Last month saw the first ever Northern Ireland Game Dev Awards. The event saw the largest ever Play My Demo, as well as the largest Vive multiplayer event Northern Ireland has ever seen, with 8 Vives played at once. This was also to celebrate the 4th year anniversary of the NI Game Dev Network on Facebook, now at over 400 members.
The event featured developers exhibiting their projects, as well as development mentors playing and critiquing work for project teams to improve on, which is what Play My Demo has always been about.
The Awards featured 4 categories – Rising Star, Community Award, Best Game and Best Studio. Without further ado, the winners are:
Best Game & Studio
Organiser and brains behind the event and the NI Game Dev Group, Angela McKeown was also honored with a signed MVP award from attendees of the event, for her dedication and hard work to the community.
‘This has been a fantastic event – I think it’s really important for the local community here to acknowledge the great work happening in Northern Ireland, and I can’t think of a better way to do it; Angie has done an amazing job bringing this together. And what’s more is that I’ve seen a lot of new faces here tonight, which is great! I’m looking forward to more events like this in the future’ – Kitty Crawford, Chair at Games NI
Play My Demo events and Game NI Meet Ups will continue around the year, with a new Game Dev Hangout (link to opportunity page) having just been announced, were local developers can bring their laptops and work on projects with other devs. With the success of this years Award event, we’ll be looking forward to the next one.
January saw return of the Global Game Jam at Farset Labs in Belfast. This year was the biggest yet, seeing 15 teams enter under the theme of ‘Waves’. Three teams also won tickets to the NI Game Awards show the following weekend. Here is what two of them had to say about the event:
Thomas Hislap; Coffeebox Games & Titanic – Never Let Go
‘This year was our first game jam and despite being down a team-member and a severe chest infection, we had an absolute blast making something without the pressure of commercial release. We found the atmosphere of the event to be extremely inviting, and we certainly picked up some new skills watching how other teams worked together.
We went in with the intention of making something silly, this turned out to be the perfect environment for just that! The best part of the Jam for us was getting to see so many devs play our game in person and have fun with such a silly concept. Looking forward to next years Jam already. Big thanks for farset labs and NI screen for orchestrating the event.’
Daniel McDowell – Barbara & Gordon
I was quite anxious about signing up for the Game Jam because I hadn’t done anything in the games development space for about 4 years. I was incredibly rusty and I didn’t want to hold the team back. Our team was made up of people who had never met before and didn’t have a team. Nevertheless, we sat down, discussed ideas and by the end of the first night, I had been introduced to a few new technologies, primarily Git.
The next morning, I discovered our team of 5 was down to 3. Thankfully, this didn’t disband the whole team; rather, it made our responsibilities on the project clearer and made us determined to create something. As always, there were frustrating times when we couldn’t get something working and had to make compromises due to the time constraints, but we prioritised features and managed to make something we could demo.
Despite our struggles, we won a spot prize for our game. I couldn’t believe it! I learned many new things and made some new contacts. I got to witness and play some truly innovative games that use the latest technology and work in the same room as those creators. Initially, I wasn’t sure if giving up my relaxing weekend to spend more time staring at a computer screen was the right thing to do, but now, I believe it was. My fire for developing video games is back!
Mona Lisa, the mischievous art heist and forgery game in development by Northern Irish game developers Italic Pig, delivered a grand slam to win the Very Big Indie Pitch in London last week.
Thirty-seven indie game companies participated in this year’s Very Big Indie Pitch (VBIP), arguably the highlight of the PocketGamer Connects conference last week in London. Each participant has no more than three minutes to showcase his or her game to a staggered panel of 15 judges, composed of industry veterans, journalists, enthusiasts and evangelists.
Italic Pig served up a game and pitch so grand, that it “made history”, said Dean Noakes, Indie Evangelist and one of the judges. It was the first time in the seven years the VBIP has been running that all judges agreed unanimously that a single game, Mona Lisa, was the clear winner.
