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Developer News

Q&A with Whitepot Studios

In a new series of interviews with local Northern Irish developers, we met with Adam and Vicky from recent start up Whitepot Studios;

Hi – Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Adam:
I’m Adam Whiteside, and I graduated from Computer Games Development at Queen’s last year. After graduation, I helped found IVEA labs (along with fellow Whitepot founder, Vicky, and two other classmates).

After a year of doing interactive experiences at museums, we all decided it wasn’t what we wanted to be doing with our lives, so Vicky and I started up Whitepot Studios! We now make games and offer development services to people who want a game made, we’ll also make you a website if you ask nicely (gotta pay the bills some how!)

Vicky: 
I’m Vicky Potts, and I graduated from Computer Science at Queen’s last year. In the past I’ve worked at Civica Ireland as a Software Engineer placement student, and then helped co-found a startup, IVEA labs, straight after graduation.

I’ve now setup Whitepot Studios to make games with Adam, which I am really excited about! Getting to be creative and make games is something I am really passionate about, so this is my dream job. If I’m not doing Whitepot things, you can (probably) find me tweeting about wrestling in the middle of the night.

Can you tell us a bit more about Whitepot Studios and why you’ve started creating your own video games?

Adam:
I just really want to make games – games that I enjoy making, and enjoy playing. A game that a million people want to play. That’s my goal with Whitepot Studios. After a year of working on IVEA labs, the team realised that none of us really wanted to be in the interactive exhibit start-up space, and we each decided to go our own way.

Vicky and I wanted to keep doing a startup, but doing something we were really passionate about – and I had always wanted to wanted to go into the games industry (see my degree). Given what I had learned from founding IVEA labs, and seeing the energy of the NI Game Dev community, I thought now would be a great time to start up my own indie studio – and luckily for me Vicky was also thinking the same thing!

Vicky: 

We were developing beacon technology for museums and had the opportunity to travel around the UK and Ireland, and while it was an amazing learning experience, we were ready to move onto something else – because businesses have to be passion-driven to succeed, there’s no question about it. 

As Adam said, I wanted to carry on with the start-up way of life. I’ll be honest – I am not cut out for a 9-5 office environment! When the opportunity arose to make games with a) someone I knew and b) who has a similar style of working as me, I jumped at the chance. So that’s how we arrived at Whitepot Studios and making our own games. For now we are focusing on using Unity to develop iOS and Android app games, and we’ll see where we go from there. In a year’s time, I would love to ask the average person on the street if they’ve heard of one of our games and have the answer be “yes” (akin to popularity of Angry Birds).

 Screenshot of Tube In Progress (Working Title)
Screenshot of Tube In Progress (Working Title)

Who’s on the team?

Adam:
It’s just myself and Vicky for now but we hope to get in an artist once we’ve got the ball rolling a bit, as neither of us have a thorough background in this area. While we are kind of doing the standard start-up approach of, “there’s only two of us, so everyone does everything”, we do have certain roles laid out.

I’m in charge of game design and development as well as long term strategy and decision making for the studio. Vicky handles a lot of the day to day stuff, such as marketing and a load of the public facing stuff (our Twitter and Facebook pages are pretty much run exclusively by her). She’s also a wizard when it comes to web stuff.

We both work on actually making the games and its assets, and we both handle the so-called boring business bits too. We actually don’t mind this too much, since we’ve just come from a “high potential” start-up that involved a lot of that kind of thing, and have been on business incubators in the past.

Some companies work in an office, some work remotely – what works best for your team and why?

Vicky: 
Well, as I said, and it’ll come as no surprise – I’m not cut out for a 9-5 office environment. Adam isn’t too fond of that rigid approach either. At the minute it’s just the two of us, so we are working from the computer room in our flat in South Belfast!

We’ve had some very talented requests come in for work experience so far but unfortunately have been unable to accommodate them – so we’re looking into space for collaboration sooner rather than later so we can begin to expand our team, especially if we want to bring an artist on-board.

