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Game designers take to the ice

Posted: June 24, 2013 1:55 p.m.
Updated: June 24, 2013 1:55 p.m.

Jeremy Hall, left, Cindy Wood, center, and Chris Olander, right, help paint the lines of the upcoming curling event at Ice Station Valencia. Signal photo by Steve Palma

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It needed to be perfect.

Members of the Burbank-based 8bit Sliders were down to their final stone: the curling equivalent of two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

Chris Olander, a Burbank resident, was the man charged with making what would be the deciding throw.

It meant making a tricky shot, a hard throw down the ice with pinpoint accuracy, if the Sliders were to come out on top.

Olander launched and released the stone, the hardest he had ever thrown in his relatively new curling career. The power was right, the location impeccable.

Time seemed to slow down as the stone slid along the length of the ice, bounding toward its red-and-blue circular goal more than 100 feet away.

“We were shouting, ‘Go, go, go!” recalled Sherman Oaks resident Herschell Bailey, another member of the 8bit Sliders.

Slowly, the stone came to rest mere inches from its target.

“There was huge elation, until the last moment,” Bailey said, shaking his head. “That would have been an incredible shot.”

While the shot in question, made during a tournament in Seattle, didn’t quite get there, it has done nothing to dull the enthusiasm of the Sliders, one of Southern California’s very own curling teams.

Along with Bailey and Olander the team includes two Saugus residents, Jeremy Hall and Dwight Okahara, and David Nazario, who hails from Burbank.

Though they live in different cities, the five members of the 8bit Sliders are all quite at home working together.

The 8bit Sliders team is born out of the sound department of Insomniac Studios, a Burbank video game company that is responsible for such game series as “Ratchet and Clank” and “Spiro the Dragon.”

The team’s name is an homage to the video game industry, referring to the graphical capabilities of early gaming consoles.

“We wanted to be as nerdy as possible,” Hall said.

All the team members work in sound design at Insomniac. In fact, the team includes every member of the sound design department, aside from their boss.

“He’s more of a hockey fan,” Okahara explained.

But how did the five Southern California residents get involved in the obscure sport?

The 8bit Sliders were introduced to the sport of curling the same way many other Americans are: by watching it on television during the Winter Olympic Games.

“We were watching the Olympics and we thought, ‘That looks fun and kind of wacky,’” Okahara said. “So we thought we’d give it a shot.”

But curling has been around far longer than television.

Curling is thought to have been invented in Scotland during the mid-16th century, with the first curling club being formed in the early 1700s.

The primary goal of curling is a simple one. A team member, called the skip, slides a stone down a sheet of ice toward a painted bulls-eye, called the “house.”

Teams throw a total of 16 of these stones during each “end.” A curling match can have eight or 10 ends.
The goal is to get a stone as close to the center of the house as possible. Doing so earns a team a point.

While that’s the basic idea, the sport itself is a much more intricate affair, with teams not only seeking ways to get their stones in the house, but to set up defender stones in such a way to prevent their opponents from scoring.

This strategic element is why curling is sometimes referred to as “Chess on Ice.”

Even getting to the point where it’s possible to practice curling is somewhat of a chess match.

First, and most obviously, curling requires ice, which can be at somewhat of a premium in Southern California.

“You can curl all year round provided you have the ice time,” Olander said.

The 8bit Sliders practice at several different venues, including Ice Station Valencia and the Valley Ice Center in Panorama City.

But getting the ice is only part of the equation. Many of the places the 8bit Sliders practice do not have dedicated curling areas.

In early June, team members went to the Ice Station Valencia to paint the necessary lines on the ice.

They were joined in that effort by members of the Hollywood Curling Club, which oversees curling teams in the Southern California area.

But even with a curling area, known as a “sheet,” set up, joining in on the sport is a potentially costly endeavor.
A full set of curling stones runs around $8,000, Olander said. Curling brooms, used to melt the ice in the stone’s path, are an additional expense.

But despite the financial and time investments, members of the team said curling has become a favored pastime.
“I kind of can’t get enough of it now,” Okahara said.

The 8bit Sliders will compete in a curling tournament at Ice Station Valencia from July 5 to July 7. The team also hosts “learn to curl” events periodically throughout the summer for those who might have an interest in the sport.

The team itself was formed after such an event.

“I never, ever thought I would get into curling,” Nazario said. “But that didn’t stop me from leaping at the chance to learn.”

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

 

 

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