“I couldn’t believe it when they announced Mona as the winner,” says Kevin Beimers, Founder of Italic Pig and Creator/Director of Mona Lisa. “Actually, yeah, I could totally believe it; it’s a fantastic game if I may say so myself. I’ve been working on it for a year and I’m still not tired of it.”
Mona Lisa is an artistic new adventure in development that combines stealth-platforming with speed-painting. Mona Lisa steals masterpieces from 16th century strongholds using the gadgets of Da Vinci to get in and out. When Mona locates her target painting, she quickly speed-paints a slapdash forgery of the masterpiece mid-heist to leave behind in the frame to fool the guards. The better the forgery, the easier the escape.
“In reality it’s much more complex and creative than the words ‘speed painting’ gives credit for,“ reported Emily Sowden from Steel Media (PocketGamer) after the event. One of the other Steel Media judges, Sam Simmons, thought that Mona Lisa delivered “an ingenious combination of platforming and speed painting with a solid narrative to drive us forward”.
Upon winning the event, Italic Pig was awarded an Amazon Kindle Fire HD10 for game development, a certificate worth $4000 of Steel Media’s promotional services, and an engraved VBIP Baseball Bat (which proved very inconvenient at airport security).
Next up for Italic Pig is the opportunity to hone their pitching skills further as they participate in Games London’s Pitch Bootcamp and Games Finance where they will be seeking additional finance to bring Mona Lisa to release.
In 2015, Mona Lisa was awarded a sizeable grant from the Creative Europe Media Subprogramme for the development of narrative-led video games, which was matched by an equally sizeable investment from Northern Ireland Screen.
Italic Pig specialises in character-driven adventures of the irreverently epic variety. Their debut game – Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark – is a quantum physics action-adventure game for Xbox One, PS4 and Steam that has been nominated for several writing and industry awards, including Best Game Script from the Writers’ Guilds of both Great Britain and Ireland. Mona Lisa recently won Best Casual Game at Game Connection Europe, and has since been marked as “one to look out for”.
For more information: Kevin Beimers email@example.com 07979726519 www.italicpig.com @italicpig
Tara’s Locket is a short story adventure for 5-7 year olds set in a beautifully illustrated world. This unique virtual reality experience allows kids to step into the story and meet Tara and her friends. Users can follow the interactive story and help guide Tara through the magical landscape of Urah with goal of reuniting our heroine with her parents.
A new project from product design and innovation studio Big Motive, Tara’s Locket was inspired by the landscapes, stories and folklore of Ireland’s dramatic Atlantic coast. The story explores the value of self-belief and the often overlooked contribution that children make to family ties.
Tara’s Locket began as a conversation about children’s books and how virtual reality might enhance how stories are told and enjoyed by early learners – enabling children to be transported into the world of the story. Big Motive’s Managing Director, Damian Cranney says: “We set out on this journey wondering about the opportunities to adapt existing IP for a virtual reality experience. Picture books felt like a super place to explore as we could potentially produce something additive in terms of how readers enjoy stories – while preserving the integrity of the story and the artist’s work.”
To expand the storybook into virtual reality, the team drew on their experience working on mobile experiences for the children’s category as well as working with existing IP for the likes of the BBC and Channel 4. Tara’s Locket features a hand-illustrated world – a magical counterpoint to 3D modelling and advanced CGI being used in to bring the latest slate of VR game to market.
The app is launching as a Google Cardboard experience. What excites Big Motive about Google’s about mobile VR technology in general is its affordability and accessibility. “It makes virtual reality completely portable, fun and easy to experience with family…” says Cranney. Tara’s Locket has been designed with this in mind allowing kids to dip in and out of Tara’s world.
Big Motive worked with Priya Mistry who illustrated Tara and her world, and with BAFTA-nominated (Lily’s Driftwood Bay) Scoredraw Music who composed an original score and sound design for Tara’s Locket.
