Wales Games Development Show: Local industry coming to life

One thing is certain, the games industry is extremely broad. While there’s plenty to be excited about from the major studios with worldwide bases, there are also smaller, independent, local studios that have plenty to say and a lot to give.

I spent the day in Cardiff’s Millennium Centre for the Wales Games Development Show, a small gathering that puts the limelight on local talent, and discovered plenty about the Welsh games industry, a thriving, emerging sector with plenty of big things on its horizon.

The event was arranged as part of Digital Cardiff Week which brings leading creative industry and digital sector companies together to showcase the latest production technologies and digital platforms.

Up to 50 companies exhibited at the show, all ranging from different backgrounds such as games development and publishing. There were representatives from TV industries (like the BBC and ITV), as well as local film and even universities. The idea of the event was to inspire local development but also to help those currently involved in local development to improve networking.

The show also featured various BAFTA in Wales lectures, as well as a master class from the BBC and even a workshop that helped teach Unity to aspiring developers.

A number of key speakers were also present at the event, including Ian Livingstone, Rhys Thomas of Mudvark, UKIE Head of Communications, Dan Wood and Rogue Vector Tech Director, Richard Griffiths.

The highlight, however, was the first ever BAFTA Cymru Awards Ceremony. The ceremony offered several awards to exciting local games, including the British Academy Wales Award for Games, but i’ll come back onto that shortly.

article_15621756bc8c2822_1348837180_9j-4aaqsk-580x300
I spent most of my time visiting stands, trialling games and conversing with people who have worked from the comfort of their own homes and shared office space to bring exciting creations to life. With so many powerful software packages available, such as Unity, Stencyl, Twine and AGS, the industry is more remote than ever and one thing that struck me is how effectively people work together on projects, even if there are hundreds of miles seperating them.

Banshee is one such project. Rogue Vector is made up of several individuals, each conversing through Skype, email and shared cloud-based services to bring their Facebook team-game to life. The game offers an exciting spin on team deathmatch with one team playing as marines and the other as spectres. The goal as a human is to light the area as much as possible, burning the ghostly abominations and erasing them from the astral plain. Meanwhile the spectres have to lure humans into the darkness so they can be pounced and frightened to death.

Banshee is a territory-based team game and the winner is the team who gains the most points. Rogue Vector have worked incredibly hard to bring this to life and while the game wasn’t playable at the show, there was plenty of support through on-screen previews, as well as merchandising and a link to their Kickstarter project, allowing people to donate on the spot.

A smaller-scale project was just around the corner from that called Yummy Yeti, a newly released iOS title. The premise is simple. You play a girl in a red hood and cloak and must collect seeds in order to feed a Yeti at the end of the level. The player has to jump between platforms, dodge bird poop and avoid perilous, red-hot lava, amongst other obstacles along the way.

It’s a fun little platform game with a nice artstyle and an entertaining hook. Yummy Yeti can now be picked up from the AppStore at no charge and just shows how much can be accomplished with a small group and freely available programming tools.

Another one of the highlights of the show was an iOS game featuring a super hero in training. This title was based around a series of mini-games designed to improve the capabilities of a super-hero. One game saw the protagonist scale down a wall. Another had him jumping over hurdles and sliding under obstacles.

The game even has a story told by an  animated comic strip. The game is a joy for comic-book fans, ensuring an authentic experience that is immensely engaging. The title is scheduled for release sometime next year and is progressing nicely.

My Game of the Show, however, has to be Master Reboot. Wales Interactive have somehow manage to merge the exploration of Journey with the terror of Amnesia and fuse it together with a sci-fi tone that is inherently unique.

In this First Person Interactive Adventure, players must solve riddles and puzzles that bring clarity to their fragmented memories. Broken dreams, disturbed fantasies and crucial thoughts define this adventure, from the cradle to the grave. The soundtrack is haunting, the art-style can hardly be compared to anything else out there and the game feels relevant, current and engaging.

Due for release on PSN, PC, Mac and Linux, the title is set to release this year and will undoubtedly be one of the biggest games to come out of Wales, alongside the likes of Thomas Was Alone.

Other big mentions go to Q.U.B.E, due for release on PSN and Wii U later this year, as well as Farringdon Lane and Rantmedia’s latest project, Super Gravity Boy.

sponsorbannersmf3
It wasn’t just games providing the fun, though. Cosplayers were to be seen on every corner, with individuals doing a fantastic job as Darth Vader, Storm Troopers as well as Captain Jack Sparrow. All could reguarly be seen walking around the vicinty, snapping photos with visitors and livening the mood of the whole event.

It was also the first event that Oysterworld Games appeared to the public after announcing their official launch in Wales. The company will be setting up in Treforest Industrial Park, moving into their offices around the August period and representatives were on hand to take CVs, communicate with local talent, talk a bit about the history of the company and assure local talent that the Welsh Government has taken an active interest in future development.

Then when the booths were packed away and the cosplayers were back in their normal clobber, along came the main event. BAFTA Cymru were proud to introduce the inagural awards ceremony for Welsh Games and had Ian Livingstone take the reigns with an epic keynote speech.

dsc-9633crop-3592
Ian kickstarted the ceremony in style and really captured the essence of the event. He talked about his own beginnings, creating Dungeons & Dragons from the comfort of his own home, handling distribution through telesales and how he and his team tried to convince bank managers that, back in the 60’s, board games with elves and orcs were a worthy investment.

He talked through the development of the Games Workshops and through to his progression into the video games industry. We learned valuable lessons about Lara Croft, a character who gave Katie Price her valuable start in the modelling industry, and we gained insight on how games will become an important part of the education curriculum in the years to come.

Ian is an inspiring, genuine man with great vision and narrative flair. Hopefully his words touched many people in the room and gave them the confidence to build on their own dreams.

The ceremony was over fairly quickly and mostly rewarded A Sitting Duck and Wales Interactive’s ‘Go Candy’ for its quirky artstyle, fun gameplay and universal appeal. The title is a real pleasure to play but we’ll be talking about that in a future overview. The game is based on the highly popular online youtube series, Candy the Magic Dinosaur.

Also successful was Rantmedia’s Vectrex remake. Anton Falconbridge and his team were on hand to collect their award and received a firm handshake from Mr Livingstone himself.

Following on from that, Microsoft announced a project exclusively for local industry which allows people to submit apps for Windows Phone 7. The winner will be rewarded by having their game fully optimised for WP7 and released on the Windows Store at a future date.

Coming away, I felt inspired and enthusiastic about local industry. There’s a lot of positive movement and plenty of talented people at the forefront. I’m happy to play some small part in all of it.

Thank you to Wales Interactive for inviting me and allowing me to be part of this special event. I already can’t wait for next year!

About the author

Ray Willmott

Ray is the founder and editor of Expansive. He is also a former Community Manager for Steel Media, and has written for a variety of gaming websites over the years. His work can be seen on Pocket Gamer, PG.biz, Gfinity, and the Red Bull Gaming Column. He has also written for VG247, Videogamer, GamesTM, PLAY, and MyM Magazine,