I really love Facepunch’s approach to recruiting their team (and if we can make something half as successful as Rust, I’d be pretty happy), so I’d like to borrow their mantra:

“If you work best by starting at 2AM then you can work at 2AM. If you work best from home, then work from home. This only works out if you’re self motivated. No-one is going to tell you to work differently, it’s up to you to find how you’re most effective.”

What’s been your most interesting or exciting project to work on?

Adam:
We just set up at the end of August so the most interesting and exciting things so far has been setting everything up, getting the wheels in motion and meeting with other local developers and seeing what everyone’s doing! 

Vicky: 
Like Adam said, we’ve just been working on getting things off the ground, which is really exciting within itself. The first thing we did when we decided we would commit to Whitepot Studios was Ludum Dare 36 – can we pump out a game over a weekend, under pressure, and not kill each other? The answer was yes! The end result was ‘Why Am I In The Past? Who Cares! Shoot The Romans.” Not a bad start. 

 Paper prototyping ideas at early stage development
Paper prototyping ideas at early stage development

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming game? 

Adam:
We’re currently working on our first game, “Tube in Progress” (working title). It’s a Tempest-style endless runner, in a big tube. It has been called “horribly addictive” by someone who played it #PlayMyDemo – so that’s good! 

You are a small spaceship, zooming your way forward through an ominous tube – a tube filled with obstacles! This is a fast-paced, Unity-made game. 

We’ve undertaken paper prototyping for this and began implementing some basic mechanics, including the mobile touch controls and rocket movement. It’ll be free to play and we’re releasing in the next couple of months, so you can follow along with it’s development on our twitter (@Whitepot) and facebook page (@WhitepotStudios). 

And finally – what are your top 5 games?

Adam:
In no particular order: Crysis, S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow of Chernobyl (honorable mention to Call of Pripyat as well), GTA Online, Shadow of the Colossus, and Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. 

All those games have captured my imagination and inspired me as to what a game can really be.

Vicky: 
In no order – Rust, GTA V, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!, MapleStory, and Petz 3/4/5.

Hear me out before you judge that last choice – Petz was the reason I was using hex editors at age 10, making websites from 11, and made some great internet friends across the globe that I’m still in touch with today. I was modding before I knew what modding was. This article explains it better than I ever can, I cannot explain how much that community influenced me and shaped my career choices without me even realising. Judge the second-last choice all you want.

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Industry News

Northern Ireland talent wins at Game Connection’s Development Awards

Congratulations to Northern Ireland game development studio Italic Pig, which won Best Casual Game at the Game Connection’s 2016 Development Awards this week for the project Mona Lisa. The award ceremony took place earlier this week in Paris.

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.

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Industry News

DogBiscuit nominated for a children’s BAFTA

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.

For a full list of nominations visit the BAFTA website.

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Education News

Gaming Aim High Diaries #4

Contiuning our series of Gaming Aim High Diaries, Chloe Gowdy talks about working at company Outsider Games

For my first 4 month placement I was chosen to be with Outsider Games run by Stephen Downey. For my first month there, the crew were all busy completing their game Wailing Heights, a body hopping musical adventure 2D game, so I spent most of my time helping them out by play testing the game and writing down any bugs throughout the game that I later gave to the programmer so that he could fix them. It looked pretty stressful for everyone as the release date was getting closer and closer and everyone wanted the game to be as perfect as possible so we were all over the place trying to get any possible bug or issues that happened in the game fixed, and finishing up any last minute assets that still had to be put in the game. On the day of the release (27th of april), we all took the day to relax in the studio and played lots of board game as we constantly refreshed the Steam page to see how the game was doing on the first day. 

