Virgin makes a comeback into the video games industry

Richard Branson and Virgin making a comeback in the video games industry at E3?!

That’s right, one of the UK’s most influential entrepreneurs has once again decided to throw his hat back in the video games market. “Once again?” you may ask? Well back in the year 1984 (when I was born) Branson saw the potential for computer software to expand as a global entertainment business and thus Virgin Games was born.

Virgin Interactive (it should be noted they went through many name changes) were responsible for some of the more high profile games, especially for the Mega Drive and PC; Global Gladiators (1992), The 7th Guest (1992), Disney's Aladdin (1993), Cannon Fodder (1993), Cool Spot (1993), The Lion King (1994), Walt Disney's The Jungle Book (1994), Command & Conquer (1995), Broken Sword (1996) and Resident Evil (1996) were either developed and published by Virgin.

After a good run, Virgin decided to shy away from the video games industry for a while and concentrate in other avenues – mainly online and digital.

Now, Mr Branson has recognised the potential in the video games industry again and at E3 the whole world will find out what role Virgin will be playing in this exciting and developing industry.
According to MCV, the rumour of Virgin’s re-entry into the video game industry is that: “Global entrepreneur will use E3 to announce details of online-only games service - and opportunities for developers...The new gaming service rumoured to launch at E3 will seek partnerships with leading publishers and content owners, offering new and unique opportunities.”

Take from that what you will. To me it sounds like a PC version of Apple’s App store and a rival to Google Chrome Store (which should be released this year).

For Train2Game, this looks like another platform for where they can showcase their games thus gaining more exposure and chances to become bigger and more successful.

I wonder if there were any games from Virgin that inspired any Train2Game students or at the very least have fond memories of? For me, their best games were Earthworm Jim, Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators and Cool Spot.

What do you think about this? Send me your comments below.

Click here to read the full story on Branson’s return to the industry:

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Alex Garland is the author of criticality acclaimed books such as The Beach, The Tesseract and The Coma and is also responsible for writing the scripts of well-received films 28 Days Later and Sunshine. He’s also a video game addict.

This isn’t just evident that he wrote the first draft of the Halo film (based on the success Xbox video game series that’s set for release in 2012) but also that he was a helping hand in helping Ninja Theory in bringing the best out of the story for their current game in development, Enslaved.

Except Garland did much more than that as, according to Ninja Theory creative director Tameem Antoniades, Garland showed the team that there was more to how the story was told via cutscenes:

”In the first instance we brought Garland on for writing, but what he ended up delivering was way more than that...What I didn’t realise was how much story telling was non-verbal and wasn’t done via cut scenes. [It’s the] camera placement, the atmosphere, the sound cues and so many little things make up a good visual narrative, and that is what he brought.”

Antoniades goes on to say that Garland would work very closely with the designers. Garland may have not realised it, but as Antoniades, he became a Games Designer.

To me, Garland didn’t see Enslaved as just a game, he saw it as some sort of interactive novel. He wanted to bring out the best in not just what the characters said in the game, but how they expressed it. And to me that is the most important thing.

A average script can be rescued if the way it is told is great, but the same can’t be said is a studio has a good script but it’s told in a bad way.

This is a lesson Train2Game students – especially Games Designers – need to take on board. Not just what characters are going to say, but where and which way; what about the lighting, should there be any specific type of music playing, which tone should the characters be speaking, etc. These are just a few questions they need to ask themselves in order to fully bring their story to life.

The Garland story also shows that having a background from a different media can be very good advantage. Even if you’re just someone who posts fan fictional stories on the internet can help you when it comes to being a Games Designer.

With that said, as long as you have a creative and imaginative mind, you can be a good Games Designer, with or without experience. Just remember, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it (though the former can help as well).

What do you think about this? Send me your comments below

Want to read on how Alex Garland helped with Ninja Theory’s Enslaved? Then check out the story here:

Leaving the nest and creating your video game studio

Paulina Bozek is famous for the creation of the successful SingStar series and being a high-profile signing for Atari (who put her in charge of their London-based online studio). Now she has decided to go at it alone so to speak and formed a new studio (which has yet to have a name).

While those following her career may find this surprising, it’s not something that is uncommon. Recently we’ve had former Infinity Ward leaders Frank West and Vince Zampella form their own company, Respawn Entertainment.

It seems that developers and designers can be like birds; they start out in a nest, thrive for many years but get restless and decide to fly out and form their own nest so to speak (yes that was the best example I could come up with so cut me some slack).

Of course, there are many who are just getting their foot into the door known as the video game industry that haven’t worked for any developing/publishing company that have started their own studios.

Often talked about Adarakion Games and Horizon Studios are two such studios that fall into that category.

