Grabbers: The Game
Published to coincide with the release of the film, this cross-platform app shows that Northern Ireland is beginning to compete on the global gaming market
You might assume that video games are dreamt up and created in sunny offices on palm tree-lined streets in LA, but that really isn’t the case.
Many of the revered Grand Theft Auto titles, for example – including the eagerly awaited fifth instalment – were developed by Rockstar North, a company based in Edinburgh, which is pretty far removed from the nerd powerhouse that is Silicon Valley.
Jonny Kane, of Belfast-based production company Iglu Media, is keen to see Northern Ireland enjoy similar success with regards to creative digital product. His confidence is demonstrated with his company’s latest release, Grabbers: The Game for Apple iOS and Android devices.
Free to download, Grabbers: The Game was developed in just two months and on a shoestring budget to tie in with the release of Irish monster movie, Grabbers. Such a quick turnaround is, as it turns out, not unusual in the gaming world.
‘We had a very short amount of time to put the game together,' Kane admits. 'It began when Northern Ireland Screen, the producers of the film, put out a call for ideas.
'They wanted a game targeted towards their core demographic of 15 to 25 year olds, and luckily we had an idea that the producers agreed would work. Our creative director, Gareth Gray, came up with the idea and then the guys from [Belfast-based game developers] Billy Goat Entertainment expanded on it.'
William Barr, director of Billy Goat Entertainment – who are also credited with titles including Outfoxxed, voiced by Jackie Fullerton – fires up the game on his iPhone as he recalls those short eight weeks between conception and completion.
‘Well, we cried for two weeks and then the magic happened,' he jokes. 'We’re a relatively small team. There were only six people working on the actual development of the game: four artists and then two programmers. I did most of the animation, then the other guys did the majority of the 3D assets and the environment.
'That took us about four or five weeks, and the rest of the time was taken up just optimising it and making sure it worked cross platforms. All the while the programmers were doing the technical stuff that I don’t know much about.'
Barr plays through the first level of the game, which is essentially a first person survival horror controlled by on-screen dual joysticks, and with the action set against an arcade-style ticking clock. It looks very well designed: as pretty as a bunch of monsters being splattered with hurley sticks in a bar can possibly be.
Many elements that modern gamers expect as standard for fully fledged releases are present, such as a mini-map in the top left hand corner and a hefty dose of humour. It is understandable that the stakeholders are delighted with the finished product.
Despite being rush released, the quality of Grabbers: The Game is impressive. But this is not always with case with movie tie-in apps and games like it. Iglu’s creative director and the man behind the game’s setting, Gareth Gray, explains how he avoided the usual pitfalls.
'I figured it was much better to have a little bit of something of very high quality rather than loads of crap. We knew we couldn’t have a complex game, but we had an idea of what was achievable in the timeframe. There aren’t many levels, but what is there is nice to look at and reflects the movie, all with a very high standard of animation.'
A keen gamer himself, Gray picked up on the claustrophobic, siege element of the source material – with monsters continually crawling through the windows, chimneys and doors to get to the protagonists – and brought it to the small screen.
Comparable to the Nazi zombies mini-game on Call of Duty, Grabbers: The Game is a fast-paced, high intensity survival romp that rarely if ever gets slow or bogged down with narration. And, like the aforementioned game, it is extremely addictive.
Kane believes that cross-platform releases such as Grabbers: The Game can provide small scale production companies with new inspiration and income in the future. He insists that Northern Ireland should be looking to the likes of Canada and Australia for new ideas and to develop creative partnerships.
‘A lot of Canadian companies will not fund or commission a television series without a cross-platform element to it,' he adds, 'and I think this is something that Northern Irish television companies are a little slow to embrace.'
While this sea change may take some time, animator Barr is of the opinion that things are definitely on the up within the creative digital sector in Northern Ireland. He sees a bright future ahead, and applauds visual effects maestro Greg Maguire, of Avatar fame, for his work in the field with the University of Ulster.
‘There are also computer science courses starting up at Queen’s University with more of a slant towards video game development,' he enthuses. 'Certainly in the next few years I would imagine we will have some very talented graduates looking for work.'
Grabbers: The Game is available for download for free from Google Play.