The Washington Times did a lavish, 3 page article on us, our games, our company, and our house, in the LifeTimes section of their 8/27/98 edition. The text is reprinted here with permission.


The Looneys devise a game plan

Cards hold the future for local couple


By Denise Barnes
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Andrew Looney and his wife, Kristin, are a matched set when it comes to their love of games. In fact, they have dubbed their suburban Maryland home "Wunderland," a hodgepodge of neon lights, video arcade games, pinball machines, and assorted board and card games.

And the Looneys (their real name) are not content with just buying games: They have invented a number of them, most recently a colorful card game called Aquarius.

"It's very easy to play. [However], there's one rule I haven't mentioned yet: The person with the longest hair goes first," says the long-haired Mr. Looney, 34.

A month ago, the husband-and-wife team debuted Aquarius at the Origins International Game Expo and Fair in Columbus, Ohio, an annual event that attracts 10,000 gaming enthusiasts and industry executives.

"Aquarius is played kind of like dominoes. You start with one card in the center of the table, and each time you play a card, you have to connect it to a card already in play by matching the elements," says Mr. Looney, a former computer programmer for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The game features three types of cards: Elements, Goals and Action. Each player tries to win by connecting seven panels of one particular element. Goal Cards determine which element each player is going after: air, earth fire, water, space and ether. Action cards allow players to shake up the game in five different ways.

Sporting a ponytail and a purple tie-dyed T-shirt, Mr. Looney will invite you to sit down at the couple's game table and play a 10- to 15-minute game.

"It has some strategy, some bluffing, and it's got some luck. What I really like about it is that it's so bright-it's so colorful," he says.

The rules of Aquarius are simple because nothing ruins a game faster for Mr. Looney than lengthy instructions.

"We have friends with a 6-year- old daughter who is addicted to it," says Mrs. Looney, 33, co-founder of a telemetry systems firm. "She plays with friends in her age group, and because there are so few words, the concept is very simple for her to understand."

For the past decade, the couple have worked diligently at developing easy-to-learn games. They met in 1986, when Mr. Looney: started at NASA. Mrs. Looney,- a graduate of the University of Illinois, was a co-op student at the time.

"I got into game design sort of by accident" the congenial Mr. Looney says.

As a freshman at the University of Maryland at College Park in 1981, he was undecided about a major. He teetered between English and computer science. Computer science tipped the scales, he says.

Yet his passion for the written word led him to this fun-filled avocation. In 1987 he penned a science-fiction short story titled "Ice House," which detailed his college days, his buddies and their pastime.

"None of us could get any girls, so we just played cards. But I didn't want to write about cards because they're so boring, so I invented this game [Ice House] using pyramids."

Everyone who read the story wanted to play the game, he says. He made a set of the pyramids and then tried to devise the game. Mr. Looney got an assist from his future wife and a game-designing friend.

After working on the game for about eight years, the Looneys put it on ice. "The playing pieces were too hard to manufacture and the game was too complicated," he says.

They regrouped in 1996 and launched Looney Laboratories, their home-based game-design company. Last year, the couple hit pay dirt with Fluxx, a card game with "ever-changing rules," Mr. Looney says.

It's their first commercial success, and the card game is sold in game stores around the country.

Upbeat and energetic, Mrs. Looney, an electrical engineer runs the business end of Looney Laboratories. She also manages the information systems department of TSI TelSys in Columbia, Md., the firm she co-founded three years ago.

Like her husband, Mrs. Looney played myriad games growing up in DeKalb, Ill. Some of her favorites included Clue, Cosmic Encounter, and Dungeons and Dragons. She also holds the distinction of mastering a game that became a phenomenal hit in the '80s.

When she was a teenager, her mathematician father brought home a Rubik's Cube from a convention. He assured her that once he figured it out, he would show her, she says.

"Well, to a 16-year-old girl, that was a challenge," says Mrs. Looney, a math whiz. "I was determined to figure it out myself. I spent a lot of time messing around with it. Finally, I figured out the solution. I solved it on my own without any books-which is a big deal."

Several months later, the Rubik's Cube became a phenomenon. Contests were held to find out who could solve it in record time. Mrs. Looney persuaded her parents to drive to Chicago, where a contest was scheduled.

"I solved it in 37.72 seconds. They gave me $500 and a trip to [the now-defunct TV show] 'That's Incredible' in Hollywood, where I placed fifth in the nation," Mrs. Looney says, adding that she was the only girl in the contest.

The Looneys host weekly game nights for friends at Wunderland a three-story Victorian house designed to delight the child in us all. With its nine arcade machines, the home looks like a franchise of the national Dave & Buster's arcade palaces.

There's no need to bring money: All the games are free at Wunderland.

The fun starts at 8 p.m. and runs until midnight. Usually 10 to 20 friends-some of whom are game designers themselves-come over for game playing and testing. It's a tradition they started eight years ago, Mrs. Looney says.

"We hang out and socialize with friends play games, test games and really just enjoy one another's company," she says with a smile.

Inside Wunderland, neon signs illuminate the Game Room on the first floor. Shelves are stacked high with board games ranging from the Game of Life to Ker Plunk!

"The pinball machine is probably the most popular, along with Pac Man," Mr. Looney notes, adding that Scrabble and Boggle are popular board games.

There's even a game underfoot: A colorful hopscotch rug with various game patterns runs the length of the floor in the Game Room.

A Lionel train runs along a track between the kitchen and the living room. Everything in the home is fun because the Looneys spent nine years designing it that way.

The weekly game nights provide the Looneys and their friends the opportunity to garner invaluable advice from those who do not play games as much as they do, Mr. Looney says.

"It's common for me or others to do play-testing at the house. From a [research and development] standpoint, it's like our testing ground. We have a solid group of testers," he says.

Gina Mai Denn is a game tester. Ms. Denn met the Looneys six years ago and attends game nights regularly. Initially,-she went to socialize, she says.

"I'm not really a gamer.... Occasionally, I'd play Calico or some simple card games that a lot of people play that are more fun," Ms. Denn says.

"I'm not really interested in playing games that are too complicated or require a lot of thought."

Lately, Ms. Denn has been playing more. Video games have piqued her interest, she says.

"I especially like Pac Man and Trip'D - a [Nintendo-type game] that didn't catch on. And I've become better at playing Pac Man -I now have the second highest score at the house," the Greenbelt resident says.

The Looneys' goal is to create a product design studio, something that would allow them to present games to the industry for development and marketing, Mr. Looney says.

"That way, we don't have to build the infrastructure of a company that does the manufacturing, marketing and distribution," he says.

"Right now, we're concentrating on Aquarius. Next year, somebody else will be doing it. And we'll be working on our next product. So we're always doing something new," Mr. Looney says.

Aquarius and Fluxx are the couple's main focus, but their company sells other products through their Web site (www.wunderland.com), Mrs. Looney says.

"Our Web site is very unusual and very, very cool," Mr. Looney says. "It's sort of a cyberextension of Wunderland. We've been building the house for nine years. We've only been working on the Web site for two, but it's got a lot of the same feel. "A lot of the same people who hang out here with us also hang out at the Web site., he says.


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Last Modified: Jul 30 2014 at 17:08