Horizon Studios contains Trian2Game members including Jay Adeloye (who heads his own studio Drop Dead Interactive) and BHMediaMarty. The studio has several ongoing projects such as Robobuddy, Light the Skies and Redemption: Grave Betrayal – a collaborative project with other Train2Game students.

Adarakion Games – a three man team headed by Train2Game forum member and student gnipper – are working on “Project Blast!” which is coming along well, by the looks of things and from the sounds of their developer diary.

There are disadvantages when going solo without working in an established studio; less contacts to call on, less resources to use, being under the radar could all be obstacles when trying to get your game out there and become come successful.

On the other hand, there is far less pressure to succeed, you can work at a slower pace set by your constraints and you can work on smaller projects without people telling you that your next game must be “epic.”

For a studio, usually their first game is a “make or break” test for them. However, for a low-profile independent studio, they can afford to slip up. With that said it’s in their best interest to get it right first time since even gaining cult status is a step to making your studio go from small time to big time.

What do you think about this? Send me your comments below.

Reaching for that star

Super Mario Galaxy 2 has already wowed the critics, with many impressed by the game. Edge Magazine – who at the time had only given a perfect 10 out 10 rating to eleven games from 1996 to 2010, a ratio of less than 1:1 - gave the game a perfect score.

So clearly it’s got the critical acclaim and with the success of the previous instalment, which sold around 8 million making it currently the 8th biggest selling Wii game, it’s bound to be a success.
This is the most likely reason why Nintendo are so confident in the UK launch that they are predicting it will be the biggest Mario games of the series. So far the game with the highest revenue to feature Mario is Mario Kart Wii, which has sold 22.55 million copies to date and is currently the third best-selling Wii game.

New Super Mario Bros Wii – another big seller for Nintendo having sold 17.7 million copies worldwide is the game that Robert Lowe, Nintendo's marketing manager, hopes will urge the new fans who drawn to the series to pick up SMG 2.

So what’s my take on the situation? While I don’t think it will become the best selling Nintendo Wii game, I do think it will become one of the top five and it has a strong chance of becoming the best selling Mario game. Mario has that strong appeal to not just children but adults, many who grew up playing Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System or Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64.

I wonder if any Train2Game students will be buying Super Mario Galaxy 2. For a game so heavily hyped and praised, I would think they would be interested in looking at what grabbed the critic’s attention and how different – and similar – it is to the first Super Mario Galaxy.

For Games Designers, they could look each world, enemies, power-ups and other gameplay mechanics visioning the descriptions being written and told. Then they may reflect on what they would have added, taken away or changed in the game. Other thoughts could be about how the game grabs consumers and how they could possibly take elements from the game as inspiration from designing their own game (regardless of genre).

Games Artists would look at the graphics, checking out the details, seeing what – in their mind – works and doesn’t work, what looks correct and what looks off. Just like the Games Designers, they may draw inspiration from how the enemies and worlds look to how the colours are used.

For Games Developers the gameplay is most likely what will interest them and they will check to see what feels good and tight and what could do with improvements. Again they will make notes and perhaps apply some of them to their game. An example could be that the jumping feels spot on and so if they develop a game that involves a lot of jumping, they will use what they noted in SMG 2 for their own game.

Come June 11th Many Nintendo Wii owners will be excited about completing another Mario game and savouring the memorable moments. For Train2Game students, it could be an interesting lesson how to put together a best selling as well as an exceptional video game.

What do you think about this? Send me your comments below.

Click here for the full story:$19784263.html

TIGA’s success is Train2Game’s success

2009 has been a good year for TIGA, with the last 12 months having been TIGA’s finest since the organisation was launched back in 2001.

The reasons why TIGA feels it’s able to look back and feel proud? Well for one they have campaigned long and hard for games tax relief, with TIGA playing a key role in getting it implemented in the March 2010 budget. That led to support being received from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative minister who may have not taken the issue seriously if not for TIGA’s involvement.

Other achievements TIGA manage to accomplish were: “[organising] a number of trade events, helped to raise awareness of gaming in the national press and was instrumental in the creation of the parliamentary All Party Computer and Video Games Industry Group.”

There is however, another important accomplishment that shows how TIGA has gone to great efforts to improve the industry and that is supporting Train2Game.

Having seen potential in Train2Game’s aim in creating more skilled people to work in the video games industry, TIGA put the course to the test to see if it could pass being benchmarked against the Qualifications Credit Framework. The results were that TIGA (along with The Universities of Bedfordshire and Portsmouth) were satisfied, with the designer, developer (and now artist and animator) courses equivalent to the final stage of Higher National Diploma Study or the first two years of a Bachelor's Degree.

This has gone a long way in helping Train2Game grow, as evident by the introduction of the art and animation course and continue to attract potential students who feel they have something to give back to the Industry.

