VG247 Scotland issue #0: why Scotland is more than GTA 5

Friday, 13 December 2013 12:44 GMT By Dave Cook

VG247 Scotland is the new regular column that looks at pressing matters, new games and the studios making waves across the Scottish industry. In this pilot, Dave Cook looks at the GTA effect.

What are you up to Dave?

Well, as you may or may not know, I’m from Scotland, home of many great inventions that have helped shaped the technological world. We invented the television for one, and contrary to popular belief we didn’t create alcohol. It is in fact a naturally occurring compound that has absolutely nothing to do with us, I swear. Look it up.

No, what we do make are games, and not just that biggest of hitters Grand Theft Auto. Surely enough the series was born at a studio called DMA Design in the city of Dundee. It’s not the biggest city or the warmest for that matter, but its success has since spawned waves of talented, prosperous and innovative game developers for decades. But then for every ex-DMA Design or Rockstar dev setting up on their own, there are many more doing wonderful work off their own backs elsewhere.

GTA 5 was made in Edinburgh, literally ten minutes walk from my flat, and while it’s helped put the nation on the map, it seems to have overshadowed everything else around it. We are not a one-game nation, nor are we ungrateful for how Rockstar’s IP has raised our profile, but to say Scotland only has one series worthy of note is a disservice to the talent coursing through its streets.

Chances are you’ve already heard of Grand Theft Auto (at least I hope you have, or else I fear you might be lost), Crackdown, Lemmings and APB, which are arguably four of Scotland’s most-prolific gaming exports. The problem our nation currently has is that most people wouldn’t be able to name another Scottish game beyond these licenses, and that’s an incredible shame, because all across the country there are studios and solo coders making money and entertaining players worldwide.

It’s clear there is a communications issue. Why haven’t you heard of intriguing games like Solar Flux, Eldevin or Gentlemen! when they’re clearly well-made, fun and worthy of attention? Does the onus lie on the industry press to seek out and report on these titles, or should the studios themselves make more noise about their output? There are no blanket answers here, but it’s something this column has been created to tackle.

What’s the plan?

Well, this pilot issue of VG247 Scotland has been designed to give you an idea of the format before it kicks off properly on Friday, January 17. From then I hope to run one every fortnight until I drop dead from exhaustion. I care about this industry, I want to see it succeed. If I can help raise awareness of interesting projects that deserve recognition then I will.

None of this coverage will be bought or secured through adverts, and I won’t even review any of the games I feature to distance these opinions from critique. This has been designed to give Scotland a platform from which to speak and be heard. It’s an industry that has fallen on deaf ears for long enough and it’s time to start moving things forward.

So if you’re a Scottish developer or even remotely connected to the industry and have something you want to discuss in the column, please drop me a line at dave[at]vg247[dot]com and we’ll chat. From educational courses offered in Scotland to Government involvement in the industry, to local events and cultural issues, I’m looking to cover it all. Let’s make this thing great together.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoy the first of what I hope will be many VG247 Scotland columns.


APB: Retribution announced, coming to iOS soon
Reloaded Productions and Blazing Griffin are expanding the APB universe with APB: Retribution, a top-down, ultra violent spin on the Hotline Miami format. I’ve played it and interviewed the team, so you can expect a feature on VG247 next week. It’s got a neat stealth system, fully hand-drawn visuals a savage difficulty curve and much more. Check out the trailer and our initial news report here. Hit up the APB: Retribution site for more details.

Solar Flux Pocket hits mobile devices
Solar Flux developer Firebrand Games has released mobile editions of its space-faring title. In it, players must control a space pod through asteroids and other hazards using gravity wells and e-ignite dead stars to save the galaxy. It’s a one-touch experience with a wicked art style and soothing aesthetic charm. You can already grab it on Steam at £6.99, but you can also pick it up on Google Play and iTunes now for free and £0.69 respectively. Hit the links to grab it.

Tacos, Bluegrass & Videogames tickets now on sale.
Yann Seznec of Gentlemen! developer Lucky Frame is hosting an event at Pilrig Church, Edinburgh on January 11. Game developers are free to bring along and showcase their games, scoff Mexican treats and listen to Bluegrass music.

Tickets are £5 and the entry price nets you a beer as well. Submissions for game devs and tickets are now available from the event site. I’ll be there, because well, food (and games of course!).

