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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.

Categories
Education News

Monster Confidence with Stemettes

A few weeks ago, GamesNI got the chance to exhibit at a Stemettes event called Monster Confidence. Stemettes is an organisation that encourages young women into STEM fields, and Monster sponsor them to take their show on the road UK wide.

GamesNI reps arrived at 8am that day and set up several machines showing off what Northern Ireland has produced in the past few years, including a VR headset kindly lent to us by Enter Yes. It was a productive day of explaining to girls ages 14 to 20 the options available to them in video game development in Northern Ireland. 

The day itself contained multiple workshops, speed dating with specialists as well as talks from industry leaders in Northern Ireland. It was incredibly inspiring to see female leaders in the tech industry talk about what it’s been like for them working in STEM fields, including our very own Gareth Grey (honorary lady?) who took part in a panel at the end of the day. 

It was an honor for GamesNI to be able to participate in such an event and we hope to conduct many more like it in the future. 

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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

Italic Pig Nominated for 5 Games Connection Development Awards

Northern Ireland game development studio Italic Pig have been nominated for five awards at Game Connection’s 2016 Development Awards for its latest project Mona Lisa. The award ceremony will take place during this year’s conference in in Paris from October 26th – 28th.

Mona Lisa, created by Italic Pig’s Kevin Beimers, is a stealth & forgery adventure that sees Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous creation brought to life as Renaissance Italy’s greatest art thief. The project received funding from Northern Ireland Screen via Invest NI.

Having picked up a number of awards and nominations for his last production Schrödinger’s Cat And The Raiders Of The Lost Quark, including Best Game Script nominations from both Writers’ Guilds of Great Britain and Ireland, Kevin continues to push the company’s impressive storytelling record by securing Mona Lisa nominations for Best Casual Game, Best Story/Storytelling, Most Creative/Original Game, Best Quality of Art and Best Indie Game. Italic Pig is the only member of the UK games industry to receive nominations at the event.

“The Game Connection Development Awards program is designed to shed light on the most innovative and creative projects that we can find and offers additional exposure to those developers who are constantly pushing the industry forward,” said Pierre Carde, CEO of Game Connection. “We are very excited for the Game Connection Development Awards to spotlight and award more projects than ever and we look forward to seeing what the newest crop of nominees will bring.”

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.

“It’s an over the top mash-up of Dan Brown, Terry Pratchett and ‘springpunk’” describes Kevin Beimers, Mona Lisa creator, “Mona herself is a charming mix of Lara Croft and Inspector Gadget, clad in a modest floor-length dress. Leonardo, on the other hand, falls somewhere between Doc Brown and Peter Capaldi – amazed not so much by his own genius as by other’s stupidity. They make a great team to write for.”

The writer, director, programmer, artist and animator will attend the awards and the conference at the end of October hoping to not only secure more kudos for his company but also with a view to attracting further interest in Mona Lisa and exploring potential opportunities with publishers and distributors. Whilst the game will not be officially launched until 2017, Kevin will be showcasing exclusive first-look content from the game at the conference. For those familiar with the high-quality, narrative-driven games that he has been involved with in the past, Mona Lisa is sure to thrill.

For a full list of nominations visit the Game Connection website.

View the trailer for Mona Lisa below. 

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Industry News

Northern Ireland Screen’s Adding Value Report

Northern Ireland Screen has published the second edition of its Adding Value Report, a celebration of the spectacular range of opportunities, jobs and experiences pursued within and supported by the screen industry in Northern Ireland.

Covering the period from September 2013 to June 2016 the report offers an insight into what growing the screen industry in Northern Ireland really means for the broad range of individuals involved.

Whilst covering multiple screen industries, the report covers Gaming and mobile, which has stepped up in Northern Ireland since the previous report with a growing cluster of local companies now involved in digital and interactive content. Among the recent achievements, Northern Ireland Screen launched Greenshoots NI in partnership with Microsoft, a funding and technical support initiative for early stage start up game studios. We’ve seen Northern Ireland becoming home to the team Of Kings of Men, and the establishing of many new companies province wide.

The report also gives a glimpse into the future of the screen industries as it highlights some of the many talented trainees taking their first step, be it on the Aim High development programme or through the DEL Animation and Gaming Development Academies. These trainee development schemes aim to equip people with the skills and experience required to take up new opportunities, as well as address the needs of our local screen industries.

 

 

Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Screen, said; “We cannot believe it has been almost three years since our last Adding Value Report in 2013. So much has happened in that time which Northern Ireland can be proud of, it has been a great period for the screen industries here, with lots more exciting projects in the pipeline.

“We hope readers will enjoy learning about the companies and individuals that work in the screen industries here and feel the same pride that we do at what they have achieved not just locally but nationally and internationally.

“These are exciting times and we are very conscious that this is the result of tremendous support given to the screen sector here by Invest Northern Ireland, the Department for the Economy, the Department for Communities, the British Film Institute and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. ”

To view the Adding Value Report please click here.

If you would like a printed copy of the Adding Value Report please email info@northernirelandscreen.co.uk

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Education News

Games R&D Tax Relief event; in review

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Putting compelling storylines, picturesque artwork and a captivating soundtrack to one side, a modern game is a masterpiece of software development. It is just as likely to contain as much serious research and development as that undertaken in a laboratory.

The video games and interactive entertainment industry has a clear strong link to high-tech research and development (R&D). Playing an integral part in the development of original intellectual property, R&D has helped the UK become recognised globally as a leading source of original computer games concepts and design.  