So we at Train2Game would like to thank everyone at TIGA for their support, what they have done of the UK video game industry and what they will do in the future.

You can check out the full story here:$19775731.html

iPhone – the hidden contender to the handheld market?

This weekend saw me finally take the plunge and buy an iPhone. The reason I decided to get one? Because of the games I kid you not. Honestly I’ve come across websites that have reviewed some iPhone games and my desire for the phone increased drastically.

Being able to play games like 3D Homerun Battle, Baseball Stars 2010, Sword & Poker 2, Zenonia and Axion finally persuaded me to go for an iPhone and the salesperson (despite me telling myself that I would only ask for a price) did a good job of hypnotising me with an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So over the weekend, I’ve been playing a few iPhone games (mainly Zenonia) and despite a few issues (the in-game control is a bit of a pain) I am convinced that the iPhone (and the iPad) is not just a great platform for games, but it could be considered a handheld in its own right.

The amount of games that are on offer is staggering and they are pretty reasonably priced although some of the more “bigger” games can be more pricy. However, there are games that are very cheap or even free that still offer fantastic gameplay. I recommended sites like Pocket Gamer if you want to check out what games are available -

The iPhone is another platform that Train2Game students could use to design and promote their games. The majority of iPhone games are “on-the-go” type of games that the increasing number of casual gamers love to play. Games such as Chess: Pirates Vs Ninjas and Carbon Strom Front and other numerous projects that the Train2Game students are working on could find the iPhone a suitable home and a useful platform to distribute their games commercially.

The power of convergence has truly made the iPhone has become a serious contender in the handheld market. The chance for profit is also a good reason to start developing for the iPhone.

According to Alex Ahlund, former CEO of AppVee and current adviser to Appolicious, the average iPhone app costs $6,500 (£4493) to make. While that may seem like a lot of money for indie developers, the average download an app can expect to have –should it become popular – is around 100,000, which would lead to a huge profit, even if a game was sold at a low 59p. Even those that aren’t top sellers manage to gain around 11,600 downloads, which is still enough for a profit at the lowest selling price.

So developing for the iPhone seems to be worth the risk, as the potential for using it as a successful platform is huge, despite the market being crowded.


Buy the Facebook ticket, take the causal ride

Facebook’s power to reach out to millions of casual gamers, as evidence from Farmville and Mafia Wars, is something that has started to attract high-profile developers and publishers. EA have announced that they’ll be bringing their football franchise FIFA onto Facebook and Capcom, hot on their heels of their recent announcement of focusing more on online games and digital distribution, have confirmed that they are working on a Facebook game that could possibly see release next March.

With many Indie developers contemplating to leave Facebook due to “the decision to eliminate the spammy notifications automatically generated by games and the move toward a unified virtual currency called "Facebook Credits," which would replace Zynga-specific currency like Farm Coins and generate a 30 percent cut for Facebook...”, a social gaming vacuum could be made, with many casual gamers needing something that will be worthy of their free time.

That’s where Train2Game students could take advantage.

Even releasing a “beta” version of a game would be a good step in getting their projects some exposure and gaining valuable feedback. For those who are confused by the word “beta” is pretty much a phase where a game is finished, but still contains bugs, patches as well as features not fully implemented or tweaked.

Games light Galoop (flash version) and Light the Skies would fit perfectly on Facebook, with their pick up and play type of gameplay capable of grabbing and holding people’s attention. In both games case the challenge to rack up points while trying to “stay alive” could potentially give them game “one more go” flavour, something the famous puzzler Tetris manage to do very well.

In fact, I would say that all Train2Game students should try and get at least one game available on Facebook (and perhaps to a lesser extent, MySpace) in the next few years once they graduate, since it would support their portfolio in terms of including commercial games and also get their names known to the UK video game industry.


The Tax Break Agenda Part 2

So the election is over and we have a new prime minister and a new government. How effective the new ‘team’ proves to be remains to be seen – only time will tell but speaking personally, I wish the new administration well.

Of course, it wasn’t entirely straight forward as there was no clear and decisive winner elected to power and the “hung parliament” resulted in a coalition of both Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties (I bet Mr Clegg still can’t believe his luck!).

But what does this have to do with video games you may ask? Well remember one of the hot topics pre-election was the provision of tax breaks for the video game industry. In the pre-election budget and as a direct result of TIGA’s relentless campaign, Alistair Darling announced the Labour Government would provide tax breaks to the industry. There seemed to be general approval for this from the other parties too.

But the Labour Government is no more and the situation now is that the new Government has been entirely silent on the issue. The big question is will the incumbent administration honour Labour’s pledge or will tax relief be sacrificed on the altar of spending cut backs?

