Trio hoping game hits sweet spot

GERARD CAMPBELL
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012
Digital Confectioners

TASTY GAME MAKERS: Digital Confectioners Neil Reynolds, James Tan, Sam Evans and newest team member Ken Churcher James Tan.

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Video game makers James Tan, Sam Evans and Neil Reynolds will be watching the sales statistics at online distribution service Steam closely over the next few days - they're keen to see how the game they had a major part in fares.

The trio make up Christchurch game development studio Digital Confectioners, which recently moved into the Epic innovation precinct in Christchurch's central city, and were heavily involved on online PvP MMO game Forge. The game was released on Steam on December 4, and within a few hours was the second most bought game for the day worldwide. Forge is selling on Steam for US$19.99 (NZ$24) for two copies.

While having provided programming work on independent games such as Unmechanical and the The Ball, Forge is the first game on which the team played a major role.

Evans says another development team was working on the game but it was not making fast enough progress for developer Dark Valve Games. Digital Confectioners was approached about taking over the game's programming and re-designing the user interface. Evans worked on the game's user interface and game modes, while Reynolds created all the characters' classes and abilities. Tan has 15 years' experience working with Unreal Engine, the graphics and programming software used to make the game.

"Our first priority was getting things to a point where you could play it," says Evans.

Tan, who founded Digital Confectioners with Evans, says he believes his studio's experience with Unreal Engine is the reason it was hired.

"We have a really good understanding of the technology," says Tan.

"When we get told an idea or a concept we can translate that very quickly into something."

Tan says working on Forge has taught the trio how to "show off" their games and, while in previous games the company mainly worked on just programming, for Forge they had input into design decisions.

"To start with we were just programmers and did exactly as we were told but we quickly saw a few things that could be changed or improved because we had done things like this before and Dark Valve liked all of our suggestions. So, we got brought on to the design team as well so we were in the twice-weekly Skype meetings with the design team," Reynolds says.

The trio attended the famed PAX pop culture expo in Seattle earlier this year, where they showcased Forge, and Tan admits that despite the hard work, Digital Confectioners has flown under the game development radar a little.

He hopes the company's work on Forge will be a catalyst for bigger things for the small company.

"Not a lot of people in New Zealand know about us. More people overseas know about us. A lot of people in NZ, when they contact us, say ‘Oh, I never knew you guys existed'," he says.

Tan says for now, Digital Confectioners wants to remain a PC/console game-making studio.

"I look around at the other video game development studios [in New Zealand] and a lot of studios are heading towards the mobile/Facebook area and I guess I've been a little staunch in saying ‘No, we're going to stay with the console and stick with those areas' and it's great that we can say that we're staying there."

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Evans says depending on how successful Forge is, the studio is keen to develop its own intellectual properties.

"We seem to have impressed the guys at Dark Valve a lot and we've told them about our internal projects and, provided everything goes well, they're pretty happy to help us."

Digital Confectioners might also look at expanding its team depending on how Forge is received by gamers.

- The Press

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