|by Aphra Kerr & Tony Kelly
It is time to look back before we make those resolutions and plans for 2006. These reflections are based on the features and news carried on gd.ie and gossip I happen to come into contact with in various public houses around the country!
This year replay is a little longer. The first part of this review are personal thoughts from a distracted academic, i.e. me, and below you will find an annual review by Tony Kelly of IGDA Ireland activities for 2005.
Overall it has been a year of ups and downs. For the industry we had the high of Torc's Dreadnought and the low of Kapooki's closure. For academia we had the launch of new game courses and modules and the decision by the government to fund a National Digital Media Research Centre. The Digital Hub ran a month of game related events and gd.ie relaunched with a new look all thanks to voluntary efforts. And Sony published a Gaeilic football game for the PS2 that developed by an Australian development company – you can file that under an up or down depending on your own perspective.
For gd.ie it was a year of steady change. We had our second birthday in a packed room in the Digital Hub in April as compared to the back of a pub the year previously. The packed room had nothing I am sure to do with the free wine and supposed presence of DC studios – who unfortunately had to pull out at the last moment.
Nevertheless the crowd heard presentations by Michael El Baki (Bomberman) from Bit Rabbit, a recently established company in Dublin and Tony Kelly, (Idora) from Torc Interactive in Donegal, a rather more established company. These were followed by Ciaran Vipond who presented the project ‘BlowAway: The Winds of Therslow' which was originally a final year thesis project in DCU.
Subsequently all speakers made important announcements later in the year which goes to show gd.ie picks winners! Blowaway found travel funding and the project was shown at the Wired ‘Nextfest' in Chicago in June, Torc released the Dreadnought demo to international acclaim in Sept. (http://amd64downloads.filecloud.com/dreadnought.asp ) and Bit Rabbit's mobile games Yukiko and Atomanix started making waves by Dec. (http://www.allaboutsymbian.com/news/item/BitRabbit_Hops_Into_More_Mobile_Markets.php).
Also unveiled on the night was the gd.ie site redesign courtesy of gd.ie board regulars Dave Kearney and Ian Hannigan. We have spent some time tweaking but I think we are looking pretty good now. As regards traffic we have 661 registered users on the forums, of which 45 joined in Dec! I see the newbies come from places as dispersed as Kerry, Athlone and Northern Ireland so word must be getting out there. While the newbies are quiet enough in terms of posts we currently have five people on over 1,000 posts, although being one of them I am not sure if that is something to be proud of or not!
In industry terms the major news was Torc releasing the ‘Dreadnought' demo in September. Developed for AMD to showcase their latest chip this free to download level of a first person shooter got mostly favourable reviews in the game press, demonstrated what an Irish company was capable of and left us all impatient to see more! In the mobile sector Nephin increased its employee numbers considerably following the success of its ‘WKN Kickboxing' game, Eirplay launched play.ie and Starcave continued to expand and ran a successful summer intern programme. Locally Nephin and Upstart received industry awards for their game applications. Forum posters have pointed us to the development of new companies like Frantic games in Athlone (see http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/forums/viewtopic.php?t=2185 ) and Gmedia in Limerick (see http://www.nsd.ie/htm/news/story.php3?id=2885 ) which augurs well for the strength and depth of the industry.
Demonware and Havok continue to make international headlines in the middleware business (not just for t-shirts!) with the former opening an office in Vancouver and getting nominated for a Game Developer Magazine award.. Steve Collins left Havok and rejoined his alma mater Trinity College in late summer which has to be a bonus for Trinity and a loss to Havok.
It was not all good news though. There was the excitement and then disappointment as DC studios announced it was to establish an office in Ireland and by the end of 2005 there was still no news. There was the excitement of a TKO local management buyout and then the news that it was not to be afterall. But this was nothing compared to the announcement that after five years Kapooki was to close its doors. Kapooki employees had been tireless lobbyists and supporters of game related initiates in Ireland. It was with much disappointment that we learned of their closure. The full postmortem has yet to be written and may well provide useful lessons for others. For now we must send our regrets and wish all involved well in their next venture.
The Digital Hub continued its support of the games community with a month of largely game related events last May, in association with the IGDA Ireland committee. The month involved everything from talks and an education fair to an exhibition ‘Exhibit8: New Frontiers in gaming' See http://www.thedigitalhub.com/news/pa.asp?NID=346&NCID=3&Y=2005&T=N .
Going by our features Irish companies are making waves internationally and many attended major international events like GDC, Imagina, Wired NextFest and E3 while Irish academics were not to be outdone and Trinity College hosted ‘Eurographics' in September (see http://isg.cs.tcd.ie/eg2005/) while a little gang of Irish researchers attended the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference in Vancouver in August (See http://isg.cs.tcd.ie/eg2005/). There were new game courses and modules at Letterkenny IT, St. John's College Cork, Tralee IT, DIT and the University of Ulster.