Why is Tax Relief important?

Let’s just look at the position the key points. Here is an extract from a recent TIGA publication:
  • The UK’s principal competitors in Australia, Canada, France, South Korea, and the USA all receive national or regional/state tax breaks for games production. E.g. Montreal, Quebec offer 5 year income tax holidays for foreign specialists and pays 37.5% of the salary costs of games companies’ development staff. Additionally, R&D tax credits cover 20-35% of qualifying expenditure. These tax advantages are distorting competition.
  • In contrast, no tax breaks for games production exist in the UK. Because of this, investment is flowing away from the UK. Between July 2008 and March 2010 the number of employees at British video games studios fell by 7 per cent, and 15 per cent of British video games firms went out of business. The UK has fallen from third to fifth place in global sales charts between 2006 and 2009, overtaken by Canada and South Korea, whose studios are heavily government supported.
  • In 2008 the UK was the third largest developer of games in the world in terms of revenue generation. It generated £2 billion in sales in 2008, and contributed £1 billion to the UK’s GDP. The industry generates £400 million for the Exchequer in tax revenues and supports 28,000 jobs, including 9,000 graduate level jobs in games development, which command industry average salaries of approximately £32,000 per annum – higher than the national average of £22,000.
TIGA’s research indicates that over 5 years Games Tax Relief would:

• Create or save 3,550 graduate level jobs;
• Increase and safeguard £457m in new development expenditure and ‘saved’ development expenditure that would be lost without tax relief; and
• Cost a total of £192 million. This cost would ensure that the sector continues to make significant contributions to future exchequer revenues.

So it sounds like the issue on gaming tax breaks is progressing forward, which is good news for those in the industry.

But what do I think of it? I am hopeful that the government will see tax breaks for the video game industry as a good way to improve the UK, not just in the games industry but overall, since this will encourage them more to approve of the issue, and lead to a better future for the UK video games industry (and in turn, Train2Game students).

The hung parliament will hopefully be a blessing in disguise for the games industry and lead to what many in the industry have been seeking for many years, something that will strengthen the UK as a dominating force in the video game industry. 2010 is set to be a very interesting year.

The facts about why Tax Relief is important do make for a pretty persuasive argument but what’s your view?

Join the debate – perhaps the collective voice of we ‘gamers’ can make a difference?

Right time, right console, right gimmick

Ubisoft’s Just Dance is a rhythm-based dancing game for the Nintendo Wii that ended Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s nine week dominance of weekly sales is currently the third-biggest selling game in the UK having passed the one million mark recently and has sold two million worldwide.

Now, having looked at several YouTube clips of the game, I will say that I’m not convinced to go out and rent the game. But then, I’m not part of the one million plus Ubisoft was aiming for: these being most likely casual gamers who are very much into music and dancing.

It also helped that the Nintendo Wii is the casual and family gamer console of choice in the current generation and has a unique controller which makes the game more appealing. All this helped Ubisoft find its target audience easier than if they had released the Console on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

The point is that for a game to succeed, it must have some kind of hook. For example, God of War series and Call of Duty has achieved success because it appealed to male gamers who were craving action and wanted something where they didn’t have to think too much. Note: This is not to say females don’t enjoy those games.

This is what Train2Game students – especially designers – must think about when they first think of an idea. They must ask themselves “how will my game attract potential buyers/downloads?” and “what audience am I aiming for?”

There are a ways to help determine this. The most obvious one is looking at past games that fall under the same genre as your game, research the successful ones and see how they were marketed. You can also promote your game on indie websites or at gaming events, which will get you valuable feedback. This will not only highlight the good and bad factors about your game, but also lets you see the opinions of your potential customers.

You can read the full story of Just Dance’s success here -$19762475.html

Dundee offers potential video game industry opportunities

On May 20th attendees at this year’s Games:EDU event at the University of Abertay in Dundee are in for a treat as Carol Clarke from Realtime Worlds (developers of the enjoyable Crackdown and the MMO’s answer to cops and robbers, APB (All Points Bullentin) is set to deliver a keynote speech.

Clarke’s presentation will be looking at how the Dundee studios look at the ways to narrow the distance between graduation and industry work via best-practice student training.

This is a good opportunity for the Train2Game students to get some advice which, on the surface, may not apply to them but if they think about it, it’s knowledge they can use to pass onto future students or even use it if they form their own studio and hire designers, developers and artists.

However, advice isn’t the only benefit from attending the event; just as important if not more is the potential of making contacts to be made as joining Carol Clarke is TIGA’s Richard Wilson,Skillset’s Saint John Walker, SCEE’s Maria Stukoff and EdExcel’s David Brockbank.

