Growing up in Sandy, Justin Santistevan spent a lot of time playing video games.
“It’s a hobby I’ve had for my whole life,” he said. “I’ve been working toward actually being good at something and having it be valuable for my career path.”
The Alta High grad went on to graduate from Harvard; worked as a business consultant in pharmacy, retail, metals and banking; went into investing; and then moved on to Stanford’s graduate school of business, where he had a life-changing experience listening to alumni talk about doing what they loved.
“For the first time in my life, even though I’d heard that since I was a kid, it finally sank in,” Santistevan said. “I thought, ‘You know, I like what I’m doing but I don’t know if I love it. And what I love is video games.’”
That, in a nutshell, explains why he’s the president and co-founder of Wonderstorm and the executive producer of the animated TV series “The Dragon Prince.”
“I basically decided that I was going to give it a shot,” Santistevan said.
After working for Riot Games in finance and as a producer, three years ago he partnered wth Aaron Ehasz (the head writer of “Avatar: The Last Airbender”) and Justin Richmond to form Wonderstorm, and “The Dragon Prince” is their first project.
The nine episodes, which are streaming on Netflix as of Friday, tell an epic fantasy tale set in the land of Xadia, where a devastating war between magical creatures and humans has broken out. Two human princes and the elf assassin sent to kill them make a discovery that could change everything, so they team up to save both sides of the conflict.
It’s a new take on a familiar genre, and — while it’s computer-generated animation — it’s done in the style of Japanese anime.
It’s not just a TV show, it’s also a video game. And it’s not a case of one spawning the other — the two were developed simultaneously.
“We want to do games and shows at the same time,” Santistevan said. “That’s kind of the brand and thesis of the company.”
The list of hugely successful video games that have become hugely successful, critically acclaimed movies or TV shows is … pretty much nonexistent.
“There’s a lot of video game franchises that have become successful and have many sequels, and then they try to make a movie,” Santisteven said. “You can look at Rotten Tomatoes, and they haven’t fared very well.”
It's also “very, very tough” to take a successful movie or TV show and “kind of retrofit it on a video game. You end up with licensed games that often don't hit the mark.”
So Wonderstorm is trying to do things differently. The TV show producers — including executive producer Giancarlo Volpe (“Star Wars: The Clone War”) — worked side-by-side with the game developers.
“Our idea was — what if we build both from the ground up for each other?” Santistevan said. So when they began work on “The Dragon Prince,” they had the “writers and creators, and we had an engineer and the game designer in the room with us as we were talking about how this world works. And ideas came from everywhere.”
At least on the TV side, the result is pretty cool. “The Dragon Prince” looks great; there’s action and humor; and — after a bit of a slow start setting up the premise — the story is engaging. There are echoes of everything from “Lord of the Rings” to “Game of Thrones” (without the sex, violence and gore of the latter).
If you grew up loving fantasy adventure, this is something you’ll enjoy bingeing — and introducing to your kids. And not just because everything is better with dragons.