Nanoquest – Cando Interactive and Fitch Sounds
In the forums we got people to post in about the game they have been involved in developing this year and the list turned out to be quite healthy, and it doesn’t include all the games worked on and localised by middleware and localisation companies. As was to be expected most of the activity is in the mobile and PC games sectors as well as some interesting art and non-commercial projects. See http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/forums/viewtopic.php?t=4215
I guess the big news of the year was that both Havok and Demonware were acquired by major multinational companies.
Demonware was first out of the blocks and while monies were not disclosed it is suspected that Sean won’t need to get driving lessons as he may be chauffeur driven in future. Meanwhile Dylan is, we are sure, off founding multiple other companies. The deal with Activision, publisher of games like Call of Duty, who are headquartered in Vancouver, saw Demonware move to new offices on Parnell Street and expand its workforce to 25 between Dublin and Vancouver. Demonware has kept its name but is a wholly-owned subsidiary, with Demonware’s management and employees signing long-term contracts with Activision. Tony Kelly was hired as the Chief Operations Officer for Dublin in July 2007. Not bad for a company which is only four years old.
In addition Demonware launched a C++ Boot Camp in summer 2007 aimed at taking top Computer Science / Computer Applications students through their paces with C++ and bringing them up to games industry standards. Five people completed the course and four went on to do Demonware’s Netcode Training Course which finishes at the end of this month. It is uncertain at this stage if they will run a similar course in 2008 but watch this space.
By September 07 rumours of a Havok takeover were finally confirmed. Intel was the suitor this time and Havok became a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel. This deal was rumoured to be worth approx $110 million. Current Havok’s engine is to be found in most of the top AAA titles and they have made forays into the film industry as well. David O’Meara, current chief executive of Havok, was recently quoted as saying they have opened an office in Toyko and ‘15% of revenues came from Asia last year’. Havok employs about 100 people with 30 of those based in the Digital Hub in Dublin.
To top it all Havok were awarded an Emmy by the US National Television Arts and Sciences. Accepting the award at the event in Las Vegas, David O’Meara, said “This award shows just how far Havok has traveled since its inception as an incubation project at Trinity College in 1998. I am proud to accept this award on behalf of the entire team at Havok whose ongoing creativity and dedication has made our physics the global market leader in such a short space of time.”
Many of us will know that Havok emerged as a spin off from a Trinity College research team headed by Steve Collins and Hugh Reynolds. Indeed the first feature way back on gd.ie featured Havok (see http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/features/viewfeature.php?article=2 ) after they launched HAvok 2 at GDC.
Meanwhile Steve returned to work in TCD in 2006 and in July 2007 the launch of Trinity’s new MSc programme in Interactive Entertainment Technology made the nine o’clock evening news. That may have had something to do with the fact that Microsoft has agreed to sponsor the XNA Gamelab which means that each student on the course got a Windows Vista PC with multi-core CPU running XNA technology, an Xbox360 system and a DX10 class graphics card. Each student will also be registered for the XNA Creator’s Club and will be able to develop XNA powered applications for the Xbox360 (as well as for the PC). The website for the course details some of the great seminars being given by a range of industry people and more recently a high profile XNA developers day was held which attracted students from around the country. See http://isg.cs.tcd.ie/IET/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1
And oh yes, then Steve and Hugh went on to win the Trinity College Dublin Innovation Award for 2007 for their work establishing Havok. More information at http://www.tcd.ie/Communications/news.php?headerID=789
Game Dev Industry
So apart from our middleware companies what has been going on? Well as you know game companies are notoriously secretive. People come and go without telling us and then we hear it a couple of months later at a shindig. Anyway, with much e-mail prompting here is some of the best gossip and news I could find out.
In mid 2006 we ran a feature on Nephin Games a mobile developer based in Galway in the west of Ireland. At that time there were expanding rapidly in employment terms, had just secured significant investment and had won an Irish Digital Media award for their work. At the time they were working on ‘Greek Games’ based on the ‘National Lampoon’ license. See http://www.gamedevelopers.ie/features/viewfeature.php?article=133
Nip/Tuck – Nephin Games
By all account 2007 has been a more challenging year for the company. Towards the end of 2007 they released ‘Nip Tuck: the cutting edge’, having worked with Warner Brothers on a licence based on the popular television series (see http://www.glu.com/emea/pages/product.aspx?pr=Nip%2FTuck . The game was published in the US by Glu. Some of their more experienced staff have moved on to other companies this year and recent newspaper reports indicate that the company is in the process of restructuring and refocusing away from bespoke projects (see http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/2007/10/07/story27163.asp ).
Bit Rabbit is a small mobile games developer headed up by Michael El Baki, better known as Bomberman on the boards. In April of 2007 two of their games Yukiko and Atomanic were selected for the launch of a new mobile service in Korea, called WiBro, which is a WiMax service operated by KTF. Atomanic is a game based yes around atoms and chemistry while Yukiko is a cute puzzle game. A little later in 2007 BitRabbit was appointed by a prestigious publisher to port a famous indie PC game to Windows Mobile, Symbian and Palm OS. They also seem to be working on some pretty cool new titles.