Celtic Heroes releases festive update
One Thumb Mobile’s free iPad MMORPG Celtic Heroes has received a festive ‘Yuletide 2013′ patch that adds a variety of new quests and features into the mix. There are candy cane weapons, fetch quests, holiday-themed hats for your warrior and a fearsome six-star Ice Dragon boss called Natan Athach.

Get the full update list here, and check out Celtic Heroes on iTunes through the link.

Xbox Live Gamerhub gears up for re-launch
Scottish gaming website Xbox Live Gamerhub is getting ready to relaunch. Helmed by Gavin Divers, the site is affiliated with the Xbox brand but is dedicated to giving you impartial, hard-hitting and up to date news on all things Xbox. Head over to the XBLG site to see a teaser sting and site countdown.

Warscape Alpha hits Nvidia Tegrazone’s front page, out now
From Future-B Games, Warscape Alpha is a 60-stage blaster that sees players controlling a hover tank while fighting an arena filled with enemies. The game launched on December 9 on Google Play at £1.49. It supports cross-play across Windows, Mac and PC. Buy the Android build and you get he other two for free.

Nvidia featured Warscape Alpha on its Tegrazone front page recently, and it’s fully compatible with Nvidia’s Shielf device, as well currently offers multiplayer beta play online. Check out the Warscape Alpha page for more details and screens.

Moshi Monsters Music out now from Denki
Coming from Dundee-based outfit Denki, Moshi Monsters Music is a tie-in to the insanely popular kids craze. It sees players singing along with music videos starring a host of monsters, and includes a clip from the incoming flick Moshi Monsters: The Movie. The app is free and you can get it now on Google Play and iTunes by hitting the links.

Got gaming news from Scotland? Are you a developer with something to shout about? Get in touch at dave[at]vg247[dot]com.

Panel Session: Why Scotland is more than GTA 5

In our inaugural VG247 Scotland panel – ‘Why Scotland is more than GTA 5′ – I’m joined by Brian Baglow, director of Scotland’s official industry trade body Scottish Game Network, Kate Ho, managing director of educational game developer Tigerface Games, and Mark Ettle, managing director at Cobra Mobile, developer of iBomber and Pocket Garden.

Together we discuss the reasons why Scotland’s game output has perhaps been less-visible than it should be in recent years, why the gaming press at large seems to glaze over the country’s output, what studios are doing wrong when it comes to promoting their games and what can be done to raise the profile or projects, talented teams and indie coders across the nation.

Please excuse the echo at the start, it was a technical hiccup, and I’ll be sure to avoid it next time. it goes away after a few minutes and doesn’t come back, so please do bear with it. Let us know what you think of the discussion below, and please do let me know if you’d like to be involved in future panels.

Developer Interview: Guerilla Tea

Finally, I spoke with Charlie Czerkawski, chief design officer at Guerilla Tea about this week’s big issue and to get an insight into the studio, as well as its gaming projects. Based in Dundee, the studio was formed by four professional masters graduates of the University of Abertay, and has since gone on to release BAFTA-nominated iOS puzzle title The Quest. It is currently working on its second original IP Fangs Out, and tower-defense title Sandbox TD. Strategy game Staking Claims is currently free on Android.

”The Scottish development community is in a strong position currently and is continuing to improve as the games industry evolves. At last count I believe there were 92 games development studios in Scotland, that’s a fantastic number of developers. As with everything though, there is always room for improvement.”

Guerilla Tea also develops apps, such as iOS comic tie-in Beano iPrank, and an in-progress collaboration with Cancer Research UK. All of this effort saw the studio nominated for the title of ‘Best Newcomer’ in the ScotlandIS Digital Technology Awards, and it was featured in Develop’s Top 100 UK Games Companies 2013 and Europe’s 100 Most Promising Start-up lists. CTO Alex Zeitler was also featured in the Develop 30 Under 30 list this year.

The team is clearly working hard and turning many heads in the wider industry and – in keeping with the spirit of this issue of VG247 Scotland – is managing to do so away from the market areas commonly populated by games like GTA 5 and Call of Duty, to name two big examples. It goes to show that you don’t have to be a 200-strong team spending tens of millions on one product to achieve success. So what is the studio’s focus and angle of approach?

