NZ video game development industry on the up and up

Looks like things are on the up and up for the New Zealand video games development industry, with the sector earning $203.4 million dollars during the 2019 financial year – double the $99.9m earned only two years earlier in 2017.

The figures come from the annual NZ Game Developers Industry Survey conducted by independent researcher Tim Thorpe and is for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. It canvassed 39 interactive, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and edTech companies. The 10 largest studios earned 93% of the industry revenue, employed 77% of the workforce and are now 10 years old on average.

New Zealand Game Developers Association Chairperson Cassandra Gray says the results are the “fruits of the last generation of New Zealand interactive studios’ hard work”.

“Our opportunity is to support the next generation of creative tech companies to join them,” she says.

Fifty nine per cent of studios expect significant growth (greater than 10%) in the coming year. In the last year, eight New Zealand-made apps debuted the new Apple Arcade service, NinjaKiwi’s Bloons TD6 topped Apple’s paid games charts, Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile was one of the top ten played PC games in the world, RocketWerkz opened a second studio in Auckland, and Valleys Between by Little Lost Fox won the Best Feel Good Game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards.

The companies involved in the survey employ 683 creative and hi-tech workers, an increase of 133 new jobs this year. A Creative NZ and NZ On Air study, A Profile of Creative Professionals 2019, found that game development was one of the best paid creative occupations in the country and 31% of the roles in the industry are programmers, 29% are artists, 24% for game designers or producers, 12% for management or marketing.

Nearly half of the studios (47%) said that skills shortages were limiting the growth of their business – and this had intensified since last year. Gender diversity remains a concern for the sector, with 21% of employees identifying as female or non-binary, and attracting early stage development funding and attracting investment for expansion continue to be the biggest growth challenges to the industry.

The educational benefits of simulations and interactive training continues to be recognised, with 24% of New Zealand interactive studios having made games or apps for businesses clients or government departments and 20% have made games for educational institutions.

The surveyed developers make interactive media for a range of devices and global markets, with 63% making mobile apps, 53% producing PC games, 38% concentrating on console games, 22% making augmented reality apps and 19% making virtual reality games.

When I used to write full-time for a living (a few years ago now), I had a wee bit to do with several NZ game developers and was impressed with what I saw, especially from studios like Flightless, based in Mt Maunganui (RTS game Element, Doomsday Vault & Bee Leader) and Sidhe (now called Pik Pok),  and I had a tour of the Grinding Gears studio a few years back. Here’s to a strong future to all Kiwi game developers.

The Touryst: Just perfect for the Nintendo Switch

Until late last year, I had no idea The Touryst, a cute little game from German developer Shin’en Multimedia, existed.

I first heard about the game when I watched an analysis about the from Digital Foundry, which not only marveled at its pixellated graphical style (which kind of has a Minecraft feel to it) but it pretty much played at a locked 60 frames per second.

Perfect for the Nintendo Switch, The Touryst is an adventure puzzle game where our little hero has to unlock  secrets through mission that will take him to a variety of islands that hide secrets in their ancient monuments: One of them is full of shops and a cinema, the other is a party place with flashing lights bouncing off golden sands, on another rains all the time, one of them has a beautiful surf beach ready to test your skills.

You play as an unnamed tourist who has plans to visit the idyllic islands to relax and recuperate but finds something much, much deeper as he searches island to island, uncovered the secrets of a long lost civilisation.

The game’s art style evokes old school games of the late 80s with their pixelated graphics but they’re a real modern twist to them. They pop on the Nintendo’s screen, too, and the islands themselves are full of minute details and interesting characters: There’s the couple looking for suggestions for great holiday destinations. There’s a fitness fanatic who challenges you to a chin up contest. There’s an art gallery curator wanting you to take photos of interesting things for his next exhibition. There’s the DJ who wants you to expand his record collection.

Each monument has a core which will lead you closer to the secrets of the islands and each monument has a boss battle, or sorts, which will reveal the core when defeated. The Touryst is a surprisingly relaxing game where you can deep sea dive, take photos of people and places and paddle canoes one moment, then take on strange rock creatures guarding the monuments the next.

I have had a blast playing The Touryst. Visually, it’s a delight (running at 1080p in docked mode and 720p in portable mode) and the game play is captivating enough to keep you interested, but it’s not perfect: Some of the jumping puzzles are downright frustrating at times, often hampered by the restricted camera when in tight confines.