 Chloe with the Outsider Games team after release of Wailing Heights
Chloe with the Outsider Games team after release of Wailing Heights

Even though the game was released I wasn’t done with the game just yet as Stephen wanted to have Steam achievement icons for his game as well as Steam trading cards and badges. After discussing what the achievements will be, I went into Photoshop to make several icon versions and showed them to Stephen who then gave me some advice on how to make some icons look better and once we were all happy with the icons, Stephen put them on Steam to be approved. It was fun to see the achievements appear in the game as I was testing it to make sure they were all working properly and appearing when I completed an achievement. We didn’t have any issue with making the achievement icons, but when it came to the trading cards, I had a lot of trouble getting everything to be approved by steam, especially for the badges. Stephen and I did a lot of research on how the trading card system on steam worked and how the badges are not allowed to look too similar, but even so I had to make the badges several times before they got properly approved on steam because they said our badges still looked too similar. But we eventually got there and it was still fun to come up with all these different ideas for what the trading cards and badges should look like and see it come to life on steam.

 Chloe hard at work in the Outsider Games office
Chloe hard at work in the Outsider Games office

After I had completed these tasks, there wasn’t anything left to do on Wailing Heights, so I started to work on their other project Jennifer Wilde, a point and click adventure game. They already had their 2D artist working on all the main stuff for the game so I mainly took care of designing UI for the game, think about what the main menu should look like and any other smaller 2D tasks I could help with. I am mainly a 3D artist so I wasn’t very confident in my 2D skills but Stephen was very helpful and was always there to come over when I asked for help r advice on something and he would correct me in any perspective issues I was having with my drawing and gave me advice on making my art better, which was very helpful and taught me a lot.

I finished my placement with Outsider Games at the end of July, and started my next placement with The Design Zoo. Overall I had a great time learning 2D and it was a great experience to see a game in its late development about to get released, and I look forward to learning more in my next placement.

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Developer News Industry News

Northern Ireland talent among TIGA Awards nominations

Northern Ireland talent is among the nominations for the 2016 TIGA Awards which will take place on the 10th November at the Christ Church Spitalfield in London.

Three games developed in Northern Ireland have been nominated in three separate categories. Blackstaff Games’ Safari Slides is nominated in the Puzzle Game Category, Iglu Media’s E1027 is nominated in the Educational Game category and Outsider Games’ Wailing Heights is nominated in the Visual Design category. Italic Pig’s Kevin Beimers is also part of the team behind The Bunker which is nominated in two categories.

Safari Slides is a mobile puzzle game where players follow the adventures of the Safari families as they cruise their way around the world hitting every water park as they go! At each park they attend it’s your job to get them from the top of the park to the bottom, unscrambling the slides as you go.

In E1027 players explore the home of renowned architect Eileen Gray, E1027, regarded as a 20th century architectural masterpiece. Players are tasked with restoring the building to its old glory and uncovering the secrets within it.

Wailing Heights is a coffin-rocking, body-hopping, musical adventure PC game, set in a village which is home to vegan werewolves, hipster vampires and soulful zombies. Play as music band manger Frances Finklestein who arrives in Wailing Heights and is charged with the crime of being alive.

Kevin Beimers is a Northern Ireland based video game developer who was a writer on The Bunker. Kevin is currently working on his own project Mona Lisa, a stealth adventure game were players play as a Renaissance robot who is also the 16th century’s greatest art thief.

For the full list of nominees visit the TIGA website. 

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Industry News

The Bunker launches on PC and Mac

The Bunker is a completely live action video game starring Adam Brown (The Hobbit) and Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful, Assassin’s Creed 3) with a story written and developed by gaming talent behind The Witcher, Broken Sword and SOMA including local talent Kevin Beimers from Italic Pig.

In The Bunker, You are John, a boy born in a secret government nuclear bunker in England on 3rd July 1986, the day the bombs fell. 30 years later, everyone you knew and loved has died.  You are the last remaining survivor.

You exist as best you can, following the rules and sticking to the routine. But when an alarm is triggered, your mind begins to self-destruct. You must venture deeper and deeper into the bunker discovering long forgotten zones and uncovering dark and repressed memories that finally reveal the terrible secret of the bunker.

