Interview with Jason Frye and Tayla Veneroso of Project GiantSword

March 7, 2011, By Christian Davis

Fighting games are at an all time high right now. You can basically thank two companies, Capcom and Nether Realm Studios. Street Fighter 4 really brought fighting games back into the spotlight, giving players an updated feel to a classic retro game. We then had word of the Mortal Kombat revival. If you’ve seen any sort of footage for that game, you’ll know that going back to a 2D fighting plane and going back to their roots was a wise choice.

One of the most crucial parts of the fighting game scene is the custom made fight sticks. Even though the controller is the primary outlet, many have flocked back to the traditional arcade stick. 8 buttons and a joystick are commonly seen amongst fighting game enthusiasts and the folks over at Project GiantSword have some of the best around.

Jason Frye and Tayla Veneroso are the members of Project GiantSword and should be recognized for their fantastic work. Jason Frye is a 28 year old ceramic artist, woodworker, jack of all trades from Illinois.  Raised by ceramic and 3D artists, the art of creation comes easy to him.

Tayla Veneroso is a 23 year old new media designer and makeup artists 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 going to school for her bachelor’s degree in New Media Design and Imaging. Although still in school, she has worked in the Web Design industry since she was a child, making her first commissioned website at the age of 7.

The aliases they use, Valbjorn(Jason) and Montoia(Tayla), came from when they played the MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI Online. They actually met each other online through the game and have been inseparable ever since.

“We knew each other for about two years before we actually met in real life.  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 4 years and are now engaged.” Jason stated.

Jason and Tayle have both played video games since they’ve been old enough to hold a controller and have always had support from their families. When Tayla was a baby, her older sister’s chore was to play Mario to keep Tayla from crying. They consider themselves serious gamers, but if you’ve seen them walking in the streets, you’d never know.

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 I went to visit Clockw0rk in LA 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?

Jason:  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?

GiantSword: 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 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 modeling 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 in regards to the arcade sticks. Is this why you have 3 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?

Jason: 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 Versus Capcom 3. I love how fast paced it is. Montoia 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, Montoia is really enjoying the new Marvel Versus 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 till 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 one feels cheap and brittle.  I feel our current design is a great size for a tabletop, floor, or lap players.

We see that you’ve made a custom design for Clockwork. Have any other reputable professionals requested work from you guys?

Jason: While I am not sure 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. Montoia also does custom artwork for $30, and makes screen printed tees by hand for $20.

Find more work of Project GiantSword at their website ProjectGiantSword.com.

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