The Touryst was a real sleeper hit for me and well worth the $19 it cost. It’s a game that is perfectly suited to the Switch’s format and just the ticket for relaxed gaming sessions when all you want to do is play something a little bit special.

And you know what? The Touryst could be my sleeper hit of the year of 2019, alongside A Plague Tale Innocence.

Tony Slopes demo: A weird but strangely addictive downhill racer

Tony Slopes in his rocket-powered inflatable ring ready to hit the … um, slopes.

It’s almost the end of what could best be described as a forgettable year for me so what better to round off the blogging year with a game that I’m going to add to the “Weird but strangely addictive” files.

I received an email from family-run British developer Seedtech Studios over the weekend (before starting game development the company specialised in 3D visualisation, animation and simulation) with a Steam code for early access to its game Tony Slopes because I had “either requested a copy of the demo for media articles/reviews, for blog/vlogs, or because you have signed up in the past for play-testing.”  I can’t remember if I had done either (to be fair, I have trouble remembering where I put the car keys 20 minutes after I’ve used them) but I downloaded the demo anyway as I was curious to see what it was all about.

Tony Slopes is a multiplayer and single player downhill racing game where you race others down a variety of terrains (snowy slopes, for example) riding a variety of objects. What sort of objects? Ah, a shopping cart with rockets attached, a shark, a crocodile, an inflatable rubber ring  … and a hump back whale. Yes, you read that right: A hump back whale. At the moment, it’s only single player racing, which is fine by me.

For my first race, I selected the shopping cart, a road cone helmet and it’s played like any downhill racer: Navigate your craft around a twisty course (the opening track is set in a mountain range), avoiding the patrolling hi-vis wearing officials and basically getting to the finish line first. If you crash, go off the course or hit a barrier, you respawn and continue racing. I finished third in my first race, pipped at the line by a crocodile and an inflatable boat. There are a lot of customisation options for your character greyed out so it looks like options will unlock as you progress through the game.

For my second race, I selected the humpback whale. It had to be done, right? As you’d expect for a huge water-based mammal, pulling off quick manoeuvres was pretty hard and it took a while to gain momentum as the whale barrelled down the slopes, but you can still do some pretty mean slo-mo jumps with it!

In my third race – in an inflatable ring – I, unfortunately, took out one of the officials who was walking across the track just as I approached the first jump: His scream as he went flying through are still echoing in my head. Sorry, mate. I saw an ambulance parked up nearby, hopefully you got medical attention in time.

Here’s some video I captured of about 30 seconds of racing (there’s a delay in me starting as I had to fumble around to get the capture software recording):

From this demo, Tony Slopes shows a lot of promise already if you’re a fan of downhill racing-style games, and while it’s bare bones right now in terms of features, its clear that Seedtech are leveraging off its background in 3D animation and simulation as for an early access title the game is showing some real promise.

It’s only being developed for PC at the moment but Seedtech says it is in discussions with PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox for a console release. Seedtech is hoping the full game will be out sometime next year.

A game to keep an eye on, I reckon.

Top tech predictions for Christmas

Please note: These consoles are not top picks for this year’s Christmas.

Yes, this is most of a media release but, hey, it’s been a busy year so ride with it.

With Christmas just around the corner, price aggregation site PriceSpy has come up with what it thinks will be the top gadgets, games and consoles this Christmas.

The site predicts that top Christmas gadgets will be the Xiamoi MiJia M365 electric scooter, Apple Airpods Pro, Xiaomi Mi robot vacuum, Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones, Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation), Apple Watch series 3, Ultimate Ears 3, Fitbit Charge 3, Google Home Mini and Garmin Instinct.

It also predicts that the top games and consoles for this Christmas will be the Nintendo Switch, Pokemon Sword, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, PlayStation 4 Pro, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Logitech G29 Driving Force, Xbox One S, Xbox One wireless controller S and Pokemon Shield.

Liisa Matinvesi-Bassett, New Zealand country manager for PriceSpy, says it strongly recommend consumers use a price comparison site or app to find the best deals. As well as helping to save money, these sites can help ensure people aren’t paying over the odds on items that may be over-inflated in price.  It’s a fact that many products receive a bigger discount the closer we get towards Christmas. However, it’s also true that some items receive a price hike!

“Carrying out pricing research throughout the year can potentially help save consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, which is money that can be saved in the bank!”

I guess we’ll see after the New Year if PriceSpy was on the money, eh?

