Did you see our little teaser article about Wales “Magnificent 7” recently? If you didn’t, where on earth have you been?
What we talked about in that article is how inclusive gaming is as an industry. Indie developers are producing some amazing things at the moment and they’re seriously giving our larger studios lessons in game design.
But that’s enough patriotic gesticulation from me. Indie gaming is something that deserves to be celebrated and that’s exactly what this is about. That’s right, we’re going to introduce you to 7 of Wales’ most prominent game development studios.
The first of our Magnificent 7 is the wonderful Goldborough Studio.
Based in Lawrenny (West Wales), Goldborough Studio is unique in the way they design their games. It’s so unique that I can’t do it justice with my own ramblings. Instead, I caught up with Joan Thompson, Studio Manager at Goldborough.
“Pencils and Pixels are pretty much our core. Everything starts with a pencil! We do lots of drawings then we work them up in Illustrator, Photoshop. Once we’re happy with the look and feel we move into Maya and Marmoset for Modelling and Animation. Then move it over to Unreal Engine.”
Based on that and looking at their current project, Yami, it almost seems like the design process has been stripped back completely, but you can see that it really works. The colour scheme alone taps into the “Pencils and Pixels” philosophy the studio has and it looks like Yami is going to turn into a really beautiful game.
Having watched the trailer, I was struck by a few things. Most notably, it’s similarity to another indie game: Journey. Was that a big influence?
“A lone figure in a desert, with a quest towards a distant mountain, is super Journey like. I think that’s where the similarities probably end. That said, we see Journey as a very influential game in the studio. We talked about it a lot when the initial structure of Yami was being developed. The story arc and pacing are fantastic.
However, the main games that have inspired Yami are What remains of Edith Finch, Inside, ICO, Kentucky Route Zero and The Last Guardian.
The dynamic of friendship between the boy and Trico in The Last Guardian is probably the most inspiring element.”
Do comparisons to the big titles you’ve mentioned add pressure or do you enjoy the challenge?
“To be honest, there are enough pressures and challenges in just making a game without worrying about comparisons. Maybe we would feel the pressure if we were emulating another game. Yami has a very different visual style and a unique game mechanic. We’re well aware that as designers, we create our visual language from all over. I see more of Yami’s visual reference to the work of Studio Ghibli, The Brothers Quay and Marc Craste than from other games.”
Another thing that really struck me with the trailer was the score. How important do you think it is to strike the right tone with a game’s soundtrack?
“It’s really important. The original music for the announcement trailer was created by Rafael Fernandez Viedma, and he did a great job of creating that sense of mystery.
The main game is being scored by fellow Welshman Jordan Rees. He’s worked on trailer soundtracks for some huge film titles (Blade Runner 2049, Alien Covenant, Prometheus, The Mummy, to name a few). He approached us with some fantastic sound ideas and we’re excited to be working with him.”
It really sounds like it’s coming together. When it’s finished, do you think it’ll be hard to expand awareness of Yami and Goldborough considering the dominance of larger studios?
“Yami is ‘art house’ rather than ‘blockbuster’. Its audience is one that will actively seek out narrative driven 3D adventures. They won’t stumble across it in supermarkets or high street game outlets. As a studio we’re part of UKIE and id@Xbox which will help as we near launch.
I guess the bigger issue is how to create visibility in online marketplaces like Steam (It’s a nightmare to find anything in there). That’s why developing awareness via social media is so important to us as we develop.”
With that in mind, are there any advantages to being a smaller studio?
“Well, at Goldborough Studio we’re super small. But we use a virtual expandable/collapsable model. A core team that scales up as the project demands and then scales down when the project moves onto another phase. All our freelancers work remotely, and they’re all over the world. This works for us as we have no external funding and currently have to fund development from savings and commercial work. The plus side – No huge wage bill, lovely freelancers and a pretty cool vibe. The downside – Having a tight budget (which sucks). We have to wear many hats and can’t just walk across the studio to ask someone to test stuff.”
“More funding outside of Cardiff. More funding for smaller setups like us.”
And how about the Welsh industry as a whole?
“The community is lovely. However, because we’re way out in Pembrokeshire we only really get to meet people at games conferences. We’re going to the Game Developer Conference (in San Francisco) with the Welsh Government in March, and we are super excited about that.”
Goldborough Studio are made up of Will (Game design/Creative lead), Liz (Visual design/3d modelling), Matt (3d environments), Ossy (Animation), David & Nathan (Programming), Joan (Studio Manager), and their team of freelancers.
You can check them out as well as their upcoming game Yami at http://www.goldboroughstudio.com/.