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.



Education News

Gaming Aim High Diaries #1

This will be the first in a series of entries following the experiences of trainees on NI Screen’s Aim High Gaming Placement Scheme. First up is David Freebairn.

My background is in STEM subjects, having graduated with an MEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at QUB before obtaining my Ph.D. in Medical Device Design and Engineering last Summer.  That said, I’ve always retained a strong creative streak on the side with Art and Design subjects and a lifelong passion for gaming and the wider entertainment industry.

Initially, I applied for the Department of Education and Learning’s Games Development Academy (GDA) and was selected as one of 16 talented young programmers and artists from a wide range of backgrounds who each shared a common desire – to make video games in Northern Ireland.  I couldn’t pass up such a unique opportunity to learn, network, and develop my skills amongst like-minded creative individuals with similar interests and goals.  Our ultimate goal was to be selected for one of 6 Aim High “Gaming” placements.  Aim High is NI Screen’s flagship training programme designed to grow the film, television and digital content industries (including gaming) in Northern Ireland by funding year-long industry-led placements in conjunction with trips to conventions and training events.

The GDA was an intensive 12-week programme run by the Colleges and local games companies, culminating in a 4-week placement within a company developing their projects.  A combination of lectures, workshops, and practical game development, together with our own experiences and knowledge as gamers ensured we all had a good base of skills to create quality games.  Put simply, the Games Academy has been a great opportunity for individuals like myself to turn my hobby into a career through a mixture of taught-lectures and hands-on, practical experience.

At the Academy, I worked with 3 other talented individuals, Glenn Osborne, Jack Rafferty and Duncan Foreman to develop Elysium, a first-person exploration game made with Unity.  The resultant game and 4-week placement with Iglu Media earned me a spot on Aim High, where I have continued to work with Iglu Media (the first of 3 four-month placements) on their current game, E.1027, releasing on iPad this Summer.  Developing games is the perfect cocktail of both creative and technical disciplines; a place where art and tech meet.  If you’re passionate about games and interested in art, coding, or just creating cool stuff in general, my advice is to download the Unity engine for free, follow some tutorials and start making games today!  

Try Elysium for free on

 David Freebairn is currently working at Iglu Media on the Aim High Gaming scheme.
David Freebairn is currently working at Iglu Media on the Aim High Gaming scheme.
Education News Industry News

Aim High Gaming trainees selected

 From left to right; Back row: Laura Robinson (Black Market), Colin McCusker (Inlifesize), Mark Skelton, Gareth Grey (Iglu Media), Benjamin Donoghue (Blackstaff Games), Timothy Cartright, Jonny Shields Front row: Chloe Gowdy, Stephen Downey (Outsider Games), William Barr (BillyGoat Entertainment), David Freebairn, Michael McDonald
From left to right; Back row: Laura Robinson (Black Market), Colin McCusker (Inlifesize), Mark Skelton, Gareth Grey (Iglu Media), Benjamin Donoghue (Blackstaff Games), Timothy Cartright, Jonny Shields Front row: Chloe Gowdy, Stephen Downey (Outsider Games), William Barr (BillyGoat Entertainment), David Freebairn, Michael McDonald

Yesterday marked the start of the first set of trainees to be selected by NI Screen and industry specialists for this 12 month pilot gaming traineeship. 

The Aim High Gaming scheme, created in partnership with BBC Northern Ireland, has been developed with the help of Northern Ireland game studios with the aim of developing the future leaders of the games industry in Northern Ireland. 

The six trainees, who were selected from the DEL Games Academy, will take part in a year paid industry traineeship completing various placements with different Northern Ireland game development companies, covering all aspects of the game development process.

This traineeship is the first of it’s kind in Northern Ireland for the gaming industry, and Games NI is delighted to welcome it’s first set of trainees to the scheme.

Developer News

Five developers chosen for Greenshoots NI

Northern Ireland Screen and Microsoft Ireland were happy to announce this week that that five companies have been chosen to take part in the Greenshoots NI scheme.

Greenshoots NI is a programme jointly developed by Northern Ireland Screen and Microsoft to support early stage start up game studios. Game studios will receive financial support of £20,000 and technical help from Microsoft to develop new and exciting game titles for Microsoft and Xbox One, Windows PC and Mobile Platforms.

The five companies were chosen after pitching their ideas to panel of industry professionals. The five projects selected are:

Block ‘N Load – Billy Goat Entertainment 

Block ‘n Load is a shared screen, local multiplayer party game where players assume the role of robot gunslingers in a sci-fi take on the American Old West. The aim of the game is to eliminate opposing players, the last robot cowboy standing wins.

Beat Bugz – Boom Clap Games 

Beat Bugs is a music based game for mobile devices in which you have to protect your drums from pesky bugs that keep infecting your rhythms. 

Safari Slides – Blackstaff Games 

Safari Slides is a themed variation on the classic puzzle game ‘Pipes’ using a hexagon based system with the integration of new mechanics and level based progression. A modern re-imagining of a classic, Safari Slides is a fresh take on an old concept.

Slidecast – Coffeebox Games 

Slidecast follows a wizard escaping from a disaster that he himself caused. The player will manipulate the environment around the wizard across a series of levels and tile sets using simple rhythmic touch controls.

SoMe – AppAttic 

SoMe, is a mobile and desktop game that visualises a user’s social media most frequently used words. It highlights frequency with size and sentiment (positive, neutral and negative) through colours. The aim is to give the player insight into their current mental wellbeing whilst encouraging them to engage with it by using their words to play the SoMe game.

The player must get their character from one side of their most frequently used word to the other. The problem is that their character cannot jump/climb the letters. Therefore the player must use their other words to build bridges across to the other side. Negative words will make it difficult and positive words will help. The user can share their word cloud and resulting level with friends online.

Donal Phillips, Northern Ireland Screen’s Digital executive said “We are delighted that Northern Ireland Screen’s partnership with Microsoft Ireland means that five local game studios have the opportunity to develop their own games. The five companies pitched their games to a panel of industry professionals and displayed a high level of ability and creativity. This is positive step to creating a sustainable games industry in Northern Ireland and we look forward to seeing the studios’ completed games.”

Michael Meagher, Partner Business Evangelist, Microsoft Ireland, said “Microsoft is delighted to support this great initiative through mentorship and access to our BizSpark program tailor made for startups. We’re looking forward to seeing these games both in the Windows Store and on the Xbox in 2016.”

All games will be released Spring this year