Interview: exGamers Studios

Steven Balbirnie talks to Irish games developers, Séan Durkan, Stephen Byrne and Davy Ryan about their company, exGamers Studios and their forthcoming title Source Control

 

exGamers Studios originally began as a competition team before growing into a fully-fledged Irish independent developer. “We met here in DIT at a games design ludology course,” explains Séan Durkan. And while in college they were introduced to the Microsoft Imagine Cup, a competition where teams have to come up with game ideas which have a link with the UN Millennium Development goals. Durkan came up with a concept for an entry to the Imagine Cup and the exGamers team assembled soon after to develop this concept. “I got originally Davy and another guy, Dylan, who was in the course with us to see if they wanted to come in and make the game. And then a week later we realised that was a bit too much so we got Stephen in. And that’s how exGamers started,” he says.

As for the team name, which subsequently became the company name; it arose from the impact that developing games had on the team as gamers themselves. “We were trying to rack our brains to find out what we were going to call the team for the Imagine Cup, and Dylan came up with exGamers because at that time we were really really busy and we weren’t playing many games. So it was like we used to play the games but now we don’t have any time because we make them.”

The Imagine Cup entry was a title called Zero Carbon Nation. “It was a sustainable energy management simulation game, so the idea was that it was going to be something like Civilisation or some kind of a strategic management simulator, but that it wouldn’t kind of sugar-coat any of the real issues. So it wasn’t like you could just build loads of wind-farms and everybody could live in the trees and it wasn’t like you could just pollute everything and you were going to get lots of money; there had to be a sort of give and take. So the way it worked was that you needed to fall back on the sort of the more polluting, less efficient technologies so that you could have money to research the new better technologies and bring them up to a point where it was economically viable to have them” explains Durkan. While their entry didn’t make it to the finals, it had succeeded in bringing the team together to create their next title, the forthcoming Source Control.

Source Control is an innovative puzzle game which challenges the established conventions of the gem-breaker genre. Source Control takes the form of a hacking simulator in which the player is pitted against an artificial intelligence. As Durkan points out: “automatically you’ve got another mechanic which is just having another player. And we don’t even have to write anything, we don’t have to write the AI that dictates the player, it’s just there, and it’s you against this thing. Whereas other gem breakers you just sit down and try and do stuff and at some point something will tell you ‘Yay you’ve done stuff’.” The control system is also distinctive, working on the model of a two dimensional Rubik’s cube, the player must shift power nodes to align four of a kind in the pattern of a square.

The game also has a variety of modes for players to engage with. “Casual mode is just like Bejewelled, you just keep going, the main mechanics are there, and you can just win or lose a level and get a high score. Then there’s the main game mode which has about 20 levels and it’s just progressively harder, every five levels or so, every now and again it introduces a new mechanic or introduces a new challenge or obstacle, and there’s high scores for that. Then there’s survival mode where you can’t win, it’s basically just if you’re a masochist, you’ve got a set amount of time; it’s basically where we have a little bit of actual AI” says Durkan. The AI in survival mode can then do things like re-scramble the power nodes or mess with the player’s controls to add an extra challenge.

Source Control is due to be released this month, with ports to Mac, Linux, iOS and Android in the pipeline. The plans are then for the game to be digitally distributed through Desura, Mod DB, Game Jolt, IndieCity and Indievania, as well as a campaign to get the game onto Steam Greenlight. The game’s Beta is already available through some of these distributors.

When asked about their opinions of the current games development scene in Ireland, the mood of the exGamers team is generally positive. Stephen Byrne points out that “there’s a lot of small indie companies around now. It’s exploded.” Durkan adds that “even with colleges it’s like every college in Ireland is pretty much putting on some kind of game development or game design course.” Davy Ryan identifies the most positive aspect of the scene for current Irish games developers however: “There’s not really any competition between them though.”

Durkan makes it clear that this is because “nobody’s competing anymore because we don’t need to. There are digital distributors, so no Irish companies need to compete with other Irish companies.” He adds that “there’s a small community essentially and the same people will always show up to the games developers meetings, and they’re put on every month and it’s always the same heads and occasionally there’s new heads and everybody’s willing to help each other out. So it’s a good community.”

If the Irish games development scene continues to produce developers who are as innovative and enthusiastic as exGamers Studios, then surely there is a bright future for the games development community in this country.

 

You can find out more about Source Control at exgamersstudios.com

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