Features

  • An incredible cast including Adam Brown (The Hobbit), Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful, Assassin’s Creed 3), Grahame Fox (Game of Thrones) and Jerome St. John Blake (Star Wars)
  • A completely live action, full HD, cinematic experience with high production values.
  • Filmed in a genuine decommissioned nuclear bunker in Essex, England.
  • A complex, twisting plot written by award-winning screenwriters and designers behind The Witcher, Broken Sword and SOMA.
  • Explore the bunker to its deepest depths, searching through computer files, documents and recordings to unlock John’s dark suppressed childhood memories.
  • Complete with achievements, a platinum trophy and hidden secrets, including John’s scattered childhood Wooden Toys for eagle-eyed players.
  • A neo-retro soundtrack by UK composer Dom Shovelton which will be available as DLC.

You can now download the game at Green Man Gaming for PC or Mac, as well as on Steam.

Official website: The Bunker

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Developer News

Q&A with Prism Studios

In a new series of interviews with local Northern Irish developers, we met with Stephen and Anna from the newly established Prism Studios. 

Hi guys, why don’t you start by telling us a bit about who you are and what you do?
Stephen – Hey, I’m Stephen Ferguson, from Northern Ireland and I am a game/level designer. I am a huge gamer, it occupies most of my time and I love analysing games after I have finished them. I want to create awesome content for people to enjoy. Having something that starts as just an idea I visualise in my head and can then craft that into something that someone else can enjoy and explore is great fun.

Anna – Hey! My name is Annemieke Eerkes (just call me Anna), I’m from the Netherlands and I’m a programmer/level designer. I absolutely love puzzles, and programming has always felt like some sort of Lego, where the only limits are your own imagination. Setting up our own game studio is a really exciting opportunity to get to do what I love!

Your first released project was Portal Stories: MEL – What got you into making mods?
Stephen – I have always enjoyed using level editors in games, the first level editor that I really remember enjoying messing about with was for Advance Wars for the GBA. I would set up all sorts of scenarios to see how the AI would react to given situations.

Obviously Portal was a huge game for me, it was incredible, and the sole reason I got my first gaming PC so I could finally run it. Portal 2 was even cooler and when it was announced they were releasing a level editor for it I was very excited. Of course, as is typical with Valve it took ages for it to come out and I didn’t want to wait anymore. They had already released their Authoring tools, which is the very un user friendly editor they use in house called Hammer. I started watching some tutorials on how to use hammer and just went from there.

I submitted my first map to a website called Thinking with Portals, which had a summer mapping contest, think I am came about 17th out of about 30 people. I kept working on custom maps by myself and learning from the feedback, there is a lot to learn when it comes to Hammer and level design and I had my own series of custom maps called Dilapidation, which got spotlighted by PC Gamer.  It wasn’t long before I met Anna who invited me on to the project which at the time only really consisted of the two of us and things just went from there.

Anna – I really loved the Portal games and I simply wanted more, the best way to get more is to actually make more! By working on mods you learn to analyze the entire game and you’ll get a much better understanding of all the mechanics and how they all interact. All the feedback that I’ve received on my work really inspired me to continue making more, improve my skills and surprise people with new stuff. Eventually I decided that I wanted to create a full campaign. This project grew over the years into a bigger and bigger project with more and more incredibly talented people on the team!

How successful was that mod?
Stephen – It’s been downloaded almost 800,000 times in slightly over a year, it has a Steam rating of over 94% at the moment and we won a Game Award for the best fan creation! We also won the “Best Singleplayer Experience” Editors Choice for ModDB and came 10th in the public vote for ModDB Mod of the year.

