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

Friday, 13th 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.

News

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.

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24 Comments

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  1. absolutezero

    For us sitting here on this website dedicated to video games Scotland may as well be GTA and nothing else.

    Anything else our country has produced which would appeal to this specific audience has either failed and or gone un-noticed, like Crackdown and The Ship. Not that I would say either of those games are failures from a quality perspective but they never did as much as they could.

    Which leaves the Scottish industry churning out endless Apps and mobile games which arrive, make some dosh and quickly vanish as no one cares, let alone mobile gamers who makes their games. Theres so many titles with such little quality control, no semblance of value to these things that they are barely worth discussion for the most part.

    Then theres the institutions like Abertay, the first University in the UK to offer a game development degree, this degree in itself may be something worth boasting about but from what I can tell talking to people that have actually sat through it, it almost funnels applicants towards mobile development because its cheap and cheerful and the chances of getting a job at the other end is far higher.

    We have a fantastic history of producing some fantastic video games here but I can’t see that ever coming back when all of our upcoming talent is almost rail-roaded into mobile development. Its depressing.

    Nice work Dave.

    #1 7 months ago
  2. pepsipunk

    I have sat through said degree at Abertay, and I’ve worked on a lot more than just mobile games – although I’d say working on mobile is a much more stable, and varied, career path than working on PC/Console.

    One thing you missed is GameMaker is developed in Scotland, which was the platform for quite a few successful indie hits in the last year alone.

    The talent isn’t railroaded at all, at Abertay you get a choice (or did when i studied there) of the avenues you wish to go down. The issue is there is very few high quality, financially sound AAA studios left – until the government brings in the tax breaks it’ll stay that way.

    You also neglect that mobile development, and console/PC development are not a million miles apart, and with the use of multi-platform engines you can do them both at the same time, since most art is produced at a higher quality and scaled down for target anyway.

    Crackdown most certainly wasn’t a failure, APB could even be argued to have been a moderate success since it’s F2P switch (although new dev’s did not have to take the initial financial hit RTW did – and yes, i worked there!) – The Ship was hamstrung by Ubisoft’s publishing deal, and Blazing Griffin have taken it over and there was talk of a sequel.

    Granted, beside GTA Scotland hasn’t had a major hit across the mainstream but to just write off the indie & mobile sector as forgettable couldn’t be more wrong.

    #2 7 months ago
  3. MadFlavour

    Independence now.

    #3 7 months ago
  4. aseddon130

    “Why Scotland is more than just the biggest game ever, the biggest money maker ever and one of the most fantastic video game series ever created”

    If any other country only had GTA V to sit back on, i really couldn’t see them complain about it.

    #4 7 months ago
  5. Dave Cook

    @4 We’re not complaining. That was the whole point. We’e just more than one game.

    #5 7 months ago
  6. II2awRz

    Omg most favorite game news site and is running this series? Just wow never knew you were Scottish. I am just about to go to abertay (hopefully) once i finish this year in college and its great to see yous covering these things !

    #6 7 months ago
  7. Tormenter

    @3 You certainly live up to the first part of your name.

    Independance? ARE YOU KIDDING? The idiots running the country just now can’t even make sure a tram gets built or their assembly hall stays up, regardless of the BILLIONS of pound spent (billions of pound is a LOT OF FUCKING MONEY, do you KNOW what that can actualy buy?) and forget getting an answer to BASIC questions such as ‘will we stay in the sterling zone?’, all that AND having Salmond at the helm, that wee nyaff just wants to become the King of Scotland, he’ll sell us to the Chinese within five years.. and even IF he was capable and qualified, and I certainly don’t think he is,.. what happens when he goes? We get someone like Nicola Sturgeon?… FUCK OFF.

    Idiots like you who put ABSOLUTELY NO THOUGHT in to this arguement but pipe up anyway as if they are Mel Gibson in Braveheart (an abomination of a characterisation) are a DANGER to the continuation of this country.

    Thirty years ago we COULD have gone it ‘alone’, with our oil we could have joined O.P.E.C in the eighties and told the rest of the world to kiss our arse, and they would have, but Thatcher spent SCOTLAND’S oil revenue on tax breaks for the English rich.. we got broke and our resources were taken.. and you think we can survive today?

    This is simply a ploy to get rid of the increasing tax and benefits burdon Scotland is to England (or so they think).. Independance ISN’T a Scottish idea. Do you think that if Scottish independance was worth having, Westminster would let us have it, Scotland is in no legal position to demand it, and we’ve been strongly denied it in the past. We are being allowed it this time because Westminster wants rid of the dead weight. At this moment in time we need the financial structure England provides, and England doesn’t want to provide it any longer, but they can’t just ‘turf’ us out…. so we get a choice in which they gamble on idiotic, misplaced flag waving, they have absolutley nothing to lose, except their Albatros. They/we might not get independance this time around, but if they keep the choice up every election it’ll eventually get there and at that time, 10-20 years? it won’t be such a big leap to consider a flailing western country becoming a mostly private enterprise. Business and money would be just itching to swoop in and buy up this country, or rather the bits they don’t already have and when the money is gone and the debts are piling, these corrupt and incompetant individuals we currently call politicians will sell the ground out from under us as they have done in the past.

    When you, and others like you, chant ‘FREEDOM!!!’.. or words to that effect, you really have no understand of the long term situation.. It has become a pre-programmed response for the terminally blinkered.