By Dec. you couldn't watch an evenings mainstream television without being bombarded by advertisements for Playstation and Xbox games. Indeed one of the biggest discussion points on gd.ie was the Gaeilic football game published by Sony in time for the Christmas market. We ran a feature on the Irish company who had the original license and tried to follow it up with a story on the Australian company who eventually developed it but our efforts have been scuppered so far. It will be interesting to see how well the game does in terms of sales and what the implications might be for the Irish games community in terms of future developments and our international profile.
IGDA Replay 2005 – Tony Kelly
Superficially at least, 2005 was a quiet year for the Irish chapter of the IGDA. The end of 2004 saw the successful launch of Awakenings, Ireland's first digital games conference, and 2006 will see the second Awakenings conference take place in Dublin. Not bad at all, considering the organisers are voluntary part-timers – all of whom have busy, full-time jobs in and around the industry.
Perhaps unsurprisingly then, 2005 saw a lot of reflection re: both commitment and direction of the chapter – not to mention the industry as a whole in Ireland, North and South. Despite the ups and downs – not least of which was the closure of two of Dublin's gaming companies, Kapooki & TKO, both of whom had members on the chapter organising committee - I genuinely believe both chapter and industry will emerge the stronger for it, difficult thought that may be to see at present
Here's a quick run down of what we've been up to for the past year:
Dare to be Digital -
· Promoting and judging both Irish heats of Dare to be Digital
· Consulting on organisation of both Irish heats of Dare to be Digital 2006
· Providing industry support to Irish teams before taking up their places at Dare
Local Industry Support –
· meeting/consulting with 3 new potential developers and semi-state bodies
· Media interviews & liaison, etc.
· early stage discussions re: a Northern Ireland digital media association
· Providing judges for both 2004/2005 & 2005/2006 Digital Media Awards competitions
· raising early stage interest from semi-state bodies in a prototyping fund
· provisionally securing funding, venue & support for Awakenings '06 in Dublin
· early stage discussions re: accreditation for Irish third level courses
· involvement in the Skillset accreditation of NI and UK third level courses
· Organising the industry sessions at Eurographics in TCD this year
· Organising three events and providing speakers for Digital Hub's Gaming Month
· Providing consultancy & letters of support for several new gaming-related initiatives in the fields of education, research and industry on both sides of the border
Wider IGDA Activity –
· Providing judges for Game Developers Choice Awards at GDC 2005
· Aiding in selection of student scholarship places for GDCE
· Providing input on first game producer's retreat and production best practice white paper via Production SIG
So what does 2006 hold for the Irish chapter?
In the early parts of the year we'll iron out the remaining structural issues – i.e. possible formalisation of chapter status, possibly moving to two tier admin structure, old members stepping down, new members stepping up, etc.
At the same time, we'll be moving into an exciting year which has the potential to be a significant one for the industry in Ireland - what with the potential arrival of some new studios, new product releases from existing developers, and some innovative projects in various stages of development, including some exciting activities planned for later in the year in the North
There has been a lot of interest in the early stage prototyping fund which we're trying to get off the ground. This would be broadly similar to the innovative GRIPP fund administered by Games Republic in Yorkshire, and could potentially fill the gap for content developers with innovative ideas who have yet to secure publisher funding.
We will of course continue to promote and support the Dare to be Digital competition for third level students. For the first time this year, we are hoping to provide a number of resources for the Irish teams chosen to represent the Republic and Northern Ireland in order to enable them better compete in a competition, which, not only provides a unique and valuable opportunity for the winning teams, but continues to go from strength to strength
Recent discussions and activity both home and abroad has shown just how important the need for some sort of educational accreditation or industry recognition has become, and we will continue to work with SkillSet in NI and on our own in the Republic to provide guidance to industry, academia and students
And last, but by no means, least – Awakenings '06 looks set to take place in Dublin in the last quarter of the year. It's early stages at the moment, but suffice to say we're aiming to outdo the last Awakenings in every way - more industry speakers, more local industry support, more attendees, and possibly the addition of workshops alongside the main conference. As I said, it's early days yet, so watch this space…
I'd like to end by thanking all of those who helped out in some way or other with the chapter's activities but especially – Dave Kearney (GD.ie), Michael Hallissey (Digital Hub), Tanya Magill (NESTA), Brendan McGoran (Belfast City Council), Maeve McConnon & Donal Travers (IDA), Michael McKenna, Michael Cantwell, Colin Mc Cullagh, Maggie Daleo & Jonathan Loughran (Enterprise Ireland)
And of course, I'd also like to thank all of the chapter organising committee volunteers, past and present: Aphra Kerr, Steve Collins, Wendy Gibbons, Robbie Hegarty, Gerry Carty, Dylan Collins, Mick Maguire, Peter Mee, Will Golby & Ger Lawlor.