This is a good company to mingle with and get your name out there, discuss the ideas you’ve had and how you could improve their services, games, etc. The fact you’re making an impression (as long as it’s positive) is a great way of opening that gaming industry door and looks great on your resume.

Gaining advice on find the best possible methods to ensure that students are prepared for core industry work through effective learning environments is information that will serve anyone in the games industry well.

Another event that Train2Game students should try and attend is the TIGJam UK 3 (run by The Independent Gaming Source). It’s a two day event where you: "Bring your projects to work on in the company of your fellow indie developers, or start new ones!...A great time to get some feedback. For everyone else, just be ready to have fun, make friends, and create some cool stuff. Sleep is totally optional."

A couple of Train2Game students have shown interest and if you think it’s an ideal event for you to attend, you can get the details of the event from the forums -

You can read up on the full details on the Games:EDU event -

Thriving games industry could lead to a bright future for Train2Game students

The games industry seems to be doing very well at the moment; you have Nintendo reclaiming the Develop 100 top spot, Ubisoft’s Just Dance becoming a huge sleeper hit by selling over 1m copies in the UK and EA dominating the charts with Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and FIFA World Cup 2010.

Then there’s Activision. Thanks to Call of Duty, Activision has had a very successful start to 2010, with CoD: Modern Warfare 2 helping the publishing giant reach better than expected financial results. Not only was CoD: Modern Warfare 2, the number one title in the US and Europe for the first quarter of 2010, but the Stimulus Package DLC broke Xbox Live records, with one million downloads achieved in its first 24 hours after release.

Include the fact that Activision managed to sign up Bungie to an exclusive deal, and things couldn’t be going more smoothly for the publishing studio.

All of this is evidence that the games industry is indeed growing.

So what does this mean for Train2Game students? A successful industry will lead to more jobs going around. When an industry grows, it has to expand or otherwise it will become stunted. This means there will be a continuing trend of developers looking for designers, developers and artists while publishers will be keeping their eye out on a studio that shows a lot of potential.
Another factor to consider is that even though the gaming industry is continuing to be a successful industry, there is a shortage of talented people (the key word is talented).

Train2Game projects like RoboBuddy, Light the Skies, Project Blast, Redemption: Grave Betryal and Galoop show that the course has talented boys and girls who can take advantage of the opportunities that the thriving industry could present.

Just looking at any news item on shows studios advertising for new talents; Realtime Worlds, Rockstar North, Blizzard Entertainment and Ubisoft are among those looking for people with skills to join their ranks. You would think that these high profile companies have all the talent they need, and yet their advertising shows that as the industry is getting bigger, they are growing along with it.

So it’s a good time for Train2Game students to start promoting their stuff to companies and even landing work experience is a valuable step to their future.

You can check out the full story about Activision here -$19767684.html

The Hype Game

If you didn’t think that EA and Activision had some sort of rivalry going on, perhaps hearing that EA thinks it can compete with Halo with its incoming shooters and the fact that EA Games label president Frank Gibeau said on record that Crysis 2 will be a “Halo killer” would convince you otherwise.

Remember the last game that was touted as a “Halo killer”? That would be Guerrilla Games’ Killzone, which was hyped up to be not just Sony’s answer to Halo but topple it from the FPS throne. Well that didn’t happen and Halo was able to remain on its throne.

You have to be careful when calling something a “Halo killer” You have to deliver something that isn’t just good, or even great but something so special that it manages to make a fan who considers himself loyal to one brand, switch to another.

With that said, I feel hype is a very important aspect of gaming. It’s a way of getting people excited for a game and keep them interested as the months or even years) of waiting for a game can be unbearable.

Of course it has backfired in the past, with the best example being the multi-platform game JVC’s Rise of the Robots that was meant to be a revolutionary beat ‘em up that made Super Street Fighter 2 look old. Instead – while it may have looked good – it suffered from horrible controls and dull gameplay.

So you can see hype as a double-edged sword and; it’s something that Train2Game students will have to contend with warily; if they don’t promote their game enough it could see all their efforts wasted due to poor sales/downloads and if they hype it up too much, it could annoy those who were interested and disappoint those when it comes to playing the game.

A good way of hyping is through developer diaries (whenever by video or text), which shows the project is progressing. It’s somewhat a way of promoting a project without going overboard as well as being able to still keep people interested and even more eager for the game. You can check out one such diary from Adarakion Games, founded by Train2Game student gnipper, here.

Indie Gaming success

So there you are, studying on being a games designer, developer or artist and animator – either through university, via the internet through courses like Train2Game or just sheer trial and error, and you’re nearing the end of your course.

During this time (or even before) you’ve asked yourself what’s the next step after all this. Most would aim to work for well known developers and publishers based in the UK such as EA, Bethesda Softworks, Codemasters, Rockstar and Sony. Others will want to join a company that is steadily growing, as if to ease themselves into the gaming industry and build up more experience.