PopCap International were involved in two original PC casual games – Bookworm and Chuzzle – http://www.popcap.com/mobile_game_results.php?did=454 – in 2007 as well as numerous localisation projects.
In the summer of 2007 Instinct Technology signed a deal with the University of Abertay to develop a virtual incubator using Instinct Technologies engine and aimed at developing next generation game programmers. (See http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=26873) Meanwhile it was reported in late 2007 that Mike Gamble had left Instinct Technology to move to In2Games. See http://www.developmag.com/news/28816/In2Games-takes-a-Gamble
In late 2006 the big news was that Upstart games, another mobile company, had been acquired by a Chinese media company Sun 3C/or Sun TV Shops for an estimated $15.5 million in shares and cash (see http://www.electricnews.net/article/9784792.html) . Later in 2007 we heard that this deal had fallen through and now it has been confirmed that Upstart has closed its Irish offices (Cork and Dublin) and only the Japanese office remains in business.
Founded in 2002 by Barry O’Neill and partners, and organizers of the N-GAGE Challenge game development competition in 2003 which gave rise to much content on the gd.ie forums in the early days, it is disappointing to see another company with promise close its Irish base. Upstart specialized in localizing Japanese games for the European and American markets and had worked with such well known publishers as Konami and Sony and employed 30 people at its headquarters in Dublin and Cork. Barry O’Neil and John Dennehy have both now left the company.
On a happier note some of our well known freelancers worked on a very well received PC downloadable game released as part of science week in 2007. Nanoquest was aimed at second school children and based around the principals of nanotechnology. Working in collaboration with CRANN, a research centre in TCD, Forfas, the state policy body, the game involved work by game developer Malachy Duffin from Cando Interactive and Claire Fitch from fitchsounds. See http://www.nanoquest.ie/home.html to give it a go.
Meanwhile our modders have been making a name for themselves too. Frantic Games and their 1944: D Day Operation Overload made the top 100 of Mod DB’s Mods and Indie games for 2007. There was of course no canvassing on gd.ie for voters and you can follow the outcome on http://www.moddb.com/events/2007-mod-of-the-year-awards/top100.
Left to right games by Tailteann Games, Bit Rabbit and PopCap games
Sometimes companies just seem to come out of nowhere and so it was with Tailteann Games who released a PC game Bainisteoir – Hurling© in 2007. A type of championship manager type game but for hurling the game was developed by Tailteann Games from Nenagh, Co. Tipperary and launched before we heard a thing. The owners of Tailteann have promised to come to a shindig however so we are looking forward to hearing more from this enterprising company. See http://www.tailteanngames.com/index.php
In January 2007 the long awaited establishment of a development studio in Derry was announced. Dark Water hired an industry veteran, Mike Brown, to head up the studio which is a spin-off of Instinct Technology located in Muff, Co. Donegal.
The first project for the company is a multiplayer PC game developed in cooperation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Northern Ireland as part of their Broadband Content Initiative. Mike Brown told me in early 2007 ‘The game will be free-to-market and based around an original Dark Water IP but it’s too early yet for us to be making any announcements on the game title or genre.’ In November the first version of ‘Dogfighter’, an online aerial combat game was announced. See http://www.dark-water-studios.com/news.php
Other game companies established in 2007 include Skillground a subsidiary of Groove Games from Toronoto. The company offer online gamers the ability to play PC games for money. Their website was officially launched in spring 2007 and the company is headed in Ireland by Damian Ryan, formerly known to gd.ie readers for his involvement in establishing the Digital Media Awards (2002). For more see http://www1.skillground.com/help/general.html#5
Finally towards the end of 2007 we found out that X-Starcave head Keith Killilea
has established Riverplay Games with a business partner. They released Spike Dash in late 2007 and you can find out more at www.riverplaygames.com
Localisation and Support
There have been a number of developments more focused around localization and customer support in 2007. Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin TD announced in Sept. that Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., with the support of IDA Ireland, will establish a European customer support centre in Cork City. An initial 50 positions will be created by this investment, rising to over 100 within three years.
In addition to Blizzard and Microsoft we now have Activision, the Japanese online company Gala Networks and the European company Goa Games Services with operations in Ireland. The last feature in 2007 on gd.ie looks at the expansion of such service companies in Ireland. The IDA are clearly pushing these types of job intensive investments if their glossy brochures are anything to go by – see http://www.idaireland.com/uploads/documents/IDA_Publications/Digital_Ire3.pdf
Events and Academia
The Digital Hub was the most active government agency in terms of organising events related to games in 2007. Not only are they formative in organising the annual Dare to be Digital event in Ireland they also ran the Irish heat of the World Cyber Games last year as part of a week long festival in September called GAME: ON. Other events during the week were an industry seminar on social networking in games and an exhibition of games which included ‘Counter Strike: Block H’ is currently on show in Dublin as part of the Game On festival in Dublin’s Digital Hub. Block H is an interactive installation set in Northern Ireland. It comprises of a Counter-Strike mod and a sound reactive television.
