Master of many games

Jay Balakrishnan can tell you more about video games than anyone else around.

Published: 19th March 2009 12:42 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 08:49 PM   |  A+A-

19mar_jay

R K Sreejith

KOCHI: This Malayali arguably can tell you more about video games than anyone else around. But despite a track record spanning decades, only a few among us might recognise him if we met him on the street.

Meet Jay Balakrishnan.

But before telling us more about himself, Jay alias Sanjaya chose to talk about his journey from the US, where he is settled, to Kerala. He has a mission to accomplish - to let the world know about his father, the late Narayana Pillai Balakrishnan of Cheruvaranam, Cherthala.

“Not many know that in the US he is considered the Indian ambassador of music. He was not highly educated.

It was his passion for music that took him to Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer. With music he travelled all over the world before settling down in the US.” Narayana Pillai was also a yoga practitioner. “He was deeply into Hatha Yoga and went on to popularise it in the US. I have records to prove that he was one among the greatest. It brought him close to the then Hollywood greats. He experimented with many postures on his body and wrote them down in Malayalam. I believe there are some secrets about Hatha Yoga in his book,” Jay said. He plans to document all the newspaper clippings about his father, his music and his experiments with yoga and create a website with the help of his friend Dr Shivkumar Varma, a certified yoga therapist and ayurveda physician.

It was during his visit to Thiruvananthapuram that Expresso caught up with Jay at the Taj Residency.

A tabla player and a regular practitioner of yoga, Jay stays close to Kerala and its culture. He says he’ll continue to do so even after leaving for the US later this week. He lives in Seattle with wife Audrey Becker, daughter Shanta and son Jaysun.

The chat then led to his American mother Janice (“who was in love with India ever since she was a teenager”), his coming to Kerala in 1959 to study in Kochi (“because there were few Indians then in the US”), his journey back to the US after seven years, another trip to Kerala for schooling at Kalamassery, Thiruvananthapuram and Aluva and his return to the US to complete college education.

Soon his “religious experience with computers” started. Jay went on to develop some programmes and by 1978 he was fully into it. His love for aviation saw him take lessons in flying.

Jay’s dream was to start a company and this was fulfilled on his 25th birthday with Human Engineered Software or Hesware. When he started it, he was working as systems analyst with Hughes Helicopter. “It was in Hesware that Bill Gates first made his first investment in the US market. After some time we had to part ways since I wanted to get into business software for non-business consumers.” Jay established new ventures and succeeded in whatever he took up. He went on to own a huge home, a Mooney 231 airplane and many more facilities. “But I was unhappy. I was single and nobody was there to share my success.” He took many new decisions (one was to become a vegetarian), the biggest one being to marry.

Audrey, whom he met by chance, became his wife.

The highs of his career include being the executive producer at Radical Entertainment, senior director at WildTangent, executive producer at Dynamix /Sierra Online and producer at Mindscape. At Radical Entertainment, one of the oldest and largest game studios in North America, he was executive producer of games like Scarface: The World is Yours; Prototype; The Simpsons: Hit and Run; The Incredible Hulk 2: Ultimate Destruction; Crash Bandicoot: Tag Team Racing and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CSI: Las Vegas & CSI: Miami).

At WildTangent, he worked on Men in Black 2: Crossfire; Sony Walkman’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater; Disney’s Lilo & Stitch Pinball; TBS’s Invincible and TNT’s Witchblade. As executive producer with Dynamix/ Sierra Online he directed the conception, design and development of 10 world-class games.

Jay is all set to launch his own company - EDEN (Episodic Digital Entertainment Network) which, he believes, will bring a revolution of sorts in the industry. “Now video games have become a brutal way to make money. Eighty percent of all games lose millions. The industry has been making very expensive, over-engineered blockbuster games. Yet Sony’s research indicates that only 20 percent of gamers ever finish a game they buy!” Contact him at jaybalakrishnan@ gmail.com.

m_athira@epmltd.com

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