    #7 7 months ago
  8. mistermogul

    ^ I have to say I think Scotland going independent would not only be very bad for Scotland but it would be bad for England, Wales and NI too.

    It sounds like a romantic idea but I think the reality would prove otherwise… Hope it doesn’t happen.

    #8 7 months ago
  9. Tormenter

    Agreed mistermogul.. we would all be the poorer for it.

    #9 7 months ago
  10. MadFlavour

    If people in England could stop electing arseholes staying together would be worth considering, but they keep electing the Tories, and now UKIP are on the rise too.

    The better together campaign cannot offer anything as desirable as being rid of the Tories. All they have is a load of scaremongering lies about how the country will fall apart without our betters in England taking care of us.

    Independence now.

    A no vote is a vote for the Tories.

    #10 7 months ago
  11. deadstoned

    A no vote doesn’t mean you’re a tory it means you value shared resources with the rest of the UK. Living in Edinburgh myself (From Nottingham originally). Its a lovely place all be it a bit chillier xD. For Scotland to go independent for a romantic notion feels a little pointless. Scotland already has its own strong culture shining through, control over most of its laws and tax.

    #11 7 months ago
  12. Dragon

    First, I will start by saying I don’t really support any concessions made anywhere based on location.

    As a reader of VG247, I don’t like a regularized feature on a particular country just because we have an editor from there. Now, don’t get me wrong. Dave or any of the editors are free to put up whatever they want to publish, its their site. But as I reader, I consider VG247 to be a global site, not a regional one. I am pretty sure the 3 million+ views VG247 received last month (kudos for that) would have a fair spread worldwide.
    Now, the gist of the matter I have a issue with. If anyone visits the forums regularly, they will see quite a few devs (generally mobile ones) put up their threads hoping to spread awareness about their game. I wont be surprised if editors here get emails from devs hoping to get “featured” on VG247. I am quite sure many of them will be on seventh sky if they receive a featured article on VG247 (especially knowing how much visibility is an issue for such devs). Now, on this page, I see many games “featured” on VG247 just on the basis of them being from a Scottish dev . That is the biggest issue with me. I think any game, dev, company or whoever else gets featured on VG247 should do so only on their merit, and not anything else. If not, I feel sad for the devs making threads on VG247 hoping to get some recognition, which they would have got way more easily by just being Scottish.

    Just an opinion.

    #12 7 months ago
  13. bradk825

    @2 I don’t think Crackdown went unnoticed. I rather enjoyed it here in Canada. Also, I didn’t know Lemmings was a Scottish game, but I knew it was FUCKING AWESOME. Interesting to know.

    Neat idea. I know if someone were doing a Canadian version of this I’d enjoy it.

    #13 7 months ago
  14. Cort

    @3/10 Fine by us. Bye bye.

    @12 What he said.

    #14 7 months ago
  15. MadFlavour

    @14 glad our parting ways is good with you. We don’t wish you any ill will. Enjoy your Tory/UKIP utopia.

    #15 7 months ago
  16. fearmonkey

    @13 – Crackdown was an amazing game, finding those little orbs and that sound… Hooked me completely.

    MS needs to have another made. That would tempt for an Xbox One.

    #16 7 months ago
  17. Cort

    @15 Will do. Enjoy you’re rare mix of socialism and rabid nationalism.

    PS See you in two years when you come looking for a job and a fair tax rate.

    #17 7 months ago
  18. Mus42

    Did Scotland make GTAV? No it didn’t. It was actually made by a really talented group of people, some of them were Scottish, some of them were not. So I’ve no idea why a Scottish person is seeking to claim it as a national product?

    On the issue of Scottish independence the real point behind it is that some politicians want more power and glory for themselves. One man in particular wants to be the first President of Scotland, please don’t be sheep, just tell him to piss off, he’s got far to much power as it is.

    #18 7 months ago
  19. SorenLerby

    my Aunty Taylor got a fantastic silver Subaru Legacy by working parttime from a laptop… see this website http://goo.gl/7B54bE

    #19 7 months ago
  20. mistermogul

    @12 & 18 +1

    #20 7 months ago
  21. Christopher Jack

    Sorry but when I think of Scotland only a few things pop in my mind: Red hair, funny accents, kilts, haggis, bagpipes & that it’s North England. Oh & of course Willy!

    #21 7 months ago
  22. absolutezero

    Kill me.

    #22 7 months ago
  23. Cort

    The funniest thing about the independence movement itself is the level of vitriol they reserve for those non-Scottish Britons who want Scotland to leave the Union – who receive more opprobrium even than Scots who support the Union.

    You’d think they would warmly embrace the English, Welsh and Irish proponents of a free Scotland. No. You see, Scottish Nationalists desperately want to be wanted, but want to reject those who they want to want them. Doesn’t take an expert in Freudian psychoanalysis to explain that one, does it….

    #23 7 months ago
  24. budgiefeet

    The voting question is “should Scotland be an independant country” and as a Scot i absolutely say Yes to that question. As a gaming analogy, take the new consoles released last month, in no way did i buy a PS4 thinking it was the finished article. I know there will be major software changes from the start of the generation to its end. I have no fear of that fact, its only the evolution of ideas. This is the attitude i will take to the voting boot, and not the myopic view as @7 etc have. Anyway nice article Dave look forward to the next one.

    #24 7 months ago