Meanwhile NORIBIC ran a serious games conference in September in the North West Regional College (NWRC) in Derry in Northern Ireland. The event involved speakers from the Serious Games industry, from academia as well as exhibitions from local companies involved with serious games. The event was also host to the launch of “Recall”, a 3D serious game made in Derry to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland’s schools. See http://www.noribic.com/sga/default.asp?sec_id=2
UU, TCD, DIT and Tipperary Institute in particular made the news on gd.ie in 2007. Ernest Adams continued his regular visits to Ireland to run very popular workshops with secondary school on behalf of DIT in particular (see http://www.comp.dit.ie/website07/news.php?id=32) and to take up a visiting professorship at the Magee campus of the University of Ulster. Robocode, the first year programming competition, continues to go from strength to strength under the custodianship of Phil Bourke from Tipperary Institute.
Trinity, with the MSc in Interactive Entertainment Technology up and running for its first year also ran an XNA game development day in collaboration with Microsoft. Meanwhile DIT added a games stream to the third and final years of their computer science undergraduate degree for the first time under the guidance of Bryan Duggan. See http://seriousgames.ie/mediawiki-1.6.10/index.php/Courses
Robocode teams do battle
Finally the inGest student teams from NUI Maynooth and the Red Dawn DIT made it to the finals of the Imagine Cup in Korea in 2007 in the software design and web development categories respectively. This is a world wide student technology competition and the DIT team came second in their category while the NUIM team were short listed in a very competition section. Well done to all. See http://imaginecup.com/competition/Finalists.aspx
Other news and events
It was a pretty quiet year for the IGDA committee who organised one event and due to numerous personnel changes in companies found it difficult to organise committee meetings, let alone events. Hopefully this will change in 2008.
In February William Latham spoke to a small audience in the Digital Hub after a long days event to launch the Dare to be Digital Competition in Ireland. Latham, who is CEO of Games Audit Ltd, and has a wealth of experience in the games industry gave a retrospective talk of his work from 1985 to 2007 first as an artist and then working in the business end of games on risk assessment and completion bonding. See http://www.gamesaudit.com/people_biog_wl_01.html
People on the Move
Apart from those previously mentioned there have been a number of other moves for people in the industry. Two people in particular who are in the gd.ie ‘Hall of Fame’ as long posting forums members have made significant moves in 2007.
Ian Hannigan moved from Nephin Games in Galway to Rebellion in Derby in July 2007. He is a Senior Designer at Rebellion working on an upcoming survival-horror first person shooter set for 360 and PS3. Speaking about the game CEO Jason Kingsley, stated “It’s very much a mature product, it’s a bit like Jacob’s Ladder or Apocalypse Now in movie terms. It’s troubling – deliberately so – it’s meant to be challenging the nature of war, the horror and why people do these horrific things to each other. “It’ll be our first next-gen title, which is slightly nerve-wracking, but it’s looking absolutely lovely,” he said.
Peter McNally moved from Instinct Technology to Brown Bag in Dublin and more recently has taken up a position with Havok in Dublin. Never the shrinking violet but no sooner was he in the door than he was on national television given the excitement over Havok winning an Emmy.
In addition John Molloy (aka nifty) graduated from Brunel and is now working as a designer with Lionhead Studios. A graduate of Ballyfermot John completed an MA in Digital Games: Theory and Design.
I suspect there are some very experienced people on the move now and looking for work given the restructuring at Nephin and the closing of the Irish office of Upstart. So if you are looking for experienced mobile developers and producers there should be some around.
Finally, it remains to say that in April of 2008 gd.ie will have its fifth birthday event. It secured ongoing sponsorship from Demonware in early 2007 and continues in a low key way to support industry, modding and student development projects in Ireland. If you want to get involved please drop us an e-mail and if you have news please send it to us. We rely on volunteers to keep gd.ie going.
We hope to launch a revised gd.ie charter shortly to try and communicate to current and new members that the focus of the site is on game development issues and games research and not on magazine type game reviews. We strive to keep fan related comments to a minimum and with your help and a degree of policing from the moderators we hope to keep gd.ie a pleasant and informative place to visit.
Demonware – www.demonware.net
See current openings for a C++ programmer and an internal systems engineer
Havok – www.havok.com
See current openings for a software engineer to be based in San Francisco. www.havok.com/content/view/67/40/
TCD MSc in Interactive Entertainment Technology
Bit Rabbit – www.bitrabbit.net/index.php
have a number of vacancies – see www.dark-water-studios.com/jobs.php
Instinct Technology – www.instinct-tech.com
Upstart games – www.upstartgames.com
Skillground – http://www1.skillground.com/sg/index.do
Blizzard (Europe) – http://us.blizzard.com/support/splash.xml
Tailteann Games – www.tailteanngames.com/index.php
NanoQuest – www.nanoquest.ie
CanDo Interactive – www.candointeractive.com
Fitchsounds – www.fitchsounds.com
The Digital Hub – www.thedigitalhub.com
Dare to be Digital – www.daretobedigitalireland.com/index.htm
Brunel’s MA in Digital Games: Theory and Design