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The South African Game Development Scene: Past, Present, and Future
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The South African Game Development Scene: Past, Present, and Future

August 3, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

Speed bumps

The promise of the new millennium was short-lived, though, after Chase received a lukewarm reception from prospective publishers at E3 that year, although solid industry contacts were made at the event that seemed interested in the studio's future work. I-Imagine also continued to leak developers that year, as the U.S. citizens amongst the group began to yearn to return back home, or decided to change the direction of their career.

While these developers -- artists and programmers alike -- left I-Imagine, the company needed to replace them with eager individuals from the talent pool in South Africa at the time, which proved difficult in many ways:

"The difficulties," says Luke Lamothe, "were always about finding talented people (there were people around, but it wasn't easy to find them), and convincing publishers that they should do business with a country way down at the bottom of Africa, when there were so many other developers in closer parts of the world for them to work with."

"The big problem with programmers here, though," says Lamothe, "is that as game development in SA doesn't have big money backing it, they will always be able to get higher paying jobs working for big corporates (i.e. banks), or companies who are contracted by big corporates."

"They will be doing mundane and boring programming work," continues Lamothe, "but they can earn two or three times as much as they can by working for a game development company that only has a budget of R100k per month [$10 000+/- per month at the current Rand/Dollar exchange rate]."

Celestial's The Tainted (2000)

As I-Imagine looked forward to the European Computer Trade Show (ECTS) in London later that year, the other official game development company in South Africa, Celestial, released its second game, a cyberpunk-inspired fantasy role-playing game called The Tainted, which turned out not to be the critical and commercial success that the company was anticipating -- nor was it the kind of success that the local development scene needed to grow.

What did help the local scene grow, however, was I-Imagine's successful hiring of additional South Africans to bolster the team, despite the problems finding them, as well as a week-long visit to the studio by Noah Falstein ostensibly to provide some design direction for the in-development Chase, as well as evaluate I-Imagine's progress thus far.

The tail-end of 2000 also provided a further confidence boost to I-Imagine, after a chance meeting with Kevin Bachus and Seamus Blackley at ECTS (two of the principles behind the creation of the original Xbox) resulted in I-Imagine's initiation into the Xbox Incubator Program, a Microsoft conducted program to help showcase and promote Xbox games created by smaller game developers without publishers. I-Imagine became the first such inductee in the world, as well as the first certified console developer on the African continent.

After such a privilege was bestowed on a South African game developer, and considering the continued growth of the SAGameDev community website, as well as the announcement of Celestial's third game, a promising looking strategy title based on the Zulu War (called ZuluWar), the year 2000 didn't look so bad for the local development scene after all.

The next few years turned out to be an important, pivotal and polarizing time for the South African game development scene, as Celestial changed its name to Twilyt Productions, but closed its doors in 2001, despite the promise of its strategy game, ZuluWar.

Celestial/Twilyt Productions' cancelled ZuluWar

"I know that before we closed Twilyt, we did have about 45 publishers approaching us," Travis Bulford laments. "They were interested in ZuluWar... because it was something only we could offer, as it was distinctly South African."

A positive milestone was achieved during this time, however, with the release of I-Imagine's first game, Chase: Hollywood Stunt Driver, on the original Xbox in September of 2002. The game met with some complimentary reviews, and settled on a 65% average review rating. After Chase's publisher, BAM!, went through financial difficulty, however, plans for further console ports and a sequel were halted, which left I-Imagine largely to its own devices again.

Over this period, much needed energy was forcefully pumped into the local computer and video game scene with the founding of the annual rAge Expo at the end of 2003, a gaming event that showcases all of the latest in tech gadgets, computer hardware, games and geek paraphernalia, providing the closest thing to an E3 event an African continent inhabitant is likely to experience.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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