Czerkawski told me in an email interview, “Currently our primary focus is the mobile platform, along with browser-based HTML5 games. The main reason for this is the ease of access, which is absolutely essential to a young start-up. Our contract work also focusses heavily on these development platforms. As we grow and expand, we are now considering independent PC titles in terms of original IP development.

“Our mission statement as a company is ‘to integrate areas of study and interest with innovative game design and development’. This has been something we have always tried to adhere to, especially through contract work, with our project alongside Cancer Research UK being the epitome of this. The aim of the business is to maintain a balance between contract work to provide stability and original IP. Both provide very different challenges, and we have never made a secret of our focus on work-for-hire.”

Czerkawski added that Guerilla Tea’s collaboration with Cancer Research UK is called GeneGame, that sees players actually analysing genetic data as they play, similar to other collaborative research titles like Cellslider. “The genetic data analysis that players undertake is dressed up heavily in gameplay clothing,” Czerkawski added, “so players can enjoy playing the game as a casual mobile title, regardless of the fact that they are simultaneously helping the fight against cancer.

“It’s very much a game where by playing you happen to analyse the data, rather than a game about analysing data. Unfortunately we can’t say any more at this point, but in the run up to release the project will be covered extensively in the media, so there will definitely be a lot more to follow. Look out for more information soon.”

GeneGame is out early 2014, but Guerilla Tea isn’t stopping there. I asked Czerkawski to reflect on the state of Scottish game development and the industry at large today, to which he replied, “The Scottish development community is in a strong position currently and is continuing to improve as the games industry evolves. At last count I believe there were 92 games development studios in Scotland, that’s a fantastic number of developers. As with everything though, there is always room for improvement.

“There has been a huge number of fresh start-ups in recent years who have found, or are finding their niche and although there is always a degree of competition between them, it’s great to see everyone focussing on a different angle for their business. This is partly thanks to the fact that video games themselves come in so many different shapes and sizes, but also due to the development community, along with educational institutes.”

But, however, it’s clear if you’ve been paying attention to this column and the panel session that many feel there’s a problem within the Scottish industry today. Visibility is just one issue, but Czerkawski also feels there’s a problem with platform parity. “I do believe that Scotland would benefit from a greater diversity among developers,” he added. “Scotland has a lot of mobile developers, not many PC developers and barely any console developers. From a creative point of view it would be nice to see more people developing for different platforms.”

Getting game companies shouting louder about their products is also a key to ‘beating’ the market, says Czerkawski. “When we first started we basically bombarded the games press with communication, sending review requests, feature requests, company bios and so on. Honestly we got as much of a response as we could realistically expect to get. Again I don’t think the games press really view Scotland’s contributions to the games industry in any way different from the rest of the UK or indeed the world.

“I feel that there is an onus on the games companies themselves to get out there and make a name for themselves, through a combination of making good, innovative games, and learning to market them properly, and their studio. There are a lot of new companies, particularly graduate companies, starting up and you need to find a way to get noticed. You need luck, but you can make luck for yourself. If your story and projects are interesting, and you work hard at promotion the press will take eventually notice. It varies and will not happen overnight.”

So to close, I asked Czerkawski to mull over this issue’s key topic, ‘Why Scotland is more than GTA 5.’ Is this true, and if so, how can the nation’s talent show this to the rest of the world? He replied, “It terms of employment, Scotland is far more than GTA simply by number of people working in the industry. As I mentioned, there are close to 150 companies either developing games or working in related areas. This doesn’t include the hobbyists who build games in their spare time.

“In terms of the wider games industry and the excellent education available, it’s made clear (although not blatantly) to students and those aspiring to work in games that working on AAA console games is only a small fragment of the overall games industry. Hence the explosion of small indie start-ups. The games press does cover these extensively, although admittedly the fact that they are Scottish is not often heavily played upon. Fair enough in way, as location is not really the most important aspect of a studio in terms of press coverage.

“My final thought is that I’d be interested to know how many people outside the industry know that GTA was made in Scotland. I feel that the majority still believe it to be made in America.”

Do you feel Scotland is more than GTA 5? Have you enjoyed this column? Stay tuned for Issue 1 in mid-January. Thanks for reading.