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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 3 of 5 Next
 

Exiting Africa

The local development scene, on the other hand, was dealt another major blow in late 2004 without the community at large even realizing -- when an animation and computer graphics artist named Judd Simantov left South Africa for the employ of Naughty Dog in the U.S.

Simantov had begun work in the field of computer graphics after a friend introduced him to the 3D modeling and animation package 3D Studio Max. After toying around with the software creating miscellaneous projects, he switched to Maya and continued learning about the world of animation:

"After a short period, myself and my friend (Marko Misic) that had first introduced me to Max decided to start up a small studio doing commercial work," said Simantov. "I tried to mostly do character work, but character jobs were few and far between and so most of the time I got stuck doing orange juice commercials or logo animations. I got pretty frustrated with that and really made a conscious decision to focus on creating a demo reel that could get me a job overseas."

After working with a handful of animation studios in South Africa, Simantov was contacted by Naughty Dog. "I had always played games and once Naughty Dog contacted me, I realized they had made Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter," he says. "I had played both franchises and was interested in hearing how my skill set would fit into their pipeline."

"They flew me out here [Los Angeles] and showed me around the studio. This was at the start of the PS3 and my skill set was much more applicable than I had anticipated."

Simantov subsequently took an animation and rigging position at Naughty Dog, at a time when the studio was planning a project where his skills in high fidelity animation would be directly translatable, and would help bring to life the characters of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

"It was actually an incredibly hard decision [to leave South Africa] and still is, on a daily basis," says Simantov. "South Africa is home and that's a really hard thing to replace. The lack of opportunities was definitely the primary reason [for leaving]. I was really getting frustrated not being able to apply all these new things I was learning."

With the South African game development scene leaking quality developers to overseas outfits, including developers from I-Imagine, more local developers needed to emerge to take their place. Grassroots community efforts such as SAGameDev, and a new online community, Game.Dev, help with that process.

Moving Forward

The beginning of 2005 brought with it a major boost of game development energy in the form of the Game.Dev forums, hosted on the New Age Gaming forum (which had since shortened its name to simply NAG Magazine after some confusion about the "New Age" portion of the title). To kick start the forums, a game development competition was held inviting would-be enthusiasts to create and enter a game of their own.

Behind the scenes of Game.Dev was one Danny "dislekcia" Day, a self-taught programming and game development enthusiast who was growing into a powerful personality amongst the South African developer community. While working on contract game design related work, he began to actively encourage and promote the ideals of game development, not only in the enthusiast community, but by appealing to local government officials to look into investing in the sector and to help build a real game industry here in South Africa.

The enthusiast developer community continued to grow with Game.Dev under the direction of Day, bolstered by regular themed development competitions to support creative game design, leading to the establishment of a monthly online game development publication called Dev.Mag at the beginning of 2006.

During this period, though, I-Imagine were trying to grind out its next game, Final Armada, through what proved to be a difficult time for the company, as Luke Lamothe explains: "After Chase was completed, I-Imagine went through a couple of years of trying to secure additional publishing deals and going through quite a bit of staff turnover (unhappy people, people emigrating, people leaving for higher paying jobs)," says Lamothe. "Eventually, we landed a deal for Final Armada (PS2 / PSP) that was completed at the end of 2006."

Final Armada, a futuristic vehicle-based action shooter, was released in 2007 to less than flattering reviews, largely as a result of its tumultuous development, which saw most of the I-Imagine staff retrenched. Work on the game was completed by Dan Wagner, Luke Lamothe, an art contractor, and Danny Day, the personality who had helped Game.Dev off to a successful start.

"One of the games I built for the community, Monochrome, got me some work at I-Imagine building the networking for a PSP title their publisher was insisting on (the original was a PS2 title, hence no networking)," explains Day. "I learned a lot at I-Imagine, and even got some of my design prototypes pitched at E3 in 2006, but the company went into hibernation [after Final Armada]."


I-Imagine's Final Armada (2007)

By the time development on Final Armada wrapped up, Luke Lamothe had managed to secure a programming job at a South African animation studio called Luma, which at the time was looking to broaden its media horizons by getting into game development and working under the name Luma Arcade.


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