Stephen Shaw, Big Motive’s UX Director comments, “What sets VR apart from any other medium is its ability to transport you to a different place. Our goal with Tara’s Locket was to create an experience for children that lets them feel like they have stepped into the story.”
Damian Cranney adds. “We’re really excited about our venture in VR. There is so much junk out there using every modern technique to hook and bait kids into gorging on rubbish content, we wanted to create something that inspires little learners.”
Tara’s Locket is available for $2.99/£2.29 from the App Store on iPhone and Google Play Store for Android or at; www.AppStore.com/TarasLocket . (iPhone 5 minimum requirement). Compatible with all headsets including: Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, Homido, FreeFly, VR One, GearVR, Durovis Dive. Tara’s Locket features a kid-friendly interface with no in-app purchases or third-party advertising.
Earlier this month saw the launch of Immersive Tech NI as well as a VR hackathon. The event marks the beginning of the group which is designed to bring together the most creative minds in Northern Ireland as a community to explore and expand the possibilities created by immersive technologies, including virtual and augmented reality. Attendees got the chance to try out projects run by local companies, as well as go through workshops leading up to the Hackathon, which had prices for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. We caught up with some of the winners to find out their experience of the Hackathon.
1st Place – Team Rocket
The Immersive Tech NI Hackathon started on a Saturday morning with breakfast and a brief introduction from the event organisers. After this, everyone with a prearranged group set off to find the best tables, leaving just seven of us: a game developer, a software engineer, a museum worker and three students. Only two of the group had ever actually met before, but it wasn’t long before we started sharing ideas and making decisions. The pitches ranged from a first aid instructor to a virtual riot for police trainees, but in the end the idea that really stuck out was a sign language learning tool. A picture of hands signing the letters of the alphabet would be displayed in front of the user, allowing them to practice without a teacher. We decided to go with the augmented reality of the Microsoft HoloLens over any of the virtual reality headsets, as the user would be able to see their hands as they matched the pictures on the screen.
After the idea had been decided it was just a matter of implementing it in six or seven hours, with little to no experience of working with immersive technology. Emma and Paddy worked on the product branding and the pictures of the hands signing. Clea and Rachel created a presentation to give to the judges, making sure to draw attention to why this sort of tool would be useful for so many people learning sign language. James, Michael and I handled the technical side of things. Apart from a few problems with Unity and GitHub, and a bit of a dash to get through all the letters of the alphabet (I think we only made it to N or M), a working prototype was created and the presentation went off without a hitch.
The projects made by the other teams were all of such a high quality so we were all very shocked and delighted to win first prize. I would like to thank my team mates for working so hard and everyone who helped run the hackathon for organising such a great event.
2nd Place – 5 in a Vive
At 5pm on 5th of November in The Hive in Belfast, 12 teams were watching the last hour of their immersive tech hackathon tick away while they tried to finish their demos and presentations. By 6pm the work was done, the beers were opened, and the pitches soon to start.
Our team consisted of Mal Duffin, Dee Harvey, Kris Ignasiak, Steven Kennedy, and Brendan McCourt and we worked on a fire safety app. Brendan and I took on research, idea development, branding, and strategy. As we worked, we identified the most serious fire safety hazards, the most likely audiences, how to make the game increasingly difficult so it can be played repeatedly, what the likely business models were. Steven and Kris got straight to work in Unity building a model of the interior of a house with various fire hazards needing to be neutralised. Mal was building the Reward stage of our game – the bit where you get to be fireman and put out the fire.
As the afternoon wore on, Brendan and I moved onto developing and practising our presentation, while Kris, Steven, and Mal put the finishing touches onto our demo. Powered by sandwiches, haribos, and chocolate buttons, we kept working as the deadline approached.