But a number of those will want to make it on their own; not work for a big company but establish their own independent studios, make a game that takes the gaming industry by storm and say “this is what we were able to do on our own.”

Though it’s a pipe dream for some and others attempt to make it in the indie gaming world, only to fail, for some, it has become a reality and has justified their reason for “going alone” so to speak.
Castle Crashers, Braid, flow, Flower, Canabalt and I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 are all different types of games and yet they have two things in common; 1) they are all independent games 2) they have sold very well.

In fact, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 is 2009’s best selling indie game on Xbox Live. The price of the game was $1 and it reportedly made a profit of $112,000.

So clearly, there is money to be made in the indie gaming market, a very stark contrast to even a couple of years ago, where independent gaming was seen as a niche genre (not even a market) that was a way to show your skills, thus increasing your portfolio and exposure.

Now thanks to Xbox Live Independent Gaming and the PlayStation Network, developers have a platform to not only showcase their games, but see them making money, perhaps even more than they could earn working for a major developing company. Also, with the rise in popularity of casual games such as Peggle, Farmville, Mafia Wars and Bejewelled have enable independent games more of a chance to grow big then ever before.

So how do these small-team (or even solo) developers make it?

An article in Edge Online discussed how to make it as an Indie gamer. The advice giving out included:

• Start small. Many would-be developers seem to think that making an epic RPG, MMO or FPS is the way forward. What many don’t realise until it’s too late is that even simple looking games that follow the 8-bit blueprint is complex and time-consuming itself. With that said, if you have experience developing games in 3D then that would be your best starting point. But whichever dimension you choose, keep the game design realistic and not too ambitious.

• Work with what you have. Don’t feel that just because you don’t have the latest or critically acclaimed. Maya, 3D Studio Max, Photoshop and Microsoft Visual Studio are useful starting blocks for game making. XNA Game Studio Express is great for those wishing to do console based indie games. For those choosing to focus on PC games, if you do feel the need to try and find some software that will help take your game to the next level, then you can check out forums dedicated to game designing (Train2Game’s forum is an example -

• Make sure to keep your game design simple. Even Real Time Strategies and RPG’s from the indie market don’t overcomplicate matters. A game can have depth without needlessly being complicated. There are exceptions to the rule such as Dwarf Fortress (a hybrid genre of rouge-like and RTS) but in general it’s usually better to be safe and keep it simple. As the creator Z0MB1ES!!!1, James Silva, sums it up best: “people hate pretentious, unfamiliar gameplay in a title that they’re not willing to invest a lot of effort into, and people love short, tightly-packed experiences that don’t repeat and don’t drag”

• Try and make them pretty, unless it’s part of the game design not too. As shallow as it sounds, an attractive looking game can woo in audiences who would otherwise give the game a miss, since there’s no way you can experience gameplay from screenshots or even a trailer. Some people might say Z0MB1ES!!!1 graphics are bare, but fans of the game would argue it’s part of the game’s simple game designing

• Don’t be afraid to do something different. Video game design in terms of independent does not have to conform to the conventions that commercial games follow. This is mainly because independent studios just can’t complete with the top developers. Jared Woods knows this better than anyone, having formally worked at 2K Games and leaving to become a solo game developer: “I can’t compete up at the top: the man-hours total that goes into a mainstream FPS is longer than my entire lifespan. Instead, we indies have to work where the larger studios don’t, back around the game design foundations. We have to invent new genres, revive the dying ones, or find new ways to meld old ideas together.”

There is likely more advice and guidelines, but what I've outlined should hopefully behelpful for starting developers.

Anybody have any other suggestions that you think will help indie developers and studios reach successful levels?

Konami faces challenging times with Pro Evolution Soccer

It’s kind of weird to see the position Konami is in with its Pro Evolution Soccer series. At one time, it was the “underdog” to EA’s mighty champion known as FIFA. Yet PES manages to hold its own, with its fans claiming that the superior gameplay made up for the lack of licensing.

Over the years, PES crept closer to the sales that FIFA was consistently achieving until it was pretty much a close race between who could take the number 1 spot and for how long.

However, PES 2010 failed to recreate its magic (in terms of sales) that its past instalments did and as a result, saw FIFA 10 outsell PES 2010 by a “considerable margin”

Why PES 2010 failed to capture the football gamer’s attention can be debated; some have said that the gameplay wasn’t much of a change from 2009 while others have claimed FIFA 10 finally had gameplay to match PES 2010 and had better presentation and modes to boot, Since I haven’t played either game, I’m not really in a position to offer my opinion.