With access to finance being a priority for the industry, HMRC’s R&D Tax Relief scheme actively encourages developers to engage in technological innovation that can bring huge benefits to the sector.

In order to qualify for relief, HMRC wants to see R&D being used to create an improvement in a field of science or technology. Even if the R&D in which a company has invested does not have the outcome hoped for, it may even still be able to qualify for R&D tax relief.

 From Left to right; David Baxter from Boom Clap Games, Carley Morrow from App Attic and Mark Westwood from Jumpstart
From Left to right; David Baxter from Boom Clap Games, Carley Morrow from App Attic and Mark Westwood from Jumpstart

With this in mind, Games NI held a discussion with R&D tax experts Jumpstart at the Northern Ireland Screen offices to chat about what the R&D Tax Relief scheme actually means for gaming companies here. R&D tax expert Jumpstart was on hand to explain that game development and interactive entertainment companies should take full advantage of the potential financial gains.

“From designers to producers, it was great to chat to a real mixture of gaming companies. You see, I’m not an accountant; I’m a software developer,” says Mark Westwood, a Technical Analyst at Jumpstart, who has over 30 years’ experience in software development.

“The fact that everyone knows about the Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR) is great to hear – I was very impressed by the knowledge the NI gaming sector has of it,” he continued. Mark also revealed that opportunities exist to claim both VGTR and R&D tax relief, but advised that care is required as HMRC are very particular about what is eligible.

Continuing, Mark says: “However, I found that knowledge on the R&D Tax Relief scheme was a bit sketchier. We have found that some people have looked into the scheme, but it really is under-utilised across Northern Ireland. Which is a shame really, as it’s not often HMRC actually offers you ‘money on the table’!”

 Mark Westwood from Jumpstart
Mark Westwood from Jumpstart

Kitty Crawford, Deputy Chair of Games NI, thought the event was highly informative for both herself and other companies in attendance: “It was superb to get a good overall grounding on the R&D Tax Relief scheme, as well as the opportunity to ask specific, technical questions which was very useful. Even though some companies may not be in a position to claim relief now, it is of huge benefit to know about it for the future.”

If there was one thing that the gaming sector in NI should know about the R&D Tax Relief scheme, Ian Wolfendale, Jumpstart’s Client Engagement Manager, said: “Take a look into it. Don’t ignore it and think it’s not for you, as you could be pleasantly surprised.

“After all, analysis of HMRC’s latest figures shows that NI companies – across all sectors – account for just 2.7% of total claims and a mere 1.6% of the total tax benefits claimed from across the UK. This tells me that the R&D tax relief scheme is massively underutilised here.”

If you would like to chat about what opportunities there may be for your organisation, drop Ian a line at ian.wolfendale@jumpstartuk.com, or find out more at their website.

 

 Guest post by Gavin Williamson, lead organiser of the event, from Lanyon Communications
Guest post by Gavin Williamson, lead organiser of the event, from Lanyon Communications

 

 

Categories
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. 

Categories
Education News

Gaming Aim High Diaries #3

 Image courtesy of IFB2016 
Image courtesy of IFB2016 

Continuing our Gaming Aim High series, Mark Skelton talks about the group visiting Liverpool with Northern Ireland Screen for the International Festival for Business.

After a successful trip to Amsterdam for the Unite Europe 2016 Unity training day it was safe to say that the Aim High crew were very much looking forward to our latest excursion to Liverpool.

Joined by Paula Campbell and Donal Phillips of NI Screen, we caught a flight from Belfast City Airport at 7:10am (we were all fresh as daises!). We arrived at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool at Kings Dock for UK Trade & Investment at the International Festival for Business 2016 for registration at 10am. The talks were scheduled to begin at 11am, which gave us time to get our bearings and explore some of the exhibits that IFB2016 had to offer.

There was a smorgasbord of genres on show, including a VR arcade experience, a word based platformer, a community driven football manager game and an outer-space based racing game. We all got to talk with the creators of each game to gain an insight into their backgrounds, development stories, experience with the business of games and have a general chit chat.

 Gaming Aim high team arriving in Liverpool
Gaming Aim high team arriving in Liverpool

The event kicked off with a welcoming message from Tony Hughes of UKTI followed by keynotes, most notably from Peter Moore of Electronic Arts. It was especially interesting to hear Peter’s viewpoints on future opportunities for business with the European gaming industry following the recent result of the EU referendum. We then had a quick coffee break at noon to recharge the batteries and network other attendees of IFB2016.

The afternoon session saw us receive talks from leading players and investors from three major international games markets; the USA, China and Korea. Much was learned from these presentations, such as localisation challenges faced when entering Korean and Chinese gaming markets, the huge scale of popularity for mobile games in these markets and the many similarities between the UK and USA gaming industries. From 3:30 – 5:30pm we partook in break-out sessions with experts from the overseas markets. We were split into groups for each international games market. Those of us in the USA group were able to directly ask questions to intelligent and captivating figures such as Peter Moore, William Hummel and Fred Schmidt. Topics of discussion included investment, pricing strategies and funding models and we were able to hear brilliant viewpoints from such experienced heads of the gaming industry.

The day was rounded off with a final networking session from 5:30 – 7:00pm, giving us a chance to further discuss what we had learnt throughout and gain potentially important connections for the future. All in all the trip was a huge success and I can safely say that we are all thoroughly looking forward to Aim High’s next adventure!

 

 

 Mark Skelton is currently working at Enter Yes on the Aim High Gaming scheme.
Mark Skelton is currently working at Enter Yes on the Aim High Gaming scheme.