Delivering the pitch and demo was fun when our turn finally came around. After work stopped on the projects at 6, the judges did the rounds of the room to hear pitches and experience demos where they had been created. Following them around to hear the other pitches was too much for my delicate constitution. I love to watch a pitch, but not before I pitch myself.
We were delighted to come second. We all felt our idea was strong and worth pursuing beyond the hackathon. We make a good, productive team, so we plan to keep working on Safe as Houses. Watch this space.
3rd Place – A(rachnaphobia)
For the Hackathon we hooked up with Rachael and Zach, who brought with them her great idea of simulating vehicle safety checks for Trucks, Cars, etc. It was a great experience being able to walk around a really big virtual truck with a horn and engine sounds, take a tyre off, check indicators and open doors and load cargo. Being me, I was keen to gamify the experience and add achievements – it makes for much more effective learning. We didn’t quite get to build that into the demo, but it was in the concept.
We wrangled with the HMD camera, with teleport code, collision detection with the weird SteamVR constraints, and other code issues. We downloaded assets, made a presentation, looked up industry-specific statistics and use-cases, ate sweets and drank tea. Most of all we wrangled with the fact that four people developing on one machine is more than a little ludicrous. Nine hours of constantly being ‘on’ and thinking hard over brand new problems is tough going.
We yawned, we disagreed, we covered the white board with stuff, we tested and tested and tested, we fell out, we made up, and finally it was time for judging. Rachael gave a really cohesive presentation of the various concepts and ideas we had drummed up through the day. The judges were thankfully game for trying our (still a little clunky) demo in person, and Glenn made a good demonstration of the parts they didn’t quite manage. An hour later, after a much deserved beer and a rest and a good nosy at other people’s projects, we were delighted to win 3rd prize!
In all, it was a super experience. We have a conceptual project that could in theory be taken forward into a fully-fledged real life application. The development issues and code quirks we are now aware of, the differing experiences between the hardware, the user experience of the camera and teleport, that’s all invaluable knowledge. More than anything, though, we now have the motivation to give VR dev a go – it’s amazing fun.
Health engagement and insight company AppAttic got a boost today when their CEO and Founder Dr Rachel Gawely was announced as an Innovate UK Women Infocus Award Winner. The announcement was made this afternoon ahead of the National Business Awards in London where the winners will be introduced by Cisco and Innovate UK chairman Phil Smith.
Finalist, Rachel Gawley impressed the Innovate UK interview panel with her ability to commercialise research and with her company’s latest innovation which is set to disrupt the clinical trial of low risk medical apps through crowdsourcing. She is one of 15 winners who will receive a tailored package of business support and a £50,000 cash prize to assist in developing the project.
“I’m absolutely delighted. At AppAttic we want to improve health globally and we want to do it in the most fun and efficient way possible. The support will assist us as we grow from a small, regional company to putting us on the global map. It will enable us to run large scale trials that are not restricted by geography, at a much lower cost and faster than traditional randomised control trials (RCT). The vision is that saved resources – which are estimated to be 70% – will allow us to focus on what we are good at; research, development and innovation. Furthermore, the technology is being developed to become a stand-alone product which will enable any health app to avail of the benefits.”
The 2016 infocus campaign launched following an analysis of 8,566 historic Innovate UK funding applications. The findings highlighted that there was little difference in the quality of applications submitted by women and men, yet just 1 in 7 applications (14%) for funding were from women. With women in the UK half as likely to start a new business as their male counterparts, or indeed seek out external sources of funding, Innovate UK’s 2016 infocus awards sought to redress this imbalance by encouraging them to apply. The winners will be formally congratulated at tonight’s National Business Awards in London.
Earlier this week GamesNI held the very first GamesNI game developer meet up in Belfast. The event saw talks from Troll Inc and Coffeebox Games, with refreshments provided by Testify. The aim of this event is exploring and expanding the current Game Development industry in Northern Ireland.
