Everything you need to get into the games industry is at the tips of your fingers (and thumbs)
The boss of award-winning Belfast studio Italic Pig says there's nothing to stop those dreaming of being developers from teaching themselves how it's done
‘You’ve got access to the whole world, so you might as well use it,’ says Kevin Beimers, Italic Pig’s founder and director. Beimers, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, contends that such a global outlook is crucial if any ambitious company is going to cut it in a competitive marketplace: ‘You’ve got to be thinking how’s this going to work in China? How’s this going to work in the Philippines or Denmark?’
Beimers, who previously worked in animation, describes having taken ‘a punt on gaming’. He designed Hector: Badge of Carnage while working with Donaghadee outfit Straandlooper — a ‘CSI meets Family Guy’ adventure for iOS, PC and Mac OS — and then struck out on his own.
Established in 2012, Italic Pig is one of a growing number of producers populating the local sector, a sector in which independence and flexibility is the norm. Indeed, in an era often defined by the iPhone and the App Store there exists significant scope for the sort of dynamism and experimentation required for a mercurial landscape.
Photo via Unsplash
Beimers admits that the quirky name of his company follows the familiar adjective-animal pattern seen elsewhere in the industry, with Naughty Dog, the Santa Monica behemoth behind the Uncharted series, being one notable example. ‘The answer to “Where did the name come from?” is nowhere near as exciting as everybody hopes,’ he says. The combination was ultimately settled upon thanks to an available URL.
Whatever its handle, Italic Pig is playing in a digital sandpit stationed right on the cutting edge of the creative industries. Beimers calls it ‘a really unique medium to tell stories in. Film and TV are very linear, whereas games give you the option to explore a character a lot more.’
So, in a crowded, sprawling market, how does Italic Pig try to distinguish itself? Narrative adventures, quirky characters and snappy dialogue; these are the traits they embrace. ‘We bend towards the strange and the curious,’ he says. ‘We mash together genres and make these self-serving and irreverent. It’s hard to sum up but that’s kind of the point. Instead of doing what we’ve done before we want to find something else that’s weird.’
He suggests that ‘rather than trying to follow trends, it’s very much an indie thing to buck them instead… If it’s not fun, why bother?’
Promo still from Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark
Italic Pig’s novel approach is best demonstrated by its output. Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark, released in 2015 for Xbox One, Steam and PS4, was an action-adventure title inspired by quantum physics; the upcoming Mona Lisa, on touchscreen and VR, applies Guitar Hero-style interactive mechanics to an art heist and forgery tale.
‘We gravitate towards messing with stuff, deciding what’s fun and then running after that for a little while,’ says Beimers.
In spite of its somewhat zany viewpoint, the company does not lack direction, nor does it want for a plan. Beimers confirms that the ‘current project is looking very promising. So, what we hope is that we can bifurcate around the time of the launch of that project, with one arm looking to create a suite of these painting games – the bread-and-butter arm – and an experimental arm, which brings people in as and when we need them.’
That optimism mirrors the range of opportunities presently available across the gaming world, he adds, regardless of one’s interests. ‘There’s a whole lot of crossover in the creative industries these days. If you’re an artist, you can be a concept artist for a movie, a storyboard artist for animation. You can do art and animation for film, TV and games. All the skills are very versatile.’
Concept art for Mona Lisa
He points out that when it comes to exploring a career, degrees and formal qualifications, while undoubtedly useful and indicative of competence, are not essential.
‘The best advice I can give is go ahead and make some games. It’s very simple to put it that way but it really is like that. Just about every developer kit is offered free online for personal use. Just about every lesson you can learn about developing games is on a YouTube tutorial somewhere. There’s a whole bunch of common resources you’ll find really quickly. But if you’re 12 years old and you enjoy playing games and you want to figure out how they’re made, nobody is stopping you from learning – everything is free and everything is available.’
Beimers believes that prospective employers are likely to find compelling an applicant's initiative and passion, not just proof of his or her education. ‘I am more excited to see what a person did on Saturday, when they made a game, as opposed to what they did Monday to Friday.’
In his opinion, standing out from the crowd is as necessary as ever. ‘If I have two people in front of me and one only did their coursework, while the other makes their own stuff on the weekends, it’s obvious which one I’m going to pick.’
Don’t wait for instructions, Beimers says. ‘Learn what interests you and you’ll become an expert in whatever field you want to be an expert in.’
This article has been published as part of Creativity Month, a celebration of creativity and the Creative Industries in Northern Ireland which runs throughout March. This year's theme is careers and skills – click here to read other articles on how to get into various Creative Industries professions. See the programme of events featuring over 150 inspiring workshops, performances, talks and much more at www.creativityni.org/events.
See Italic Pig's full range of projects at www.italicpig.com.