Local developer turns hobby into business


After winning Microsoft’s $100,000 grand prize at the global developer competition Dream.Build.Play 2017 for his game Stellar Conquest, Springfield developer Shaun Tonstad continues his work on software for medical, business and gaming applications.

Tonstad, owner of Clarion Consulting, is currently working on a project for Morton Buildings developing an application that provides full visualizations of buildings for customers. He takes it a step further by integrating Microsoft’s Hololens, a mixed reality headset to let potential customers walk through the virtual buildings.

He achieved this using the cross-platform game development engine, Unity. Unity allows the freedom to develop applications for most devices. This is what prompted him to move the continued development of Stellar Conquest onto the Unity engine.

“Stellar Conquest is the idea that you can carve a space in the galaxy at large. You can essentially build and expand an empire. You govern it much like you would in a game of Monopoly or Risk. The key difference is that, it’s not just you. It’s not just the people at your table. It’s thousands of players trying to control their portion of the galaxy,” Tonstad said.

After completing his current project, Tonstad plans to finish working on Stellar Conquest. It has been a passion project for multiple years and he is pushing for a release date in the first half of 2019. After switching from a proprietary software he helped build, to Unity, Tonstad will add features such as walking around the bridge of your ship and having a cockpit. This is all in an effort to give players an identity and customization aspect in Stellar Conquest.

“It is key to recognize that the gaming industry itself is a multibillion-dollar industry,” Tonstad said.

While Tonstad originally started developing Stellar Conquest as a hobby in between other projects and over holidays, this has now become an actual business model for him, which is not as uncommon as it might seem. Each year, more educational institutions begin to recognize the potential in outstanding video game development and playing skills. For the 2018-19 school year, Illinois College in Jacksonville started its first official eSports team. The college is also providing some students four-year scholarships ranging from $15,000-$20,000 per year.

Tonstad graduated from Colorado State University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Before he started Clarion Consulting, he worked as a developer at Jardogs, a software development company located at 3161 W. White Oaks Drive in Springfield. Tonstad was a lead developer on a biometric secure patient check-in. The kiosk checks the veins in the patient’s hands to confirm their identity. The project won a $15,000 project innovation award from the Springfield Chamber of Commerce in 2009.

After the success of Jardogs, Tonstad decided to go out on his own, and in November 2014 he founded Clarion Consulting. Tonstad is currently the only employee, but hires a multitude of independent contractors for art, sound design and writing. His company has mainly focused on applications for medical software. Tonstad plans to keep health care software innovation a focus for Clarion Consulting as he moves forward with his current projects and the development of Stellar Conquest.

Niko Robledo is the editorial intern for Illinois Times and a journalism major at Lincoln Land Community College. He can be reached at [email protected].

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