This comes a few months after Games NI launched its new web hub for industry leaders, developers, writers, engineers and students. The new hub aims to support all members of the games entertainment industry from beginners just joining to well-established veterans of the digital entertainment with resources and support spanning all their needs.
“Since 2014, Games NI has set out to assist industry members with all manner of guidance, training and education,” Games NI Chairman, Gareth Grey explains. “Working closely with a range of educational bodies, we are creating opportunities for all experience levels to enhance skillsets, and provide industry-led experience and support for professionals and companies across Northern Ireland.”
Kitty Crawford, Assistant Chair of Games NI added “We’re very excited to announce the recent additions to GamesNI’s remit. The new meet up is the perfect place for companies, freelancers and Game Development students to learn more and connect with the local industry. The site also hosts a directory of local companies actively developing games, showcasing their projects at all stages of development. It features relevant local and international news and blogs on current development trends.”
Norbert Sagnard, Co-founder of Mobile Mondays who attended the event explains “I think what’s important for the worthiness for an event like this tonight, and for future ones, is the bringing everyone together.”
The next GamesNI Meetup will be held in February ahead of GDC 2017.
Developed by Dream Country Limited, Inlifesize Ltd, the official mobile game of the chilling remake of one of horror’s most iconic movies debuts on the Apple App Store today.
Boomdash Digital, the UK mobile publisher, have released on iOS and Google Play the official Evil Dead mobile game, based on the terrifying re-imagining of the horror masterpiece.
A secluded cabin. An ancient curse. An unrelenting evil. All you have to do is survive!
Based on what is widely regarded as ‘the most terrifying movie you will ever see’, Evil Dead: Endless Nightmare is an action-packed first person runner. Players get to experience, for the first time, familiar locations and characters from the movie, in a game packed with psychological terror, movie audio and cinema realistic graphics.
Evil Dead: Endless Nightmare sees players run from cinema’s most iconic cabin, where they must then survive the Deadite infested woods, avoid deadly obstacles and select the right weapons to take down the bloodthirsty Deadites, whilst completing increasingly challenging missions.
With the help of the Book of the Dead and an arsenal of signature weapons, including the trusty boxcutter, chainsaw and shotgun, players must fight for their survival, running through the woods to complete missions, collect blood droplets, unlock bonuses, upgrade weapons and ultimately prepare themselves to battle against the Evil Witch!
Evil Dead: Endless Nightmare is now available to play on iOS and GooglePlay:
Mona Lisa, created by Italic Pig’s Kevin Beimers, is a stealth and forgery adventure that sees Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous creation brought to life as Renaissance Italy’s greatest art thief.
Mona Lisa’s game concept pitch was a recipient of a prestigious development award from Creative Europe’s MEDIA sub-programme, which, along with support from Northern Ireland Screen, has been used to fund the development process over the last year, utilising local homegrown talent to create a game with huge international appeal, whilst also helping to bolster the burgeoning games industry in the country.
The ambitious game sees you playing as Mona Lisa, a Renaissance robot of Da Vinci’s own design and a graceful and gadget-filled marvel of engineering perfection. When Mona is not busy breaking into 15th century strongholds and forging some of the greatest works of art that mankind has ever created, she is exploring the streets of Italy trying to solve a mystery that even Robert Langdon would struggle to make sense of.
Congratulations once again to Kevin and the wider team.
Northern Ireland game developer Blackstaff Games has been nominated in the Interactive – Original category for its game DogBiscuit.
As the player you are the creator of the world in which DogBiscuit, RichTea and ChocolateNibble have their adventures. Throughout their outings to picnics at the beach, or meeting aliens in space, they make friends with a tribe of crayons, unlocking new colours and tools to change the environment and progress through in the game.
DogBiscuit is a great game for the entire family; The user interface is intuitive and objects can be drawn very simply or in greater detail, depending on the player’s age. Unobtrusive music and lovingly designed animations round off the experience and turn it into a pleasant trip into the world of drawing.