Regardless of the reason, this puts Konami in a position where they have to look at the last instalment, look at the feedback, see what they did right and did wrong, and apply that knowledge to PES 2011.

As far as we’ve heard, Konami have taken this very seriously, with “extensive updates” applying to “the new title's control system, AI, visuals and overall balance.” The next instalment has been described as “most ambitious” with the developer claiming it’s worked closely with fans - who you could argue are more hardcore then FIFA fans, if you believe the stereotype that PES caters to the hardcore gamer while FIFA is more for the casual gamer.

These are the type of challenges Train2Game students may have to face in the future; even with your first game, you have to take on board feedback, updates and changes during the development cycle and hope you make the right choice in what to keep in and what to leave out. And If have a successful game and the chance to release a sequel/update is viable, how will you be able to implement changes and improvements without alienating their existing core fanbase, but also being able to attract new fans?

It’s an impossible question to answer until the new game has been released, where you’ll see if the changes – as well as elements you kept intact – have worked or not. It’s a lesson not just independent studios learn, but veteran developers like Konami go through as well.

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The Tax Break Agenda

While video game tax breaks may mean nothing to the casual video gamer, for those in the UK video gaming industry, it’s been a hot topic for a while now.

Just take a look at the buzz Danny Palmer (my Train2Game wingman if you will) created with his article about the issue - Okay, it gets a little off topic now and then but generally the issue is talked about and debated quite intensely. The choice quote from the thread is from BHMediaMarty: When you consider the size of the industries that they are talking about and the potential impact on future jobs I can see why there is an interest for this in the UK. Plus it's only one potential sector that they're talking about and recognising it as a beneficial growth industry in this country.

For those that see UK video game industry receiving tax breaks as a benefit, 2010 promises to be the year that those in the video game industry have been waiting for, with Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at least showing interest in introducing tax breaks into the sector.

Why politicians are more interested in the video game industry I don’t know. Maybe they see some financial potential or they view those in the industry as potential votes? I doubt it’s because they are finally showing some appreciation.

Regardless of their intentions, it’s still good that they giving tax breaks some attention. But how much are they looking into it and how high of a priority is providing the gaming industry with tax breaks?

Arguably the Conservatives have been the most vocal about giving out tax breaks. In an interview with gaming site 7outof10, the discussion of introducing tax breaks for the video game industry (not surprisingly) was the main topic.

They see sense in the video games industry receiving tax breaks, saying it would help with the recovering economy. They also claim that Labour had announced one in the Budget, but didn’t see it through and that they have been ignoring the industry for 13 years. Another criticism the Tories level at Labour is that they are quick to condemn video games.

They also believe it would be in the best interest of the industry if the Film Council’s role was expanded to include video games, citing the reason that the two industries are already converging.

The Liberal Democrats aren’t quite as big supporters as the Conservatives, since they won’t commit to give the gaming industry tax breaks, believing that “industry itself is not totally united behind it.” Though this sounds like a surprising statement, if the argument between [Vampire Duck and yaustar] is anything to go by, the Lib Dems may have an actual point.

However, they do feel sympathetic to the cause which at least shows they haven’t totally dismissed it. You can view the Lib Dems thoughts on the issue here.

Labour seem to be the least supportive of move. True, Alistair Darling has been making the round visiting the video game studios, which brings some good publicity to the industry and also could mean Labour sees potential in the video game industry. But the very same man was ready to dismiss tax breaks late last year. Could mean is that Labour could simply be responding to the way the Conservatives have been approaching gaming tax breaks?

Regardless, in their recent budget report, Labour said “creative industries, including the video games industry, make a valuable economic and cultural contribution to the UK,” with Darling announcing that Labour intends to tax help for the UK games industry.

So by the looks of things, it doesn’t matter what choice you go with, an important fact to remember is that none of the three main political parties have put tax breaks for the video game sector in their manifesto. So why there has been more awareness about the issue than ever before, those in the industry shouldn’t hold their breath.

The advantages of tax breaks for Train2Game students still studying is that they would enter an industry that will still be competitive but won’t be so tough to make run a successful studio, especially with an enhanced R&D leading to technology that could be used to create software and hardware that’s powerful but won’t make your studio bankrupt.

Which party do you think is the most supportive of tax breaks for the gaming industry? And do you see any benefit from the UK video game industry tax breaks yourself?

Activision shocks the gaming world

There I am, washing up plates in the DR Studios kitchen (no it’s not part of my job) when one of the staff members mentions something about Bungie. Being that my hearing is not great, I didn’t pick everything up, but I did hear “MCV” so I decided to check out my RSS feed. What I saw pretty much blew my mind away...

Activision signs Bungie

“Publisher Activision has signed a ten year deal with Halo developer Bungie that grants it worldwide publishing rights to a future multiformat release.”