You followed up with Portal Stories: VR – how was working in VR and how this received?
Stephen – Originally it didn’t even start as a game and was just a VR showcase of one of our favourite levels from Mel. After the Lab came out and introduced the teleportation system for movement I was inspired to actually utilise that as a gameplay mechanic, rather than just a system of movement. I also made a second device which let you grab objects from far away and we incorporated them both into some existing portal mechanics and made some of our own. It was just a short little experience and me and Harry wrote the script for it in a single night, though as it often does when in a skype call with Harry, that meant 5am! It has been very well received and we even got some feedback from some developers at Valve and it has been downloaded over 60,000 times with a 95% positive review rating.

Anna – For me Portal Stories: VR was a whole new challenge. With Portal Stories: Mel we were quite constrained from a technical perspective. Since we were just modding we didn’t have access to the source code, and for some of the more advanced features we’d had to actually change hexadecimal values in encrypted files to get stuff working.
With Portal Stories: VR we couldn’t use the Source engine, since it doesn’t have support for VR. So we had to switch to a whole different engine and we chose Unreal Engine 4. This meant that we had to re-program all the game mechanics. It was incredibly fun to reverse engineer a variety of game mechanics whilst also adding our own. The funniest thing to me was actually accidentally recreating some of the same bugs in a whole different engine!

You’ve now started your own company with your own ip – Tell us a bit about how that’s happened
We’ve received so much great feedback on our previous games, and people telling us that they love what we’ve created. By going full-time with a whole new game we can invest much more time into it. That way we can create better and bigger experiences at a faster pace. By creating a proper company we can actually hire some very talented people to make even better games.

Can you tell us about the rest of your team?
At the moment we’ve got 4 people: the two of us, Ethan McLean and Harry Callaghan.

We’ve worked with Harry on both Portal Stories games, and he’s a very creative guy. He has his own YouTube channel with over 300,000 subscribers (Harry101UK) the skills he uses in his videos are also very useful in our games. He’s great with sound, both soundtrack and sound effects, modeling, some texturing and producing trailers and stuff.
Ethan is a 2D artist who has worked with various companies on a variety of projects, his concept art is incredibly inspiring and makes me super excited to see this all come together in the end!

Your team work remotely – how does that work for your company?
Good communication is obviously the key to success, and this is harder to do with a remote team. By constantly posting our work to each other, show what we’re up to and  providing feedback we stay in close communication. We also make sure that we do fun stuff together, instead of hanging around the coffee machine for a bit we hang out in a game of Left4Dead! We also make sure to have regular calls with the entire team just to make sure everyone knows exactly what’s going on and what’s expected of them.

Can you tell us anything about your upcoming game?

Our next game is called DR01D, we’re still very early in production so we don’t want to give away too much yet, and things are subject to change, but DR01D is a VR first person puzzle game with a strong narrative, based around solving puzzles simultaneously alongside robot companions who you direct about the map to help you complete tasks, retrieve objects etc. The game takes place in the future, you are part of an advanced AI tasked with fixing your space station after it suffered damage during a meteor storm that has wiped out life on Earth. You will do training puzzles before going down to Earth to salvage equipment to upgrade your robots and fix the station.

And finally, what’s you favourite games?

Stephen – Portal 2, The Witcher 3, Left 4 Dead, Spacechem, Metroid Prime would be my top 5

Anna – Bioshock 1 or Infinite, Portal 2, SpaceChem, League of Legends and DarkSouls III would probably be my top 5!

You can keep up to date with Prism Studios on:

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Official Website

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Education News

Diversity in Games with the Romeros

In our continuing guest posts, Conall Mac Canna writes about Games NI and NI Screen’s Diversity in Games event last month.

Last month, myself, David and some of the Red Spear team had the pleasure of attending a workshop run by Brenda and John Romero ahead of a series of talks ‘Diversity in Games’.

Brenda, formerly Brathwaite, is renowned as a games designer for her work on the likes of the Wizardry and Jagged Alliance series, her teaching and broader substantial work for the improvement of the industry. John, meanwhile produced games with his Id Software, that went by the names Doom, Wolfenstein and I think Quack.

