acting for their games, takes place in the apartment. With a comfy couch, two computers and a 42-inch flat screen TV, it’s functional; but with loads of comic books and video games neatly organized around the house, posters of the games they’ve created hanging in glass frames and a mini “Doctor Who” TARDIS on a window shelf, it’s home to them.

If there was any confusion that this was a home as well as a video game studio, Gilberts’ 10-year-old Boston terrier, Cooper, who is listed on the company’s website as their CDO [Chief Dog Officer] puts those thoughts to rest. Cooper has also made in appearance in one of their games.

“Before I was married, I could have stayed in my apartment and never left for a week,” David said. “I love going out for lunch with her and spending time with her.”

David’s added responsibility as a husband has also benefitted the company, as the Gilberts’ have also begun to branch out and publish other people’s games. Earlier this year, they published a futuristic noir title, “Gemini Rue,” which was produced by UCLA undergraduate Joshua Nuernberger.

Their goal is to build their company and make it a destination for young designers. They also have plans to start a family in the near future.

One David didn’t see five years ago.

“Every day is different,” he said. “Nothing is ever the same. We’re doing so well now that we wonder how things would be if we weren’t in the middle of a recession.”

About Patrick Hickey Jr. 7654 Articles
Patrick Hickey Jr. is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief, Master Jedi and Grand Pooh-bah of ReviewFix.com and is the author of the upcoming book, "The Minds Behind the Games: Interviews with Cult and Classic Video Game Developers," from leading academic and non-fiction publisher McFarland and Company. He is currently the Assistant Director of the Journalism Program at Kingsborough Community College and is a former News Editor at NBC Local Integrated Media and a National Video Games Writer at the late Examiner.com. He has also had articles and photos published in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Complex and The Syracuse Post-Standard. Love him. Read him.

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