The news has pretty much taken everyone by storm and shaken up the game industry. There will be others that don’t really care, though even they will have been initially surprised. Then again, the T2G students haven’t made a fuss about it in either the thread I made or the IRC chat. As for everyone else, it seems they can’t stop buzzing about this.

You only need to look at the Eurogamer comment section to see just how much this has got people talking; in just one hour and thirty minutes, 131 comments were made! Note: as of this time of writing, the number of comments is at 218.

Now it must be said that this deal if for one –yes just one – new IP for Activision to publish on any platform. After that, Bungie is free to free to develop new games for new publishers. And if your thinking at the prospect of seeing Halo appearing on the PlayStation 3, because Microsoft own the rights to the franchise.

With the initial excitement and surprise inside me having died down, I’ve had time and some clarity to think about the situation, so here’s my take on it.

This is a message to everyone that they the recent turn of events may have knocked them down, but they aren’t in any way out of the publishing game and still have a lot to offer.

It also makes Activision look less like the bad guys (which seems to be the way they have been portrayed by some gamers and video game journalists), because why would Bungie sign a deal with Activision if they actually did not give out royalties? Regardless, this is a good coup for Activision.


Do game designers have their work cut out for them?

Elizabeth Gallagher is an artist working from home, who is also lucky enough to have a business – TRU Graphic Solutions Ltd - in the social simulation called Second Life (which has such an immersive community, it’s not unknown for people to spend more time in SL then in the real world itself).

In her latest post on her blog Absolute Filth (which – in her words – is a minor miracle), Elizabeth talks about how she ended up on a games designer course, even though she wanted to do one that was art-based. What followed was Elizabeth trying to get accustomed to the world of designers but finding it didn’t click with her, due to not being a “game player" in the true hard core sense of the word”.

Elizabeth wondered if it was harder to find work as a game designer, with the task of pitching your game to developers with examples of work provided by artists/animators and developers, in hopes of being hired or invited to join a studio.

She has a point, since designers not only have to be creative, but they have to be good at presentations. I’ll be the first to tell you that I can’t do presentations to save my life, due to nervousness. Of course, thinking about an idea that is exciting, if not unique, is a task in itself as well, where as artists and animators “just” have to show they can draw and use art programs well and developers “just” have to show that they can code well.

Elizabeth points out that some of the most successful designers were those who worked in another industry, which may be an indirect hindrance for those who are staring the designer course and have not done any kind of writing or briefing.

Of course, this is an assumption. Anyone on Train2Game who does art/animation or developing may tell me that it’s just as hard for them to get a job in the video game industry as it is for a designer and the “just” is a loose term. And those on the designer course may find that it’s not that tough to pitch your games or come up with ideas.

Elizabeth’s blog post ends on a happy note, with the Train2Game design queen(tm) successfully managing to shift from the Train2Game designer course to the Train2Game art course and, as expected, she’s loving it.

“I now I feel at last on the correct path and feel once I am qualified in Game Art finding work would be much easier. I would rather be hired by an existing game developer for an existing game concept and asked to create models and textures of a certain theme than be the one who has to not only come up with that concept but then try to pitch it to a developer in hopes that it will be taken on and produce profit.

Plus, art is what I love. It's not a job to me, it's a hobby and passion and I feel very lucky indeed to be paid for something I truly love.”

Check out Elizabeth’s blog here -

No stopping Activision

“Infinity-gate? Whatever are you talking about?!” That’s response I imagined when seeing the latest news that Activision have confirmed November as the new release time frame for Call of Duty: Black Ops.

Having successfully signed Bungie to a new deal and now having a set date for the next Call of Duty (which will no doubt get the fans eager with anticipation) is surely a sign that Activision have bounced back from recent events. I’ll even go so far to say that Black Ops will be Christmas #1 in the software charts, if the success of Modern Warfare 2 is anything to go by.

Imagine having a franchise that becomes a juggernaut in the video game industry; one that sees every game from that series at least become a top five hit. With Train2Game students busy making their own games, it’s very possible that one (or a group) of them with strike it lucky.

One thing to note about this game is that it will not be developed by Infinity Ward but by Treyarch, who were responsible for CoD: World at War. They promise that Black Ops will have “dedicated multiplayer, single-player and co-op teams creating the most intense, gripping and riveting experience possible for our fans on all fronts,” with the entire studio concentrating on the game.

Activation have got their feet firmly on the ground and are making progress more impressive than before, with big plans for Call of Duty. They even have revealed a 2011 Call of Duty game that is to be an action-adventure developed by new studio Sledgehammer Games, who interestingly enough is led by ex-EA staff members Glen Schofield and Micheal Condrey.

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