Christmas came a little early: Blade Runner now available on GOG.com

Well, looks like Christmas came a little early for PC gamers and fans of Westwood Studio’s superbly wonderful Blade Runner as the game – long been a nightmare to get running on modern computers due to it being released during the late 1990s – has suddenly available on GOG.com for a entirely reasonable $13 or so.

It was an instabuy for me, if I’m being honest: I read about it this morning and picked it up a few minutes later.

I have long been a fan of the original game, playing it as a teenager after winning a copy of the dis-based version of the game and a nice coffee mug emblazoned with the red Blade Runner logo: It has long disappeared). Sadly, time has not been kind to the original Blade Runner: It was released in an age when CPU clock speeds were much, much slower than they are now and the graphics were created using voxels, not powered by high-end graphics cards.

The game is set around the same time as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner movie but instead of playing as Rick Deckard, you play as Ray McCoy, a Blade Runner roaming the streets of Los Angeles 20198 in pursuit of androids that have gone rogue.

Trying to get Blade Runner working on a modern PC is a complete nightmare, to be honest, and the only way in recent times that you’ve been able to play it using files copied from your install discs is using the Scumm program which lets you run select point-and-click adventure games provided you have the data files.

Up until now, I’ve been using the Scumm to play Blade Runner but it’s so nice to see that GOG.com have picked up the rights for this (firing it up tonight it also looks as if it’s using work from the team behind Scumm as the program’s logo pops up just before the game’s opening).

I am so happy that Blade Runner is now accessible to PC players who may not have had the chance to experience the original and seeing those unmistakably visuals just brings tears to my eyes. So, so good.

I’ll still keep my OG discs, of course, but at least now I know I can play the game on my modern PC without running through hoops to do it.

Thanks for the early Christmas present, GOG.com.

 

Pico Tanks: An iOS tank game with a real cutesy factor

I have to start this write up with an apology to Melbourne-based developer Panda Arcade.

Months ago, the Australian developer got in touch with an early access code to Pico Tanks, an iOS and Android game that features cute cartoony tanks battling against each other in 3 vs 3 multiplayer matches.

I redeemed the code, played some of the beta, enjojed it but failed to write up my thoughts. So Panda Arcade, I apologise profusely for writing something up soon. Better late than never, right?

OK, so Pico Tanks. What is it? In a nutshell, it’s tank-based multiplayer combat with really cute visuals and high customisation for your tanks. You can build your tanks from a multitude of bases (which feature a variety of wheel and track configurations), turrets and weapons – as well as popping hats on them for that extra bit of bling!

[Update one: December 16] : Panda Arcade tells me Pico Tanks has soft launched in New Zealand, Australia and The Phillipines and will launch globally in January next year.

Tanks are moved using an on-screen virtual joystick which works extremely well and you shoot and aim using the virtual controls on the right side, either by lining up and firing of just tapping the shoot button As you progress you get a variety of extra abilities like the air strike power up, which does just what it says on the tin: Drops bombs on enemy tanks.

[Update two: December 16]: Panda Arcade has also released a new trailer for Pico Tanks. Here it is:

Good work, Panda Arcade! (and, again, sorry for the lateness in getting this up)

Red Dead Redemption 2: In pictures

Red Dead Redemption 2 (PC) A story in pictures

 

It might have arrived on PC a year after the console release, but Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC is a beautiful thing. It really is.

Sure, you have to tweak a multitude of settings to get things just right (I’m currently averaging around 55 frames per second with a mix of ultra/high/medium settings) but boy, oh boy, it just looks gorgeous.

RDR2 on PC wasn’t without its problems, though: Rockstar screwed the launch royally with launcher issues, frequent crashes, and new patches that reset all the graphical settings to the default, meaning painless tweaks of each graphics preset had to be done all over again to find the optimal frame rate settings – but things seemed to have settled down now and RDR2 it’s still one of my most favourite games of recent times.

Actually, RDR2 seems to be comparable to Hideo Kojima’s recently released Death Stranding: Both are quite polarising among gamers, both criticised by some for its slow pace while adored by others. I haven’t played Death Stranding so I can’t comment on its game play but I have played RDR2 on both PS4 Pro and PC and I love it. It’s one of my favourite games of recent times.

It’s also got an amazing photo mode and there are so many great moments that I find myself pausing the game, framing a nice shot (especially if it’s night or the sun is just right) then clicking! It’s one of those games that you can document your life thanks to the photo mode.

So, enough words: Here’s is my journey so far through Red Dead Redemption 2 on PC through the lens of the game’s photo mode.

Enjoy.

 

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