We began with a wonderful segment on forming a development team by way of Black Sabbath, a follow-up about good leaders according to Star Trek from Brenda and a Q&A with them on taking a project to market. After that we were joined by other local developers at the ‘Diversity in Games’ section of the day. 

The talks in the afternoon were varied, with one from Specialisterne NI on supporting those on the autistic spectrum in gaining employment in the industry, another from John, giving a rapid-fire history of the fantastic early days of Id Software and the third from Brenda on diversity in the industry in general. From her refreshingly sensible perspective as someone the press have labelled as a #FemaleGamesDesigner (she prefers, rightly so, #GamesDesigner) she noted that, while people should strive to be great in the industry, role models from various backgrounds are vital. The impression she presented was that while we should strive for that – to be something people can aspire towards – we should do so without making our background something that defines how they, sharing said background, perform in their role. This was highlighted with John and his Cherokee / Yaqui / Mexican heritage which, while never a focus in his depiction, is something that provides great inspiration to some of those who are fans of his work.

Overall as well as a great day of insights into the industry from the Romeros, it was fantastic day of meeting and hearing from inspiring veterans of the industry.

 Conall Mac Canna is co-founder of Pandaras Box and currently on the UK Games Fund Tranzfuser program.
Conall Mac Canna is co-founder of Pandaras Box and currently on the UK Games Fund Tranzfuser program.

 

 

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Developer News

Enter Yes LTD release VR BBC Taster

Enter Yes have recently launched their virtual reality project Ghosts of Thiepval on BBC tasters website. The project is a virtual reality experience taking you into the trenches at the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.

As explained by Warren Bell, Producer for Digital & Learning at BBC, ‘Users can step inside recreations of the actual trench systems in Thiepval Wood on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. As you are taken through the trenches you hear veterans speak of the realities of war in this environment. It’s a unique opportunity for people to see for themselves what life was like in the trenches as troops prepared to go over the top.’

Working closely with the BBC, Enter Yes mapped and photographed these trenches, building a faithful virtual reality environment from them in close consultation with the Somme Association. This journey through the trenches is narrated by the voices of men who survived the Battle of the Somme.

You can learn more about this VR project at their Taster page on the BBC’s website.

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Developer News

Of Kings And Men Early Access

This week, Green Man Gaming Publishing and developer Donkey Crew in conjunction with Northern Ireland Screen, have announced that their new medieval multiplayer action strategy game, Of Kings And Men, is coming to Early Access in August 2016.

Of Kings And Men is developed by Donkey Crew, the team behind the popular “cRPG” modification for the medieval action role-playing game, Mount & Blade: Warband. The developers are now based in Northern Ireland after initially working on the game from different locations around the world. Today, Of Kings And Men is a project funded by Northern Ireland Screen the government-backed lead agency supporting film, television and digital projects.

Of Kings And Men allows you to experience huge, player-driven battles like no other. Engage in massive combat with more than 200 players, capture territories, or practice your fighting skills in competitive matches with intuitive melee combat.

Throughout Early Access, Of Kings And Men will introduce strategic elements, allowing players to conquer and control the land by political, economic or military means. Send armies to protect your cities and invade enemy territories. Lead your troops into decisive orchestrated sieges against player-built fortifications that are fought with hundreds of friends and foes simultaneously. Every victory or defeat shapes history forever.

Key Features in the Early Access launch:

  • Battles. Over 200 players can battle it out in large, skirmish regions
  • Factions. Team up and wage war against enemy kingdoms
  • Skills. Train your character and practice your personal skills
  • Progression. Unlock Swords, Polearms, Spears, Bows, Crossbows, and other authentic 13th Century weapons and armors to customize your look and play style
  • Dynamic Combat. Fight with a fast-paced and intuitive combat system, based on the experience of Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) fighters and medieval manuscripts
  • Proprietary Engine. Donkey Crew’s custom engine provides a highly optimized, beautiful experience.

Find out more information over on the Of Kings And Men website.